And wtf does that have to do with responsibility?
Well, Back In The Day, when I had first escaped from Dargaville, I moved to Tinui, which is a little locality in the wops about 65km northeast of Masterton. In New Zealand, it's quite hard to get much further away from civilisation. I needed somewhere to hide and regroup and get my shit together, where there were more animals than people, and where I didn't need to worry about not fitting the crazy rules of small town New Zealand, because there'd be nobody to care if I didn't.
I made a good choice. Tinui is full of freaks like me, and one of the first people I met was a woman who had been at the cutting edge of the Girls Really Can Do Anything movement. She'd been a shepherd all her life, was a successful dog triallist, and owned her own farm. Her and her husband took me under their wing, gave me work when everyone else was going "A skinny little white chick like you? Shearing sheep? Whatever!" *derisive laugh*
So they helped me learn to train Sparky the Blunderdog until he was useful, then they helped me find another dog that already knew what she was doing, to train me. They took me out mustering, had me farmsit when they were away, and eventually when they thought I was ready, they gave me First, aged 5 weeks, as a pup to train.
First is a pretty special dog by trialling standards. There are 16 New Zealand champions in her pedigree, her blood is practically royal blue, pups from the same litter as her were going for around $3000 each, untested, and they let me have first pick. The first time I had her on the sheep, instead of the usual *chasechaseBITE* that most young pups do, she immediately 'set' the sheep, and quietly worked around them, slightly off balance but smoothly and without the too-much-too-little pressure problems that go with young dog territory. The only problem I ever had with training First was her natural assumption that she knew where the balance point was (she did), and she would only ever run out far enough to turn the sheep before setting - and in trials they arbitrarily expect the dog to run to 12 o'clock. Which is stupid when you think about it. If you can work the sheep from an off-balance position successfully, why make your dog run further than it needs to?
But anyway, her and I formed the kind of partnership that romantic types write about - we got to the point where I could go into a paddock and open the gate, stand by it and First would automatically have the sheep halfway there when I turned around. I never trialled her much, because trialling is not my thing, but in my job where my livelihood depended on the skill of my dog, she became indispensible. And when I moved to Wellington, I had to rehome 5 other dogs and chose to keep her. Because she's a one-in-a-lifetime kind of dog. And amazingly, she took to city life really well.
So where am I going with this rambling? Well, First is the only dog I've had for her entire life. On the first of March she'll be 11. In a couple of years, she probably won't be around any more, and after that I will probably not have a dog for a while (I've had one since I was 19) but meanwhile there is no way I will part with her. She's part of me and we go as a team. It makes moving into town a lot harder. Of all the houses for rent that are listed currently, only two allow dogs, but that's a hurdle I'm prepared to overcome for the sake of my responsibility to see out First's life as her Person.
Ironically, by the time First dies of old age, Tommy will probably be kicking down the door to leave home and get on with his own life too. And similarly to the way I feel about First, Tommy is another responsibility that is going to make my life harder, but that I am prepared to take on for the sake of my love for him as his mother.
Meanwhile, I'm scared. Because taking on so much responsibility is scary.
"So, um.. what about Talk, Cough, Chat and Splutter?" I hear you say. "Have you gone mad?"
Oh yeah, them. Well, the people that gave me First, also had huntaways. It started with a foundation bitch called Talk. She had two 'sons' - litter brothers named Chat and Cough (sheepdog naming conventions are like that). Cough was an awesome dog, and he sired a pup called Splutter. Splutter combined all the worst features of his parents, looks-wise. He had stumpy short legs and a big butt-ugly head, and was grey with dirty brown whiskers and giant feet. But he could move sheep like nothing on earth, and his owner, John, was actually emotionally attached to him (which is very unusual for a shepherd).
And in my dream last night, John Bartlett gave me Splutter, because Splutter was injured and John thought that I was the person who should look after him while he healed. The dream ended with me agreeing to it, and freaking out at the responsibility.
You don't have to be a mental giant to see where all that came from. This business with Tommy has brought a lot of stuff into stark focus for me - stuff about responsibility, commitment, sacrifice, and waiting for my own freedom. Like in my dream, at the moment I'm only able to see those things, and I have yet to experience the joy, fulfilment and wonder that I'm told I will get from being a full-time parent. I don't actually know if I will be able to heal the puppy, and I have no idea how I'll cope with the responsibility of it - but my experience of responsibility and my commitment to First shows me what that's like - only with Tommy it'll be a hundredfold.
I'm fucking terrified. I'm honoured to be given this opportunity, and committed to giving it my best shot. But I'm also scared shitless and completely unsure of myself. And not a little afraid of exactly how much sacrifice I may have to make. And knowing that in this case, I will sacrifice what I have to, whether I want to or not.
I guess that makes me a grown-up. I'm not sure I like being a grown-up all that much today.
(i also had some realisations about love, but those are not for lj)
So, um, yeah. Tats faces her fears using sheepdogs as a frame of reference.
Told you I was a freak.