Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mystery Sheep

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain on the windows, which has become the soundtrack for my life. We've had rain every day for the last six weeks and have gotten about eight inches just this month. Parts of County Cork have had flooding problems, but we've been lucky so far in our little corner of the Middle of Nowhere.

After letting Toby out and feeding him, I went into Peter's office to start working. Now that I've been at my job for a year, I am able to work from home two days a week. Like most of my co-workers, I've selected Thursdays and Fridays as my at-home days. When I took a break a few hours later to get my mile run in, the sun was shining and the sky was a sheet of uninterrupted blue satin. It's the sort of weather that makes you forgive and forget six weeks of rain.

My plan was to just run laps around the outside of the house, which is something I often do when I just want to get a quick mile done and don't want to subject myself to the risks of the country roads. Toby was dancing around, excited, since he loves to races along the perimeter of the yard while I plod along on the gravel driveway, the huge grin on his face mocking my bipedal slowness.

I stepped out the back door, admiring the green hills, when I glimpsed something out of the ordinary. Sheep - white, fluffy sheep grazing in the next field over at the bottom of our garden. It was the perfect bucolic scene that draws people out into the Irish countryside. The flock consisted of at least 25 sheep and they truly were the fluffiest, whitest sheep I've ever seen outside of a picture book.

A fantastic image and something that should have had me smiling. And if it had been a herd of cattle, I would have been. But Toby is notoriously unreliable off-leash around sheep. He just can't resist the thrill of the chase. He hasn't hurt one yet but I live in fear of the day we have to knock on a farmer's door, chequebook in hand, to pay for the damages caused by our dog.

I leashed up Toby for the run and haven't let him out unsupervised since. The rest of the day, I worked at the kitchen table, where I could monitor the field. I didn't spot any sheep. It doesn't make sense for our landlord to have sheep, since the field isn't really fenced for it. I'd almost think that I imagined them, except that I can see strands of fleece clinging to the barbed wire of the fence.

It's silly to get worked up over some sheep, especially when I don't know for sure that they've taken up residence in the field. But my fear of authority, sharpened by twelve years of Catholic School and the stereotypical ruler-wielding nuns, makes it too easy for me to imagine the aftermath of a Toby-related sheep mishap. I like my landlord and don't want to get in trouble.

I'm developing plans in my head, plans that involve reinforcing the bottom-of-the-garden fence with chickenwire or something similar (right now, it's just a post and barbed wire deal) and getting a shock collar for training purposes (for the dog, not me, although maybe some shock therapy could curtail my penchant for endless worrying). I'm better when I have a plan, when I feel like I can exert some control over the issue. But still, sometimes I wish I could just relax and enjoy the surprises in life, like the perfect vision of sheep on a sunny day.
Picture taken by Peter in Scotland during our honeymoon in 2004.


At 24 January 2008 at 19:23, Blogger Kaycie said...

I completely understand your worry in this situation. I think I'd be the same way. Having grown up on a farm, I've seen how livestock and dogs sometimes don't mix well.

I'm sorry it ruined the pretty day for you.

At 24 January 2008 at 21:52, Blogger Aoj & The Lurchers said...

Ann, I do understand your worry too. Lurcher NO.1 is not good with sheep although fortunately there are none around us.

But could I please ask you to reconsider the shock collar? I@m sure they must have their uses but I'm hard-pressed to find an example. If you do need to use such a collar on Toby, could I suggest one that uses compressed air instead? They accomplish the same thing but do not instill fright and fear into a dog, they instead break the concentration and get their attention back to you without the need for instilling pain.

Greyhound Gap has a Greyhound in its care that has been traumatised by the use of a shock collar and now nothing, and I mean nothing, gets through to him he has become so desensitised.

You can get the air spray collars at Dynavet - it's called a Jet Care and their website is

At 25 January 2008 at 03:54, Blogger Sweet Irene said...

I think you had better contact the landlord first and find out if there are indeed going to be sheep on that bit of property and tell him that you have a dog that likes to chase sheep.

Maybe between the two of you, you can work something out. Hopefully something can be done about the fencing and you will not have to resort to a shock collar, which are quite painful.

It's a shame that you can't let Toby have the freedom he obviously enjoys. Hopefully the sheep will be moved to another pasture and it was just a one time occurence.

At 25 January 2008 at 08:58, Blogger Fence said...

We used a shock collar on our pup (he's 8 but still a pup) 2 years ago or so as he developed the habit of going out on the road barking at people.
It worked, for a while, but in the end made him worse. He settled down a lot more after we stopped using it.

But then again if it'll stop Toby thinking about sheep its a good thing. As far as i know a farmer can legally shoot any dog in the same field as his sheep, even if the dog is ignoring the woolly creatures.

At 25 January 2008 at 12:49, Blogger laurie said...

yeah, you're right to worry. funny, i always figured the life in the middle of nowhere would be a great life for a dog....roaming free.. but you're right that you have to watch him around the sheep.

too bad.

our friends used a shock collar to train their hunting dogs. it worked great. but i borrowed it to try to train my toby not to run off, and it didn't work at all. it shocked him, but he ran anyway. maybe frightened by the pain; i don't know.

i think fencing makes more sense, if you can find some that will contain him.

At 25 January 2008 at 17:03, Blogger Monica said...

Still, the entire picture sounds SO lovely. How lucky you are to live there! Haven't been back since my honeymoon 12 years ago, but I dream about it...

How long did it take to make the transition from "checkbook" to "chequebook?"

At 25 January 2008 at 20:32, Blogger Linda said...

You definately have to ask if the sheep are 1) for real and 2) staying for long... Are sheep migratory? That will probably make a difference in Toby not having to be penned in if he doesn't have to be!

At 25 January 2008 at 23:53, Blogger Sandy said...

I, too, grew up with 12 years of sterotypical ruler-wielding nuns! Your imagery is perfect.

Owning dogs in the bucolic rural setting does bring it's own set of problems, doesn't it?

At 26 January 2008 at 20:34, Blogger -Ann said...

Kaycie - I got over it....mostly. :)

Aoj - Thanks for the tip.

SI - Yeah, haven't had a chance to talk to the landlord yet and still haven't seen the sheep again.

Fence - That's my understanding as well and I think it's happened to village dogs before. It's the farmer's land and livelihood, so you can't really blame them.

Laurie - Living in the country does have its own set of challenges, but Toby does get sample loads of interesting smells on our walks, so it's worth it in the end.

Monica - Not long at all. :) If only my speaking accent could change as easily.

Linda - Yeah, I definitely don't want to go the enclosed dog run route. I've just been supervising him, but letting him run about. It was nice though because we used to just be able to leave the door open for him and he'd just hang out.

Sandy - How much therapy did you require to overcome the Catholic education? :) I got a fantastic education but also some unnecessary baggage out of the deal.


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