Humans, Dogs, and Civilization
Walking down a country lane in Wales one spring day, my husband, Bill, and I were enjoying the bucolic scene spread below us. From the top of a rise we saw the ewes and their lambs dotting the meadows that the narrow road cut through. The day was soft and sunny, unusual for the British Isles. We dreamily ambled on.
Then, to our right, through a gap in the hedgerows, we noticed a man and a dog walking along the side of the hilly meadows. The man was the very picture of a country gentleman, wearing a soft tweed hat and a bluish-gray wool jacket, belted in back. He was strolling with a highly polished, carved walking stick in his hand and a small black-and-white dog by his side. The sheep were grazing lazily on various hillocks, familiar fixtures in the Welsh countryside. It was like an image in a travel brochure, serene and slow moving. The man, still looking forward, with no noticeable changes in his demeanor, not even a pointed finger, without even turning his head to the dog, softly uttered a word.
Immediately, the dog, as if electrified, began running like a streak! We were startled by his explosive takeoff. Meanwhile, the man stopped and leaned on his stick. Hypnotized by the sight, our eyes followed the black-and-white dog streaking toward the sheep spread out as far as our eyes could see, each with its lamb and each on its own turf.
We momentarily lost sight of the dog, but the sheep, so still before, were now running rapidly in oblong formation toward the man, each ewe and lamb keeping the same distance between itself and the next one.3 They didn’t bump into one another, although they were moving rapidly, and were close together on all sides. Darting here and there, the dog raced alongside them, ensuring their orderly flight—we presumed to their pens, but those we couldn’t see.
As soon as the rearguard passed the waiting man, the dog took off again, streaking as rapidly as before. Bewildered, I was just about to say, “Oh, he’s running away.” Then I sighted him on a distant hillock where one ewe with her two lambs were still grazing. As soon as he got to the ewe’s heels, she and her babies raced toward the shepherd, as did the dog, whom I had by now identified as a Border Collie.
I never knew sheep could run so fast, nor had I ever realized how much smaller the Border Collie was than the sheep. The dog not only chased them, he also kept them in formation. He actually rounded them up. There seemed to be no way for a recalcitrant ewe or her offspring to run off to the sides.
Suddenly, eerily, I had a flashback: an image I’d forgotten from years and years ago
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