Sheba the German Shepherd...the Queen of our Hearts
Earth Mother Extraordinaire...but firstly a German Shepherd puppy.
In fact, when my husband and I really sat down and combined the maths and the memories, we discovered that our beautiful mother-girl, Sheba, actually came into our lives in between Gypsy and Taffy(whose stories I have already written). It was when we started examining the particular reason we welcomed Sheba into our lives, that we remembered that initially it was for Gypsy's sake.
Maybe you haven't read Gypsy's story? (or maybe your memory needs a little refreshing, like ours!) - but she had grown up with her mother, Candy - and when Candy mysteriously disappeared one night, Gypsy began grieving, and causing us much concern that she wouldn't cope. Solution? - a new puppy. And of course, because we were now on our very own dairy farm, I could at last indulge my dearest wish - to have a BIG dog again - just like my Kim, the first dog in my life.
"There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face."
-- Ben Williams
In Search of the Good Shepherd
Many days were spent following ads and rushing all around the countryside - between milkings, of course. One day, with much diminished expectation, we visited an address in an Adelaide suburb we thought highly unlikely to be home to 'the one'.
And yet, there she was - the German Shepherd pup of our dreams. And not only that - both of her parents were on view, too. What a fine pair they were. And our 'baby' was LARGE - 11 weeks old, the biggest and the last of the litter - left behind because of her size - not exactly what kids wanted a 'puppy' to be.
Later we would learn that the largest of the litter is not a good choice - it's a great one! The largest will be the most self-sufficient, independent and ready to bond with humans, because the Mother has not needed to care for it to anywhere near the same degree as the smaller, more helpless and needy babies. And this special human 'bonding' will mean it will be an over-achiever in the love and wanting to please stakes - and respond 'in aces' to all the love you offer.
Our beautiful Sheba gave us ALL of that - and so much more.
German Shepherd Puppies on Patrol
In the second video, the puppy who first makes it to the top of the stairs and declares itself King of the Castle, just looks and acts exactly like our Queen....Sheba.
So brave and bold, and sweet and sassy - all rolled into one delicious bundle of love.
A Not so 'welcome Home'
I describe Sheba as large (but not as large as in my photo at the beginning of this story). That one was taken some weeks later. Nonetheless she was still a puppy - still capable of being terrified of her new 'big' sister, Gypsy.
Nothing on her cuddly trip home in my loving arms had prepared her for instantly having to learn her place in the 'pecking order'. Indeed, we weren't even aware of it existing ourselves (outside of chook hierarchy), until our gentle Gypsy used her most severe growling, teeth-baring, neck-hair standing up like a mohawk, 'stand-over' tactics, finally culminating in holding Sheba puppy down by the throat.
This all happened behind our Lounge where we couldn't reach - and where the new baby was kept pinned down until the absolutely correct amount of submission had been forced out of her. It was horrifying to hear and witness. Our sweet-natured Gypsy seemingly insanely jealous, and capable of...what?? It was like the Jekyll and Hyde of the canine world, and we were terrified our new darling would never be accepted - maybe never even see another dawn.
And then, as suddenly as it had started, it was over, with just the odd menacing growl and 'Grim Reaper' grin, at the slightest movement of this 'intruder'. The now Alpha female had clearly shown all who was the leader of the pack (after us), and this would not be challenged for nearly 10 years.
Although it didn't seem likely on this first night - these two became the best of friends, fulfilling all our hopes and dreams for their relationship...and filling the huge void our beloved Candy had left in all of our lives.
When Gypsy was the respected old girl in the photo, there was a monumental fight between these two old mates, down the steps, through a couple of garden beds...absolutely frightening to watch. There was no way to become involved without injury. It seemed unlikely Gypsy could survive the brute force of Sheba, almost twice her size. Suddenly it was all over, with Sheba standing over the beaten Gypsy, snarling her message that she was now the Alpha...and Gypsy better not forget it. Miraculously, there was not a single wound on our old girl...but the way she slunk away, tail between her legs, showed that more than her pride had been badly bruised. But she recovered, and from that moment, the new 'pecking order' was established. Sheba was now the boss cocky.
Learning About Life
...and unconditional love
Thinking back, it seems amazing our pets enjoyed such longevity of Life - the hazards of a dairy farm, in particular, are many, and far too often, actually lethal. But Sheba surmounted every obstacle in her path. Cows and bulls and horses hooves; snakes; a head-butting ram who believed he was a bull (trying to 'pull the wool over our eyes'!); and calves...yes, I did say calves. A threat? Well-ll-ll, in a slightly different kind of way.
