I don’t know if I’ve ever respected an animal more than I have Rebecca.
Rebecca and her sister, Rachel, came to the farm as puppies with a specific purpose: protect our livestock. Purebred Great Pyrenees, they were in the Livestock Guardian Dog category. Our farm had grown to include a large assortment of animals and birds of different ages. Predators, especially coyotes but also foxes and wolves, were an inevitable problem. After researching the subject, we concluded that our best defense was to fight canine with canine.
12-week-old Rachel and Rebecca were immediately set up in the barn with the livestock they were supposed to grow up to protect. It was not easy. They were adorable. But LGDs need to bond with their group of farm animals at the earliest age possible. The best way for them to do this is to live right with them.
Rachel and Rebecca turned out to be excellent guardians. But they were trouble together. Totally independent and obstinate, they became adept at jumping or tunnelling under fences and touring the community together. They would go for miles. And totally ignore commands to return. We sold Rachel when they were six months old. We thought one of these beautiful girls alone might be easier to handle.
And she was. Rebecca was still fiercely independent, but she stayed much closer to the farm, to our livestock and to our other dogs, especially her Uncle Teddy (a German Shepherd mix).
A couple of years later we brought home border-collie pups Alex and Amanda. Rebecca was enthralled. She adopted them immediately as her own pups.
Rebecca was made for the farm. She turned out to be a fantastic guardian dog. As she grew into a fully functioning adult, our losses were reduced to nearly nothing. She loved the freedom of being able to run and chase any predator. She would hound them for miles. No one matched her skill in getting over or under any fence or barricade.
When our farm sold, I was tempted to ask the new owners if they wanted us to leave Rebecca. She was our pet, but she was also an irreplaceable asset to the farm. I was concerned about what would happen to the birds and animals we were leaving behind without her.
But we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave her, so she made the journey to Nova Scotia with Alex, Teddy and Rufus (a Jack Russell Terrier mix whom we had inherited from Ian’s parents).
We put up a dog pen (actually two pens fastened together) around a small shelter that was already set up on the Hollow Mountain property. We would no sooner have Rebecca inside the pen then she would be out of the pen. At first we thought she was jumping over the top of the pen from the roof of the shelter. Eventually we clued in that she was lifting up the fence and crawling through underneath. She was one powerful dog!
We tried everything to nail down, weigh down the bottom of that kennel so that she couldn’t lift it up. She still managed. She would dig then crawl under. Alex was getting out, too, through her holes.
Finally we gave up and tied her out in the mornings before we went to the store, even though I did not like tying her because of her irrepressible determination to be free. I was afraid she might hurt herself. We used a double harness, but most times when we came home we found she had liberated herself again.
Ian barricaded her on the deck, but that didn’t contain her. She pulled, tore and clawed at the deck boards to get down through. We ended up having to tear off the deck and put a new one on!
It was hopeless. The only way to keep her under wraps for 13 hours while we were at the store was to lock her in the house, but she wasn’t happy there, as she was an outdoors dog. And we weren’t happy to come home and find a large mess!
Rebecca quickly earned the reputation as the big white dog on Hollow Mountain Road. Interestingly, there was another large white dog a few houses down, but Rebecca took the prize for being the most visible. Some people liked her so much they stopped to pet her and give her treats.
One family let her follow them home. On Good Friday 2012, we took Alex on a rare outing down to the beach at Hillsburn, and I think Rebecca was put out — partly about being left behind, and partly because Alex was still her puppy and she was concerned about him. Anyway, she followed these strangers all the way to the end of Hollow Mountain Road, unusual for her as she was always wary of people she didn’t know. Fortunately they brought her back!
We did not have Rebecca spayed, which was probably a mistake. We didn’t have Alex neutered, either. I wanted at least one litter of Border-Pyr pups. I felt they would be the perfect farm dog, combining the herding instincts of the border collie with the guardian skills of the Pyr. Still a farmer at heart, I was sensitive to the needs of livestock farmers.
Rebecca experienced regular heat periods but did not get pregnant. Then in late summer 2012, after another heat period, she began to act strangely. She seemed to be suffering from “morning sickness”. She looked rounder. I was 100 percent sure that she was pregnant. I started to become excited (and a little anxious) about the pups to come! Dogs have a short gestation period, only a couple of months. One night in early October, about two months after her last heat, she started throwing up in the house. My first reaction was to let her out so that she wouldn’t make even more mess.
That was a mistake. We never saw Rebecca again.
I was absolutely convinced that she had gone off to have her puppies. It did seem a little early but not by much. We had noticed that she had been following the same trail from an area in the bush across the road, so we figured that this was where she had set up her den.
I could easily see Rebecca separating herself from the other dogs — and from us — to give birth to her pups. She loved us, but she never lost an ounce of her independence. And she was distrustful even of us, especially after we began implementing every technique in the book to keep her confined while we were at the store. She had grown too used to being free on the farm, and she assumed it was her right.
I put loads of food out for Rebecca (and pups). For a while it vanished every day. I even tried setting up cameras and sneaking back from the store and sitting in my car, watching and waiting. I didn’t catch a glimpse of Rebecca. And the food stopped being eaten (except by blue jays and crows!).
Ian and I searched and called in the bush on both sides of Hollow Mountain Road. We took the dogs with us, hoping they would pick something up that we couldn’t.
Nothing. No puppy yelps. Nothing at all.
I posted notices on Kijiji and with the Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network, notified the Annapolis County animal control officer. The theory most people have re: her disappearance is that someone took her. Being a purebred, she would be in demand.
We still hope that we will be reunited with Rebecca. She would be difficult to handle here in Smiths Cove, but at some point we plan to establish a small hobby farm on our property on Purdy Road, Deep Brook. It won’t be as grand as our 220-acre farm in Ontario, but it should definitely be enough to keep an older, less energetic Rebecca content.
For now, all we have are photos — and lots of memories — of arguably the most amazing dog ever created.