If you are still with me after two episodes you will know we lost Gwen in 2013 at the age of 16, which is a good age for a dog, but we had a foundling arrive some years before Gwen died. We called him Moss.
My son, Daniel, went out by car early one morning and straight away called me on his phone as he got to the road
(half a mile from the house.)
“Did you know you have a puppy in the post box?”
“You’re kidding.” I replied
“No, really, it’s in the parcel post box.”
“Okay” I said but I didn’t really believe him.
I told Lesley, and as it was a nice sunny August day we took an early morning walk with Gwen to check it out.
Off we went up the hill and as we approached the cattle grid to our farm track there was a tiny little border collie puppy asleep in the sun, in front of our parcel box.
As we got nearer he woke up and turned over and wagged his tail and he didn’t seem too concerned. Then as I bent down to stroke him he rolled on his back in a submissive position and let out an arc of involuntary wee. This was the first of many, many fountains of wee over the next few months or so. Obviously a male puppy!
It seemed that someone had dumped him over our cattle grid so that he couldn’t get back onto the road, how long he’d been there we don’t know and who dumped him, we’ve never found out.
It’s a story sometimes repeated here in North Wales; farmer’s dogs have a litter of pups, but they only want to keep one or two, so they then have to find homes for the rest. This puppy was quite small, and was probably the runt of the litter and was obviously a nervous dog so it may have been hard to find him a home, so he was dumped.
Many years ago I once took a male collie from a farmer friend because he wasn’t working well. He had a rather long nose so we called him Concord. He wasn’t with us for long. After about 6 months he went on walk about, he came back but a few months later, but then disappeared again and never came back. Male dogs have a habit of wandering, especially if they get the scent of a female on heat. So I haven’t been keen on male dogs and usually stick with females.
“Well we can’t keep him,” I said.
“We can’t let him go,” Lesley retorted,” he’s already been dumped once, we can’t dump him again’” so I was overruled and we kept him.
And now I am glad we did.
We needed a name for him, always a difficult one, a Welsh name was preferable or at least a sheep dog name.
At first he was just called Pup but a couple of weeks later someone came to stay at the farm called Mr Mostyn which Lesley quite liked the sound of.
So we called him Mr Mostyn or Mostyn and eventually Moss.
Moss had a bad habit of weeing himself if you raised your voice or if he thought you were angry, suggesting a very timid dog and therefore a problem dog. But he wasn’t timid when it came to guarding us, Gwen or the farm. Because this timid little fellow, and he was small, would be become as strong as a lion if strangers came to the farm or if he thought someone might hurt us. And if any dogs came to him or to us in an aggressive manner, especially to Gwen,
little Moss became Big Brave Moss, he became the pack protector.
It was a problem at first because he would just go aggressively for anyone he didn’t know, which can be a bit embarrassing when people have paid good money to stay on the farm and then find that they were attacked by a crazed dog as soon as they arrive! He got better with time he didn’t try to bite them straight away he just barked a lot just to let them know who was boss.
So the little pup dumped on us because he was small and timid and weed himself a lot, turned out to be a big brave defender. But that wasn’t all. He was also probably dumped because a timid dog is usually no use as a sheep dog.
You can’t make a dog round up sheep and timid dogs are hard to do anything with farm wise. What separates a good sheep dog from a useless one is their keenness to work. Some dogs show no interest whatsoever in sheep and so will never work. Well whoever dumped Moss picked the wrong dog because from a pup he was as keen as mustard to get at the sheep and what’s even more amazing he was also good with the cattle.
However Moss was not as easy to train as Gwen who just picked up the basics almost at once.
Moss’s problem was he was just too keen and it was very difficult to control him, as he wanted to do what he wanted to do, and usually at 100 miles an hour.
I decided to take him to a sheep dog training school which was to be held over the course of a few weeks. Due to bad weather everyone else thought the first lesson was cancelled and Moss and I were the only ones to turn up, and Moss got the full attention of the trainer. All went well and for half an hour he was put through his paces and was doing really great. But then the trainer decided the session was over and went to let the sheep out of the field, but instead of getting me to call Moss and hold him, he did something really silly, he picked Moss up by the scruff of the neck and held him in the air.
