The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ranching versus Reality

I went out the other day to bring my sheep from their over night pen, down my dirt road, across a small, paved easement road into a small grass pasture where they spend lazy days doing what sheep do, browsing, sleeping, drinking and waiting to go back at night. Seems simple enough, right? Beyond my property, there are 4 or 5 other homes that share the easement road, and all the occupants, it seems, have become accustomed over the last 3 years to the sight of me moving my sheep.

More than once one of them has stopped to watch while I work my dogs, and sometimes they stop to talk or comment about the dogs and sheep. I even have one neighbor who used to feed the sheep yard clippings, which isn't the best for them, what with pesticides or fertilizers mixed in. But he really enjoyed feeding my sheep, so for his benefit, I put a metal trash can on his side of the fence and filled it with grain and a scoop so that he could throw out an offering now and then and satisfy his compassionate side. It got to the point where my sheep would run up the fence whenever they heard his car.

This particular morning was no different than any other, and I chose a young prospect in training to accomplish the task of relocating the sheep. Efficiently he gathered them up from the over night pen, hustled them out the gate and down the lane. Once on the easement road, I whistled for him to start them away from the gate, uphill along the easement road, so that I could get to the gate and open it without sheep trying to force their way through and tearing up the gate in the process. I noticed the car that was just starting towards us from the top of the hill and assumed the drive would stop in the name of safety for my animals and wait the 45 seconds or so it would take me to get everyone inside the pasture. I was wrong. She, (yes it was a woman, a 20-something woman,) approached going too fast for our little drive and showed no intention of either slowing or stopping and was now dangerously close to my dog. The sheep I wasn't so worried about. They would avoid the car, but the dog was busy...and very focused. Car...what car?

I thought; "what the hell?" and then I started towards her. I was speaking and in none too nice of a tone, but my words are lost to me now. She didn't care about me either, because next she began to steer around me onto the dirt shoulder and was now headed straight for the dog. And that, my friends, is when I went straight to Crazy-ville. It's a place that I inhabit less frequently than in days gone by, but once I cross that line, I'm in my element. I'm home. I began waving my arms, and pointing my fingers, and screaming obsenities, and questioning her sanity in no uncertain terms. I got her attention and that together with the fact that her little car was not going to fare well at all on the road's shoulder, which is really a berm, made her stop and put up her hands in surrender. She waited until the sheep were away.

Then I went back to the house and happened on an online article from the LA Times called Ranching, Recreation collide in the great outdoors. Similar to my run in with suburbanites, it is the story of a woman and a sheep rancher in Colorado, who unfortunatley collided over their rights, their safety, their recreation and their livlihood. Everybody lost in the collision. Well, all except for the attorneys. I'm sure the attorneys made a small fortune. Read the story and draw your own conclusions, but the recreating woman was mauled by 2 valuable livestock guardian dogs who were killed as a result.

The woman was just riding a mountain bike. The dogs were just protecting their flock, a job they have been bred for centuries to do. The woman moved from Chicago with her family. The rancher has been running sheep in the same area for 30 years. The woman rode into a flock of sheep 1,300 stong and the protective dogs attacked and injured her. The dogs were killed and the rancher stated he will never use dogs again because of the liability. The woman learned that she could not sue in civil court because in Colorado, there is protection for ranchers when a guardian dog bites. So, she and her husband hired an attorney who sued the rancher in criminal court where they only had to prove that a bite occurred.

The judge in the criminal case attempted to mediate a reconciliation, but the woman and her family would not have it. They wanted the rancher punished. The rancher lost 2 valuable guardian dogs, but avoided jail time. He was sentenced to 500 hours of community service and made to pay a $500 fine to charity. Without protection provided by the dogs, the rancher lost 26% of his flock to predators.

Where does our food come from? Are we so used to buying it processed, packaged and stacked neatly on store shelves that we don't know? The livestock industry and livestock as a whole have come under attack in the last few years, but where do you think your next lamb chop will come from? Or your next shearling-lined coat? Or your next set of sheepskin seat covers? If I can't cross the road with a few head of sheep without being threatened by an impatient motorist with a long shopping list and not a moment to waste, what chance does the rancher have?

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