The Black Lab and the Lambs

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


A black Labrador arrived in the neighborhood.

Submitted: November 27, 2017

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Submitted: November 27, 2017

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Tragedy struck in our small valley leaving our near neighbour without a husband and with three young daughters to raise on her own! Her house is just three quarters of a mile from the main road, in a rural setting, so there is no street lighting and a young woman on her own with three daughters, had every right to feel vulnerable. As a security measure she decided to buy a dog. Of course the girls got to choose the cutest puppy this side of Cook’s Straight – and why not? They chose a black Labrador.

Everyone knows that Labradors are soft-mouthed and the only danger they present is to lick you to death. The attention given him by the girls did nothing to increase his ferocity, to make him useful as a guard dog. I’m not sure if I ever heard him bark, but anyway the family felt safe and that could only be a good thing. On rare occasions the dog would arrive in our yard and I would shoo him off home. Not angrily, but firmly.

To help pay the bills, the widow took in a boarder, a young fellow who was lucky enough to score a job at the sawmill. The sawmill sat squarely between the widow’s property and ours. During my forestry days I sold a lot of logs to the mill, was friends with the manager, who lived on site but I knew all the other workers quite well too. Back in the day, at our annual cricket match, we forestry lads would regularly give them a hiding! The mill boys seemed to think that their new recruit was going to fit in well.

Springtime was a busy time for me, because springtime is lambing time. I managed a tree nursery and spent fifty minutes driving to start my team at 7:30am, so my farming operation needed to be efficient. Sometimes when ewes give birth there are complications and they need assistance. I had a regime where I limited feed to the ewes over the last few weeks of gestation, before they gave birth. If there’s an abundance of feed, the lambs grow too quickly and large lambs are more likely to be problematic to birth. I saved pasture for the ewes and their new-born lambs because good feed equates to good lactating. It’s just management practice because if I had to lamb a ewe in the morning… well it’s a time consuming process and my job was my bread and butter.

When I arrived home at about six, or shortly after, I would do my rounds to check on my sheep and attend to any mothering up, or lambing tasks before darkness set in. Busy as I was, I began to notice some lambs missing. I took pride that most of my ewes had twins, but there would be a birth during the day, but only one lamb would be suckling. Or I had moved a ewe and her lambs onto the better pasture and one of her lambs would have disappeared!

It’s not unheard of for townies come out to steal the odd lamb for their kids to rear it on a bottle for a pet, but that might happen once in five years or so. I had lost seven during the first week of lambing! I’m a good enough tracker and for the life of me I couldn’t find anywhere anyone could have jumped the fence and if it was a hawk, there would always be a tell-tale sign. Wild pigs will take young lambs and wild pigs do occasionally come down from the hills but very rarely these days and they always leave sign.

The mystery was solved when Albert phoned me one evening. His son worked at the sawmill and he saw what was going on. The widow was away all day earning a crust and her daughters were at school, so they tied the black Lab up. The boarder, feeling sorry for the dog, as soon as everyone had left the house, returned to let him off his chain, to wander playfully around the mill yard. Albert’s boy saw the dog return to the mill with a lamb in his mouth and the boarder promptly quickly buried it in the sawdust heap, saying nothing!

I didn’t want to confront the widow, she had troubles to burn, and she had done the right thing by chaining the dog while she wasn’t at home. If I saw the dog on my property I had every right shoot it, but that too would bring woe to the widow and her daughters. So I stayed behind one day and sat with the dog until the boarder arrived to release him. I waved my finger at him!

Before the next lambing season, the widow took a job in another region, and the dog became an issue for her. They must have decided to put the dog down because the boarder came to my door one Saturday morning wanting me to shoot him! He did offer to do the burying. Here’s the thing: Because I shoot rabbits, stray cats, and because it was my job to hunt deer and pigs to protect the environment, the perception is I’m a callous bugger. Yet  I’m careful not to run bumble bees over with my lawnmower, I have three worm farms and if I’m digging or disturbing soil, I won’t let a single worm dry out! I told him that if I shot the dog, it might be a doing a favour for him and the widow, save a vet bill, but those girls would always remember me as the bugger that shot their pet!


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