Who slept on the braided rug
beside your bed every night? When you walked down to the corner market for a
soda, who insisted on accompanying you, to make sure you’d made it there and
back? Or who waited patiently on the front porch every school day afternoon for
your return? And when you went to the barn to milk the goats, who was it that
just so happened to be there, sitting right outside the milking stall, incase
you needed an extra hand? And when the horses got out at 2 AM because you
forgot to latch the gate, who was it that warned you something was amiss, and
then helped you track them down, in a foot of snow?
For me, it was none other than Queenie, our purebred English Shepherd. She was my little sister’s tenth birthday present. Our parents had seen an ad for English Shepherd puppies in the "Countryside and Small Stock Journal." Queenie flew in late February 1972 from Anthony Griffith, a farmer out in Iowa. She came in an orange crate. My mom took my sister out of school that day, and drove her to the airport where Queenie was waiting for her.
I saw Queenie for the first time after school, sitting there in the kitchen of our remodeled 1810 farmhouse. She had a pleasingly cute face with a soft black coat and white trimmings down her nose, around her collar and down her chest, at the tip of her tail and on all four feet. She wiggled and licked everyone in the family as she began to get to know us. We placed her bowls in a corner of our kitchen, where she’d wait for supper to be over and leftovers to be piled atop her dry food. We taught her how to sit, stay and come within the first few months of her arrival. She caught on quickly, and from somewhere deep within her soul instinctively knew what we needed from her.
This was the same year my little sister decided to become allergic to cow’s milk, thus necessitating us to go into the dairy goat business. I was a horse girl at heart, but soon came to understand the value of dairy animals and the necessity of a good dog to be on hand. We named our dairy goat farm, Jenny’s Glen, in honor of the first goat we bought, an old grade Toggenburg. Our dairy goats were also our 4-H projects, and we learned how to be good dairymen. We worked hard to provide a clean, safe place for them to live. Once in a while a hungry stray dog would enter our property, intent on getting at our dairy goats. Queenie would give a strong warning call, and then lead us to the intruder. She did her job well, and we never lost any animals to predators.
Dogs are natural enemies to dairy goats, but Queenie was patient
and easy going with our herd. They seemed to know she was there to help them.
She was never butted, nor did she make the does nervous when she came with us
into the field to bring them in for the night. Queenie seemed to understand our
goats, and loved them. She was always patient with the rambunctious kids as
they bounced their way around the barnyard. She’d come to them while they were
sucking away at the rubber nipple on a pop bottle full of warm milk After
inspecting each one to be sure it was getting its fair share, she’d give them a
lick and move on to her other duties on the farm.
Queenie outsmarted every dog our family had every owned. It was as if she could read our minds somehow. When she’d come to live on our farm everything was new, and we didn’t have much money to spend on fancy things. Our first fencing was the electric kind, because it was less expensive than the woven wire types or board fencing. Queenie took it upon herself to keep the geese and ducks away from its lines. Somehow she knew it would hurt them if they ventured too near the electric wires. This was especially true when it rained and standing puddles formed near the bottom strands. Queenie would position herself between the electric fence and the waterfowl, and ever so gently inch them away from the danger. We raised Chinese geese mostly, the biggest and most aggressive kind, but with Queenie’s natural ways they waddled away obediently and never tried to attack her.
She was kind and gentle with the baby chicks and ducklings; always giving them a sniff and a lick; yet never wanting to hurt them. She'd sit next to a batch of kittens and let them crawl all over her. She never barked at my horse inviting an insulting kick to be thrown her way. She would even tolerate me hoisting her up onto his back for a ride together around the field. Though I could see the worried look in her eyes, somehow she’d set that aside and trusted me.
If a visitor came to call, Queenie knew before everyone else. She’d give a little woof, get up, and wag her tail to be the first one to greet them. She knew better than to jump up on people, or to bark incessantly. She was friendly, yet on guard all the time. She felt it her duty to watch over us. She was a good shepherd, keeping a watchful eye out for us, and the surrounding countryside. English Shepherds are what’s called a "loose eyed" herding dog. Meaning instead of starring down an object, they are able to watch it, while keeping an eye on the horizon about them. Thus they are perfect farm dogs with gentle temperaments and high intelligence.
Our old farmhouse was only forty feet from the road, and once when
Queenie crossed the road to visit our neighbor, a speeding car hit her. The
impact loosened a few front teeth and broke her pelvis. Thankfully Queenie knew
to ignore the hysterical cries from my little sister, which drove me to tell
her, "Shut up! You're gonna scare Queenie!" My mom and I lifted our
broken and bloody English Shepherd into the front seat of our old bronze
colored pick up truck and sped off for an emergency call to our veterinarian.
