It has been one year since our first Border Collie Paisley died. Paisley was fourteen and a half; her loss was not a surprise. For the last year of her life, she had been slowing down. Then one evening exactly one year ago, she didn’t seem right. She was lying on her spot on her favorite Persian rug; her breathing was difficult. I took Julia to the store for dinner fixings. When I came back, Mark was sitting on the front stoop and Paisley was next to him. He was patting her. He said she had come to see him. I didn’t know how she could have gotten there. But he was her boss – he and the sheep were her reason to live. She wanted to be near him.
We started with four Romney sheep in 1979 – Betsy, Putney, Frieda and Alfie. Then we got the ram Zeno. Every year we had more. We went to Scotland a few times and watched the farmers on their hills with their dogs by their sides. The black and white dogs gracefully rounded up the sheep and brought them to the farmer. It was all too romantic and beautiful – a farmer, his sheep, and his dog.
Soon we had fifty sheep. We were living in eastern Massachusetts and our sheep were living on Mark’s family farm in western Massachusetts. Mark organized the sheep so he could leave them fenced and fed for a couple days until he could make it back out west to tend to them. As our sheep numbers increased, it became clear that a dog would be helpful. Although Mark and I made a humorous site -- running around, waving our arms, and trying to corral fifty sheep, we truly were ineffective. Mark decided it was time for a dog. I let him decide. Getting a Border Collie is a huge time committent; it had to be his decision (even though I was dying for a new dog). So we found her. She was beautiful – a fluffy, speckled Border Collie with spunk. Her spots reminded me of paisleys, a favorite motif from textiles. So we named her Paisley.
It soon became clear that Paisley had talent. At our old place in eastern Mass, we had chickens. Paisley never left the side of the fence, she just stared at them and chased along the side of the fence. Most dog trainers say this will ruin a dog. Lucky for us, it didn’t ruin Paisley. When we would take her to the sheep, she became possessed – as only a Border Collie can. She would crouch down and slowly walk up. She would dive. She didn’t know why or what she was doing, she just knew she had to.
Mark took a few lessons so he could try to understand the mind of a Border Collie. He read a lot of books and watched a lot of Border Collie videos. Slowly he figured out what she wanted for commands. They became a team. They were inseparable. I loved her too, but he “was it” for her.
For thirteen years, Paisley and Mark moved sheep around. From field to field, the sheep clipped the grass. After the field was finished, he and she would move them again. I loved watching – I clearly was not part of it. Mark would send her out to find the sheep. She liked to run wide – very wide. She would disappear. Then suddenly, I would hear it – hundreds of little hooves barreling towards Mark with the dog in hot pursuit. Every time I watched, it made me smile and I was amazed. In the sheep would go, just where Mark and Paisley wanted them.
After fifteen years in Eastern Massachusetts, we found a place of our own five miles from the farm where the sheep lived. We moved here with our not yet year old daughter, Julia. By then, we had another Border Collie Phoebe. (Unfortunately, sweet as she is, Phoebe isn’t interested in sheep! Chickens are her thing – I’m her boss.)
One hot late summer day, Mark told me he was going to bring the sheep up from the other farm to our new place to begin grazing our overgrown pastures. I figured he would spend the day with the dog, loading sheep into the rickety trailer and hauling them up to our new farm. He had different plans. He, the eighty sheep, and Paisley were going to walk. Paisley was about ten years old and beginning to slow down. The road was busy one, but it was a weekend. People could wait – after all, this is the country. Part of the way was unpaved - it wouldn’t be too hard on the sheep’s feet. Off they went. I waited at home with a one year old listening. It took them four hours. They all made it – Mark, the sheep, none of whom had never walked that far in a day, with Paisley behind them. It was such a great day – such a lovely feeling of success with a dog and a bunch of unruly sheep. Neither of us will ever forget it.
Nor will we ever forget Paisley. She died the next morning in her favorite spot. It was her time. She had a good life. She was never sick a day. She lived and worked hard. When we found her, we didn’t know what to do. We cried. We drank some coffee. We had to decide where to bury her. Mark said she needed to be in a field near her sheep. She loved her fields and her sheep. Later that afternoon, we dug a hole with the bucket of the tractor in my perennial garden overlooking her fields and buried her. I planted a white tree peony above her. The tree peony is blooming today. Paisley had a good life.
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