Timid little Moss became Big Brave Moss as he bit the trainers hand (well you would wouldn’t you if they had you by the scruff of the neck in the air) the trainer promptly dropped him.
Well let’s just say that that was Moss’s first and last sheep dog training lesson, he was duly expelled from sheep dog training school!
I didn’t give up on the sheep dog training, and a couple of weeks later I took him over to a friend’s farm where he could try a work out with his sheep. Now when you let a ‘keen as mustard’ young dog loose in a field of sheep he will just race straight at them usually into the middle of the flock and scatter them. And that’s exactly what Moss did! But my friend Will said, “It’s OK just leave him might get the idea in a while”
Moss needed to get around the sheep, and not straight through the middle. Sure enough after about 10 frantic minutes Moss started to turn the sheep in a flock and then he was in his element, round and round he went with Will beginning to guide him. Moss just didn’t want to stop. In the end I said to Will that perhaps we ought to stop, and I called Moss away. As we all walked out of the field Moss was so exhausted he literally staggered out of the field, like a staggering drunken dog. Many months later Will had to admit he thought he’d killed the dog when Moss staggered away that day.
A while later I decided to take him to a local nursery sheep dog trial but it turned out to be run by the very same sheep dog trainer that Moss had bitten. Well I hoped to run Moss but, due to a small technicality, Moss was disqualified before he was able to take the field. I won’t say the bitten trainer had anything to do with the disqualification but let’s just say he didn’t welcome us with open arms.
Then we had ITV Wales come to the farm to film us as part of a programme being made about the 60th anniversary of the Snowdonia National Park. They were keen to interview us because of Baavet as a good example of farm diversification projects in the National Park.
We were interviewed and filmed first on the farm and then at our industrial unit in Harlech, They filmed us for 4 hours but in the end we only made 4 minutes in the programme, but it was a good 4 minutes! Whilst filming on the farm I asked if the film crew wanted to film some sheep being rounded up. They said it was a good idea, and Moss promptly obliged with a really good display. Then when the film crew went to our Baavet industrial unit they were intrigued with our doggy duvets and filmed one being made after which they asked if Moss could model one. Well with true acting panache Moss obliged. Never work with children or animals they say. Well I think Moss stole the show. So expelled from sheep dog school, disqualified from the nursery trials but Moss becomes a TV star! Whatever happens he is still and will always be ‘seren fach’, our little star.
I mentioned in the last newsletter that our previous dog, Gwen, would run away if there were any loud bangs, Now it didn’t take Moss long to realise, not only that she did this, but he instinctively seemed to know when she would do it, and as Gwen would set off in panic, he would take off after her. He would head her off and bark at her till she stopped! He really looked after her.
There is a difference in the way a dog handles sheep and cattle. Usually you have different dogs, in fact the Queens famous Corgi’s were originally Welsh cattle dogs. For sheep, a dog needs a strong “eye” that is to say they can hold the sheep with an intense stare, defying the sheep to move and of course they need to react quickly to head sheep off and move them, but it’s all done silently, no barking, and they work around the sheep. For cattle they work from behind the cows and they need to bark a lot and if necessary nip the bottom of the cow’s leg to move them and then be quick enough to jump out of the way if the cow kicks out.
Moss could do both, but again he was really afraid of cows and would always avoid them unless I wanted the cattle moved, then he became Big Brave Moss.
The most difficult sheep to catch is one on its own, it doesn’t act rationally, and it gets wild. In fact the best way to catch a single sheep is to bring a group of sheep to it then move them all into a pen with the other sheep where you can grab it. But this is not always possible so in extreme cases the dog has to grab the sheep (not allowed in One Man and His Dog of course) Moss was small, but he could grab a sheep by its thick fleece and hold onto it while I grabbed it.
