What a week we’ve had. As many people know who follow my Instagram account we lost my father in law’s dog Patch on Friday. She was a working sheepdog and since Michael stopped driving to the farm, a year ago on the 18th of Aug, Patch became a companion, pet and working dog to me, Keith and the children. I took her on as my own, to look after Michael’s dog was an honour, you never saw him without a dog and he thought the world of them. I took her out on various walks, some for a mad run around with Pippa our Jack Russell, and many others further afield up on the fells. She was a fantastic dog, loving and very funny with strange little habits. One was moving rocks around with her nose and chewing on them and another was running deep into boggy, muddy areas and lying in them up to her neck. She gave love freely and was always pleased to see everybody with a loud pat of her tail and her big brown eyes, looking deep into yours. And her smile, well she had such a wide characteristic smile, she always reminded me of Muttley from the Wacky Races. I’ve never had my own sheep dog and most sheep dogs are very loyal to their owners, some often will not work for anybody else. But Patch was an exception to that rule, when I began taking her to collect the cows in the mornings and evenings from the fields for milking she started to listen and do as I asked of her. That was one of the best moments of my life, to command a dog and her listen and act on those commands was thrilling, I was so proud of her and felt such a strong affection for her, I was thankful for her trust. Sadly over a month ago Patch took ill. She lost her energy and was just sat not wanting to do anything, she had got an auto immune problem which attacked her red blood cells and she became severely anaemic. She had a blood transfusion at the vets which gave her more time for her medication to work. She was placed on steroids and we went back weekly for tests. The steroids did work to begin with and Patch seemed to pick up slowly, but unfortunately they had an affect on her body and she lost a lot of weight, especially muscle mass. She got thinner and weaker and eventually on Friday morning when I got her up she was too weak to support her frame and her back leg gave way under her. So I asked all the children to say goodbye to her before I took her to the vets as I knew she wouldn’t be coming home alive. At 9am she was put down. I will be honest her death was devastating, it hit me hard, very hard. I didn’t want her to go, I really wanted her to stay and although I am used to having to have animals put down, lambs especially, this was something I really didn’t cope well with at all. I cried for almost 48 hours, completely exhausted myself thinking about her and to be honest just couldn’t get a grip. When you have a farm and a family there isn’t a lot of space to be put off track and not much time for yourself, the housework builds up very quickly with just a day off task.
We buried her in the orchard that evening. Keith and I dug the grave, it’s in a beautiful place, between two trees. The orchard is where the apple tree grows and it’s a place you can sit and watch the world go by. It is also the hospital ward for sick sheep and lambs, cows ready to calve, and the home to my son’s hens.
Many dogs are buried in the orchard some of the ones I remember are: Ruby a young dog we lost to kidney failure at 3 years old, she was one of the best dogs we’ve ever had. She was a homebred pup and was an amazing dog to watch work, jumping high walls and fences and always straight out on a run for the sheep. Gem, Meg’s mother and our young Gem’s grandmother is there. Flash and Rosie were two sisters from different litters, Rosie the youngest would never work without Flash her older sister and when Rosie got a tumour Flash and her died within days of each other and were buried together. Flash had nothing wrong with her only age against her but she died first and Rosie followed her as she had in life. Spice was my mother in laws dog she lived to old age but had to be put down at the end of her life and she was buried with Ruby. There have been so many memorable dogs over the years, all with character all have worked, some better than others. Some were cows dogs some were for sheep and some did both. Lassie had three legs after losing one in a Badger trap, Moss was the most beautiful dog I have ever set eyes on, he had one blue eye and one brown ‘wall eyed’ and a long coat and mane. Jill came with me and Keith the first time he ever took me to Beacon Tarn when we were going out together. Bob had one eye and Sam fetched a ball for you they all had their characteristics and they all gave their life to the farm.
On Monday I felt like I could feel another type of dog close to me, the black dog known to some as depression. Churchill described his depression as a black dog and they say he wrote to ease his symptoms. I see it like a black sea in which I have almost drowned in the past. I felt the tide beginning to come in as I went about my daily chores. As I was stood in the shippon when I stopped it seemed to catch up with me and swept into my mind. It’s very difficult to describe but I once wrote ‘ I feel different like it’s lurking around, it’s in the air it’s in my hair it’s even on the ground.’ Once over that scared me I felt like everything had come alive and it was closing in on me. People seem different, I have no trust and feel paranoid, I doubt myself and everything really. So I withdraw into my shell. On Monday it was back, for how long I didn’t know, a feeling of self consciousness and I didn’t feel right, I had symptoms of mild depression. My first experience of depression was 27 years ago when I was 19, I now recognise it’s appearance, in all it’s disguises before it takes hold. I have no idea of what might happen so I watch it and let it sit by my side, the black dog is following me wherever I go.
