Well it's official, Zac has been retired from cattlework and most of the hard work on the place. He hasn't done the bulk of it in over a year now but we've finally decided he just can't do the tough jobs anymore. He still gets to do plenty of work around the place and some of the smaller trials but his body just doesn't keep up with his heart anymore.
Heart. It is the one word that describes him the best. I have worked a number of dogs now and have had and still do have ones that are more talented but if I ever have one that has as much heart as Zac has I will truly be blessed. I have never "lacked for dog" in any situation I've put him in. It's not that he's always the toughest (although I'd put him up against most I've seen) it's simply that his heart will carry him through whatever is asked of him.
I made to many mistakes in his training to even know where to begin. I started using him on the place to moves cows and calves at 6 months old. I put him in way to many situations that have aged his body way to rapidly. If given the chance to go back and do it again I'm not sure if he or I would know how to do it any differently though. We've always just been a team and no matter what needed done we figured out a way to do it. Probably not always the correct way and darn sure not with a lot of finesse but we always managed to "get 'er done"!
One of my favorite memories of Zac is during a huge fire in a neighboring pasture in August of 2003. In the mayhem a bunch of lambs got pushed into a tank and couldn't reach the bottom. They couldn't get any footing to be able to get out. I grabbed the ones closest to the edge and started pulling them out. Zac watched me for a minute and I was just taking my boots off to go in after the others, he jumped in without me asking. He started grabbing them by the base of their tails and pushing them to the edge for me to grab. He would then let go and go after another one. You just can't train that in a dog!
Zac just turned 9 on Thanksgiving day and besides my family there isn't one thing I'm more thankful for than to have this dog in my life. He has officially moved into the house. Some days he acts older than his age. Other days you'd think he's a pup again. He loves to set out sheep for the young dogs and back them up if something challenges them. One of his other favorite pastimes is watching TV with us in the evenings. And I DO mean WATCH. Not just sit there, he totally gets in to it. His favorites are anything on Animal Planet and Football. I don't think he'll ever see another tough job or really hard trial course again but I plan on enjoying every day I get with him.
So this brings me to my other "man", Jag. He wasn't as fast maturing as Zac but I also had an old reliable to fall back on while training him so didn't put him in the situations I just threw Zac into either. He was a challenge to start as he pushed on me and when I pushed back we often met with an explosion.
I have been amazed at his natural talent. He's the best outrunning dog I've ever owned and stellar at reading stock. My hubby always says he's got more finesse than most but doesn't always choose to use it! His sheer determination is what kept me going with him when he was young and I was getting frustrated. Nothing was going to get by him. I'm pretty sure he would have died trying rather than not get it stopped. Didn't matter what species it was.
Jag is now the dog that does the bulk of the tough work around the place. Dustin's dog, Kat, helps quite a bit as well but she won't work for me anymore. During the blizzard he was the dog who helped us find all the weaned calves and move them out of the draws. He was the one who worked for 10 hours the one day helping move neighbors cows around. I'm not sure I've seen a dog lose weight as quickly as he did during that 2 week time span. I fed him like crazy but he just put in way to many miles. Always ready for more whenever I asked.
One of my favorite memories of him is when I sent him after the ewes and lambs right at dusk. The coyotes had been giving us trouble and I wanted to move them closer to the house. He's always great at gathering everthing so I just went about my business and figured he'd show up soon enough. Well the sheep quit trickling in but no Jag. So I went looking. I called but no Jag. It took me quite awhile but I finally spotted him on a side hill just laying there. I hollered but he wouldn't come. I was getting a bit torked then so ran up there to give him a piece of my mind. When I got there he was laying next to a big hole that was very deep. I really couldn't see anything down there but just then I heard a faint little bawl. It was a lamb and I had to reach in well up to my shoulder to reach the little bugger. His mom had left him but Jag wasn't about to!
Jag just turned 6 and I'm hopeful that he has many years left of ranch work as well as on the trial field. I hope to spread the work out to my younger dogs more quickly now so I don't age him as quickly as I did Zac. It really is nice to know I have an old reliable again though!