Monday, January 29, 2018

Cap is 7 Months

...and other happenings...

Cap turned seven months on January 21. He really thinks he is something! He IS something, but I feel like I need to wait longer to really work him on the sheep. Cap is very keen and shows nice stuff...but he is still so puppyish otherwise. Gloria took these three photos of him, while we were at the Pt. Pleasant sheepdog trial:

I will continue to take him out to go around sheep every so often, when I am feeling up for it and when there is somebody around for safety backup (just in case I can't catch him on my own, and just in case I would fall down in the mud or something!). So far he looks really nice and I am anxiously awaiting for him to be old enough to train (soon).

The oldest (Coal) and the youngest (Cap).
I liked this photo of Coal and Cap better in black and white. Coal's eyes are shining so brightly; he is still a crazy dude despite his self-imposed semi-retirement.

I had an abundance of riches for my birthday. I took the day off work and we were blessed with a sunny day in which I had a plan to work dogs with friends (I know that will come as a shock !). LOL.  Then some of us went out for Mexican food for dinner. All in all a great time.

On the heels of my birthday, Gloria came for a visit and to work dogs. Ryme and I enjoyed playing setout crew so that she could practice some outruns. It was very foggy, first thing in the morning, which made it hard to see anything very far away but it was interesting for photos. 

Ryme setting sheep


Ryme is now nine years old (how did that happen?) but he really is my right hand man for chores and little jobs. He seems to know just what I want. He has really taken to setting out sheep for others to practice outruns. And when I want to sort sheep to work, he is stellar. It is super to see him so happy and enjoying his work.

After all the upsetting things in 2017, I am just super grateful to be in a new year, and enjoying 2018 with my dogs being happy and healthy. Here's to the year of the Dog!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Fires

It has been almost four months, now, since our county and more of Northern California, caught on fire, on October 9, 2017.

I have not really felt like I could write about it. People from outside our community, however, have asked me questions so that they can understand and know what happened. I was not personally affected; I was not burned out nor even evacuated, and certainly I experienced no loss of loved one, or animals. I was one of the very lucky ones. Yet, we are all wounded by it, and life will never be the same. I am ready to at least write down my experience. It was truly a life-changing experience and unlike anything I had ever experienced.

5:00 AM on Monday, my co-worker texted me. They have police scanners, and had been up all night. She said that "Sonoma County was on fire". I stumbled out of bed, trying to figure out why I smelled smoke in my bedroom. It had been SO windy overnight, like 70 mph gusts - more than anything I'd ever experienced here. Ryme had barked all night. I could not figure out why; he was not sick. Now I suddenly knew why. That dog is wired into something else. Wow.

Talking with my coworker on the phone at 5:30 AM. Trying to find the KSRO radio station on my radio, and any news online. There wasn't any. Starting to panic. The smoke was bad. I decided I'd better get dressed ASAP  and get ready to bolt. My brother called. I literally talked to him while I was in the shower. I was getting really  nervous. Dressed, I went outside at daybreak. My neighbor across the street was outside in front of his house, and we compared notes.  Smoke was everywhere. We both thought we'd be OK, but I went inside and started preparing go-bags, just in case after my neighbor showed me how to turn off the main gas valve to the house, in case we had to leave. Oh my.

We learned that a friend was among the missing after she and her husband had to evacuate. Others evacuated, some to the Fairgrounds, some to friends in other areas. Some sections of my town were suddenly evacuated because of fears that another branch of the fires would jump Petaluma Hill Road. I was afraid but also felt safer at home with the dogs if I could stay. That evening, Cosmo, our LGD came over to stay with me for a week. Our sheep were still in harm's way, which was really worrisome, but at least Cosmo got out.

It was a very anxious and stressful day -- the first of many. Dreadful reports came in all day - terrifying. Another friend evacuated herself, her sheep and her two LGDs, by herself in the middle of the night. The sheep and LGDs went to our other sheep field, across town, which was at least at that point a safe place to be. That's where I planned to go, if I had to evacuate, and from there I could re-group. At least the dogs and I would be safe.

