Hannah and Fancy the dog
FANCY: Here's tiny 1-year-old Hannah, my niece, and her dog, Fancy. Fancy once placed in our Favorite Farm Dog Contest for her ability to love her people and herd small children to safety.

A dog’s place in the farm family

Farm dogs are important members of the farm family, and no more so than when we look back at photos.

When John and I celebrated our first anniversary nearly 18 years ago, we took a little trip to Galena … and came home with a puppy. Her name was Mandy, she was a border collie, and she became the dog of our young marriage, pre-kids. This was before people called them “fur babies,” though I’d like to think we wouldn’t have used that phrase anyway.

Fur baby or not, there was that time John accidentally shot her in the leg. (It involved a raccoon, a creep feeder and a stray bullet that only grazed her leg, but still, I lived a long time on saying, “At least I didn’t shoot the dog.”)

Soon, our babies played with Mandy, and they all grew up together. Mandy died just a few years ago at the ripe old age of 14, and we found our way to Ralph, an English shepherd, and Hazel, a basset hound. And I’m here to tell you, no one entertains us more than these dogs. They play, they sleep, and we imagine their conversations with anthropomorphic abandon.

Ralph: “They’re home! I’m so excited! Hazel, look alive!”
Hazel: “I need another nap.”

For sure, every year as I read the Favorite Farm Dog Contest essays, that is the theme: that our farm dogs are part of our farm families. We chart our lives by our dogs. (Check out the winning dogs and the honorable mentions from the 2017 contest.)

I’ll forever remember how old the kids were when we got Ralph and Hazel, which one won dog obedience at the Fulton County Fair in which year, and how we felt when they ran off that one time (they traveled 8 miles, and Hazel slept for three days when they came home).

Picture the story
My niece, Hannah, is shown above at just a year old with her family's beloved Australian, Fancy, who was a farm dog winner herself back in 2002. Fancy placed for her ability to love her people and herd small children away from danger. Today, Hannah’s all grown up and going to prom, but still loving on her dog — now Roxie, another Australian, though not related to Fancy.

These are the kinds of pictures that make me stop in my tracks, in part because I wonder how Hannah grew up so fast, but also because these dogs are such an incredibly important part of our lives. Hannah was gone for a week recently for a band trip, and Roxie literally cried for her. Because of course she did.

FANCIER: Today, 16-year-old Hannah still loves her dogs. After Fancy died, she got Roxie, another Australian and a faithful friend.

In the end, we watch our kids grow up with our dogs. We remember when and where we were when that one dog came to us. We mourn with our dogs, too.

My daughter Caroline once observed, “Dogs just seem to know when you’re sad.” She was maybe 6 then, but those are some true words, no?

Tractor rides and cattle to herd, kids to play with and farms to guard. We love our farm dogs. And we’re so grateful you share your stories with us.

The best stories, the best dogs and the best farm families. A farm dog’s life is a good one, and we’re happy to celebrate them on our pages.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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