He wasn’t always ‘Old Nap’. First he was a twinkle in his fathers
eye and a wriggle in his mothers hips until a certain 14th February
when he became a small, independent, black and white bundle of fur.
From that point on he grew into Nap.
Growing into Nap was a voyage of discovery similar to the one every young dog goes through but it must have been special, because it made him into a very special Nap.
On the 19th February 2001, just after his first birthday, Foot
and Mouth was discovered in animals at an abattoir in Essex and
animal movement restriction hit UK stock farmers hard.
Nap was growing up in a team of sheepdogs in the Yorkshire Dales with a family who loved and respected their dogs and under the tutelage of a farmer who trained him with kindness and patience and was soon to become his best friend.
Between them the farmer, his sons and their dogs looked after over 1000 Swaledale sheep on a hill farm with their stock ranging over high fields and open moorland on the western flanks of the Pennines.
Maybe the restrictions gave them more time to train together because by the end of that year the farmer and his dog were an inseparable team and Nap had become a really useful dog. They were lucky in that when Foot and Mouth came and went, it passed them by without destroying their life as it did to so many across the country.
It was not an easy life, it was a way of life, and Nap was his
master’s constant companion as they went about their rounds, day in
and day out, in all weathers.
He spent the nights in comfortable, snug accommodation away from the house along with the other farm dogs, but he kept his own space, growing into an independent soul with a mind of his own that he chose to bend to the will of his master but not so easily to the beck and call of others.
He came into the house when invited and consented to join the family in the kitchen but every night, when the time came, he was waiting at the door to go to his own space. Keeping him in was not an option. He relished his independence.
Whether by training or good breeding or ample amounts of both,
Nap became a versatile, all round, sheepdog who was just as useful
in the lambing pens as he was gathering the fells.
He had a big frame, deep chest and great stamina. He would work all day and smile at the joy of it. He was always ready to go and his loyalty was strong and freely given.
His tail was always in motion. He wagged it equally at the sheep, his master, his mistress, visiting children, other dogs, his food bowl, his bed, the hills - and the wind in his face. For many years he lived his life on the farm and was content.
Then one fateful day the farmer died suddenly.
The family was devastated and Nap was confused, lost and deeply missed him. Other family members who worked the farm had their own dogs so after a period of mourning it was decided to let the farmers own dogs go, which is how Border Collie Rescue became involved.
They went on to other working homes and have done well.
But Nap was an exception. He had been so devoted to his master he had become almost an extension of him and they decided to keep him on. He was in his prime and to see him around the farm was akin to seeing the farmer, still there in spirit.
A year later the farmers wife got back in touch and asked us if we wouldn’t mind taking in Nap.
The farm was now being run by the sons with their own dogs and
there was nothing left for Nap to do.
They had tried to get him involved but he seemed to have lost his interest and just seemed to be hanging around, waiting. He seemed to be getting more and more depressed and she felt that being there was doing him no good at all.
We agreed and she brought him down to York with all his worldly
goods, a galvenised two gallon bucket for his water, a large food
bowl, his bed and his favourite bit of carpet, a well fitted fabric
collar that he still owns today and a sack of food.
She had ideas of her own about the best home for him and when we met she made an extra request - would we keep hold of Nap and give him a home with us for the rest of his life?
We said we couldn’t agree to that because our job was to find
dogs new homes and we couldn’t keep them all, but it would be a
while before he went on anywhere.
We would give him a chance to settle down and then assess him and see what would be best. When we did re-home him it would have to be a home that we thought would be at least as good as the one we could offer.
That was all we could promise and she accepted. She liked the accommodation we proposed for him as it mimicked his previous quarters and she thought it would help him settle.
We found ourselves taking in a big boy with sad eyes which had a
distant look to them that suggested he was somewhere else.
He went through the routines of being inducted, checked out and handled and although he was not used to strangers, he allowed himself to be intimately handled and let us and our vets do our jobs without the slightest sign of aggression or fear.
He met lots of other dogs which he also tolerated and we gave him a room of his own, away from the house which he accepted with good grace and tolerated.
Over the next few weeks he settled in and took part in the daily
routines. He was obedient and well mannered, but showed little
enthusiasm for life and no interest in the sheep whatsoever. In many
respects he was a real gentleman.
He was most comfortable in his bed in his room and all he seemed to want to do when he was out was to have a run around, do his business and get back.
Initially we thought he may have developed agoraphobia over the
year between his masters death and coming to us but in retrospect it
was simply because at the time he could not seem to conjure up much
enthusiasm for anything.
His room looked out into our yard and had a full height grill over the doorway in daytime so he could see out, but you would seldom see him looking out at anything.
Over time he started to bond with Nicki and we were so pleased when one day, as she took him his breakfast, he got up and wagged his tail for the first time.
He enjoyed his daily walks and runs in the fields and to try and
encourage him Nicki would always take him with her when she checked
the sheep but he tended to ignore them, even when the other dogs
went out to gather them and drive them over to her.
He did not want to come into the house, although he would occasionally come into the kitchen but never looked settled or comfortable and was always keen to get out again.
Then one cold and foggy morning we had a breakthrough.
Nicki took him out to the field as usual to check the sheep but the fog was so thick she could only see a few yards and no sheep were in visible. Suddenly Nap shot off into the fog and out of sight. Nicki was worried because he had always stuck by her before and if he had chosen now to do a runner it was not going to be easy to find him in the murk.
Then Nicki heard what she described as a deep thundering noise,
getting louder and louder, and out of the fog emerged our flock of
50 Swaledale sheep with Nap flanking from side to side behind them.
He had made up his mind and decided that he obviously needed to go
round the field and fetch them.
From that point on he never looked back.
To be continued..........