Upon our return we made a stretcher out of old burlap feed sack and two long 2 x 2 poles. Queenie had to rest inside all the time. If she had to relieve herself, my sister and I would each take an end of the stretcher and haul her out to the yard. She didn’t complain or whine at the occasional "oops" we'd make when we would knock the stretcher into the door frame, or forget to set her down evenly, so there was a sort of plop to the whole lowering action. It took several weeks before Queenie made a full recovery.
Self-reliance and provident living were part of our family’s basic beliefs. We raised and stored almost everything we ate right there on our small farm. The garden was about a half an acre in size, with all the common vegetables imaginable. We all worked equally to make our small acreage into a homestead. Mom made homemade jams and jellies, canning or freezing our produce from the garden and barnyard all summer and into the fall months. Dad and my old brother split several cords of firewood to heat our home during the cold weather, and my little brother took care of our yard work and odds and end chores we didn’t want to do. On early winter mornings mom would often help with the milking. My little sister and I were usually in charge of the daily care of the dairy goats, horses, and chickens, with of course the help of Queenie, our faithful sidekick.
In the summertime, my siblings and I would go out into the garden to plant, weed and harvest the vegetables. Queenie was there as well, practicing her hunting skills, her head bent down, as she went pouncing up into old tuffs of field grass, trying to coax the rodents out from their cover. Queenie never seemed to be far from our side. After the garden chores were finished we’d ride our horses down to the creek, and there was Queenie wading in the waist deep water next to the splashing hooves, and dangling barefoot legs.
In the crispness of autumn, came another year of school, where I met Mrs. Ellen Lacy, my sixth grade English teacher. She must have over heard me talking about Queenie to one of my friends, because she asked, "Teri what color is your English Shepherd?" Wow, I thought they only came in black and white, and told her so. That’s when she taught me that her English Shepherd was a tri color, and that some are black and tan, and sable and white. It turned out that Mrs. Lacy had owned an English Shepherd all her life, and she became a wealth of knowledge for me. Mrs. Lacy by far became my favorite teacher, and English my favorite subject. I have often wondered if the kinship we shared was because we both loved English Shepherds, I think perhaps it is.
Winter brought with it snow, and the cold northwest winds. An English Shepherd’s undercoat of fur equips them to work out of doors. The rain and sleet didn’t bother Queenie a bit. She enjoyed the colder weather very much. Her natural herding instincts came in quite handy when we needed to move our livestock from one pasture to another and then from the pasture back to the barn for milking. Though my little sister and I were still quite young and inexperienced, Queenie’s presence brought calmness to the animals, which helped us especially in nasty weather, when we wanted to get the job done more efficiently.
In late spring, Queenie had puppies, soft black and white ones. They were full of new life, and energy, like their mother. Our veterinarian, Dr. Miller wanted one. He got a big fat plump male. "It’s the best dog I've ever seen." He'd always tell us when he came out to tend to our livestock. He'd give Queenie a pat on the head and smile, as if giving her his official stamp of approval. It made me feel so glad she was our dog.
Queenie out lasted all the animals we ever had on our little homestead farm, even my horse. She watched me slowly grow from girlhood to womanhood with each passing season. Her warm brown eyes shone sweetly when the heartaches and tragedies of life found their way to our door, offering us a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. As I grew older and moved out on my own, Queenie remained waiting for me on the doorstep, or in the kitchen. When my sister and I brought our babies back home to visit, Queenie would lick them and welcome them as part of her family. We trusted her with our little ones, even when they’d walk on her tail or grab her ears. Her loyalty and devotion to us was endless.
She was solid, strong and healthy throughout her life, despite her
accident early on. Her steps were quick and lively even in her older years. She
enjoyed chasing a ball, and romping in a field anytime she could. Queenie lived
on the old farmstead for more than fifteen years. It was her heart that finally
stopped beating one day. The moment mom told me the news of Queenie’s passing;
I seemed to fully realize how much I was going to miss her.
How blessed I was to even know such an animal. Nobody could really own her. Sure my little sister often reminded me that Queenie was hers, but I knew better. Queenie was the Queen of our farm. She knew it. She kept things in check, and she ran the place.
What a dog, what a wonderful dog, and though she’s been gone for sometime now, my memories of her are fresh and clear. Recently my parents came to visit. There we sat on my front porch watching our children and three beautiful English Shepherds coming and going. Mom asked me, "Teri, which English Shepherd do you like best?" My husband, Bill quickly piped up and answered for me, "Queenie!" He exclaimed.
He was right. Queenie is my ideal standard I hold all English Shepherds to. Because I came to know early in my life a breed of dog apart from the others, my friend Queenie will remain a true spirit of wisdom and loyalty, all wrapped up in a beautiful soft black coat with white trimmings.
Bill and Teri Knox live on their "du Prairie" farm in West Jefferson, Ohio. They have four children and breed English Shepherds. The Knox’s are members of The English Shepherd Club.
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