On Sunday February 1st, I had the pleasure of accompanying writer Gina Kurtz to Willow Run Alpaca Farm in Carlisle, PA for an article in Harrisburg Magazine. We met Sue Asten who boards her sheep there and trains her four Border Collies. Despite the overcast weather, the sky and the snow were so bright it was difficult for me to focus on anything other than the viewfinder of my camera. I was immersed in a white canvas of movement, color and texture.
Jed is seven years old and Sue's most reliable worker. According to Sue, Jed's use of "the Border Collie Eye" is his most prominent tool when controlling the flock.
The sheep are some of the most beautiful and unique I have ever seen. They are a mixed herd of wooly Border Leicester- and Perendale- Cheviot crosses and the goat-like Katahdins. Sue guesstimates the only male Katahdin to be over twelve years old.
Each time Jed rounds up the sheep they instinctively seek the safety of the humans.
Sue uses high-pitched whistles as well as verbal commands and hand signals. She explains that once the dogs are trained, they should be able to anticipate what comes next. You can begin to see how the process and relationship between Human - Dog - Sheep - Human becomes symbiotic.
Sue demonstrates the process of separating the flock so that individual sheep can be isolated and examined. This sends a few into a literal "flight" mode.
Above: Three-year-old Border Collie Bea, Sue Asten, and Sue's good friend Deb Mickey with her twelve year old Border Collie, Annie.
Annie awaits her turn to show her skills. The desire that is bred into these dogs to "herd" is constant. I have an English Shepherd at home, and she can barely contain herself around smaller creatures. Annie, however, practices much restraint until she is given the go-ahead.
Bea, whom Sue calls "The Jokester," is extremely eager and quick.
The calm, assertive energy that Sue emits is easily seen in each photograph. She is a true pack leader.
After the work is done, all of the Border Collies get together to socialize. Jed enjoys chasing and playing with sticks.
Clay, the youngest of the pack.
I have always had a dog in my life. It wasn't until I rescued two as an adult that I found the balance that goes into a human/dog relationship. Their ever-present psychology is a direct reflection of your own. Their genetic imprint and biological desires will manifest in some way, just like a person. Finding the confidence in yourself to channel the energy that they possess fulfills a primal connection and nurtures true companionship. --HH