Patti with her best sheep friend, Hope, this past Spring

Patti just slipped from this world as quietly as she had lived in it…

Patti was about 10-weeks-old the first time I saw her. She and her sister, Sweetie, were in a metal cage sitting in the sun with a tarp over it on a very hot day. There was no water bowl in the cage — just 2 scared dehydrated pups. My husband and I immediately knew we needed to take the girls home with us whether we wanted them or not — just to save their lives.

From the beginning, Patti was much more aloof and adventurous than her sister and it wasn’t long before I realized she did not desire human contact. Her sheep family was all she wanted or needed.

As Patti grew, she seemed restless in the pasture with the other guard dogs often pacing the perimeter as if she just wanted to break free from her self-defined prison. Then one day I came out to do morning chores and Patti was outside the pasture. A “game” (according to Patti) of chase ensued and I, a 2-legged human did not come close to winning that game with a 4-legged dog.

After I calmed down and assessed the situation I realized Patti was not leaving our property but was staying outside the fence where she could get to a predator before they could even enter the pasture.

Patti and I lived amicably this way until she decided she should leave the farm and guard all the livestock in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, some of our neighbors did not see a large dog “stalking” their animals as a positive thing and the general mindset of our neighbors who saw Patti as a threat to their livestock and their “Shoot — Shovel — and Shut Up” mentality was not going to end well for Patti.

So I contracted someone to install electric fencing inside our existing woven wire fence to try and keep Patti in. This “game” (according to Patti) worked initially until this very smart dog decided it wasn’t fun any more. Patti was soon on the loose again.

Long story short, for her own safety, I had to let Patti go to an out-of-state farm (in Indiana) that seemed to have a better “keeping the dog in the pasture system” than I did. That system did not last long and after numerous attempts by the owners of that farm to keep Patti contained she was back home again, leaving our pasture and faithfully “guarding” all the neighborhood livestock.

After years of trying one unsuccessful thing after another to keep Patti contained, I allowed her to leave the farm once again for her own safety at another out-of-state farm (this time in Pennsylvania) with a better “keeping the dog in the pasture system” than I had. She escaped that farm after a few minutes in their pasture.

Long story very short, after 3 trips to Pennsylvania, 2 years of running newspapers ads (and articles), many nightmares seeing Patti’s haunted black eyes, and hundreds of dollars spent I got Patti back.

That was 3 years ago and Patti never left our farm pasture once after she got home. Not one time. She clearly wanted to guard alone so that’s what she did even though we had 4 other guards that could have helped her.

But Patti did not need help, as she’d tried to tell me for so many years before. She took her job extremely seriously and did not want interference from other dogs or me either (actually). As soon as this stubborn, sometimes-slow-to-get-it-human got that we were best of friends — well as best of friends I could be with Patti short of being a sheep. We lived in harmony — each appreciating the other’s strengths and overlooking each other’s weaknesses. Mostly.

So for the past 3 years of her life we lived more amicably than ever before and I watched this magnificent dog do some truly remarkable things. I finally let Patti be Patti — to do things her way. If I saw her staying closer to a particular sheep it eventually became clear that sheep had a health issue unknown to me. Patti saved many of my beloved sheep because she alerted me to their silent plight and I was able to intervene before it was too late.

On the rare occasion when I would come out to do morning chores and find a dead sheep, Patti was dutifully laying next to it until I removed it from the pasture — her presence warding off perceived predators swooping in to take one of her sheep from her sight.

I watched in awe as this remarkable dog interacted playfully with sheep that were very tough customers — sheep that would have easily intimidated any lesser guard dog. The tougher the sheep, the more Patti worked to befriend it and make it her own. Until she won them all over.

I admired Patti as she raced a vehicle up or down our long farm lane — her beauty and blind abandon never lost on me. I saw her “smile” as she basked in the glow of who she was. So finally (finally) we, Patti and I, were what we should have been from the beginning.

She was in such good health — so strong — I blindly assumed she would outlive all our other guards, that she’d be here much longer than she was.

Until that awful gut-wrenching moment I could not find her and my heart raced as I looked for her and found her lifeless body curled up in her favorite resting place — it was not until that unbelievable moment I felt the total love I had (and will always have) for Patti. I only wish I’d more completely understood and acknowledged that love so much sooner.

This morning I watched “her” sheep file past the place Patti lay for the last time, each sheep sniffing the bare ground where their guard-friend had been. Their solemn, quiet demeanor broke my heart for them and for me.

I don’t cry often on the farm — perhaps because I deal with so many, many animals and so many, many losses that I choke back the tears until they can’t be swallowed any more and they escape my eyes, tumbling down my cheeks because I can’t catch them all in time. As I write this, the skies are pouring rain and Heaven’s tears mingle with my own. And once again I realize (and internalize) that we are all but dust -as the Bible says — us human and animal emotion-filled-pain-feeling creations of God. We simply all must die.

Patti’s life and loss have taught me lessons I would have never learned in a lifetime of classrooms. The joy of love and pain of loss mingle together in a waterfall of sorrow and hope that I will be a better person because of the lessons learned from a dog I once frustratingly struggled to understand and control.

I often hear people say when they get to Heaven they are going to ask God some tough questions. Honestly, I ‘ve never had even 1 question in my mind I wanted to pose to God when I see Him face to face.

Until today.

My question? Why God, did You make our beloved pet’s life spans shorter than that of most human’s life spans?

His answer (I believe)? “To show you what My unconditional love for you feels like”.

Copyright 2019

Jackie Deems

Originally published at wwwamazinggracefarmscom.blogspot.com on March 6, 2019.

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