Bill got Cas and his sister, Nellie, in November of 2006. They were litter mates, and inseparable right from the beginning. They were a formidable team and worked together to protect their flock through thick and thin. Many a time we witnessed them go to work when coyotes and other predators were lurking about. Cas did not like anything near his sheep, even birds. If a hawk, eagle or raven flew over, he would run around the pasture barking like crazy. Any sound or scent that he detected outside the pasture was investigated. Usually it elicited a warning bark, which would be enough, but if necessary he and Nellie would go into full defense mode. This usually entailed Nellie rounding up the sheep and getting them into a corner away from the threat where she would stand guard in front of them while Cas would go to the fence line and let the predator know that it would be a big mistake to come into his pasture. This was very effective, and truly impressive to watch.
Cas had a natural instinct for which animals needed the most protection. He was especially good with lambs. I remember one time when we had a few bummers (lambs whose mothers either couldn’t or wouldn’t nurse them). I was bottle feeding them in the pasture, and was getting ready to finish up and go do some other chore so I playfully told Cas, who was sitting on the hill behind me, that he needed to take extra special care of those lambs because they didn’t have mothers to look out for them. Just before I got up to go, a stray ewe wandered up and was approaching the lambs to check them out. Before I knew what was happening, Cas flew down the hill and head-butted that ewe clear out of the way! She looked totally bewildered and had no idea what had just happened.
He also took special care of the old ewes. We had a retiree, Licorice, who had been Bill’s niece’s 4H lamb. Licorice lived to a ripe old age, and in her later years she had arthritis and didn’t move very fast. In the summer we move the sheep to the upper pastures during the day, and bring them down at night. The rest of the flock would race up the hill to the fresh grass, while Licorice would make her way slowly up the hill and eventually catch up with them. Cas would usually hang back with her until she had re-joined the flock.
One thing we will never know is what happened during the Carlton Complex fire, when we left the dogs in charge of the flock. All we know for sure is that the new dog we had just acquired a few months before panicked and escaped, but Cas and Nellie stayed with the sheep while fire raged all around them. The fact that all were saved with nothing more than a few minor burns tells us that they probably worked as a team yet again to get the sheep into the center of the irrigated pasture, away from the flames that were burning at the fence line.
As fierce a defender as he was, Cas was also very playful and affectionate with us. He loved his daily belly rub and if I forgot to do it, he would put his paw on my leg and look at me while he rolled on his back with his legs in the air. When he was younger he loved to romp in the snow and slide down the hillside.
We didn’t know that he was ill until the very end. He had been slowing down a bit, which was to be expected with large dog of 9 years who has lived outdoors. But he was still playful, and would follow me up to the gate every day and wait for me to return from my chores. The week before last, he all of a sudden was not able to move one morning. The day before had been normal, and then the next morning he was paralyzed in his hind end. I took him to the vet immediately, but he could not find any obvious reason for it. I then took him to the WSU vet hospital, which is one of the best schools in the country, and they examined him and said that while they could not make a diagnosis without some very expensive testing, the bottom line was that he would never walk again. The most humane thing to do was to put him to sleep. So that is what we did, and I am so grateful to the kind people at WSU. They were very respectful and let me have some private time with him and be there when they did it. They then offered to do a necropsy as part of their training, and send us the results so we would at least know what happened. It turned out that he had very advanced cancer in most of his major organs. He had never let on that anything was wrong- just kept on doing his job until he literally could not walk. During the last few days we had him in a pen in the barn, and Nellie would not leave his side. She sat next to him day and night, and when he was gone, she sat there still for several days. We are so glad that we have Callie, the younger dog, whom Nellie has bonded with. Nellie is starting to sit with Callie now, and although I’m sure she misses her brother, is getting along OK.
There is some happy news on the horizon, too. We have been planning on getting one more dog to be a companion and partner to Callie, but had not made any efforts yet. When Cas became ill, I realized that we should probably get on a list for another Maremma puppy, hoping that we could get one later this year. I contacted the breeder who gave us Callie, and she called me immediately and said that she had just had a litter, and there was a beautiful little male pup available! So I sent her the deposit and will be picking him up later this month. We will always remember Cas and hold a special place for him in our hearts, but are looking forward to the next generation of loyal guardians. So, stay tuned- the next blog entry will be full of cute puppy pictures. You won’t want to miss it!