Shepherd's Way

The reminiscence below is fairly long for a webpage, but get a cup of coffee and settle in for a lovely personal account of growing up with an English Shepherd in the 1930s. The first photo is of Mr Jarratt as a child with Lad, the other photos are not Jarratt dogs specifically, just American shepherd-collie dogs from the early 1900s.


Lad

From the files of Mr. Ed Lynn Jarratt

My dad bought Lad as a six-week-old puppy in the spring of 1931. Although he came with no pedigree or registration, he was sold as a purebred English Shepherd, and he was our family dog for almost sixteen years...

Lynn and LadLad's puppyhood must have been rather ordinary, for I heard very little about him as a puppy. My mother often recalled what a cute puppy he was the first time she saw him, when Dad brought him home sitting beside him on the seat of Dad's T-Model Ford Roadster. Lad was panting and looking about with mild curiosity - rather indicative of the calm, self-assured way he approached most new situations in his life. At that time, my dad was working at one of the furniture manufacturing plants in Lexington, and Lad soon learned when to expect Dad to return home. He would meet Dad when he turned off Swicegood Road. Dad would stop so Lad could jump into the car and ride home with him.

Lad was still a rather young dog when he endeared himself to the entire family and began to display the behavior that we would remember the most about him. One evening the family walked to my aunt's house about a quarter mile away and went with her to a revival service at her church. Lad, of course, had followed them to my aunt's house and waited for their return. It was dark when they came home, and Lad met the car barking, but no one paid any attention to his barking, assuming that he was just welcoming their arrival or had heard some noise in the night. My small cousin was the first to get out of the car and start along the walk toward the house. But he stopped and asked, "What's this?" as he pointed to a dark object on the walk. At that instant Lad rushed in and pushed my cousin aside. Lad received on his muzzle the bite of a copperhead snake that very likely had been intended for my cousin's outstretched hand.

When Lad recovered from that bite, he declared a personal war on all snakes and was constantly on the alert for one. He was especially vigilant around us children. When we were with one of our parents, Lad was a typical dog, making brief side trips to investigate an interesting scent, chase a rabbit or squirrel, or to visit with a dog that happened by. But when Lad was the "adult" with us children, nothing could tempt him away from his duty. He insisted on leading the way and would stay a few steps ahead of us checking to be sure the path was clear. If we ran, he ran faster to maintain his position; if we stopped, he stopped and waited. If we had a chore to do or chose to play in a certain spot, Lad would check the area for snakes. When Lad lay down and relaxed, it was certain there was no snake in the area. My mother never worried about us children getting on a snake so long as we had Lad with us.

One time my sister was sent on an errand, and for once Lad was not there to go with her. She returned a few minutes later quite breathless and frightened. She told Dad that Lad must be going mad or something. She said she found him lying in the path below the barn, but he would not come when she called him. And when she tried to walk around him, he jumped up and blocked the path and growled and snarled at her. There was no preventative rabies vaccine for dogs in those days. No matter how much we loved a dog, when it acted out of the ordinary, especially viciously, the possibility of rabies had to be considered. Dad took down his rifle and went to check on Lad. In a few minutes we were horrified to hear a rifle shot, and we thought Lad had, in deed, gone mad, and Dad had killed him. But our fear and sadness turned to delight when in a few minutes I saw Dad returning with Lad trotting happily beside him. There was a very small cluster of briers growing near the path, and a copperhead snake had crawled under them. Ordinarily Lad would tease a snake into trying to bite him. He would be poised and ready to evade the bite, and then in the instant that the snake was outstretched and before it could recoil to strike again, he would grab it and shake it to death. But those briers were so tightly intertwined that Lad could not tease the snake without risk of being bitten. Apparently he was just waiting for the snake to crawl out, but he had to block my sister from going near the snake. When Dad arrived, Lad began to bay the snake, and the rifle shot we heard was that of Dad killing the snake instead of Lad, as we had feared.

There were thickets of blackberry briers growing wild about the farm. When the berries were ripe, Lad would go with my mother and check the area for snakes before she began picking berries. Once after Lad had checked a thicket and pronounced it snake-free, my mother began picking berries while Lad went chasing a rabbit. He had not returned when she finished picking the berries there, so she moved to another thicket a short distance away and continued picking berries. When Lad returned, he sniffed about a bit and moved just a few steps ahead of her and barked his special bark that always meant, "Snake!" He grabbed a big copperhead and shook it to death. Then he moved a few steps further and killed another. He pushed a little deeper into the thicket and brought out a third copperhead which he had killed. When Lad started back into the thicket, my mother stopped him. She said, "Come on, Lad. We are going home before one of us does get bitten."

