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Pincie Creek Australian Shepherds

About our breed

Author’s Note: This is a true story. Writing it was very difficult for me because I was forced to relive all the bad memories of my accident and the loss of my Three Musketeers. But I was able to complete it because I knew that by sharing it with others, my beloved Aussies would live on in the memories of those who appreciate good dogs.

How can anyone make it through life without an Aussie? They're addictive - once you know one, you have to have them. I have shared my home and life with many for over twenty years, and several own me now. But my "Three Musketeers" will always be special to me.

In the 1960's and 70's, my father and I were partners in the cattle business. A fellow cattleman, Bill Taylor, had working Aussies and had told us many times what great dogs they were and how much they helped him with his cattle. I wanted to try one but my father was skeptical, to say the least, and would have no part of a working dog. "They won't do anything but chase and run the cattle," he said. Finally, since it was mostly me who was out there chasing and running and trying to work and pen them on foot, I got tired of being the "dog", put my name on Bill's list, and from his next litter came my very first Aussie..."Just for a pet," I told my father, "nothing to do with the cattle".

Syd (short for Sydney) was a blue merle with white and copper trim. His adult working weight was 65-70 pounds. He was a big dog, but extremely quick and agile. His temperament was excellent, he was very gentle with young ones (both human and bovine) but tough as they come when he needed to be.

When Syd was about 8-10 months old, I gradually exposed him to cattle (secretly, of course), which was the only stock we had to work a dog on. It was really amazing - Syd knew exactly what to do, and when and where to do it. It's a good thing he did because it was all up to him - I certainly didn't know the first thing about training a stockdog.

Syd's first test came when he was about 12 months old. I had been using Syd a little bit, but my father was not impressed and was still not convinced a dog could really help with cattle. The three of us (mostly Syd) had penned some that morning for worming and then we discovered we had to go to town to buy more wormer. Daddy started to close the catch pen gate and I thought, "Now's my chance to show what Syd can do." So I told him not to close the gate, that the dog would stay and keep them in the pen. Daddy said, "Sure, he will. We'll come back and these cows will be scattered all over the pasture." I said, "Well, he penned them once today, he can pen them again if he lets them out." Daddy shrugged and walked off. I left Syd in the gate and told him to stay and keep the cows in. Looking back, I realize this was a tremendous task to ask of a year old dog, but first of all, I didn't know any better, and second, I had that much faith in Syd. I knew he would do it.

We went all the way to town, got the wormer, and returned - about a 45 minute trip. When we got close enough to see the pasture, Daddy looked and said, "Well, I don't see anything in the pasture." "Of course you don't, they're in the catch pen where we left them," I replied, praying earnestly that they were. When we pulled up, there was Syd still lying in the open gate, and every cow still in the pen. Talk about being proud of a dog!! "Well I'll just be damned," my Daddy said. From that day on, there was no question that Syd was an accepted part of the team. A lot of times I'd get ready to work some cattle and look for my dog, and Daddy would already be using him.

In fact, Daddy and I were so impressed with Syd and came to depend on him so much that, when Syd was about 15 months old, two more Aussie pups joined our team - littermates McKay and Mischief - Syd's full brothers, but about a year younger. These were my "Three Musketeers".

Mischief was a red merle with one blue eye and one brown eye, about 50-55 pounds. He named himself soon after he came to live with us - he looked mischievous and roguish and was always stirring up something. Mischief loved everybody, was a likable fellow, full of personality, and a good backup worker to the other dogs, but he lacked the heart to tackle the really tough situations on his own, especially in open pastures. The best things about Mischief were that he heeled good most of the time and was great in the chute or catch pen, provided he didn't have to face a cow head-on. I guess he thought as long as he came at them from behind, they couldn't see him coming and wouldn't challenge him. However, he was a great "cheerleader" and would encourage Syd and McKay to dive in and do their work and most of the time, his share, too.

McKay was dynamite in a small, lightning fast, red tri package. What he lacked in size, he made up for in grit. He was tough - there was nothing too big or bad for him to tackle. His spirit is illustrated by an incident that occurred when he was about five months old. I always took the pups with me during the day, letting them ride around the farm and watch what was going on, but I never allowed them to work until they were close to a year old. We were checking some cows in the pasture one day when all of a sudden little McKay sailed out of the back of the pickup and before I could stop him, charged after a big mama cow. She was so surprised that such a small thing would challenge her (and also by the fact that it was coming at her like a freight train) that she turned around and tried to run off, but McKay grabbed the end of her tail and hung on for dear life. Now this particular pasture is located on a large, sloping hill, and has numerous cross terraces. The old cow was at a dead run down the hill with McKay still clamped down on her tail, crossing those terraces, and every time she went over one, her tail flew up in the air and with it went McKay!! His feet would leave the ground and he would be completely airborne until the cow hit the other side of the terrace, then he'd come down and run behind her until the next terrace came up. She and McKay alternately ran and flew over about six terraces before either he decided to listen to me telling him to turn loose, or he just gave out and turned loose on his own. I have laughed a many a day remembering the sight of that little pup hanging on to that cow's tail, flying over those terraces.

