Chapter 16: Mother Teresa? No... Mother Sheba

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Some animals are born to steal a large piece of your heart and soul and never, never give it back to you. Funnily enough it's not actually theft at all. You find you give your love willingly and wholly without reservation. Such a love pirate was our Sheba, the German Shepherd. A black and tan beauty, her love for us and all the world around her was only equalled by her amazing mothering skills.

I had wanted a large dog for many years, clearly remembering the joy of growing up with a large Airedale dog jointly 'owned' by my sailor brother and myself. Sadly, since our marriage, none of our various homes had been suitable. There had been a rented flat, followed by a rented duplex (semi-detached house) and when we finally had our own house, both of us were working full-time and unable to provide proper care for a puppy. The move to our friend's wheat and sheep farm was not the place to bring a German Shepherd - far too much prejudice still existed in the minds of the farming die-hards, especially those who had sheep. And so, before our move we bought our beautiful small framed Labrador crossed with something much smaller and very golden - maybe a touch of Red Setter in the mix?

I've written of Candy's mysterious disappearance and her daughter Gypsy grieving even more than we had. A puppy was the solution we chose to help us all heal, and here was my opportunity to have a large dog once again now that we were on our own 165 acre farm. At last space was no problem, nor prejudice either... we were deep in Dairy country. Nothing but a German Shepherd would do this time.

Much searching and many false hopes and disappointments were endured before we found the right dog, but suddenly there she was. Her parents were on view and although they were a handsome pair, Sheba filled our vision and our hearts. She was the last of the litter, now 11 weeks old and too big for many families looking for a cute little puppy. But not for us. Sheba most certainly proved the theory that the biggest is most often the most loving, having been regularly overlooked by a mother busy with the rest of her more needy litter.

I wish I could tell you that the trip home in my arms was followed by a warm welcome from Gypsy, but the truth is, our sweet gentle girl turned into a snarling monster as soon as she caught sight of this intruder. It was terrifying, but we were helpless to do more than growl ourselves. Baby Sheba was pinned down by the throat behind our Lounge until her whimpering indicated the right point of submission had been reached to satisfy the newly dominant Gypsy. Even after release, a grumbling growl and a quick evil smile every time Sheba moved a muscle kept her in a state of terror of putting a paw wrong for the rest of that night.

But this animosity didn't last long. Sometime during the next morning it was over as suddenly as it had begun. The new status quo had been established and would not be challenged for another 10 years, despite Sheba growing to double Gypsy's height, breadth and length. In spite of this unfriendly beginning, these two became inseparable, with Sheba filling the void our beloved Candy had left in all our lives.

Life on a dairy farm is never dull despite the repetitious nature of the job at hand - namely milking twice a day. It certainly was never boring for Sheba. All that freedom. So much to explore. A myriad of questionable smells to be sniffed and tastes to be savoured... or otherwise. This clumsy, big-footed pup who couldn't even lift those great ears up on hot days for many weeks, discovered learning curves presenting themselves daily. Many happened accidentally, like her first 'big voice' bark when she even frightened herself. So comical to watch her develop as she faked being a vicious guard dog. She fooled some of the people, some of the time - but any 'doggy' person could see her eyes were gentle, revealing the softest, most loving nature.

Sheba learned many of life's lessons from older and wiser heads - beginning with Gypsy, who knew from personal experience everything about eluding encounters of the damaging kind, especially anything that had an engine and wheels. Her greatest respect would eternally be for the seemingly endless armada of wheels of the milk tanker on its daily visits. Next priority? Killing rats and mice was important - but NOT eating them was crucial. Maybe they already carried a dose of poison. We never understood how Gypsy could know this. Perhaps these rodents carry a certain scent that serves as a warning to their predators? Whatever, Sheba learnt the lesson and never had a problem with mechanical or potentially poisonous issues.

Old McLarsen Had Some Farms - a memoir:      Book Two - The Milky WayWhere stories live. Discover now