There’s Nothing Like a Good Farm Dog

Day 38 of 365

Our Boudica is a miracle to me. I am forever in awe of how much of a help she is to us. Ron spent this week expanding our farming area into the woods a bit, and this is a bit of worry because predators of chickens live in the woods. I mentioned to Ron that we would want to let Boudica into the area before we put any chickens in the new space, and Ron was thinking the same thing.

And the new space is fantastic. My poor husband worked himself into exhaustion far too many nights this week, but he fenced a whole new area with a super sturdy fence. People always say that good fences make good neighbors, but I have come to be a believer that good fences make safe chickens. Still, we count on Boudica.

The coolest thing is that Boudica knows it. She loves her job, is very good at her job, and seems to completely understand how much we count on her. In fact, according to Boudica, we should be counting on her more. According to Boudica, it’s a miracle we make it in the world without her.

Tonight, after Ron and I moved the chickens to their fancy new space, Ron went to the house to get Boudica. “Let’s go see dad’s chickens,” he said to her. And, of course, Boudica went straight to the coop and began to survey the whole area. She understood what we needed from her and set to work on her new task. How fortunate are we to have her?

I realized tonight, as I watched her run across our yard with fireflies flickering in the trees, that Boudica is, indeed, a miracle and that, try as I might, I am sure I don’t deserve her. I also began to think the hard thought that she’s getting older, and it would be hard to do all of this without a farm dog like her.

When Gus passed away, Ron talked about getting another Pyrenees, but I couldn’t think about it at all. I still haven’t been able to think about too much, but I realize that Boudica will need to time to teach who is coming next.

But I won’t think about that right now. Boudica will be six years old the summer, and I am going to close my eyes right now and wish for twelve years at least with that girl.

It’s Thursday night, and my workload is heavy, so I will wrap up quickly. But I have to share that I have a helper when I grade papers now. This is Piatigorsky, named after the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and she is a mama’s girl. I can tell she’s a girl by her legs. I hope I’m not wrong. She rides on my arm while I work and grade papers and doesn’t even budge a little as I type. I adore her!

The Loyalty of a Farm Dog

Day 4 of 365

Yesterday, a hawk flew over the duck area, and I could see it from the dining room window. I was up and alert, as was Boudica, our Great Pyrenees. In a matter of seconds, Boudica and I went from looking out the window to action. Without thinking, I went to open the back door and said to Boudica, “You take the ducks. I’ll take the chickens.”

She was on it. She raced to the duck yard, and as I raced to the chicken yard, I realized how fortunate I am to have a farm dog like Boudica. She is my partner and my friend, and she takes care of me in a way that I have never experienced before. Usually, we take care of our animals, and they will give back to us in so many important ways. But with Boudica, it’s different.

Great Pyrenees are remarkable dogs, but they are also difficult. They make wonderful farm dogs, but they must be trained not to chase the smaller animals, like chickens and ducks. And, when I say “trained,” it’s a certain kind of trained. You really can’t make a Great Pyrenees do anything they don’t want to do. They are bred to be independent thinkers, decision makers on their own. I mean, maybe you can make them, but you would not want to do that to their spirit. You just teach with kindness. You express what you need in a way they can understand, and out of love for you, they comply.

They also bark–a lot. If a squirrel sneezes or a car door opens a half mile away, it is likely worth a bark.

I am speaking in generalizations, of course. I have worked with just two Great Pyrenees in my life, but I read several books before taking on this breed of dog. They are not for the faint of heart. Our Pyrenees, Gus, who passed away last fall and who was likely one of the great loves of my life, could be so difficult. I remember going out to the deck to tell him to stop barking like a maniac when the tiny neighbor dog walked by on a leash. When I commanded him to stop, I was, of course, ignored. It was only when I reasoned with him and asked him very kindly to “please, please, please tone it down” that he would relent. I am in some Facebook groups for Great Pyrenees “owners,” and I see a lot of rehoming posts because these dogs are just more than a lot of people can anticipate.

And I put “owners” in quotation marks because you do not “own” a Great Pyrenees. They will be your partner in life and work and will show you a loyalty the likes of which I cannot put into words if you are loyal to them, too. And therein lies their magnificence, I think.

Boudica cares for me in a way that I have never experienced with an animal. The care is real. Her help is real. I love having this kind of a relationship with an animal, and I wanted to share a few recent examples, besides our partnership in hawk detection.

A few weeks ago, Boudica woke me up in the middle of the night. I was right in the middle of a nightmare, and Boudica nudged me awake with her nose. I assumed she needed to go outside, though this was very unusual for her. She just doesn’t have to go out in the middle of the night anymore. I thought this must be an emergency! So I got up and headed downstairs to the door. But when I got there, there was no Boudica. I went to find her and found she had simply gone back to her bed. I was confused.

It was then that I remembered my son telling me Boudica had, on several occasions, woke him up when he was having a nightmare. I felt so loved that she did this for me.

In another recent incident, I went out for a walk but left Boudica behind that day because I wanted to go for a very long walk. Boudica can make it on short walks, but Great Pyrenees are more “sit and guard” dogs than long walkers. I told her I was sorry but that I would be back soon and left her in the yard. As I made my way past our house to my neighbor’s house, I saw their dog was outside. Their dog is a beautiful lab, and I adore her. But, doing her job well, she barked at me as I walked by her house.

Then I heard this ferocious, almost hysterical bark from Boudica. She was at a dead run toward the edge of our fenced yard in my direction. It was like her worst fears had been realized. There I was, her helpless human, out in the world with another dog surely about to attack me, and she was not with me! She was beside herself!

Of course, I turned around and went home to confirm with Boudica that I was, indeed, all in one piece. I saved my long walk for later.

These are just some of the little stories of protection she provides. She deeply understands that it is her job to protect the chickens and the ducks, and she does so with focus and determination. I am knocking on wood as I type these words, but we just do not see the kinds of predator attacks others who live in the Maine woods often see because, well, we have a farm dog named Boudica.

I love her to the moon and back, and it’s really cool that she loves me just the same.

***

And just a little update on Ruby and her clutch of eggs. She didn’t budge from her eggs today, though I encouraged her to take a break. I did deliver some bread scraps to her, which she promptly gobbled up–at first with the ferocity of the tiny dinosaur she is, and then with a little more gentleness, which makes me hopeful. She’s on day 3 of 21. Then, her real adventure begins.