It was nearly impossible to work but I checked in with work and co-workers and managers. My big comcast internet was spotty but my good old landline slow DSL still worked. I was so glad I had kept my landline and that DSL. At least I could get out to the outside world. My cell worked as did all my other utilities which was not the case for many other folks. I stayed put. Friends from far away were urging me to go...but I was safe here...I did not want to go unless I had to, with 5 dogs...and everything was working here. I stayed, and worried about our sheep...did not get undressed and slept fitfully in my clothes, with bags packed by the door. Everyone signed up for Nixle alerts and my phone went off constantly.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Someone got in to feed our sheep in harm's way. They were still alive. Whew. That place had not burned. The house was still standing; it was a huge relief.

I learned of friends who evacuated and lost their homes, but got out safely. Two couples, each of which were part of my very first job in Santa Rosa, each lost homes but got their pets out. Each of them had an elderly pet, however, who did not fare well with evacuation and ended up being put to sleep soon after.

Our friend whose wife and her dog were missing, still had not found them. Heartbreaking.

Again I tried to work but was so distracted. At least all my services worked, and comcast got us back up and running, so I was very lucky. I did not leave the house. The windows were all closed due to the smoke. I felt badly for Cosmo being outside but he was a trooper. He was a champ. I left the garage door open so he could come in the garage but I think he was afraid of the concrete floor.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
An emotional roller coaster day. After successfully evacuating our sheep with the help of total strangers (more to come about that) we found out that our friend's wife and her dog were confirmed deceased in the fire. Heartbroken.

The livestock rescue. The smoke was thick in the air but folks were jumping into action to get horses and other livestock out of the paths of the fires. I got in touch with some folks via Facebook who were hauling animals. I asked for help and I got it. They were mobilizing from Sonoma County Fairgrounds. They told me to go there and I would get help so I did. I literally stood on the street corner at the south end of the fairgrounds and got dozens of calls and texts from folks willing to haul. Finally it was arranged, but Animal Control would have to escort us. I jumped into a pickup with some folks I did not know but they knew they were to pick me up. We waited for AC about 20 minutes and these guys were getting antsy. They said they could get us thru the barricades, so I called AC and told them we were going in. She told me good luck and let her know if we didn't get in. Off we went. I just sat in the back seat of the big pickup and let the guys do the talking with the deputies, and they waved us through.

From there it was eerie and quiet except for the backhoes and helicopters working feverishly to stop the fire from the Glen Ellen area from mixing with the fire at Anadel and then marching down into the rest of Santa Rosa. Bennett Valley road was lined with tractor trailers who had hauled in the backhoes and helicopters and other heavy equipment. The mountain was burning. It was a surreal experience. They were cutting trenches and setting backfires and dropping big loads of water. Unreal. We got into where the sheep live, and they were spooked. Luckily there were 5 of us including me and we got them walked into the trailers without too much trouble. A couple of the  Scottish Blackface were spooked and did not want to load; I told the guys, if we have to leave a couple of them, I will just pull out a bale of hay and leave without them. I did not want to jeopardize the rest. They were steadfast, however, and got the sheep loaded. These guys were experienced and had been hauling horses out of the area, all night. They did speak of one set they had to leave behind, who would not load. They left them in a large open arena that had firebreak and they left water and hay. In some cases that's all they could do. We got out. It was so bizarre. I gave them directions to get across town to the other field. The traffic was miserable but we made it. The guys were elated having made a successful trip. They dropped out our sheep and hurried on to another rescue; they would not accept any money for fuel despite our pleas to offer them cash and our profuse thank yous. I sat exhausted in a chair at the pasture and said to the friend who came to pick me up, "what have we just done?" It was so good to know that our sheep were not going to burn up. That was the turning point.

Thursday October 12, 2017
...was a blur...trying to work but very distracted.

We did evening chores feeding the sheep. Our evacuees seemed somewhat indignant about their less than 5-star accommodations  but they were alive and that's all I cared about.

The smoke was still awful.

Friends who had been evacuated, dropped by with extra dog food for Cosmo and my dogs. They looked gaunt and worried, which was understandable.

