A Highland farmer owned a very clever collie bitch. The farmer attended market with regularity, and rode from his farm about eight miles once a week, driving his cattle and sheep before him with the assistance of his dog.
Unfortunately, the farmer was a lover of whisky, and upon market days he was always too drunk to return home in the evening with the cattle which he had purchased, or with those of his stock which had remained unsold. Upon such occasions, he gave the animals in charge to the collie bitch, and she invariably conducted them safely to her master’s farm, where they were received by his wife and her assistant, who well understood the propensities of the master; he would surely arrive with some excuse upon the following morning.
This being his usual custom, it was an accepted occurrence that the collie would drive the sheep and cattle home, and the dog became well known throughout the neighbourhood. . . .
It so happened that this intelligent and faithful creature was expecting puppies, and her master, who was of a thoughtless and inconsiderate nature, had omitted to notice her condition, which would make it dangerous to employ her until her little ones should be born. . . .
It was a bitterly cold day in winter; the snow lay deep upon the ground, and serious drifts had destroyed many sheep, and caused the shepherds immense trouble to rescue their flocks from some of the deeper corries; when as usual, the drunken farmer, at the close of a market day remained to drink his hot toddy before the comfortable peat fire, and sent his poor bitch late in the afternoon to conduct his sheep homewards.
She started in command of her little flock; there were a few strange sheep that required much management to keep them all together, and she had to run here and there, and bark, and sometimes slightly bite to let them know that she was not to be trifled with, but must be obeyed. She had marched them a few miles and it was getting dark, when her time came upon her, and there were no means of resisting Nature’s laws. She was obliged to halt by the roadside, and there, upon the snow, a puppy was deposited, thus hurriedly born into the cold world. In her pain and weakness the unfortunate bitch left her pup, and crawled after her straggling charge, gathering the sheep together, and driving them along the road. . . . Other pains got hold upon her, and several puppies were born, and were left in the deep snow; the mother’s instinct of affection was overpowered by the sense of a duty to which she had been inured ; and still she struggled on, and drove her flock. Eight or nine pups were born, and abandoned in various places during this cold march ; but the bitch arrived with her charge after dark, and delivered her sheep safely to the farmer’s wife. She then disappeared a short time afterwards, and before the farmer’s wife had gone to bed, the poor bitch arrived shivering and weak with a puppy in her mouth, which she laid upon the hay in the corner where she was accustomed to sleep. . . . All through that night in the cold snow and the thermometer below zero, she travelled to and fro, bringing each time a frozen dead puppy in her mouth, and laying it by the side of her unhappy offspring, until she had gathered them all together. She then lay down, and endeavoured to make her dead puppies suck.
The farmer’s good wife had sat up for many hours ; she had warmed gruel and soup for the faithful bitch, and she would not herself retire to bed until she had seen her curled up to sleep with her dead family. She thought it better not to disturb her, but to let her sleep and fancy that they were alive. ” She’ll be ower unhappy, puir boddie, when she wakes in the morning,” said the farmer’s wife, as she laid her own head upon her pillow.
At daybreak the good woman was astir, and straightway she made some gruel warm, and took it to the corner where the mother was curled up comfortably with her dead family.
The bitch did not answer to her name. She had arranged her pups to comfort them with her warmth, and with milk, could they have required it; but she herself was stiff and cold! The poor mother had succumbed to over-exertion and the severe winter night; she was dead, with her little ones beside her !
Excerpted from True tales for my grandsons By Sir Samuel White Baker, William John Hennessy – 1883