Due to her size, many cows mistook her for a calf, and much head-swinging and chasing of this 'alien' was prone to occur on a regular basis. Even their calves were often confused, wanting to befriend this new addition, who cheerfully washed their faces of excess milk, and was witnessed looking longingly at dripping cow's teats. Thankfully, she was never quite game enough to check out this supply so temptingly offered - but so jealously guarded for their own babies.
She learned to elude encounters of the damaging kind with cars and utilities and farm trucks and motor bikes - AND to treat with the greatest respect the seemingly endless armada of wheels of the milk tanker on its daily visit. And Gypsy taught her how to kill rats and mice - but NOT eat them, for fear of them already carrying a dose of poison. It's true! For decades now, sacrificial rodent remains have been left on our various doorsteps as homage?...or maybe proof of our pets' innate and incomparable value to our family. in case we were in doubt.
Some lessons were instinctive, self-taught - like how to lift those great ears to create the perfect sound shell to hear an untold number of important sounds that lesser mortals never know. Even learning how to lift more than one at a time took days of practice. For quite a while, when it was a hot day, there was just no way they would lift, even with the most fervent concentration and effort.
And learning and practicing how to pretend to be a big, bad, vicious guard dog with a most threatening growl, and a serious bark that reverberated from the depths of her considerable chest. Awesome - unless you knew this gentle giant for the marshmallow love she actually was inside. A kind word, a pat - and she was yours.
Well-ll-ll, not really...because she was always so truly ours, unequivocally. And whilst she fully enjoyed farm life and being the 'farmer's' side-kick, and accompanying him as much as possible, Sheba was deeply torn by her deepest need to love and protect me, and later, our kids, as well. I could understand this - the feeling was SO totally mutual.
The German Shepherd - ....poetry in motion
...and then some.
HOONS & HIGH-FLYING HOUNDS - ...almost airborne
**NB This photo is of a brand new Holden ute. Ours had lived a full life by the time we bought it...very cheaply!
One memorable day Sheba was in her customary and beloved place on top of some hay bales on the back of our 15 year old, Holden ute (some uncouth types would call it a 'rust-bucket' - we called it 'our you beaut ute' and sometimes some other quite unprintable names!). Meanwhile, back at the story, there was Sheba, poised to protect the rest of the load as the bales were gradually fed out to the dairy herd.
Leaving the engine running, as usual, hubby jumped out to secure the paddock gate behind him, and turned back to see the ute rolling away. The handbrake had slipped!
Just picture it - a hay-laden ute with distressed dog atop barking loudly, gathering speed as it went down the hill - and hubby running after it, in his milking overalls and rubber boots, shouting desperately for Sheba to jump off - but she wouldn't. (Oh no! What a moment to choose to be disobedient!)
And what a disaster it all could have been - IF it were not for the multitude of large clumps of reeds that filled the swampland at the bottom of our hills. The ute came to quite a reasonable stop - Sheba was pitched off, but with a soft landing on the reeds - and no damage to anything involved! Miraculous - the Great Big Dog in the sky must have been smiling down on her that day! The only negative outcome of the drama was that it would be the last time EVER that Sheba would ride on the ute. She was strictly a 'gallop alongside' girl from that day on, for some obscure reason.
JUST A BIT OF FLUFF - ...on the side!
Then, just when Sheba thought she had graduated and knew it all - she met something that smelt like a dog, but didn't look even vaguely like any dog she had ever known in her lifetime. It was a Poodle!
Penny the white toy poodle belonged to Jenny, my sister and hubby, who had come for a farm-stay with their trusty caravan. When Penny jumped from the car into freedom after a long, eight hour trip, Sheba had absolutely no idea what this tiny bundle of white curls could be. Not a cat...surely not a dog??
In true doggy fashion, she was quite overcome by the need to smell the bottom of this alien 'being'. Strangely enough, Penny was not tinily amused, and after trying unsuccessfully to cover her 'privates' with her manicured pompom (aka 'a tail'), she called time out with a series of sharp staccato barks and spun around to face her aggressor.
Sheba was shocked to her core by both, and promptly fell backwards with a totally inelegant triple back somersault, and with a brief reproachful look at all of us, her laughing audience, took off with the 'toy thing' snapping at her heels! Courage had returned with a vengeance to Penny the Toy - as if to say 'Hell hath no fury like a woman sniffed'. (Well-ll-ll, that's how it goes in canine-speak)
Ohh-h-h...the shame, the ignominy. However, Sheba's huge heart and spirit soon forgave herself (in about a heartbeat, I would think) - and these two unlikely kennel mates became bosom buddies - but only on the proviso that Sheba didn't do that disgusting, uncouth doggy sniff stuff to Penny EVER again.
"I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult."
-- Rita Rudner
and learning...always learning.
