My Generation
She Was a Good Farm Dog

She Was a Good Farm Dog

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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