Chad and Chrissy were never dog people. Ever. In their previous suburban home, they were often tasked with watching their neighbors dog when the neighbors were out of town. Just before they moved, they were gone a LOT. Baxter was an old dog, and he eventually had to be put down. Chad and Chrissy didn't care for him, but his owners did. He was ugly, He smelled like dog. And he didn't do much, other than look out for his humans. He loved them, and he would look out for them. Even when they were gone, whoever went in had to enter the house through the front door to let him out, or he would come after them.
When the Wilkins family moved here to the farm, Chrissy started looking for dogs. Within a month of moving, there was a new dog on the farm. Dolly is a Border Collie / Australian Shepherd mix. She was the first dog the Wilkins brought here, and they have bonded with her and grown to love her. She's a loyal beast - sticking with Chad whenever he is outside. She's a sweet, old soul for such a young dog. In fact, she's turning three in March. Sweet as she is, she isn't a working dog. She's lazy, and she pretty much hangs around the house as long as someone is home. And when no one is home, she still hangs around, but she does keep watch. She's not much of a deterrent to predators that would make a meal out of the laying hens. So they knew another dog was necessary - a livestock guardian dog, because they invested quite a bit of money in the laying flock, and they didn't want to lose them.
So they found another dog. She was 3/4 Anatolian Shepherd and 1/4 Great Pyrenees. She came home to the farm last January. She was a cute little puppy, and she puked on Chrissy the whole way here (she got car sick). She smelled, and she was a puppy (they hadn't had a puppy in almost 2 years, so they weren't prepared for that again, but they needed a dog to watch over the chickens). Since Chad and Chrissy were Downton Abbey fans, and the Downton exhibit was at Biltmore while they were there (they picked up the puppy on their way home from a weekend at Biltmore), they named the puppy Sybil. If you've never seen Downton - it's a character from the show. If you are a fan, they just liked the name - nothing specific to the character - just the name.
They began introducing Sybil to the chickens as a puppy, and it wasn't long before she was staying with them at night. If they were late going out in the morning, she would get restless and sometimes would chase the chickens, but she never hurt any of them. She caught on quickly. But one thing was obvious. Though they put her in charge of the chickens, she put herself in charge of their kids. Especially the youngest three.
I wish this tribute to this sweet girl continued with how much she protects the girls, and how Chad and Chrissy never worry about the girls when Sybil is with them. But, as life on a farm goes, sometimes bad things happen.
You see, as Sybil got older, she took her "charge" of watching over the family more seriously than she did the chickens. She would hide at night, and not come when they called. They would check all her normal hiding places, but she was no where to be found. So it got to the point where if she wouldn't come, they had no choice but to leave her out. On nights she was left out, they would find her the next morning laying in front of the house, right under the master bedroom window. Curled up and asleep. They didn't like that option, but they have plans early this spring to run a fence in the front yard along the road frontage, which would keep her safe from the traffic on the road. However, that took time, and they weren't quite at the point where they could get the fence up. She didn't venture out that far often, but she had started doing so a little more frequently. Truth be told, they think the neighbor across the street was disposing of deer carcasses somewhere behind his house, because Sybil kept showing up with random deer parts.
Since they dried off the cows, they typically feed the animals only once per day. But on Sundays, that happens after church. Well, this past Sunday, Chad went down in the morning to check on the animals, because with all the rain and cold temps, they needed some extra care. He keeps his boots in the garage, where Sybil would spend some nights, especially if it was super cold and / or wet. Dolly spends every night in the garage. Typically he will get his boots on and head to the barn. The dogs always catch up and meet him there.
But Sunday morning, neither Dolly nor Sybil met him at the barn. It was raining, so he didn't think much of it. He headed back and showered and left for church. About 7 minutes from the church, his phone rings. It's Christopher, the oldest of the children. Chad answers the phone, and Christopher's sleepy voice on the other end says, "Hey. Umm - Sybil got hit by a car last night."
Chad's heart sank. He was sitting next to Charlie (the 15 year old who was the one in charge of getting Sybil and Dolly in at night) and Ella, their extremely tender hearted 12 year old who was, as it were, getting baptized that very day.
Chad struggled to find something to say that wouldn't give away what Christopher had just told him. He finally just said, "I'm almost at church. Give me a few minutes to get Charlie and Ella in and we can talk."