McKay had a specialty - he could "flip" cattle and loved doing it. When one would break from the bunch, McKay would take off after it - both at a dead run. He'd get in front, bark to get the head lowered, then grab either an ear or the nose - and that little red dog, weighing no more than 45 or 50 pounds at top working weight, would send whatever he was after flying through the air. It was truly amazing to watch. One day we were penning the cattle and my prized Hereford bull, who normally was very gentle, got upset about something and took off running. McKay did his specialty act and flipped that 2300 pound bull head over heels. It was like watching a movie in slow motion - all I could see was the bull's hoofs and private parts flying through the air - it seemed like he was airborne upside down for a good five minutes. The bull hit the ground flat on his back (it purely shook the ground and sounded like thunder), dust boiled up in a cloud, and I just knew my good bull was a goner. But, he got up, shook his head, and needless to say, decided he was glad to go back to the rest of the herd. The only bad thing about McKay's specialty act was that he didn't always do it only when asked to, he did it a lot of times when it wasn't "appropriate", to say the least.

McKay was also a grinner. He started grinning at a very young age and soon would do it on command. He was a true "ham" and loved performing and being the center of attention. My neighbor, Fred Price, used to stop by the house frequently on his way home from work to see if McKay was home so he could ask him to grin. I used to tell Fred he came to see McKay more than he did me! Fred says many days he would be feeling down in the dumps about something and would stop to see McKay grin, and McKay always made him feel better. Sometimes McKay would be out in the yard and Fred would drive by in the car with the window down and yell out the window, "Grin for me, McKay!" and McKay would grin and show those gums at Fred all the way across the yard, until Fred's car was out of sight.

To show how smart my dogs were, one day my best friend, Paul Woodham, and I were grooming some cattle to get ready for a big show. We were down at the corral and realized we needed some halters. Paul started to the barn and I said "No, don't go after that. The dog can get the halter." Paul (who didn't really believe the dog would go get a halter and bring it back anyway) said "Yeah, but you've got several kinds of halters in the box and that dog won't know which one to bring." I said, "Well, just watch." I then turned to Syd and said "Syd, go bring me a long halter." Syd immediately trotted off to the barn, looked around in the grooming box, and shortly returned with a rope halter, which was exactly what I had sent him after. "Well," said Paul, "now how do I know that's the one you meant? He could have brought any kind of halter and I'd never know the difference." I said, "Okay. Now just so you know, a long halter is a rope halter, and a short halter is a show halter. That's how I've trained Syd." So I turned to Syd again and said "Syd, now go bring me a short halter." Syd trotted off again, looked at all the different halters in the box, then selected a show halter and brought it back to me. Paul never doubted Syd, or any of my other dogs, again.

My three boys and I shared many happy times and had many adventures over the years. They soon had quite a local reputation for "always getting their cow."

One hot, sultry summer day McKay and I stopped in at our community country store to get an RC, and Paul was inside. He asked me if I would go get my dogs and help him pen some cattle he had been trying to pen for four days. I told him, "Well, let's go see if McKay can handle it alone first, and if not, I'll go get the others." So we went over to Paul's and I showed McKay where the catch pen was, then asked where the cattle were. "Well," said Paul, "that's the problem. They're down there in that swamp by the river and we can't get them out." Paul was looking very embarrassed. "We've run them for four days with horses, tractors, pickups, and on foot, and the only thing I have to show for it is that dent in my pickup that an old fighting cow put there." "How many are there?" I asked. "About 50 or 60 head," Paul replied. I thought to myself, well, this may indeed be a challenge. So we drove down and sure enough, they were back in a terrible place, thick with briars and scrub oaks, next to the river. We couldn't see or hear a single cow. I told McKay to "look for them" and he took off into the woods. In a few minutes I heard two short, quick barks, then the sound of hooves. I told Paul, "Let's go open the gate. He'll be there with the cows before we are." Looking very doubtful, Paul headed the pickup for the catch pen and sure enough, here came the cows with McKay in hot pursuit. We barely got the gate open in time, and he put every one of those cows in on the first try except for one that decided she didn't want to go in, turned, and jumped the fence, headed back for the swamp. McKay made sure the others were in and I was closing the gate, then before I could tell him, turned and cleared the fence right behind the cow. In three leaps he was in front of her, gave her a few love licks on the nose, then she turned and was in such a hurry to get in the catch pen she didn't wait to go through the gate, she jumped back over the fence to get in!! It was over 100 with 95% humidity that day, but McKay didn't quit on me. None of the three ever quit on me, not one time, no matter what the conditions or the weather were. Paul still talks about what unbelievable dogs Syd and McKay were.