He had another uncanny knack of finding stock, sheep or cattle in any kind of distress, whether it was a sheep out of view giving birth but having trouble, or a sheep stuck in a thicket. Things we could easily miss. One time he spotted a cow hidden away in a hedge row having trouble calving. He would go over to the problem and he wouldn’t move, even if we called him, until we went over to investigate. In the end we wouldn’t try to call him away we would always go see what was wrong.
When Gwen died aged 16 we were devastated but we still had Moss and he became a wonderful family dog for another 7 years.
He was a difficult dog with new people but once he knew them, and if they were regular visitors, he would be a big softy with them. He was really popular with Baavet staff at Baavet HQ. He was popular with our climbing friends and had endless mountain trips over the years. We have noticed with all of our dogs, and perhaps true of all dogs, they can recognise people they know at quite a distance, which means a high level of facial recognition
On one occasion we went to Spain for a couple of weeks and agreed to meet some climbing friends out there. John a close friend of us and Moss was to be with them. We arranged to meet at a crag up in the hills. We got there first and were there for a while when Moss barked with excitement and went running along he track to meet him, somehow he recognised John from some distance before we even did.
Of course if you read my stories you know what is coming next. And many people have emailed to say they can’t help but shed a tear at the end, so get the tissues ready or stop reading now and remember Moss as he always was, our little brave boy.
He was 12 but he was still young at heart and physically active too. We went to Northern France in July 2019 for a rock climbing trip in our campervan, with friends. We had just given him a new and stronger Tick treatment in the form of a tablet, recommended by a vet. This was his second tablet that year, the first seemed fine and he was terrible with trying to get the spot on treatment on his shoulder blades.
He seemed OK, but as the week wore on he went off his food so we kept trying different varieties and even good quality meat. Sometimes he seemed to respond but then went backwards. He wasn’t himself. So we took him to a vet in France who couldn’t really find anything wrong with him but as a precaution gave him an antibiotic jab. He seemed to respond and when we went back they were happy with him. But he had lost weight. We were then motoring back to the Caen ferry but needed to see a vet before we left for his Pet Passport. By now Moss really wasn’t well but the vet couldn’t find anything seriously wrong but gave him another antibiotic, so he allowed us the passport to get the boat the next day. By now Moss had lost 2 kilos. We were keen to get him home to our own vet.
We took the overnight ferry leaving Moss in the camper. In the morning he was in a very poorly state. I raced as fast as I could to get back to Wales, I felt he was dying. We phoned ahead to the emergency vet who was waiting for us when we arrived. She didn’t know what was wrong with him but said she would put him on a drip and keep him in overnight and let us know how things were in the morning.
The news in the morning wasn’t good; Moss had died in the night. The vets’ conclusion was multiple organ failure. Cause unknown.
After the floods of tears we set about digging his grave on our own little hillside, close to where he loved to sit. We very carefully brought him back from the vets and buried in his Baavet doggy bed together with his collar, lead and his toys. Then covered him in a nice clean warm Baavet and said our goodbyes and covered him over.
Everyone who has been through this experience of loss will know how it hit us. I couldn’t actually talk to Baavet staff about it for some days and Lesley was totally devastated, Moss was her little fella. It’s difficult to cope when the little dog that you walked daily and played with daily was no longer there; it was a big hole in our lives. It’s like losing a member of the family. We had a great deal of support through our Facebook page which really helped, so thanks for that.
Rest in peace little man; See you on the other side, little Big Brave Moss.
We have since planted a weeping flowering cherry over his grave.
We think he had sepsis, which is very difficult to diagnose, possibly brought on by an immune over reaction to the tick treatment. Searching on the internet we found many cases of a similar reaction to the drug with pets dying after the second dose. He may well have had some other underlying condition, we shall never know.
As I have said before, was the pain of the loss worth it? Of course because we had 12 brilliant years of adventures with him which can’t be taken away and he will never be forgotten.
I don’t want to end my story of Life with Border Collies on such a sad note because the story goes on and the happy days have returned. But more next time.
Thanks for reading