Every time we heard a noise, we jumped. Helicopters and air tankers and all kinds of planes flew overhead constantly. They were a welcome sight because it meant somebody was doing something and making some progress. I listened to KSRO as much as I could stand it. I never shut my phone off. In fact I have never put my phone back on silent since these days. I am too afraid.

Friday October 13, 2017
Still mandatory evacuation at the place where the Scotties live. Some people snuck in to that area and were staying in, to defend their homes. The fires were not far away but they were staying away. Thankfully, the winds predicted Wednesday night did not materialize. The firebreaks that I saw being cut, did their job. Huge gratitude.

I was normally good in the day light, but when darkness came each night, I got anxious. It was reassuring, actually, to have Cosmo here. I don't think anyone would try to loot at my house with him here.

Saturday October 14, 2017
Feeling more productive. I got some hay for our evacuated sheep at the feed store. We had just bought a ton of hay but that was in the evacuated area, so I had to get a few bales more to feed them now. The gal at the counter at the feed store said everyone is in the same boat. I was just thankful to find the feed store open and that they had hay to sell to me.

There were lots of helpers, out helping. A huge PG&E base camp was set up just west of the casino in a dairy cow pasture. The National Guard base camp was set up at Ghilottis' yard. I was feeling more positive due to the activity and all the helpers. Every other vehicle on the road was a fire engine from out of town. It was very good to see. At Wal-Mart and Home Depot, all the major insurance companies were setting up their trailers to begin helping folks with their claims.

Sunday October 15, 2017
I spent most of the morning grooming Cosmo, since he was here.  He was such a good boy. The dogs are getting crazy without much work or activity. I let Cap in to interact with Cosmo and they got along well.

We were still not out of the woods; still waiting for the  mandatory evacuation to be lifted where our sheep normally live. Still nervous at any noise, still dreading the Nixle alerts...still very smoky.

Monday October 16, 2017
The mandatory evacuation orders where lifted about 12;00 Noon. Yes!

We went out to dinner. It was quite a celebration. Cosmo got picked up and got to go home. Now to get the sheep hauled back home.

Tuesday October 17, 2017
Cap had an appointment at the vet to get his vaccine. My vet was located in the fire area, just near the KMart that burned down. First the vet tech called and cancelled the appointment, saying they had no vaccines. They had been closed for a week due to no power to the area, and everything in their fridge was ruined. Then later they called me back and told me to come. They got vaccines from other clinics in the area, which I guess the drug rep had arranged by calling in a bunch of favors. Hooray, for more cooperation among folks. Wow. so we went for our appointment. The staff were so happy to see a puppy. Many of their clients had been burned out and lost their homes and their pets were missing or gone. We were a happy spotlight in their day, almost pet therapy, in a way. One of the techs lost her home and could not find her cats. Another tech was evacuated and near the fire zone. It was really hitting hard.

The burned out buildings were surreal, near the vet's office. The gun shop burned down and they had a big taxidermy bear inside, apparently, which did not burn up. He was standing there among the ruins of the charred building. How? It was so random, as to which buildings burned and which ones didn't, even adjacent to one another.

The standard question is, "Are you good?" This can mean that you got out but lost your house, or it can mean you escaped unscathed, or it cam just mean that you survived.  Lots of emotions. Survivor guilt. Gratitude. Bewilderment.

Wednesday October 18, 2017
It was a quiet day, in which I never left the yard...which I needed, I guess. It was very smoky. I am trying not to go outside, but it comes inside. Taking advil and some herbal cough stuff which helps, and breathe easy tea.

The dogs were going crazy but it's also the first day that we've had morning fog, since the fires (and it's very welcome).

Thursday October 19, 2017
I had an acupuncture appointment. She treated me for stress, trauma, breathing difficulties.

Rain!!! from about 4 PM-on, and some overnight. Fabulous!!!

Friday October 20, 2017
Overcast finally. The rain cleared things up a bit.

Took my dogs for a run. They have not worked for two weeks.  Still trying to arrange transport of our evacuated sheep back home.

Saturday October 21, 2017
I went to Zamora for a lesson, which led me through all the burned-out areas near Sonoma. Oh my. It is so overwhelming and sad. My trainer said that he has never seen me so stressed. My focus to work Spot was not very good but it was great to get out. The Stornetta Dairy. Oh My God.