Another time, the boys and I stopped in again at our community country store (that store was the source of a lot of work for me and the Three Musketeers) and the owner, Max Snell, asked if my dogs and I could pen and load a cow for him. "Just one?" I asked. "Well," he said, "this one is pretty bad. We got all the rest in to take to the sale but her, and we've been after her for three days. I just don't believe she can be penned." "Let me guess," I said. "With tractors, horses, and pickups." "Well, yes," he replied, looking very embarrassed. You have to realize, people in this part of the country have an awful lot of pride, and I know it must have nearly killed Max to have to ask for help handling his cattle. "Okay," I said. "Bring your trailer and lead us to her." She was ornery, all right, plus downright mad from being chased and aggravated for three days. I kept Syd on a leash (it was so hot I was saving him in case we had to work in shifts that day) and sent McKay and Mischief after her. She immediately turned and ran through the electric fence into the adjacent pasture, which happened to belong to me. I told Max, "Go open the gate into the other pasture where our catch pen is, then take your trailer to the catch pen, back up to the chute and open the tailgate, and wait for us." McKay and Mischief knew where our catch pen was (about a mile away), so they started moving the cow in that direction, with her fighting every step of the way. They beat Max to the pasture gate and had to hold the cow there while he got the gate open. The cow wasn't happy about this at all. They then took her on to the catch pen and arrived just as Max pulled up with his trailer. "It's sure good you got her penned," he said. "But how in the world are we going to get her to go in the trailer?" "We aren't," I said. "The dogs will. Stand back." Max stepped aside and I told Mischief to put her in. About two good nips on the heels later that old cow thought that trailer was the ideal place for her to be. "Max," I said, "put McKay's and Mischief's name on her when you sell her, because you sure wouldn't have ever penned or loaded her without them."

My dogs truly were amazing, because virtually everything they did was done instinctively. I didn't have to encourage, coax, beg, or train them to work. They wanted to work long before they were old enough. They would drive, fetch, head, heel, work in the pasture, chute, or catch pen, hold the herd together for me while I looked them over or opened a gate - just whatever was necessary. If we gathered the cows to move or pen them and a small calf or sick cow was left behind somewhere, Syd seemed to instinctively know and after the herd was gathered and the other two dogs were holding them, he would start back toward the cow or calf, turn and look at me, at times even come to me, then trot off, looking back at me and whining, and I knew to follow him. Many times I have found a cow, calf, or pair I might have missed if it hadn't been for Syd.

For all their working aggressiveness, the three were good natured dogs. This is not saying they weren't good watch dogs - they were - but I didn't have to worry about them biting everyone who came in the yard. Again, they seemed to instinctively know who to watch and who was okay. They also had good conformation and stamina. They had to have, in order to work as hard as they did.

The Three Musketeers were registered (although it took me five years to get their papers - things move slow in the South). Their pedigrees were just local breeding - no recognizable bloodlines. I did very little training because I didn't know how and really didn't know I was supposed to. I thought all Aussies worked automatically. I have found in recent years that this is certainly not true, and had I known then how really remarkable my Syd, McKay, and Mischief were, I would have bred them more and kept several pups. My command vocabulary was very modest - Find 'em, get 'em, left, right, no, easy, load 'em, quit. I used a few simple hand signals when they were working out of voice range. None of my dogs ever downed while working - I didn't know they were supposed to, and I don't guess they did, either. They did their jobs exceptionally well, and without a lot of the fancy training, commands, or whistles that we seem to think are essential today.

There were a few dark days, too, with my boys. One afternoon I hauled a load of cattle to my veterinarian's facility to be blood tested for a sale. Only Mischief went with me that day because he was good help in close places, especially chute work. We worked the cattle, then I left Mischief in the back of the pickup and went inside to visit with the vet, who was also a very good friend. We were in the back of the office when his receptionist came in and asked me if I was expecting someone. I told her no, and she said "Well, some man in a pickup just pulled right up beside yours, got out, and is walking around like he's looking for you." I immediately went to check it out and the pickup was already gone - and so was Mischief. He had been stolen from the back of my truck in the parking lot of the vet's office. I couldn't believe it. I searched and looked, asked, offered rewards, did everything I knew to do, but Mischief could not be found. When I returned home without him that day, Syd and McKay looked and looked for him, then seemed to know something was wrong, and moped around for several days. Especially McKay, his littermate. He really missed his buddy.

