This happened just before Christmas, before we all got sick and before Timmy was hit by a car. But it seems a fitting tribute to a young dog who was just starting to grow into his job and show us what he was capable of. He will be greatly missed.
Timmy’s agitated, pacing at the door with a low growl. Coyotes are howling off in the distance. I grab my coat mostly just to reinforce that yes, I want him to bark at the coyotes. And a little because I am slowly learning to trust that if he is upset, there is something to be upset about; if he is calm, all is well.
But I can’t find my flashlight, so I just stand on the porch and listen as the coyotes yip down by the creek and as my dogs answer with their barks and occasional growls. I finally call the dogs back and bring Timmy in so I can get back to my show.
The kettle whistles and I go in the kitchen to make the tea when I hear a strange sort of rising cackle. For a moment I freeze, but then I realize I know that sound. It’s the guinea fowl. Guineas do not make noise above a purr once they are asleep on their roost and it’s two in the morning.
I grab my jacket and leave the house at a full run with Timmy right beside me.
As I get to the bottom of the hill, one guinea flies over the hen house, lands almost at me feet and disappears into the night. Another almost hits me. Another is crashing into the hen house window.
I yell, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” as I pick up a board and slam it against the tin siding of the hen house. The guineas are squawking and the geese are joining with their soft chatter. I stop for a moment to listen. There are no other sounds, but I don’t have a flashlight. Going around the hen house means leaving the dim light from the porch light for total darkness and an unknown danger.
I fear a raccoon the most. They can be fierce. They defend their prey. They will attack humans. Anything else would have probably disappeared before I even left the porch.
I can’t bring myself to leave the safety of the light, but I can’t just leave my birds to the danger I fear. Even if it is probably gone, it will probably be back.
And then I think of the car and run back to the driveway as I pull the keys out of my pocket. I drive down to the back side of the hen house and park with the lights focused on the run. The guineas are scattered around the outside of the run but there is no other evidence of an attack.
So I give the birds a moment to settle down and open up the hen house. Three run in immediately. Two crouch down in the darkness, trying to make themselves invisible in what is left of the grass and the shadows. I am able to pick one up and the other darts toward the run, crashing into the fence. Timmy is on it immediately. Three feet from the bird, he stops, lowers his head and eyes the bird with all his concentration as the tension builds in his front shoulders. I walk over to him and give him the only herding command I’ve ever taught him.
“Easy . . . “
Because I don’t quite trust him.
He approaches slowly and the bird darts the opposite direction, following the edge of the run to the front door. Timmy follows and freezes as the guinea pauses on the concrete step in front of the door. It opts for the safety of the hen house and I toss in the bird I’m carrying as Timmy turns back for the other one.
It is perched on top of the run, watching the commotion. I go in and shake the fencing until it finally comes down. Timmy leaps up and for a moment, I think he’s going to snatch it right out of the air, but he only bumps it with his nose. He immediately crouches and herds the guinea toward the door, but it turns at the edge of the run and darts back toward the headlights.
“Easy . . . “
I repeat the command because Timmy’s stare is intense and the bird is not responding. Every time we get it past the run, it turns and darts back past us and we cannot get it to round the corner. I’m getting frustrated. And I think,
“It’s been a long time since Timmy has attacked any of the poultry.”
And I remember the advice of another English Shepherd owner,
“Trust your dog.”
And I let him go. I don’t know how, exactly. The only command he knows is “easy.” But I take a step back and when he begins to move, I praise him. I can see it distracts him for a moment, because his eye glances up to me before returning to the bird. He takes another step and I praise him again.
Then he erupts in an explosion of movement as the guinea darts one way, then another then back toward the light, but he is on it with one paw across its back and his mouth over its neck, pressing it into the ground.
And he just stands there, frozen like a statue while I reach down to see what is left of the bird. I slide my hands over its back and down along the wings and as soon as I have a firm grip, he releases his. He didn’t so much as break a feather and I return the bird to the hen house.
“Good boy, Timmy!”
And he runs up the hill toward the house as I walk toward the basement door. He pauses a moment on the porch, watching me. He realizes I’m not going in and suddenly seems to know what I am doing as he runs past me in zigzags, nose to the ground. He finds the first guinea hiding next to the old air conditioning unit. I pick it up and carry it back to the hen house. He finds the second nestled amongst the turnips and I’m able to pick it up as well. The third he uncovers down by the tree where we’re slowly building the children’s playground. It darts as soon as we approach, but Timmy keeps it from heading into the windbreak and is able to turn it back toward the hen house. As I carry one bird back toward safety, it darts ahead and dashes in as I deliver its friend and lock up the hen house.
And I think Timmy just might be cut out for this country life.