What do I find works best in the early stages? Company and acceptance. If it’s began lurking it can often go away when I have a visitor as I am brought fully into consciousness with the person while they are there, the trouble is usually when they are gone my mind might pick through the conversation looking for negativity and play the conversations over trying to find the bit where the person was unkind or negative towards me. Finding my triggers finding my core negative beliefs (CBT) I am vulnerable during those times so the thing that helps me, having a friend over can also be something that makes things worse so I generally withdraw and battle alone. I find some people want to help by telling you what to do, go to the Dr and get help, at times that isn’t helpful it’s like passing the book and I prefer to try alternate methods first before pills, I know my own body. I have taken anti depressants a few times in my life when the tide was too deep, too quick and I felt like I would drown on my own. When it is full on in front of me taking hold I register now that something is wrong. The best thing I can do is back off from life, slow it down and try to stay focussed on the tasks that are at hand. Sleep, don’t stay up too late, depression likes a tired body to invade. And get out and exercise, drink plenty of water and watch how things go. I try not to be too hard on myself sometimes the two go hand in hand depression and self destruction.
On Monday evening my brother in law’s dog, June came to stay with us while he went on holiday. June used to live here on the farm but she has lived at his house for quite a few years now. She works with his sheep over at his farm and comes here most days when Keith and his brother are working with the sheep over this side.
On Tuesday morning Keith went to check on June before we got the cows in but to his horror she was lying in her kennel and wouldn’t come out. She was cold and almost dead. He got her out and we put her under the heat lamp and started trying to warm her up rubbing her and talking to her. What a dreadful shock to find her like that. Keith rang the vet and I took her over there. Two vets examined her and both said the same it looked like Peritonitis and it was very serious. She was clenching her stomach and didn’t want to be touched so they put her on a drip, took a blood sample and were planning to do an X-ray as soon as possible. I came home leaving her with them and sat waiting for a phone call. Keith went over to the fell farm that day and purposefully went round to the vets to see how she was. When he got there they told him her redblood cells were very high, which could be an indication of cancer, and they discovered a large mass around her liver which could be blood. They went through to check on her again before discussing a treatment plan but she had passed away in those moments when the nurse got there. Keith was very done by it, he felt guilty for fetching her home and we both felt terrible for his brother and family, they were away on holiday and wouldn’t get to say goodbye to her. Keith brought her home in the Land Rover and again she was buried that night in the orchard, next to Patch, two dead dogs in less than a week. I can’t begin to explain how that feels, it’s like death is still here in the eaves waiting and praying for something new to take. To lose a dog is a tradegy to lose two is unfathomable. On a farm with over 1000 sheep emotionally and financially it is a terrible loss. It will mean we need new dogs, fully trained dogs and fast. We now only have 4 dogs left and to get a good dog is not an easy task, especially one that will work the fells. Keith will be on the look out and he will have to be prepared to pay. A good dog can cost a few thousand guineas, one of the top prices last year was 9,200gns.
It has been a sad 12 months for us on the farm. Losing Michael’s presence, man power and advice then the loss of his life. We have lost sheep, cows, lambs, calves and now two dogs and not one thing we could have done about it. So what can we do now? Look to the landscape, look to the living and keep moving forward because time doesn’t wait for us to catch up we have to carry on and I know that’s what Michael’s advice would have been.
The black dog that is lurking in my kitchen and in the shippon taking over my mind, could well be spirits that I sense around me. I have a gift for seeing, I have visions that come to me, pictures that bring messages to people through my mind, objects, crystals and photographs. They are about other people not a vision I have created for myself that’s different. I have also contacted the dead. I can’t speak to these visions but I can see so much from what appears to me. I am not mad and I am not afraid to share that with other people anymore. I read tea leaves and tarot cards and help others through the guidance I give, it is a gift I use wisely and with care, but it can be quite draining to use it a lot so I have to replenish my energy levels frequently.
I’m taking a little break today, taking my daughter, with a friend of mine and her little girl for a night away at the seaside. I am hoping the complete break will do me good, the sea air and the cleansing influence of the sand between my toes. I would love to come back a little more refreshed and feel that the black tide of depression has turned and swept back out again.
Time you enjoy wasting is never wasted time.