Syd and McKay and I carried on, but it wasn't the same without little Mischief's cheery presence. Then almost a year to the day he disappeared, my neighbor Fred came by one afternoon and told me he had seen an Aussie on his mail route that day, and was almost positive it was Mischief. He tried to call him but the dog ran into some nearby woods. Fred told me where he had seen him (about 12 miles away) and Syd and McKay and I took off. I found the location and called and called, but got no response. It was gray, overcast, and drizzling rain that day, and the weather just about matched my mood. I was so disappointed. Then I had an idea - I figured if Mischief really was out there, then McKay could find him. So I turned McKay loose and told him, "Go find Mischief." He looked me right in the eyes and whined, then ran out into the woods and very shortly I heard some whimpering and the sound of a dog running toward me. Then I realized - it was more than one dog - and about that time McKay and Mischief came into view. McKay had found him!! There was an old piece of chain around Mischief's neck and one hind leg had been broken and left to heal on its own, but basically he was fine and boy, was he glad to see us!! He and McKay whined and cried and actually loved on each other (I admit I cried a little bit, too) - it was a sight to see. I took Mischief home and we had several more years of useful and happy life together.

About two or three years later, I went out to feed the boys one morning, and McKay was not there. I never saw him again. Whether he was stolen or met with an accident, I'll never know. I only hope he didn't suffer, whatever his fate. His place in the family was never filled. No one could ever take McKay's place.

Some time later, I found Mischief dead in his kennel one morning. He was healthy, but was getting on in years and I believe he had a heart attack. He had worked some the day before, so I know he died happy. So, it was back to the way it all began, just me and Syd.

Then it was my turn -- almost. I was involved in a very serious car accident. The doctors said I wouldn't live. I did. (My wife at that time, Elaine, said I didn't die because I always do the unexpected - and I admit I can be rather hard-headed at times). I lived, but with my back broken in three places, a crushed ankle, broken pelvis, broken ribs, both lungs punctured in several places, and numerous other injuries. After several weeks when I was finally able to undergo tests and surgery to determine the true extent of the injuries, the doctors then presented me with the news that I would never walk again. Thanks to the Almighty God and my tough American Indian heritage (I am an honest to goodness registered Creek Indian, complete with ID number from the Bureau of Indian Affairs), I did, but it was a long, unbelievably tough, road. There was surgery, a body cast, weeks in the hospital, physical therapy, and then finally I was home, to recuperate and face surgery again in the future. I had to learn to walk all over again, just like a baby. Syd visited me sometimes but he was never really comfortable in the house and didn't stay long. When I was finally able to take my walker and hobble down to Syd's kennel, I would turn him out and we would walk together. He knew something was wrong, and he was very gentle, didn't jump or try to roughhouse with me like he usually did. He would walk a few steps ahead of me sometimes, then turn around, look at me, wag his tail, and laugh that Aussie laugh, as if to say, "Come on, catch up with me! Walk a few more steps! You can do it. You've got to learn to walk so we can work and play together again!" With his encouragement, Syd and I walked up and down the driveway, then up and down the road, day after day after day. Each week I walked a few feet farther, and finally, several months later, I was able to put the walker away. I still have it - it keeps me humble. Through all of this, Syd was my friend, companion, and therapist. I talked to him many days about the pain I was in, the discouragement I felt, and how hard it was to keep going, and through it all he listened and loved me. In fact, Syd was about the only pleasant thing I had to look forward to during this trying time. I know beyond a doubt he shortened my recovery time.

Eventually, over a two year period, I recovered enough to resume the farming and cattle operation. By this time Syd was an old man indeed, nearly eighteen years old, and I knew the end would come rather soon. However, he still enjoyed life, especially riding in the pickup, was relatively healthy, and was still able to get around on his own.

I took him riding around the farm one afternoon and when we came back I unloaded him from the back of the truck, petted him, told him to go lie down and take a nap, and turned to go inside. I had walked a few steps toward the house when something told me to turn around and see about Syd. To my horror, Syd - who had never one time in his life gone into the road alone, was walking straight into the path of an oncoming truck, right in front of my eyes. I couldn't get to him in time to stop him. He died instantly, and I didn't even get to tell him goodbye. I have asked myself a thousand times why he went into the road that day, when he had never, ever done it before. Maybe his hearing and sight were worse than I thought. I don't know. I have also asked myself a thousand times why, when only two or three vehicles come down our road in an entire day, why did that truck have to come along at that particular time? I don't know that either. I do know we are all mortal, and I guess Syd's time was up. But the day he died was one of the darkest days of my life.

All our Aussie children are unique, and we love each and every one. But my "Three Musketeers", who hooked me on Aussies for the rest of my life, gave me more love and brightened my life far more than I ever expected, and asked so little in return, will always have that very special place in my heart.

Are there Aussies in heaven? We have no way of knowing. But if there are, I know three who are certainly there waiting for me. They were good boys, served well, and surely earned their reward.

1994 Roger Stevens


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