The farm, like the earth itself, is practically in hibernation right now. I can hardly remember a time when we have had fewer animals. The cow and the pig have both been butchered. The turkeys are gone as well, having been butchered and sold for Thanksgiving. The freezer is full of meat, and the only live animals I have left are the perennials - ponies, goats, and chickens.
The weather has been unrelenting. Except for one quick, two day freeze that brought a half-inch dusting of snow, it's been all mud. The chores are so miserable that I have allowed the unthinkable: chores once a day instead of twice. In my defense, the days are very short - there are barely eight hours of daylight, and that of a dubious, dark grey quality. We feed once, at about 11 am, double rations for everybody. As the animals are all huddled in the barn against the chill and the damp, they are not expending very much energy.
I always take Haku (the new shepherd) with us to do chores - he needs the exercise, but it is a giant pain in the ass. He cannot be trusted off leash, nor can he come into the main paddock with me, even on leash. The mere sight of the sheep sends him into a berserker rage and at 90 pounds, he is quite capable of pulling me off balance and sending me ass-first into the mud. So I put him in the adjacent pasture while I do chores, and he leaps frenetically at the fence and barks himself hoarse while I trudge through the mud.
"Shut up, Haku," I scream, with an armload of hay, the wind whipping half of it out of my arms and into my eyes.
"Shut UP, Haku," I scream, as I dig my naked hands into the ordure and pry the chicken's feed pan loose and carry it over to the hose for cleaning.
"Haku, for the love of all that's holy, SHUT UP!" I yell, as I duck back into the mama barn to scoop up chicken food. After a moment, I realize there is silence - and it is not relief I feel, but dread. I pop out of the barn, and see Haku dragging the sheep around the lower pasture by the scruff of her neck. I don't know how he got from one pasture to the other, but it hardly matters at the moment.
"HAKU!" I scream, and start to run after them. The mudboots I have put on are too small, and I am running with my toes curled under. It hurts.
"HAKU!" I keep screaming. The dog cheerfully ignores me. Even dragging the sheep, he easily outmaneuvers me. Occasionally, the sheep will break free and run for a bit, and Haku seems to enjoy it when she does, for it gives him a chance to chase her around again. The dog and sheep make large circles; I make smaller circles inside their orbit, lunging and stumbling and screaming ineffectually. I wasn't exactly checking my watch, but it felt like a good ten minutes before I managed to step on Haku's leash as he dashed by me and bring him to a jerking halt.
I was so angry at him. This is not the first - nor the second, nor the third - time he has attacked the sheep. He has never actually injured her, I think because her wool is so thick he can drag her around with a mouthful of wool without piercing her skin, but the poor thing is seriously traumatized. Haku has been punished each time, but it makes no impression. I'm going to risk the collective opprobrium of the internet by admitting that when I finally managed to drag Haku off of the poor sheep, I growled at him, flipped him on his back, twisted his ruff savagely, and whacked him across the snout with my bare hand, hard enough to hurt. "NO!" I yelled into his face. "NO!"
I dragged him out of the pasture and tied him to the fence by his leash while I finished my chores. The sheep was cowering in the far corner of the barn, but when I tried to approach her to check her for injuries she nimbly stepped around me and took off. That is, to me, enough evidence that she isn't seriously injured. As the late, great James Herriot said, if you can't catch your patient there probably isn't too much to worry about.
For those of you who might wonder, Haku is enrolled in a professional training course and we take him once a week. We also have a friend who is a professional trainer and she comes quite often to help us. Haku is a challenging dog, to say the least. He is an absolute sweetheart with the family - loving and docile and playful and trustworthy. He is also fine with visitors and people in general - but with animals, be they livestock or other dogs, he is a holy terror.
We are committed to Haku - we knew when we adopted him that he had been given up twice by other families and that we were, practically speaking, his last chance. If we were to take him back to the shelter, he would be deemed unadoptable, and we all know what that means. We will never ever do that - Haku is ours forever, even if he succeeds in his lifelong ambition to kill the sheep. We were warned that he was released the last time for killing chickens. When we decided that we were in love, that we had to adopt him, Homero said (privately) "He can kill all the chickens, I don't care."
Our last dog - my first dog - Ivory , was also challenging as a puppy. There were times I felt I had made a mistake, that she would never be a proverbial "good dog." We had to hang tough for - I'm going to say three years, until she calmed down and became a relaxed family dog, instead of a crazy whirlwind of destruction. She used to lunge at the fence and bark whenever the neighbor came home. The poor girl was only trying to get into her own house, and Ivory made it a trial every day for years. She also used to steal all my daughter's stuffed animals, sneak them out through the dog door, and then tear a small hole in them and run around the backyard, shaking them violently, until all the stuffing came out. She did this over and over until he whole backyard looked like a ski resort.
As it turned out, Ivory did become a "good dog" She lived with us for fourteen years - years which spanned the birth of my children and the growth of my family from a city-dwelling duo to a country farming family of five. She learned to be a farm dog, to herd goats, to chase rabbits through the blackberry bushes, to hunt and kill rats. She accompanied our family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and she provided us her whole life long with affection and protection. She was a real true member of the family, and even now, almost a year after her death from a nasty cancer, I cry every time I remember her. I have ugly tears rolling down my cheeks right now.