Tilly the sheep dog is in a world of her own causing some concern at the farm on the M62

Our lives are intrinsically entwined with the animals we share our home with.

Tilly the working dog is not herself on the farm on the M62
Tilly the working dog is not herself on the farm on the M62

From the sheep, cows, ponies and dogs to the curlews, lapwings and oystercatchers, they are all a part of the rich and rewarding tapestry of our lives.

The sheep, for the most part, drive us to despair. The cows which are multiplying in numbers at an alarming rate (Paul thinks I haven’t noticed) and our ever loyal and hard-working dogs, all reliant on us as we are on them.

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Some stay, some go and some leave us utterly bereft when their time comes to an end. Farming hardens you and almost forces you into a sense of detachment when it comes to livestock.

But that stoically stiff upper lip and thick skin soon disappears when it’s one of your favourites.

Tilly came into Paul’s life round about the same time as I did. A very beautiful smooth-coated bitch, she quickly proved herself to be a superb little work dog, with a kind, affectionate temperament. For several years, however, she walked in another dog’s shadow, Bess.

“Ay she’s a good dog, but she’s no Bess,” were words I heard muttered many times. In Paul’s eyes, nothing came close to Bess. I can understand it, she was quite simply the best. Her passing stole the very light from Paul’s eyes and it was some time before his laughter returned.

She was sharp as a knife right to the very end, but sadly her body just gave up and that was that. Tilly’s story has been somewhat different. Despite being a superb dog she definitely had her moments.

There was little point in even taking her out if she was in season. Her sulking would see her slumped on the back of the bike, refusing to work. She also drew the line at working with another dog.

If Paul dared to bring another dog along, give commands or show affection to another she would down tools and head straight back to the farm.

Although she is still quite fit and able, her mind has gone elsewhere.

She sits in the yard, in patches of sunlight oblivious to the hive of activity surrounding her, rushing around, constant bleating of the lambs and bike up and down the lane.

Nothing pulls her attention away from the far away land she now seems to be in. She was always one for sneaking into the house and curling up into a ball to sleep in someone else’s bed but that too has stopped.

As I’ve stroked her now greying face and talked to her, staring into those familiar eyes, there is little recognition of my face or voice. It’s desperately sad, especially for Paul. His work dogs are his constant companion either on the hills at home or traipsing the many miles of roads when sheep are away for winter. They always sit up front with him, watching him, listening to his ramblings as he crisscrosses the county.

Just occasionally there will be a faint wag of the tail, a glimmer in her eye and despite her faraway gaze, I know that our girl is still in there somewhere.