Sunday October 22, 2017
Our sheep got hauled home. Yay! I was so happy.  The friend who hauled them was so very generous. I am so grateful and thankful. The cooperation among folks has just been astounding.


We are still in very deep sadness about the loss of our friend and her dog. There is a Celebration of Life planned for February 17th.

I am so glad I kept my landline and the associated, although slow, DSL.  There are other safety lessons to be learned in all of this. I have not turned my mobile phone off in four months. If it wakes me up at night, so be it. I will go back to sleep. Every text could be a potential Nixle alert and I will not get past that. Everyone should have a phone (either landline or mobile or both) in their bedroom at night; it is just a safety thing. Don't be isolated. Also, have a plan of where you are going to meet family members if you have to evacuate. Even more organic than that, where will you evacuate?  If you have dogs, can you possibly leave collars on them at night? If they have collars on, they will be easier to throw into the vehicle if you have to leave in a hurry. Maybe even practice and rehearse, "loading up" in  a hurry where you pretend to be excited and worried. It could save a life. What about important documents? What do you need?

I am forever grateful to the folks who hauled our sheep and to everyone who pitched in and helped in any way. This tragedy really did bring out a lot of good in people.

We will never be the same. It was a life-changing experience.

Friday, January 26, 2018

New Year's Trial

We went to the New Year's Trial at Spencers again, in early January. Here are the scores.

Happy to report that once again Spot and I got a score, both days. The first day we did not finish the course, but the second day, we did. All good. I think his confidence level is increasing (at least in that venue).

The first day's course included the full shed-pen-single, so the scores listed above for Saturday are out of 110 possible. The second day had more dogs so the course was shed-pen for a possible 100 points.

I still have to help Spot on the outrun with a whistle or two. It is coming along. Our fetches and at-hand work were good. I am still struggling with the driving which is puzzling but we are working on it. Sometimes his driving is the best component (such as at Hopland).

I am so grateful to have this small winter trial series to just get out there and do it. Going to the post multiple times is so helpful.  We've also had a few lessons on the hills at Zamora, which is also helping greatly. I'm feeling enthused and looking forward to a much better year in 2018 than last. After all once the Chinese Lunar New Year arrives, it will be the year of the dog! LOL

Just a quick post for now. I have other posts in mind but have not had time to complete them. :-)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Jingle Trial

We went to the Jingle sheepdog trial at Point Pleasant Ranch near Elk Grove in early December. My goal is just to get to the post, whenever we can, and try to work on some of the things we've learned over the past few months in order to help  Spot to be successful.

It was a very constructive experience for us and I was so pleased to be able to finish the course on both runs and get a score. It is amazing how good it feels to be able to complete the run before the clock runs out. We were not competitive in the HA points but we were respectable. More than that, I felt like we put into play some of the advice we have been getting from the experts who have been advising us, and it sure seems to help. There are lots of holes in our work and many things to practice and improve ... but there is no better way to find all that out other than just putting in the time at the post. I am very grateful that the trial hosts are willing to have these trials!

Jingle Trial scores

We are into the darkest part of winter, and the shortest days. Some weeks it is hard to get out and practice on the sheep at all, during the week. The boys have been very patient about being cooped up at home but they do love an outing on the weekends, when we get one!

Sad, work from home dogs...

Happy dogs on the weekend!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

July Pics

These pics are what remains from my July 2017 folder. I am having serious challenges keeping up with things this summer but I am enjoying it...all but the heat.

Sheep wrangling at its finest (photo by Jill H.)

Spot and I (and to a lesser degree, Ryme and I) were the sheep wranglers for an awesome training clinic near Ferndale (photo by Jill H.).
This cowboy came home from the Farmers Wife Barntique!

