It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that our livestock guardian dog, Cotton, passed away on Sunday.
Livestock guardian dog sounds like a pretty serious working dog, and Cotton was from serious working stock. I will never forget going to get her and seeing her father, silhouetted by an area light, watching us as we got out of the truck. I was so intimidated that I almost got back in the car. He was stock still, and looked as big as a cow. He was very intimidating. Now when I say I almost got back in the car, I have to tell this story.
When I first started working after college, I did field collections. That means I went to people’s jobs and houses to collect money. One day I went to catch a deadbeat who’d been ducking me over a $3500 bill. I pulled up in his driveway before the sun came up and blocked in his truck. I then went to the front door and rang the doorbell. The door opens several minutes later and it is his wife. Who sends his wife to the door a 0’dark early unaccompanied? I explained who I was and why I was there and the wife said she’d tell him.
Several minutes later the door opens and two very unhappy Dobermans come scampering out, most displeased to see me in their front yard. I was close enough to my truck that I could make it inside before the dogs made it to me. Instead, 30 minutes later when the object of my attention came strolling out assured I had fled, I had both dogs doing tricks. I’d named them, since nobody had bothered to introduce us. And I had them sitting, staying, and heeling. My debtor was VERY unhappy to see me still there and even more unhappy that I’d co-opted his attack dogs.
I’m not afraid of dogs.
So looking at this white grizzly bear of a dog, I almost got back in the truck and said adios. Instead I went to meet our breeder and we left with a white fluff ball of a puppy who was going to grow up and be this hard working, tough, livestock guardian dog. At least that was my plan.
Step 1. Put the dog out with the animals so it imprints on them as who it needs to guard.
Yeah right. As if the kids weren’t bad enough, SWMBO was all over the new puppy playing with her and doing everything but making her into a working dog. Or so I thought.
Cotton decided that of course she was still a working dog, and her flock was a group of strange looking, loud bipeds, that laughed and talked incessantly. My three kids were to be her job and she took it seriously.
Cotton still patrolled the farm and made sure that no unwelcome guests were at the barn, or in the pastures. But her route started and ended wherever the kids were.
Cotton had an uncanny knack for being where you thought she wasn’t, and she was paying attention when you thought she sleeping. It didn’t matter where you were, you’d turn around and Cotton would be standing there, appearing from seemingly nowhere, fully aware of what you were doing and making sure she agreed with it. The best I could ever describe her was to compare her to this well known livestock guardian dog.
We had Cotton before we became a public farm giving tours to college and pre-school groups alike. We had a concern that Cotton would not take well to visitors, and they were well founded. Cotton did not like visitors at all and would make her displeasure known. If it was a man, alone, he was in a bind.
However if it was a van load of kids, a family, or basically anyone except for a male by himself, she was completely welcoming. She’d always show up to check on all of our guests, which was a big treat. A 150 lb fluffy white dog was always a hit with the kids.
But if you were the wrong person, in the wrong place, Cotton would let you know that you needed to leave. She wasn’t vicious, or even that aggressive. What she would do was approach from the rear, and nip you right on the butt. Not a bite, but a pinch with just her front teeth. Once she had you nipped, she’d continue to circle you and nip, only on the butt, until you got back where you were, in her mind, supposed to be.
One night we had two large Rottweilers show up on the farm. Cotton found them about the same time we did. The dogs were a bit snarly, showing aggression. Cotton didn’t bark, charge, or do anything that aggressive. She just circled the dogs, and then nipped them on the butt. At first they tried to fight, but Cotton wouldn’t fight. She’d nip, then circle, then nip, then circle. After several minutes of this, the two Rottweilers decided that they’d had enough of this crazy dog that wouldn’t fight and wouldn’t run, and started running towards the perimeter fence. Cotton stayed right on their behinds with me yelling at her to stop. I was afraid she’d follow them off the farm.
She followed them right to the fence, made sure they passed through, and then put her tail up and happily jogged back to the house like she didn’t have a care in the world. No anger, no tension, no aggression. Intruders sent packing, back to the house for a nap.
Despite her working nature, Cotton was of course treated like any pet owned by girls. She was dressed up, had ribbons in her hair, pulled and pawed at by 2 year olds, and never had a single issue. Wrong person, wrong place, you were in trouble. Grabby little toddler, she’d put up with it like the kid was her own puppy.
This summer Cotton tore her doggy equivalent of her ACL. She could hobble around on three legs but there wasn’t much she could do with the fourth. We let her convalesce in the garage this summer, which was air-conditioned. As fall came and went, we took her again to the vet to see if there was anything we could do.
While there was a surgery we could perform, we received the unfortunate news that Cotton had bone cancer in that same leg. She didn’t have long to live.
We brought Cotton home and began giving her medication to make her feel better. With the medication, she was almost like her old self. Patrolling, happy, and eager for attention. However Saturday she lost the use of her leg entirely. With her weight, she just wasn’t able to carry herself on three legs. Although she didn’t appear in pain, it was time to end things before she was.
Sunday morning the vet came to the farm and, surrounded by the kids that she’d protected her whole life, she laid down one last time. We buried her overlooking the house and the farm she’d always patrolled from her first day to her last.
Godspeed Cotton, you will be sorely missed.
Bella Cotton Moore
December 2012 – January 2019