Moving day to another farm was a massive undertaking involving a virtual convoy of semi-trailers, removalist vans, our vehicles, caravan, etc. But, after Sheba's first qualms about getting into a vehicle (she had to be lifted in...now fully grown...whew!), she accepted that it was pretty chummy to be packed in the back of our station wagon like a sardine in a can - with our 3 kids, 2 other dogs, a cat, and those last few bits and pieces that always appear directly after you've packed everything!
This new farm was an 'experience' for all of us - a 'gentleman's' farm, equipped with an in-ground swimming pool and tennis court, and a beautiful home overlooking both of these, and most of the farm as well. It was a welcome hiatus for us for 5 years - sandwiched in between many hard-working and gut-wrenching farm years.
For Sheba it was a learning curve of a slightly different nature - first about sheep and shearing, then another kind of animal, a mother goat - Topsy (her of the evil yellow rectangle slit eyes, midnight black coat and straight up 'devil' horns). And, of course, the pure white twins she gave birth to - Its and Bits - and the joys of romping around with these dainty toe-dancers.
And then there was the cat named Smokey who would have a litter of kittens, and Speedy, the one kitten we kept. Smokey outlived her son by many years and actually lived through 4 moves and 15 years of 'mousing around'. How Sheba loved those baby kittens and would nuzzle them with her great head and help to wash and groom them. Smokey didn't mind - like every other creature (or human) who shared life with this 'Earth Mother', she learned Sheba could be trusted implicitly.
Dog vs Cat - ...only joking!
Onwards and Upwards
...to Bigger and Wetter Things
A new and indelible lesson was learnt one warm, bee-buzzy Summer's day when I was busy at the other end of the house, kids at school and hubby working off farm. A friend arrived for a visit, to find Sheba floundering desperately, and failing fast, in the deep end of our swimming pool. At the 'shallow' end there were steps, but she didn't know this and after falling in, had been trying to gain purchase on the tiled edge - with no success - and she was exhausted,and incredibly close to drowning.
Our friend rescued Sheba by pulling her bodily out of the water, whilst screaming out to get my attention. Her adrenalin must have been pumping overtime that day. - can only imagine Sheba's additional weight when sodden! Many towels and tears - and hugs and kisses, later, we ALL rejoiced at the amazing timing and consequent outcome of this event. Once again that Big Dog up there was smiling. Sheba's time was still a long way away...thank God.
"Properly trained, a man can be a dog's best friend."
-- Corey Ford
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
...accidents, that is.
On yet another bright, shiny day when I was cheerfully cooking up a storm for my family, I saw Sheba pass the window at some speed - on the scent of something interesting, no doubt.
Suddenly a chilling and unearthly cry rang out. I have never heard a dog's ultimate agony pouring out like that before - or since, thankfully. It seriously was a blood-curdling 'scream'. She had caught her hip on something - possibly an old wagon wheel standing against a tree stump in our lawn - and had badly wrenched and torn ligaments and muscles all around the hip area, without actually dislocating the joint.
Her treatment was with a drug to relieve her excruciating pain - BUT, she had to be kept immobilised to allow healing to take place, slowly but surely. And so our beauty spent the next couple of weeks on blankets in our Lounge bay window, where she spent her time longingly overseeing her world. She could slowly and carefully walk outside to do her 'necessaries' - but only on her lead at all times.
How she hated this intrusion of her privacy - but she 'soldiered' on, and finally made a complete recovery. Yet again, we wondered - how many lives does a dog have? In Sheba's case, we had the feeling she used up more than her quota.
And Then Some Are 'Born' Mothers - ...the 'Earth' variety
We'd had Sheba spayed (or desexed) at the appropriate age, for several valid reasons, not knowing at the time what an incredible Mother she was destined to be. All I had to do was tell Sheba that the latest needy addition to the menagerie was "Mummy's baby" or "My baby" (pointing to myself), and always, "Sheba's baby" - and she went instantly into 'mothering' mode.
Orphan lambs were intermingled with the baby goats, or kids (not to be confused with our own human variety, whom she also adopted unequivocally, as we had). Baby chicks were treated similarly to the kittens of some years earlier - with much nuzzling into their box, and allowing pecking of her great nose.
But the only survivor after a fox raid, the orphaned Daffy Duck, was an enigma to our German Shepherd. This time, as her head came down from dizzying heights to the baby ball of yellow fluff far below her, we though Life as he knew it could well be over for Daffy - despite his death defying abilities so far. Sheba's mouth opened and with horror, we envisaged one large swallow. But no way. Her long tongue came out and gave the fluff ball a hearty lick!
