The Dog Who Saved My Daughter’s Life
My youngest daughter had just been born when we finally found a small farm to buy. About that same time, we found a 3 year-old Chocolate Lab that needed a new home. She was beautiful and had a sweet disposition. She moved to the farm with us, becoming our very first family dog. We were in love with her and she with us.
She quickly befriended the neighbor’s Rotweiller and they had a grand time roaming the hundreds of acres that surrounded our farms.
Then one day, they didn’t come home.
The land adjacent to our farm was leased as hunting land. One of the hunters, for inexplicable reasons, shot both of our dogs that day.
I had not had a dog since I was a kid. The grief of losing my first dog still lingered, even as an adult. Now, I felt the loss of this new love like a kick in the stomach. Before we found her body, before we knew what had happened, I stood at the kitchen window every day, crying and praying she would come home safely. We had only had her for a few weeks and now she was gone.
When we found their bodies dumped behind the church down the road, my heart closed, and I decided I would never have a dog again. The pain was too great to bear.
Even though I had been perfectly clear that I never wanted another dog, one day my husband brought home a Border Collie puppy. He had carried him in his lap all the way home. When he got out of the car I began yelling at him to take it back. Take it back! The pain was still too raw. I did not want to give my heart to another dog — ever.
But this little black and white, waggly baby dog with a patch on one eye begged to stay. He loved it there with us and I had no choice but to love him right back.
Border Collies were bred to be herd dogs. With a little training, they can gather up an unruly herd of sheep and put them into a pen. Without training, he could herd a bunch of kids anytime they came out to play. He didn’t have to be taught this — it was instinct. The kids were his herd, and he took his responsibility seriously.
There were many, many days that the kids came running to the house and said, “Mom, put Patches in the house, please. We can’t play ball with him out here!” He would be so busy trying to keep them herded together that he would get in the way of their game. He would run around them, making tighter and tighter circles, trying to get them into a manageable sized herd.
When they would swim, he would run in circles on the deck around the pool. Around and around and around until his paws would bleed. He was so dedicated to his work that we soon learned we had to save him from himself. Making him stay in when the kids were out was torture for him, though. He was shirking his duty, and he was not happy about it.
Border Collies are intelligent and obedient. They are also gentle and motherly. They are very protective of their charges, whether they be sheep or children or chickens.
When we got chickens, Patches watched over them with steadfast dedication. He lay beside their pen and guarded them. When I would open the door and let them out to free range, he would lay in front of the door and supervise their comings and goings. If he wouldn’t move, they would just walk over him to get out. He never made a move to harm them in any way. I did not realize then how rare it was that a dog could co-exist with chickens without making dinner out of them.
One year, the kids got a duck for Easter. They named her Jemima, after the famous duck in the Peter Rabbit stories.
While Jemima was small she stayed in a portable pen that we moved around the yard. Patches took up his position beside the pen, vigilantly watching over her. The result of this devotion is that Jemima imprinted on Patches.
When she got big enough to roam the farm, she was never far from Patches, nor he from her. They napped under the porch together, coming out when we would pull up in the driveway in the afternoons. Jemima thought she was a dog. She certainly thought Patches was her mother.
When the kids and I would walk the 1/4 mile to the mailbox in the evening, Patches would come with us. Of course, Jemima wanted to come, too, so she would lift off, flying in circles over us and landing in the driveway just ahead of us. She would wait for us to catch up, then she would walk the rest of the way to the mailbox with us. The cat usually came along on these excursions as well, and it was quite a spectacle to see this entourage arrive at the mailbox, only to turn around and walk back down the driveway together.
One day, when my youngest was about three, she wandered out to the pasture where the goats were and opened the gate. We had borrowed a large buck from a neighbor to breed our females. He weighed 175 pounds and stood 4 feet tall and sported two large curved horns.
A male goat can be fierce, using his powerful horns to land a blow that will stun an opponent if it is another male goat, or badly injure or kill a human, especially if that human happens to be less than three feet tall and weighs only about 30 pounds.
I was across the yard when I saw what was happening. The buck, upon seeing my daughter, raised up on his hind legs, preparing to land a blow that would surely bring tragic results. I was too far away to make it to her quickly enough. My feet felt like lead as I watched the scene before me unfolding.
Before I could get to the gate, Patches came past me like a shot, grabbing the goat by the throat and landing him on his back. I got there just as the goat went down. I scooped my daughter up, running through the gate with her in my arms, weeping with relief.
The goat staggered to his feet and Patches took him down again. This time, the goat bolted off to the corner of the pasture. Patches came to check on my daughter, then flopped down with his tongue lolling out, panting out his exhaustion from the effort he had just made. He was a hero.
When my daughter was old enough to hear that story repeated she realized that Patches had saved her life. She became his greatest fan after that. He was devoted to all of us, but she was especially devoted to him.
When he got older, he developed arthritis in his hips. He was 13, and he was having a hard time climbing the stairs of the porch to come in the house. He was in pain most of the time. He had been such a faithful dog, and I felt that I owed it to him to help him go gently, without an agonizingly long, painful death.
One afternoon, I put him in the car and drove him to the vet. My heart was breaking, but I knew I was doing what was best for him. I had not told my youngest daughter because she was not home from school yet. But when she got home, her sister told her what was happening.
Before I got to the vet, my daughter, who was 13, like Patches, called me.
“No, Mama! You can’t! Patches saved my life! Please, Mama. Get him some medicine and bring him home!”
I could not deny my daughter this request.
$250.00 later, I brought Patches back home. She ran to the car and helped him get out. She threw her arms around his neck, wetting his soft fur, now grizzled with gray, with her tears. He had saved her life and she had payed him back. The debt was cleared now.
I knew that I should have allowed him to go. Even with the medicine that the doctor gave him he was failing fast. About two weeks later, we could not find him. He never strayed far from the porch, but that day, he decided he had stayed as long as he could. He crawled under the porch and died.
I think about Patches a lot. I have never had a dog that proved to be as faithful, and steadfast, in his devotion to taking care of his family. We were his responsibility. We were his herd. He never let us down. He will live forever in our hearts as the dog who befriended chickens, ducks and little girls, and took it all in stride. To him, it was all in a day’s work.
Rest in peace, Patches.