dog and boyLad took his job of looking after and protecting us children very seriously. Ordinarily Lad would go with my dad as he worked about the farm. But if for some reason Dad did not want Lad to go along, he could tell Lad to stay and watch us children, and Lad would stay with us. A few times after Dad had told Lad to stay with us, Dad wanted Lad for some reason and tried to call him. Lad would stand and listen to his calls, but he would not leave his assignment to watch after us. That obedience applied only to watching after us. If the entire family went to any of the neighbors, either walking or with the horse and wagon, Dad or Mother could tell Lad to stay at home, and Lad would go back "like a good dog should." On the way there would be no sign of Lad following us. But shortly after we arrived at our destination, Lad would appear as if he had just accidentally happened by. Sometimes he would even seem to pretend to act surprised to find us there. I am sure that in his younger days Dad must have scolded and tried to teach Lad to obey, but by the time I can remember, Dad had long since accepted that he could not. Instead he would look up and say with a wry smile, "Well, there's old Lad."

When he was eighteen months old, my brother Alton died after a sudden illness. This was in December 1932, and there was snow on the ground. In those days the funeral wake was held at the home instead of at the funeral parlor. My uncle lived about a quarter mile away, and his house was located beside Swicegood Road, so since the snow and mud made the drive to our house impassable, the wake was held there. Of course Lad followed the family when they walked to my uncle's and waited there while they went to the funeral. When they returned from the funeral without Alton, Lad did something he had never done before or since that time. He would ask permission to come into the house at home, but he never went into any one else's house. But when the family started into my uncle's house, Lad darted past everyone to go inside. He was obviously searching for Alton, and Uncle Stamey said to leave him alone. Lad searched the entire house, even pushing open closet doors trying to find Alton. When he was convinced that Alton was not there, he went to the door and asked to go out.

When I was born three-and-a-half years later, my mother said that Lad bonded to me immediately. Whenever she held me, Lad would come sit beside her and watch my every move. He would even sit and watch me sleep. Mother said that she often wondered if Lad thought Alton had returned, or if he worried that I might "disappear" as Alton had.

kids and dogThinking back, I believe Lad was probably a better stock dog than he was ever given credit. Whenever a pig or a goat got out of its place, Lad was quite willing and capable of helping to get it back where it belonged. In those days our chickens roamed free. Whenever my mother wanted to catch a particular chicken for any reason, she simply pointed out the one she wanted to Lad. He would catch it and hold it down with his paw until Mother came and took it. Chasing and killing chickens was the downfall of many a farm dog, but Lad never bothered one except on command.

Our next-door neighbor had a mule that should have been named Houdini, for he was an escape artist. It was a rare week that Sam did not pull at least one escape from his stable or pasture. Sometimes they were almost daily occurrences, and multiple escapes in one day were not uncommon. Sam's first move upon any escape was to race across our yard to visit with Dad's horse at our barn. The neighbor had an English shepherd dog named Nancy. If any of them saw that Sam had escaped, they would send Nancy after him. She could not turn Sam around, but she would keep him moving so that he got back home quicker. She would run along beside him, keeping clear of his hooves and yipping. If he stopped to eat, she would nip at his head so that he kept moving along. Lad enjoyed joining Nancy in a mule chase until Sam kicked him in the head and knocked him unconscious. I really do not know how long he was unconscious; it seemed like ages, and I thought he was dying. When Lad regained consciousness, he left the mule chasing to Nancy.

But Lad did not like to work with cows. He could do the job, but he did it with no enthusiasm. In the heat of summer when the weather was dry and the grass was growing very little elsewhere, there was grass growing in the meadows along the creek. So the family milk cows were put in the Bottom Pasture, but this pasture was a half-mile away with no connection to the other pasture or the barn. So the cows would have to be led to the pasture after the morning milking and then led back to the barn in the late afternoon for the evening milking. When Dad was working away from home or was busy with other farm work, that chore was done by my mother until I was old enough to do it. One of our cows was quite gentle when she was on a rope or chain, but she was very shy and difficult to catch when she was free in the pasture. Mother would try to take Lad along to drive the shy cow to the gate for her to be caught, and he could do it easily enough. Lad was quite willing to go with my mother except when he knew she was going after the cows. Then if she did not keep a constant watch over him, he would watch for her to be distracted for an instant, and he would disappear into the bushes along the way. And once he was out of sight, no amount of calling would bring him back until the cow was caught and well on their way back to the barn. Needless to say, his reappearance at such times received considerably less than a cordial welcome. But Lad was one of my mother's favorite dogs; she could never stay mad with him for long.

