Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
By Cam Mather
Shortly after moving to Sunflower Farm, some friends from the city offered us a dog. They decided he was too “spirited” for life in the city. He’s a Shetland Sheepdog, also known as a “Sheltie”. So we stopped by the next time we were in the city and met him. Michelle and our daughters took to him right away, and even I liked him, which was a big step since I grew up with parents who hated all animals. Cats, dogs, beavers, you name it, they had nothing good to say about them. Consequently I grew up in a household without pets. Michelle had grown up with pets and had convinced me to get a cat a while back so I was kind of conditioned.
I liked the idea of having a dog at our country property. As I discuss in the security section of “Thriving During Challenging Times” when your nearest neighbors are 3 miles away, a dog is a good idea.
So Morgan arrived and hasn’t stopped running since. When our friends’ son first bought Morgan from a breeder, he was told that Shelties make “fine apartment dogs.” Knowing Shelties as I do now, I can’t imagine anyone thinking a member of this breed would be happy living in an apartment! His DNA says, “chase sheep.” Eventually the son gave Morgan to his parents, since they have a fenced in backyard in suburbia. But even the fenced in backyard was not big enough for Morgan, who spent the day barking at the birds and the bugs and anything else that moved. The neighbours complained about his barking. So they resorted to leaving him in their laundry room all day while they were at work. The thought of Morgan locked in a laundry room for the day while they were at work depresses me. So they offered Morgan to us and one day they dropped him off. They were concerned that when they left he’d jump back in the van and want to go home with them. But as soon as they began to say their goodbyes and headed towards their van, Morgan ran the opposite direction. We took this as a good sign that he was happy to stay here.
Morgan is mostly an outside dog, by choice. In the early spring he starts choosing to sleep outside and he does so until some time in November when he’ll come in at night by choice. We never tie him up. He hangs around the house and the yard and never leaves the area. Shelties have thick fur coats, with two layers of fur, so he’s happy just lying on snow in the winter.
He barks when cars pull in to the driveway. We don’t often have unexpected guests, but it’s nice to have some warning that people have arrived, before you suddenly hear a knock at the door.
Not having grown up with pets, it stills seems a little strange to me to have furry 4-legged creatures wandering around my house. Especially in the winter when Morgan is inside at night and the cats are all hanging out, it still seems kind of weird to me to have these animals, that sort of look wild, just hanging around in my house. Apparently this will take me a few more years to get over.
Dogs are very smart and I think they can sense things on a much deeper level than we realize. For example, I have often noticed that if Michelle is away from the house, Morgan will get up and walk over to the driveway and wait for her. About 5 minutes later she’ll arrive. There is no way he could hear the car 5 minutes away but he just seems to sense when she’s coming. It’s the same way when we are about to go for a walk. My office is in our “guest house” and I walk back and forth between the two buildings 10 or 20 times a day. Morgan rarely even raises his head as I go by. But if I’m going into the house to get ready to take him for a walk, he just knows it. I do little tests, making sure I don’t do anything to telegraph the walk physically, but he just knows. Of course I’m thinking “walk” and apparently Morgan can read my mind. As soon as get in the house to put on my coat, he’ll be at the door barking at us with his “Come on, let’s get this party started” bark.
Cats are sort of aloof and arrogant, but dogs are effusive. (After this statement I’ll probably be sleeping in the doghouse with Morgan tonight). As we start out on a walk Morgan is “over the moon.” He jumps and barks and tries to herd us, because of his sheepdog breeding. Out in the woods he just “bounds” everywhere. He walks and runs and chases and just relishes every minute. No leash, no bounds, just a billion smells to follow. I like the positive reinforcement I get from my dog. Michelle of course will write a future blog claiming I just don’t “get” cats.
Morgan is more than just a companion on walks and a notifier of guests. He also plays an integral role in the success of our garden crops by keeping the wildlife away. He keeps the deer away during growing season and tries to keep rabbits and squirrels and chipmunks out too. But his most important job is protecting the corn. Our woods, like many city neighbourhoods, are full of raccoons. And raccoons love corn. But they don’t love it in the “let’s steal an ear and leave” sort of way. Nope, theirs is a “let’s have a big drunken corn party in the corn patch, knock down half the stalks, take one bite out of each ear then move onto the next one” sort of love. This behaviour really bugs me. I just wish they’d finish a whole ear before they move onto the next one. They are just so wasteful!
So a number of years ago, just as the corn was ready to harvest, I began putting Morgan out in the garden to sleep at night. The garden is fenced but I tied him up near the corn each night before bed. We’d head out there and I’d give him his little pep talk and a dog biscuit, and he was a happy camper. In the morning we’d hear him bark at 5:30 or 6:00 am to remind us that he was still out there, and so we’d go out and untie him, give him a treat and praise him for his work. Morgan seems to love his job. He prances out of the garden with this tale wagging like he’s king of the world. He really seems to “get” the importance of his contribution. I can just imagine the look I’d get from the cats if I asked them to guard the corn. “Yea right."
The raccoons have this uncanny ability to figure out when the corn is ready and they seem to have a strategy on when to plan their assault. They usually pick a rainy or windy night so that the ambient noise hides their activities out there. This year I have noticed less activity with raccoons in the area so I haven’t tied Morgan up in the garden yet even though it’s time. I have to admit, I kind of dread those 5 a.m. “OK, my shift is over” barking sessions. So the other night Morgan and I spent some time in the garden to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The garden is 300 feet from the house so it’s really dark. There was no moon, and the only sound came from the rustling of the corn in the wind. I stood for about 15 minutes until my eyes adjusted and saw three meteors. I also enjoyed the wonder of a cloudless, moonless night looking at the universe miles from any human light pollution. Morgan enjoyed it as well.
I told Morgan that I would like him to start sleeping in the garden. He seemed okay with that and followed me back to the house. The next night I took him to the garden before I went to bed and I asked him to hang out in the garden for the night. I didn’t tie him up, and I didn’t expect him to stay because he is a very social dog and I assumed he’d follow me back to the house. I’ll admit though it was so dark I didn’t notice whether he came or not. The next morning at about 6 am I heard a distant bark. I didn’t think much about it but Michelle got up to check and sure enough when she called him, he came out of the garden. And he wasn’t tied up! The gate was open and he could have left, he just hung out because I asked him to! I am truly amazed by dogs. Morgan is an exceptional dog.
He has slept in the garden the last few nights now and we’ve had no issue with raccoons holding corn parties out there! Our cats do some cute things like bouncing off a wall, and chasing bugs and catching the odd mouse in the house. These are good things. But I’m officially a dog guy. Morgan the Wonder Dog is the best!