September 11, 2015

Sept. 11, 2015 Column

Herding Dogs Misunderstood

Pre-published in the Spokesman: October 2014
ANIMALISMS by: Liza C. Little

Opening the door to her porch one chilly October evening, a young woman named Flora was shocked to see a 5 week old Border Collie puppy curled up in a ball on the porch floor, shivering from the freezing cold. It was love at first sight! And for the next seventeen years, this little pup named Guess, went on to amaze and transform Flora as to just how magnificent and intelligent Herding dogs can be.

Flora Steffan, owner of Herd U Needed A Home, a non-profit herding dog rescue in Bend, grew up on a ranch with herding dogs -- breeds commonly used on ranches to keep livestock safe and aid in herding them from pasture to pasture. But it wasn’t until Guess came along that Flora’s eyes were opened up to a whole new awareness about the unique and very special qualities herding dogs possess.  

Although the primary nature of herding dogs like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds is to work, their high energy, intelligence and extreme sensitivity can sometimes be overlooked and underestimated, often causing many of these breeds to land in shelters or as strays searching for attention. 

 Guess went on to became an ambassador of sorts for Flora’s rescue organization, helping to teach incoming rescued dogs how to act, feel and behave, gently calming them in their new environment. Flora says Guess taught her patience and how much herding breeds think for themselves. “They want to please you and be a part of your life,” she said. These breeds don’t want to be only working in the fields with little or no human interaction. 

They are incredibly sensitive and intuitive and smart. Guess understood sign language, Spanish & English. She went to nursing homes bringing smiles to the elderly, visited hospitals where she calmed stroke victims and she was even able to get one non-responsive stroke victim to respond for his first time. Guess also enjoyed horseback riding and would often jump on the back of Flora’s horse for a ride together with her best friend. Flora and Guess were inseparable.

Guess was part of the inspiration for the start of Herd U Needed A Home. Founded 8 yrs. ago after seeing a need to rescue the many herding dogs that wind up in shelters, the non profit’s mission is to also educate the public on the wonderful and amazing abilities these dogs have. The organization functions by rescuing herding dogs in Oregon and nearby states, placing them in qualified foster homes.

They don’t believe in taking dogs out of a shelter only to place them in another shelter. “These breeds are highly sensitive animals and don’t do well in shelters,” Flora says. Present for all rescues and adoptions, she carefully screens potential families to make sure the dog has a forever home. The organization also offers training classes for adopters to help them have a successful, happy relationship with their new family member.

Guess ended up on Flora’s porch that day for many reasons but she was definitely a foreshadowing of what was to come in Flora’s life. It is her life’s passion to help rescue and place these dogs into happy, loving homes. Flora exclaims, “Dogs can look right into your soul!” 

Guess it was fate that Guess somehow ended up on that porch that day and into Flora’s heart, the hearts of future rescue dogs and of so many people she touched along the way. Really, nothing happens by chance; animals cross our paths for a reason we just need to open our eyes. 

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