Although I never thought about it then, I suspect there was a reason for Lad's dislike of working cows. When he was a teenager, Dad raised and trained an English Shepherd that was always his favorite dog. Bragg had been especially good with handling cows. Lad was the first English Shepherd pup that Dad had had since he lost Bragg to rabies five or six years earlier. Although Dad never mentioned it, I am sure that even unconsciously he must have hoped for Lad to be another Bragg. It is very difficult for a puppy to compete with the memory of a favorite dog. Certainly Lad was not the first, nor the last pup to be in that situation. It would be so typical of Lad to sense at some level that he was not measuring up to Dad's expectations, and therefore, he tried to avoid cows altogether.

dog on horsebackLad and Dad's horse, Reuben, were buddies, and they liked to play another stunt with my mother. In those days water was drawn from the well by hand and poured into a watering trough nearby. Reuben had to be led from the barn to the trough several times a day for a drink of water. If my dad was working away from home, this chore also fell to my mother. If my mother did not watch Lad closely, he would hide behind a bush or clump of tall grass along the path from the barn to the water trough. When my mother came by leading Reuben, Lad would jump out in front of them barking. Reuben, who had not the least fear of Lad, would pretend to panic, shy away and rear up, while Mother clung to the lead rope and screamed. When things quieted down, Mother would scold both Lad and Reuben. Both would drop their heads and appear appropriately apologetic, except that the gleam in their eyes showed that the fun they had far outweighed the scolding they received. They never tried that trick with my dad; probably because they knew they could not scare him. He would have just laughed at them.

Dad taught Lad to watch an article and keep any other animal from bothering it. Sometimes there would be a need to leave unattended for a few minutes a bucket of fresh milk, a basket of eggs, fruit or vegetables, a lunch pail, or a freshly killed animal to be prepared for food while some other task was taken care of, and there would be no place to hang it for safety. Lad would take his position nearby and warn away any curious dog, cat, chicken, kid or pig who might want to investigate. And no matter how tempting the article might be, Lad would never bother it himself. I have seen other dogs who would be quite willing to guard something from other animals but could not be trusted to leave it alone themselves. By the time I can remember him, Lad had done this so much that he did not even need to be told. When he saw something left unattended, he would take his position and guard it until some one came back for it.

girl & dogLad was also taught to bark on command either to "speak" or to "say please" for a tidbit. Like most dogs he also learned to use his bark to ask for attention to come into the house or to remind someone that it was time for his feed. But he developed this trick even further. Several of my cousins when they came to visit loved to ask Lad questions and have him bark a response. Sometimes they would ask him simple questions that Lad might have understood such as "Lad, are you hungry?", "Do you love me, Lad?" or "Do you want to go home with me?" At other times they would compete with each other to see who could ask him the silliest or most unusual question. To any and all questions, Lad would respond with one or two or sometimes three barks that were "translated" into English by the questioners. Lad's wagging tail and happy expression show plainly that their giggles of delight were ample reward for his efforts.

Lad generally got along well with other dogs. In fact most dogs seemed to gravitate to Lad as a leader. My cousin's two rabbit hounds would regularly stop by to see Lad as they made their morning rounds of the neighborhood. My dad liked to hunt, and so did Lad. When Dad went out with his gun, Lad would prance around him and give a few excited yelps. By the time Lad had started a rabbit, Spike and Brownie would usually join him, and Dad would have plenty of help with his hunting. An Airedale and a German Shepherd stayed at home in the day time, but when their family was inside for the night, they would routinely come spend the night with Lad on our porch and in our yard.

But there was one dog who did not like Lad. My aunt had a collie-hound crossbreed named Jack. Jack followed them everywhere just as Lad did us, and every time there was any contact between the two families, a fight would break out between Jack and Lad. Jack would try to bully Lad into backing away from him, but Lad insisted on going wherever he pleased. Jack was a much bigger dog than Lad, and since he was the aggressor, when a fight started, Lad appeared to be the underdog. While some one went to break up the fight and rescue Lad, my aunt would fuss and say, "There's no need of those dogs fighting every time they get together. Let them fight and see who's boss, and they will leave each other alone." One day when Mother was hoeing cotton, Aunt Ethel came by with Jack and stopped to chat a few minutes. Jack wandered across to the far side of the field. Looking for Lad my Mother suspected, and he found him! Lad had been to the spring for a drink of water and returning, he popped out of the brush quite near Jack. Jack rushed him, and the fight was on! My mother shouted at them and started across the field to stop them while Aunt Ethel began her usual triad of "let them fight and see who's boss." With no one there to rescue him quickly, Lad got the opportunity to catch Jack by the nap of his neck just next to the base of his skull. When Lad got that hold on Jack, Jack went completely limp, and even though he was bigger than Lad, Lad shook him furiously like a sack of potatoes. My aunt stopped her "let them fight" routine and raced past my mother screaming, "If your dog kills my dog, I'll kill him, I'll kill him, I'll kill him!" Fortunately for all concerned, Lad's fury spent itself; he released Jack and made a strategic retreat before Aunt Ethel reached them. She was too busy checking Jack for damages to follow through with her threats. The only thing damaged was Jack's pride. But Aunt Ethel was right about one thing. Peace reigned supreme after that. Jack never wanted a rematch, and Lad only wanted to go where he pleased unmolested.