Coal looking handsome as always

Spot and I working in July (photo by Gloria A.). Truly I am trying to stand up straighter, really I am.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Shepherding is not always about the sheep. Sometimes it is about the guardian(s) of the sheep. Without our guardian dog it is really difficult to keep sheep in this county, due to the predators in the area. The trapper told us that without "that dog" (meaning Cosmo) we would have at least one mountain lion kill per year. I have no doubt that what the lions would be up in the pasture whenever they pleased, without that dog's presence, and I am guessing that it would be way more than one kill per year, and that we would probably just give up on keeping sheep to work our dogs without Cosmo. The lions are protected in California and some are being collared locally and followed on a research project. It is a delicate dance of science and sheep.

A few weeks ago, Cosmo was feeling poorly and not eating like he should. I had been out of town and I had not seen him for a few days and when I saw him I knew something was amiss. Looking him over I found one ear really inflamed and the other slightly less so. His ears were really ouchy. Poor guy. I started treating his ears right away with what we had on hand and tried to source out what else might be of more help. Once we read the label, the ear wash that we had on hand - a veterinary product - was disappointing - main ingredient, propylene glycol - antifreeze! What ??? I searched for something else. I had some Panalog at home, and some witch hazel, both of which seemed to help. I consulted with a Labrador owning friend who has been a groomer and she gave me a reference to a great alternative, which has helped a lot. I am using the products -which have no nasty ingredients -- now twice a week after cutting back from daily. Cosmo does not like me messing with his ears but true to his great temperament, he allows it, which I reward with scoops of good quality canned dog food. His ears look great. He is eating and happy and watching his/our sheep.

I call all of this, "the glamour side of sheepdoggin'".  Sigh.

Photo by Gloria A.

The fire danger in our area is very high in summer. This summer, it is particularly so, since we had so much rain which has created so much "fuel" in the form of tall grasses and vegetative growth. We were at the other pasture that we work dogs earlier this summer, and a friend and I were sitting under a tree enjoying a chat after working dogs on a Sunday afternoon. Suddenly we turned and saw a brush fire coming our way. Flames were shooting in the air. I turned into what I call the Mother Piranha on steroids and yelled at my friend to get her car out to the road, and I ran and drove my car out to the road. The sheep were already turned out and were pretty much out of harm's way unless the fire went really out of control. Only the llama remained close by. I did not know I could run. Normally I would testify that I cannot run. But run, I did, back down the driveway to chase that darn llama out to the farthest pasture area so that if the fire came through he would not be trapped against the fence. All I could think of was Zamora when the fire burned the sheep who were trapped against the fencing. By the time I raced down the drive and chased the llama out to safety, the fire department had come and put the brush fire under control. My friend backed her car down the drive and yelled at me to get in. We had both, apparently, turned into Mother Piranhas. :)

Yes, it's the glamour side. 

Just Working and July 4th

Part of the plan for Spot and myself to get back on the more successful trail was to just work him. We have been lucky enough to help a couple of ranchers doing some real jobs, a couple of times. One of these opportunities was combined with our trip out of town for the Fourth of July to escape the firecrackers in our neighborhood.  Once Spot knows what a job is, and especially if it is "real" work, then he really gets into it. It is so cool to see him dig into a job. It's as if all the generations of working border collies behind him just light up and synch together. So cool. :)

Pushing hundreds of sheep through a barn sorting system was not something we had ever done but we did our best with it. What we accomplished in a little over half a day would have taken one person at least a day if not longer so I felt like we were at least a little bit helpful. I admit that I am sometimes slow on the uptake about which gates lead to which areas and where it is best to stand and approach the sheep, and so forth...but both Spot and I got better as the morning went on. We worked four or five hours just pushing sheep so they could be sorted off for different reasons. I think we stopped once for water. Spot just worked and worked, pulling sheep out of corners and various pens, and pushing sheep through the chute. Luckily it was cool out, and shaded inside the barn. At the end he heartily drank up some Energy Edge, which is something he has been reluctant to take in the past. I am hoping he will realize that he needs to take it when I offer it.

Bringing sheep in before sorting; photo by JTH.
Then our holiday began and we enjoyed a wonderful time with the dogs swimming in the Eel River again, and barbecuing a boneless leg of lamb that I brought, and all the fixin's for the Fourth of July as it should be (minus all the random firecrackers).

Spot followed me out to this rock in the Eel. Photo by Marnie N.

So grateful!

Spot looks for me.  Photo by Marnie N.