Now, there are times when Chad and Chrissy wondered if this kid would amount to anything. But he is a freaking HARD worker. He didn't go to college, and they are ok with that. But he has a work ethic that would make most people look like pansies. And when he got home at 1:15 Sunday morning, he saw that Sybil was laying by the road. He knew that would be terrible for the whole family if they saw that on their way to church. So he went out, in the rain, and got Sybil loaded into the bed of his truck. He struggled. She was a big dog, and it took all he had in him to get her into his truck. He asked Chad what he should do with her.
Chad was so thankful, and proud of him for getting Sybil up that night. There was a time when he would have probably left her for them to find Sunday morning. But he loves his sisters and didn't want them to see that.
Needless to say, though Chad had no intentions of falling in love with Sybil, her personality and disposition won him over. She was a gentle giant. And she loved their three youngest girls. Ella had taught Sybil to raise her right paw and give a high five when anyone asked, "Can I count on you?" It was precious. And anytime the girls were outside, she was with them. At grandma's house, she was with them. At the creek in the woods, Sybil was there, watching over them. As sweet and gentle as she was, Chad and Chrissy believe that had anyone come after anyone of them, especially one of the girls, she would have snapped and eaten them alive. But, they never saw that streak - it was just a hunch (they don't have that feeling about our other dogs). She didn't have a mean bone in her body. Sybil had somehow taken over first place in Chad's heart. She was such a sweet dog, and her love for the girls was so evident, that they knew if she was with them, they were ok. Dolly and Paisley don't have that instinct (well, Paisley is still young, and seems a little slower to mature than Sybil, which is typical for their respective breeds). Dolly is more attached to Chad, so she tends to stay close to him when he's outside. If she is with the girls, and finds Chad is out of the house, she'll leave them and go straight to Chad. Paisley will take off with the girls, but she has the attention span of, well, an 11 month old Great Pyrenees puppy, which is similar to a gnat. She may or may not come back with them. If she doesn't come back with them, it's likely because she took off somewhere else, and will make an appearance a couple hours later. Sybil just stayed with them. She left with them, and made sure they got back home. So this has been heart breaking for the whole family.
Chad and Chrissy, and even the older kids all talked about how they wouldn't get attached to Sybil because she was a working dog. That failed. They all loved her dearly.
As much as Dolly didn't want to like Sybil, her and Sybil were buddies. Paisley and Sybil were buddies, too. Dolly and Paisley don't care much for each other. So they are both grieving (Dolly more so than Paisley, it would seem) because neither of them really has anyone to take Sybil's place (as if she can be replaced - she can't).
It was gorgeous outside today. With a break in the rain, the family finally had a chance to bury Sybil. Charlie, dug a perfect hole in a beautiful spot in the back pasture. They all went back and laid their sweet Sybil to rest. Tears were shed. Stories were shared. And they all talked about how much they missed her. Dolly and Paisley had been looking for her the last couple of days. Today, they let them both see her before they laid her to rest. Dolly whimpered. She knew her friend was gone. Paisley, the more carefree and still more puppy than dog Great Pyrenees, didn't seem too phased. But she knows her friend is gone as well. She has now taken to Fitz, her future husband. Though Dolly always seemed happier when Sybil wasn't around, she loved Sybil. They were playmates, always playing with each other when the humans came out to feed. They would rest and then go back at it several times throughout the day. Dolly misses her friend. It's evident in her body language and lack of energy. She's not the same dog she was when Sybil was around. I'm sure that will improve with time. Time is the ultimate healer. I've seen that take place many many times in my long existence.
Hopefully Dolly can bond with one of the other dogs. And they may end up getting another puppy soon. They will need one to watch over the chickens at some point. Great Pyrenees are not known for their delicate handling of chickens, so they will need to do something about getting them some protection. But for now, I expect they will take their time, and grieve.
Being Christians, they have always questioned whether animals go to Heaven. The Bible doesn't address it, but one of their favorite pastors (Matt Chandler in Texas) says that if God didn't want us to enjoy good food in Heaven, he wouldn't give it to us on earth - how much better will that medium rare tenderloin with a nice cabernet taste in Heaven? Well, I can't imagine God giving us animals - a life that is loved so much here - and not allow people to enjoy them on the other side. So, they've taken some comfort knowing that some day, they'll see Sybil again. She'll be running around a gorgeous pasture, and she'll come up to them, sit down in front of them, and raise that huge right paw of hers when they look at her and say, "Sybil, can I count on you?"
Yes we can, and now for all eternity.
Rest in peace sweet girl. We loved you the best way we knew how.
Not a great picture, but the last one taken of Sybil. As you can see, she was already teaching Fitz what she knows. She was protective of him, and would watch over him when he was outside.