Copyright © 2002 Henrietta W. Hay
Henrietta Goes to the Dogs
November 1, 2002
Politics are the main topic on most of our minds this week. I like to
vote early because I love the electronic voting machines at the Mall.
But studying all the many issues has taken a lot of time.
Last week I turned off politics and turned on dogs. I am a cat person,
so I felt a bit disloyal. Since I acquired my new friend Mercury the
Wonder Cat, he has taken over my household and reminded me again what
wonderful animals cats are.
But recently I met some wonder dogs.
As a matter of fact, some people prefer dogs. I have a friend who says
that dogs have masters. Cats have staff.
We have here in western Colorado each year a great demonstration of what
working sheepdogs can do. The Meeker Classic is one of the biggest in
the nation, but somehow I have never managed to get to it. My loss.
Last week, however, I got a personal demonstration as I watched Julie
Matthews work her sheepdogs.
Julie is a young sheep woman/professional dog trainer from New Zealand
who was visiting Grand Junction recently and invited me to watch a work
session with her dogs. Wow. It was an amazing afternoon.
She has four dogs, but one is temporarily out of commission, having
fallen off a cliff on Glade Park and broken his two front legs. They
call him Celt the Wonder Dog. They should call him Celt the Flying
Dog. When I met him his front legs looked like huge sausages wrapped in
bandage. He is recovering, although he may not regain his former speed.
Julie has been working with sheep and sheepdogs for many years, and was
full of information and stories, all reflecting her deep love of all
animals-- most especially those little black and white speed demons, the
The afternoon I watched her work. she was in a friend's big field and
had "borrowed" six sheep. I was introduced first to Moss, the patriarch
dog, then to Dodge, and to Meg, a pup who was still being trained.
The sheep ignored me, but they certainly did not ignore the dogs. They
went exactly where the dogs put them and the dogs put them exactly where
Julie told them to.
Julie stood still and used voice commands and a whistle to tell the dogs
what she wanted them to do. She used standard voice commands, probably
hundreds of years old. "Come bye" means circle to the left. "Away to
me" means go right. I have no idea what she told them when she used her
whistle. The dogs moved the closely packed sheep around the field, on
one command divided them into two flocks and on another command even
isolated one sheep. Julie assured me that while this looks like
showmanship, with a flock of 1500 , this kind of discipline is
essential. These are working dogs.
It was so beautiful to watch these dogs run in exactly the commanded
pattern, then stop and slink toward the sheep, then run, never taking
their eyes from the goal. It was almost like watching a ballet -- the
perfect, graceful harmony between human and animals.
These dogs are genetically programmed to want to herd livestock.
Untold generations of careful selection have produced a breed that knows
exactly what to do. This was evident in watching Meg, the puppy.
Even though her training had just begun, she instinctively ran and
crouched exactly like her elders.
Lest you think sheep are dumb, they are the oldest domesticated
animal. They have gotten us to take care of them for over 6000 years.
They huddle together instinctively for protection, with the weaker
members of the flock on the outside. But the sheepdogs still can push
I found myself wondering whether as humans, we are more like the dogs
or the sheep.
Oh yes, Mercury the Wonder Cat says to be sure to remember to vote.