NO PRIZES: Gerry the working dog.
NO PRIZES: Gerry the working dog. John Skinner

She’ll never make a sheep dog

GERRY came to me in the hands of a young lass at the Warwick saleyards about 10 years ago and I didn't want another pup.

I already had one at home along with four other fairly useless "turners".

(A turner being anything which turns good feed into manure and doesn't earn its keep.)

The little girl with the pleading eyes and the sort of voice you can't say no to: "Please take her. My dad said if I take her home he'll have to put her down."

I'd already said no twice, but she kept coming back because no-one else wanted a pup either.

"Please mister, please."

Well, the pup looked like a Border Collie, perhaps a bit heavier, and the kid would not give up so the little black and white bitch found a new home.

To this day, I don't really think mother was all that pleased. She gets the job of feeding the dogs and, while I made a promise many years ago never to be caught with just one sheep dog ever again, she thinks five or six (or occasionally more) is too many more.

Gerry began to grow into a well-mannered, friendly pup who came when called, sat when told and played well with the other pups.

We noticed she seemed to know right from wrong but it didn't stop her from chasing chooks or the odd poddy lamb when she thought no-one was looking. When caught, she'd slink back around the house, tail between her legs, eyes downcast and look for any sign of forgiveness.

At about three months, Gerry was allowed to work with one particularly good bitch which did the majority of work around the farm, but she was only interested in play, and the sheep just got in the way. At no stage did she want to change.

She was about a year old when I sent her to my mate and champion dog handler Al who had a regular job in the big smoke with his own dogs doing the tourist thing.

When she came back he said no charge. What?

"She'll never make a sheep dog. She's only interested in playing with the other dogs," he said, and I knew he knew, so it was to be a walk down the gully from which only one of us would return.

As it turned out, the walk - which I really did intend to take, sort of - didn't happen. Something else was always more important, and then, about a year later, my best dog died. Here I was again, plenty of dogs and none of them any good. All were tried a couple of times and perhaps I should have taken the rifle with me to save my throat. Then, out of nowhere, Gerry started to work - a bit.

Now when I say work, I don't mean she was any good. She just hung in there enough to save herself from my temper, but not enough for me to say I was happy.

I did notice however during the next few months that every day, she got just a little bit better. Not good enough for me to show her off to anyone, but just a bit better.

She may not have survived had I taken the rifle with me on some days, but I've made it a rule after an unhappy event many years ago, not to take the rifle when I'm working the dogs. If they deserve a little extra weight behind the ear, well, they can have it when I get home.

Invariably when the sheep are in the yards, I'm too busy to bother.

It was a year or two before Gerry was able to perform to a level where she wasn't the cause of my sore throat, and she also started to be handy in the yards. Not good enough to be called a yard dog but a bit handy anyway.

There was a stage where she had to tolerate a muzzle in the yards however she soon learnt not to bite and the muzzle still hangs in the woolshed where it has been for the past seven or eight years.

Gerry is still not good enough to be called a sheep dog, especially as she's old and fat and lazy now, but she has survived. Over the years she's performed her little jobs adequately, but not great, even though I've used her at dozens of farm shows for overseas students - but what would they know?

All she needs to do is bring the sheep to me and they applaud her.

They don't know just how close she came to…well, she always seems to get away with it and they love her, especially when she puts a foot up looking for more attention.

While all my dogs are on the chain, or in a yard, when there's no work or time off for a run and swim in the dam, Gerry has had the run of the place for the past five years or so, and gets to sleep in the back porch at night. I can't understand why. She's still no good but, somehow, is still the first one called when a job needs to be done, or the new young dog needs a bit of guidance.

Al was right, she never did make a sheep dog, but … we still have her around and I guess she'll end up in the dog cemetery one day with her name on a stick rather than the alternative.

And I still can't remember why she's made it this far.

Useless dog that she is, always asleep on the back step.

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