The year was 1924. With supper finished, Grandpa gathered up table scraps and went outside to feed Shep. He called and whistled several times but the Collie didn’t come running. Worry set in immediately; Shep never failed to be waiting at the back step for tasty morsels.
‘Have any of you kids seen Shep? He’s always here for dinner scraps,’ Grandpa hollered through the screen door. He’d not been seen since noon by any of the six children or by Grandma.
Grandpa headed towards the barn hoping Shep had not tangled with the nasty Holstein bull. He was a wicked fella, but was registered and sired outstanding offspring for the family dairy farm. Grandpa took to carrying a 45 automatic when being in close contact with the critter – he wasn’t just mean, he was evil.
Just as Grandpa neared the cellar he heard a faint whimper from within. In the dark, damp cellar he found Shep resting. He didn’t raise his head nor wag his tail; he offered a weak moan, sighed, and closed his eyes. He’d been bitten by a venomous snake; his right front leg was badly swollen and fiery red.
Quickly a fresh pan of water, a few bites of food, and blankets were carried down the cellar steps. A soft bed was made and Shep was gently placed upon it. He refused food or drink. Grandpa spoke to him affectionately, stroked his beautiful head, and wiped at a lone tear before leaving his beloved Collie for the night. From the day he’d brought the tiny pup home there had been a special bond between the two.
Grandpa checked on Shep faithfully and tried to encourage food and drink. Shep would not touch food and the level in his water pan never changed. Therefore, after 24 hours, Grandpa gently opened his mouth and dribbled water from his fingertips to moisten his tongue. The procedure was repeated numerous times daily as well as wrapping the effected leg with cool, wet rags to hopefully control the swelling. Coal oil was applied to the actual bite area using a chicken feather, for even the slightest touch caused extreme pain.
On the fifth day Shep lapped at warm oatmeal Grandma had prepared, and took his first drink of water. His now-dull but loving eyes bore into Grandpa’s as if to say, ‘I’m doing my best to hang on . . . don’t give up on me.’
The family came running when they heard Grandpa’s whoops of excitement – for on the tenth day he found Shep waiting for dinner scraps. He’d made his way up and out of the cellar! The kids, who had been ordered not to enter the cellar during his illness, all but smothered the dog with hugs and kisses.
On the mend, he returned to his normal evening ritual; lazing next to Grandpa’s chair, his head resting atop Grandpa’s foot. And, bedtime found him sleeping on a pallet in the grandparent’s bedroom. With tender care, the young Collie gradually made a complete recovery.
Shep was a valued asset on the dairy farm and his herding instincts were flawless. He grew to be a strong, brilliant canine that was devoted to the entire family. As six children roamed the countryside hunting, fishing, or exploring, Grandma and Grandpa never worried when Shep was at their side.
Come spring, Shep supervised most all crops being planted. Harley, one of the teenage sons, began sowing kaffir corn one cool, crisp morning just after sunrise. It was an arduous task handling a team of four workhorses and a single row planter. The Collie only wandered occasionally searching hedge rows for rabbits in need of a good chase.
By late morning, the temperature had risen considerably. Harley stopped the team by the bags of seed for another load. He tossed his jacket atop one bag and sat down for a brief rest under a nearby tree. Shep rested his head on Harley’s leg and nudged his hand for an ear rub. They both dozed briefly until awakened by a clanging dinner bell – the noon meal was ready.
Harley approached his jacket; Shep clamped down on his arm, and pulled him the opposite direction. Having never witnessed such behavior, Harley knew it was not an attempt to play. He stepped forward slowly; Shep placed himself between Harley and the jacket.
‘Ok, boy. You’re telling me something is wrong with my jacket. I understand now.’
Shep whined as Harley gently lifted one edge of the jacket upward. He heard it before he saw it . . . beneath his jacket lay a coiled up rattlesnake, its tail quivering and tongue flicking to taste the air!
Harley backed away cautiously, as did Shep. ‘Good boy, good boy, Shep!’ They raced to the farm house, collapsed in the shade of a cottonwood tree, and had a lively wrestling match to celebrate Shep’s vigilance.
On the south Kansas plains, long before it was customary for dogs to be considered a family member, Shep held that very distinction. It was his from the moment Grandpa held the tiny pup in one hand and gazed into his enchanting eyes. In return, Shep became a staunch protector of Grandpa’s family and protector of the homestead.