Yesterday was a sad day–we lost Big Otis, our oldest livestock protection dog. Otis had been with us for 9 years–he arrived to protect our very first lambs in 2007, and on day one, at 6 months old, he headed out into that pasture of lambs, checked the perimeter fence, found the highest spot where he had a view of everyone, and got to work, protecting. He never stopped for nine years. I like to tell people that our dogs are professionals–they take their job seriously and don’t need to be trained, they just come in and go to work. And Otis was the greatest example of that. He gave us such peace of mind over 9 years protecting generations of lambs and ewes from predators without one mistake, ever. He hated human contact and we were completely unable to catch him in the pasture, although he would grudgingly submit to some grooming when we cornered him in the corrals or the milking parlor.
Otis is our only dog who ever bit anyone. It happened early one morning during lambing. Ignacio had arrived in the dark at 5 am and heard a ewe talking to her lamb in the pasture, where no lambs were supposed to be born–the ewes we were expecting to deliver soon were all in the barn. Otis was on guard with that group and this was the most stressful of situations–a newborn lamb out in the pasture at night! This was what he was born to protect! Ignacio went out to get the lamb and bring lamb and mother into the barn, and Otis BIT him on the butt! Ignacio wasn’t hurt–he had a towel in his hip pocket–and he thought the whole thing was very funny. Otis is the only dog of ours who I could imagine doing that–he was SO serious and had no sense of humor when the welfare of his sheep was at stake. That is why we chose him to mentor our new puppy Orbit last year.
Otis had been showing his age in recent weeks, and we all knew things didn’t look good for him when he didn’t want to leave the parlor with the ewes on Thursday evening. He had barely spent a moment of his life separated from his sheep. They were what he lived for. I took him to our vet, Bill Barboni, yesterday and didn’t have a lot of faith he would be coming home, so Lisa, Lolo and Melinda said their goodbyes. I was right–Otis was in kidney failure and Bill said the most humane thing would be to put him down. I consoled myself with the knowledge that Otis had had a good, long, useful, and, I believe, to him, very satisfying, life. When Lisa was saying goodbye she told him he would find lots of lambs waiting for him on the other side, including some of his dearest old friends.