She Was a Good Farm Dog

My Generation

Saying goodbye to an animal whose life is so completely intertwined with our family and our farm.

Published on: February 12, 2014

Our dog, Mandy, had to be put down yesterday.

She was a border collie and she was nearly 15 years old. She was my gift to my husband on our first anniversary. We drove up to Galena for the weekend and I told him we needed to swing through Lanark on our way home, for his present. She was one of a half dozen roly-poly puppies raised by farmers on the edge of town.

We brought her home and we loved her. Mandy loved to play in the water and she herded the barn cats, which annoyed them beyond all possible imagination. She rode in the tractor with John, her very favorite place to be. When she wasn't with him, she'd lay beneath his truck, waiting for him to come back or to come out of the shop. She rode on the four-wheeler with us, too, which was likely her second favorite place to be. She'd ride in front of me and sometimes put her paws up on the handlebars. Occasionally, she would look back at me and lap her tongue in appreciation, which mostly wound up with me getting dog slobbered, but it was ok. She loved a good ride.

I shot this years ago, while we were checking cows. Mandys sitting on the four-wheeler, looking out over the cows.
I shot this years ago, while we were checking cows. Mandy's sitting on the four-wheeler, looking out over the cows.

Mandy was a working dog by nature, and in the early years I'd look up from writing and see heifers running around the lot out back in a cloud of dust. Mandy. Herding. I'd call her off and she'd look sheepish.

She once even made it onto the cover of Prairie Farmer, for our favorite farm dog contest. None of the submitted photos were suitable for the cover that year, in part because digital photography was new and our cover format at the time required square photos. I had a photo I'd grabbed of Mandy riding in the tractor cab, looking out over the prairie. Tall, lean, proud, content. I love that photo.

Her cover dog debut. I love her eyes.
Her cover dog debut. I love her eyes.

Mandy was quick, too. Back in those days, I would deliver hamburgers fresh off the grill when John was in the field, and we'd ride together in the tractor and eat and talk.  Only once, I lowered my sandwich as I paused to say something to John and just like that, Mandy reached up and plucked it right out of my hand and swallowed it. One gulp. She didn't even look guilty. But who could blame her? We all love a little beef.

Mandy slowed down as she aged. And don't we all. Where once she ran the waterway between our house and my in-laws' all day long, she gradually made fewer trips. Then just one a day. And then none. Arthritis. And a heart murmur, which our vet had discovered years ago but that didn't seem to bother her much. She had cataracts, too, discovered one night as she and I stood outside the barn, waiting for the vet during calving season. She looked up at me and in the barn light, her eye looked cloudy. Over the last few months, she lost her hearing almost completely. There was no calling her anymore; we had to go to her and guide her back into the house or garage.

She made it into my mugshot not once, but twice. Her one-ear-up salute is classic Mandy.
She made it into my mugshot not once, but twice. Her one-ear-up salute is classic Mandy.

It's a hard call to make, even when you know it's the right one. We took her to the veterinarian yesterday at noon. I held her on my lap for her last ride, the sunshine on her face. Our vet, who's also our good friend, let us come in the back and leave the same way. The decision was right but it was still hard; there's nothing quite like crying with your husband at the vet clinic.

I keep reminding myself: she's a dog. Not a person. Which is true, and it cannot be compared to losing an actual person. That I know. But we all know what our farm dogs are to us. Real companions, morning and night. Barn and house, and everywhere in between. I love reading the stories sent in each year for our Favorite Farm Dogs contest because they show an animal whose life is so entirely intertwined with the family and the farm.

That was our Mandy.

Jenna said it best: "I'll miss her following me out to the barn."

Me, too, baby. Me, too.

Post Tags: prairie farmer

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  1. Roger Reuter says:

    Wow Holly you nailed it!! Our dog Squirt was or could have been one from the same litter. Very nice story, and yes lot's of good memories . Keep the stories coming. Organic Dairy farmer from Wis. Roger

  2. Oh I have tears! Our Sadie is part border collie (and probably part blue tick heeler). She's only 5, but she has become everyone's best friend. Your part about herding the barn cats is especially true of her as well. Hugs and Love. No dogs are not people, but their unconditional love makes them priceless.

  3. Nancy says:

    Thank you for writing this, it is so true and very familiar. I took our 15ish Lab mix the same day, only one-half hour earlier. Strange, the timing, or maybe not......

  4. Rhonda says:

    Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.... Author unknown, but obviously an animal lover Tears shed here for Mandy, and every dog we've ever had here on this farm. The only time I've ever seen my dad cry was when he had to tell me my Collie had been hit and killed.

  5. Mike says:

    Beautifully written, Holly. So sorry for your loss.

  6. Bart McGuinn says:

    They are wonder dogs. For all of the times they make you smile when you have a hard day, or when they lay their heads on your lap, they are really wonderful. Hold on to those memories and soon there will be more smiles than tears.

  7. Eunice Olson says:

    I have a tear running down my face after reading this story. Our Springer Spaniel Bingo died 12/05/13 after a long wonderful life of almost 14 years on the farm. RIP wishes to all of the wonderful farm dogs that were, that are, and are yet to be! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.

  8. Kristy Smith of udim.org says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with Mandy. I feel for you. My English Shepherd, Sousa, died in 2011, at the age of 16. She was the last offspring of my dad's last cow dog and Dad's been gone since 1991. Our farm feels incomplete without her.

  9. Lauren Shissler says:

    I'm so sorry to hear about Mandy. I'm crying for a dog I've never met but crying all the same. Your family is in our prayers.

  10. Ken Hayse says:

    Thanks Holly, Tears, and then a lot of great memories from our farm dogs over the last 40 years. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Oh I'm touched. Mandy is very lovely dog. It's very hard to say goodbye because pets is also a part of the family. We also lost our dog and we really missed him a lot. Thank you for sharing this article.

  12. Bruce Johnson says:

    So true, Holly. Our pets find their way into our hearts in their own unique way, and I've had that cry several times. Hard to say goodbye, but what great memories you've embraced.