Floss, my kind of hero, turns 105

Once again I had to take the ATV out looking for Floss. The other dogs had a good romp in the fields and followed me back to the kennels. Five times a day we take our Border Collies on their mile-long fitness runs around the farm, but Floss always goes her own way and manages to get in an extra mile or more of running and sniffing at the world.

So once again I went out past the barn and squinted through the blowing snow, yelling and whistling Floss’s “come home” command. Finally I spotted her way up on the hill, making her way towards me.

I was mad, but how irritated can you be with a girl celebrating her 105th birthday?

Fifteen human years ago—that’s 105 doggie years—Floss was born on a sheep farm on the border of Wales and England. When she was three years old I watched her gather a huge flock of sheep off a hillside, through a woods, over a creek and up to my feet. As the shepherd whistled and worked another dog on an opposite hill, Floss thought those whistles too were for her, and she went flying over hedges and back, one time just missing my head as she cleared the obstacles that were at least 6 feet high.

So I bought Floss. After all, she could do anything. She could gather vast flocks, fly through the air, and push her way over, under or through batches of sheep packed on tight country lanes and in crowded corrals. What’s more, unlike the two Border Collies I myself had trained up to that point, Floss would stop when I asked her—a very nice bonus indeed.

But, alas, Floss could not do everything. When I asked her to shed—that is, come into a gap and separate one group of sheep from another—she would not. She could not. I asked her sweetly, I barked harshly, but she refused to come into the gap. Believe me, I tried to force her. After all, I thought she could do anything! I wanted her to be my super-hero dog and win the big competitions where shedding was required—she simply didn’t have it in her.

But watching her come down that hill on the eve of her 105th birthday, I realized Floss was indeed the kind of hero a sheep farm needs. On the farm we need dogs and sheep that will do their part; and Floss has always done hers beautifully. I have other Border Collies now who can shed sheep, but my hero-dog Floss has done her part gathering wayward lambs, pushing stubborn ewes, raising puppies and teaching a greenhorn shepherd how to be more patient and fair in dog training.

We want to have heroes in life. The idea comforts us. We take comfort telling our children that they can do anything they put their minds to. But they can’t really, can they? That kind of talk only sets them up to fail. What they really need to know is that the best thing in life is to do one’s part—and to do it well. They need to know that heroic people encourage others to do their parts as well, because we all need each other. Life in the real world is like life on a farm: No hero can do it all and we truly do need each other.

 This article appeared in the Daily Chronicle of DeKalb County, IL, on March 18, 2011. Page A2