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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chelsea, The Crazy-Ass Sheepdog

Chelsea looks a bit like a possum when she smiles, which is often. She rarely stops moving, trotting in a circle at the end of her chain. Eyes on the sheep, ever watchful, she takes her job very seriously. When one of us enters the barnyard, her whole body swings with the wagging of her tail.
The white and brown border collie pup started out in the house, but her high-strung nerves soon made it obvious that she was not to be trusted around small children.
Her domain was established next to the sheep barn, on a very long chain. Her home is a cozy, waterproof barrel lined with hay. In the winter, she often sleeps outside, burrowed in the snow, nose tucked under tail. She seems happy there, high energy and spirited.
The sheep keep Chelsea entertained. She barks a greeting at them when they enter or leave the barn, as if she is counting them. A sharp, warning bark is heard when one of the sheep gets too close to her bowl of food. We push the food bowl deep into her house, because it always takes her hours to eat it.
Donkey bides his time, waiting until the heat of the day has encouraged Chelsea to settle down for a siesta in the cool shrubbery beside her house. Then he sticks his head deep into her barrel and lifts it high, shaking out the food bowl and all of its contents. He manages a few mouthfuls before the dog awakes and rushes at him, teeth bared and barking.
Whenever the Farmer needs to move the herd from one section of the farm to another, he brings Chelsea along on a short leash for assistance. She hunkers down low, like a lion hunting the Serengeti. “Easy, easy…” the Farmer coaches. Chelsea lunges forward suddenly, but softy, just a few inches. Fifty sheep form a wave that drifts in the opposite direction. The Farmer tugs the leash to the left. The collie shuffles sideways, still low on her haunches. The sheep move closer to the barn. They keep one eye on the dog, and mutter to each other. “What to do? What to do?” The light from the barn shines through the open door into the yard, a warm beacon of safety.
The sheep look at each other. The one at the front of the wave peeks into the barn, as a safety test. He looks back at the rest of the herd, weighing options…and takes a step into the barn. Half the herd follows him in.
At the back of the herd, the ram looks at Chelsea. He obstinately lowers his head. Chelsea lunges, nipping a woolly ankle. The ram jumps to the side, breaking away from the herd. Suddenly the herd parts like the red sea, and half of the sheep follow the ram out toward the open pasture.
“Heh – Heh!” the Farmer shouts the call, and Chelsea circles around to cut off the exit. The woolly white wave steers back toward the barn, and through the door. With all one hundred twenty-five sheep souls safe inside the barn, the door is closed and bolted.
“Atta girl, Chels,” the Farmer says, and pats her on the head. In response, she winds her little body around his feet and whimpers for more attention. He gives her a quick rub under the chin and tells her to behave.
The next day, our 16-year-old Annie goes out to feed the dog. Reaching deep into the barrel to pull out the food bowl, she turns to look Chelsea in the eye. The collie must have perceived the high voice and smile as a challenge, because in the next few seconds she covered the distance between herself and Annie without touching the ground.
Annie dropped the bowl and caught the flying dog by the throat in midair, ala one of Charlie’s Angels. Then she quickly stood up and staggered into the house on adrenalin legs, where I met her on the way to the bathroom. Her hair was a cloud of mud, hay and knots, standing about four inches above her head. Her teary eyes were wild and she was shaking.
“I’m NEVER going near that crazy-ass dog again!” She cried.
I gave her a hug and told her that the dog must have thought she was stealing the food. I told her that Chelsea is challenged when you get down low and look her in the eye.
“No, that dog is nuts. And she just hates me. I see the way she looks at me. I’m never going near her again.” And she never has. Annie has no fear of Donkey the bully, but when she enters the barnyard she always gives Chelsea a wide berth.
Chelsea hunkers down and wags her whole body as Grandma Fisher feeds her one homemade jam cookie after another. She keeps her eyes on Annie, and smiles.

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