Often times rural life exists on the border between civilization and the wild. It is a place of depredation and daily survival. And a place where life is precious. For more than a century, our culture has shifted towards an urban society. City folks don't always have the stomach for the reality of country living. What happens in and around the woods can be harsh. That is why we keep a certain breed of gritty farm dogs. These dogs are comfortable in the world of man, but also know the ways of the woodlands. They are a proven breed, who can push the wildlings back from the farm and into the hills and trees. The following story is about a real farm dog and real events. It is not a story for the young or for the squeamish.
When puppy was four weeks old, a coyote killed his mother and his six siblings. He looked on as his mother fought for the lives of her brood. He watched as the predator slaughtered and devoured in turn each one of his brothers and sisters. Outmatched, the puppy survived by retreating to the hollow of a dead fallen tree. When the farmer discovered what had happened, he forced a ewe in milk to ween the orphaned pup. At nights the pup bedded down with his surrogate family. In the day he accompanied the sheep as they grazed the pasture. So it was that the lone puppy developed and matured.
As he grew to adolescence, the dog's voice dropped to a raspy gruff and his torso grew into his long legs. His shape filled-out to a solid and masculine form with a broad head and a squared jaw. The dog began to help at the hog house in the daytime. It was in the tight quarters of the hog confinement that he learned how to move the livestock. At night, the dog walked a confident patrol around the perimeter of the farm. He was especially watchful during lambing season. The farmer was a harsh but fair judge of character. He began to take notice of the dog's desirable behaviors. In a sign of approval, the farmer started calling his dog Old Shep. It was more than a name. It was a title reserved for working dogs who earn their keep. Old Shep the farm dog had a glossy black coat, a tan spot above each eye, and a tan bar across his chest. He knew where his meals came from, and he knew why he got them. But he was happy to work, even without any reward. Especially when it came to coyotes. Sometimes in the dead of night, Old Shep would disappear into the woods near the farm. On those nights, the sleeping farmer might come awake to the sound of a scuffle outside. But in the mornings, the farmer could not find hide nor hair of an interloper. It came to pass that rarely were coyotes heard or seen any longer at all. Further, Old Shep removed any vermin that might attract the crafty predators. It became unprofitable for a coyote to come anywhere near Old Shep's ward. In this manner, Old Shep eliminated the farm's predator problem. The grateful farmer profited, and all was well.
Scar was old for a coyote. His age was a testament to his skill and ability. His mind was sharp, and his body was fit. His face and coat carried the battle marks of a ruthless and successful hunter. He was an opportunistic eater, with a keen sense of smell and acute hearing. He was also equipped with excellent night vision. Scar's favorite times to hunt were dusk and dawn. He preyed upon the old and the weak, the young and the inexperienced. As the sun came up one morning, Scar came across the nest of a white tail deer who had just fawned. His tact was to startle the doe, forcing her to run off and leave her newborn behind. Once she bolted, he returned to the nest for the defenseless fawn. He eviscerated the young deer and devoured its entrails. It was an easy meal for the old coyote. But he was not wasteful. He snacked upon the legs for the better part of the day. Once he had chewed off the leg meat, he cracked open the bones to get at the marrow. He even consumed a few of the hooves. After he had eaten his fill, Scar laid down next to the fawn's carcass and took a nap.
One Saturday, the farmer departed early in the morning and didn't make it back home until after lunch. He returned with a six-week-old puppy in his arms. The farmer had travelled to Christiana, over near Murfreesboro. There he had purchased a registered, female English Shepherd puppy. The farmer was so happy and impressed by Old Shep that he had determined to breed him. The puppy looked like a miniature version of Old Shep, black with tan spots above the eyes and a bar across her chest. The trip had caused the farmer to fall behind in his day's chores, but he still had to throw together a puppy pen. In his haste, he gathered an old hog panel, a few posts and some baling wire. With this kit, he quickly whipped together a small, round enclosure. The panel was only four feet high, but that would keep the pup for now. He placed her in the makeshift pen with some water and went about his chores. Old Shep stayed behind to inspect the newcomer. She paid no mind to him as she lamented and decried her situation. Old Shep left her there and went to find the farmer.
Even wizened old farmers make occasional mistakes. Old Shep's diligence guarding the farm had caused his owner to forget about the threat of coyotes. But from a quarter mile away, Scar's ears pricked at the sound of the puppy's cries. He turned his head in the direction of the farm, and soon he was on a path towards his next meal. Old Shep may have rid the area of most predators, but Scar was cut from a different cloth. He reached the edge of the woods near the farm and spied the situation. Scanning the farm, he located the small puppy. She was off by herself, unprotected and alone in her makeshift enclosure. Only one this time, not six like last time. But it would do. Scar laid down in the tall grass and waited for dusk. As the sun went down, Scar's excellent night vision began to kick in. From the edge of the woods, he patrolled the perimeter of the farm. With his pale-yellow eyes, he scanned the open ground between the tree line and the barn. The puppy remained unprotected in her little pen. She laid in a ball on the ground, in a small bed of straw. She slept the sleep of a baby who had not yet learned about fear or the harsh ways of the world. Scar waited a few more minutes, making sure he wasn't missing any potential threat. He had not lived this long by making mistakes. Finally, when he was sure it was clear, Scar emerged from the tree line and galloped towards the puppy's resting place. He was hasty but not reckless, moving with purpose but not without caution. The small four-foot hog panel was nothing for an adult coyote. He leaped over, only touching his feet on the top. He dropped down into the pen, his face mere inches from the pup. The meal was his for the taking.
From the start, Old Shep was not satisfied with the farmer's handywork. The puppy's pen would not serve as ample protection. So he went about this day, helping the farmer as needed. Once the sheep had bedded down, he sought out and received his evening meal. But before dusk, he eschewed his normal spot at the door of the barn. Instead, he went around the side of the barn and lay down in the shadow of the horse trailer. From there, he was well-hidden but had a clear view of both the barn entrance and the puppy pen. He laid still and watched. His eyes traveled from puppy pen to barn and back again. He waited. So when he saw a shadow emerge from the woods and approach the puppy's pen, he was ready. With the speed of a young and healthy farm dog, Old Shep leaped to his feet. He dug his rear paws into the dirt and propelled himself forward in a long and stretching bound. Well-before reaching the pen, he left his feet and flew through the air. His timing was perfect, and his landing was spot on. He dropped into the pen, between the startled pup and her assassin. Face-to-face, and eye-to-eye, Old Shep curled his lip and bared his teeth. A low guttural sound escaped his throat. He knew this animal, this yellow-eyed killer. He had seen that face a hundred times in his sleep. It was the face that fueled him and drove him. He had waited for this moment since that day in the hollow log. There would be no drawn-out battle, here. The coyote was left with no time to react. In one fell motion, Old Shep attached his maw to the Scar's neck. He crushed the coyote's windpipe instantly, and then snapped the coyotes neck in a quick downward motion.
The next morning, the farmer realized the error of his haste. He stopped short and looked at the scene in the puppy's pen. Old Shep rested himself on the ground, the sleeping puppy nuzzled up to his chest. The dead coyote lay there too, with his lifeless eyes and his tongue hanging out. The farmer's first reaction was to chide himself for his carelessness. But then a chill travelled his spine. What a dog!
The Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd is a breed of working dog native to the United States. The Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd is considered one of the most versatile of all herding dogs and is not only capable of working with any species of livestock, but also of hunting, tracking, search-and-rescue, agility, competitive obedience, companionship, and personal protection/guard dog duty.