Daffy was rolled over and over, and when he finally ended 'up over', he rushed back at Sheba in total outrage and pecked her nose repeatedly, causing much blinking and amazement of Sheba and us, the audience. Tilting her head from one side to the other, she then lay down with her great front paws stretched out, chin and chest lifted expectantly.
Well, the defiant Daffy magnaminously forgave the 'giant' on the spot, and made an instant and irrevocable decision that Sheba was actually his Mother. He waddled in and snuggled up to her chest. And our gorgeous mother-girl rumbled a welcome from the depths of her being, and ever so carefully put her face down between her paws - providing the warmest and safest 'nest' Daffy had known in his brief Life. This would be his 'rest' home for quite some time to come, after exhausting forays out into the big wide world he found himself inhabiting - on the heels of his Mother (or paws, in this particular case).
"Outside of a dog, a book is probably man's best friend, and inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
-- Groucho Marx.
Love at First Sight
Well-ll-ll, then along came Porky Pig. Another 'adoptee' after total rejection by his Mother. Sheba was the most totally unprejudiced, non-racist, non-species aware spirit I have ever known - and so Porky was loved like any other of her children
At his tiniest, with great satisfaction and accompanying grunts and snuffles, he wiggled and snuggled into the 'nest' under Sheba's chest - the one long occupied by Daffy Duck. He too, decided Sheba was his Mother and loved and accordingly followed her everywhere. I should mention at this point that I was also considered 'joint' Mother - and going for a walk on our farm at that time was almost a 'mob scene' at times (maybe the forerunner of the 'flash mob'?)
Picture this...me (human...mostly), Sheba (dog), Daffy (duck), Porky (pig), Smokey (cat) and her son Speedy (also cat), a couple of lambs, and often, a pet chook or two. Talk about 'Old MacDonald had a Farm'.
The next 'bed' chosen by Porky was laying across and over Sheba's body, just in front of her hip. They both loved this spot for a long time. But, sadly, pigs grow up, and in the end, Sheba was nearly being crushed by Porky, and he had to be gently 'weaned' into sleeping alongside her, instead. Sadly, we have no photo of these two - except indelibly in our memories. A great big pig, faithfully following his Mother - a German Shepherd dog...whilst remaining one of the sookiest pets I ever had. His love was almost equally divided between Sheba, hubby and self.
PS: This photo is obviously not Sheba, nor Porky (who was a white piglet)...but exactly the pose they habitually took, and the ratio of great dog head to tiny piglet is exactly right.
Thanks to Mail Online for use of photo.
All Good Things - ...must come to an end.
A forced move to a suburban house in a small country town was also OK with Sheba. We walked every day, and she had a large yard to patrol. The added bonus was that there was always a calf or two being hand-reared through their earliest, most vulnerable days (and kept in the fenced off back section of our large double block). We milked our herd of cows on a leased dairy farm nearby, and these calves we brought home gave her magnificent mothering spirit full rein.
And when we added another baby German Shepherd to the mix, her life was complete, as she continued to be the Alpha female. The great part was that she could 'mother' the young Bonny, at the same time as teaching her the 'domination' theory...and reality.
Just look at the 'family' in the photo. The cat is the aforementioned Smokey who moved on with us to our next home for four years...suburbia, in the city. And the calf being fed is unnamed - just one of many who spent their first week or so with us 'at home'. Of course, in the centre is Sheba, reminding the other German Shepherd, Bonny, who is Boss. Bonny was a really fine boned and delicate variety of Shep...but extremely loveable, loyal, and loving - true to her breed..
Finally the end approached, after 18 years. Everything began to fail. It was old age - and a tumour - and there was no turning the clock back. Because of a dismal prognosis of ever-increasing pain, worsening daily, our Veterinarian advised euthanasia. At first we were totally opposed - until the pain factor was explained less delicately, and then the choice was simple, despite our own emotional agony.
Look...I held her and talked softly to her and loved her and nearly drowned her in my tears for some hours before...and then during the administration of that lethal injection.
Please don't be afraid of sharing this final moment with your beloved pet. It's terrible and sad...that's true. But, you have to experience it to understand that your loved one is past caring or feeling the needle, and it's almost instantaneous. A deep long sigh, and it's over.
I've done this several times now, and this is how it was...every single time.
Just forget yourself and your pain - and concentrate on what your pet gave you - and what you can now give back.
And as soon as you can, begin to look forward (as I do) to the day you are reunited at the Rainbow Bridge.
"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion"
...in case you're interested
I have also written many articles on Ezine Articles and achieved Diamond status.
I'm proud of it, but nothing compares to the one on my left ring finger!
And I'm presently developing my own website - slowly, but surely - with a lot of help from a friend.
If the name sounds familiar, that's because it has the same name as when it used to be a 'journal'