Kemp was a twelve month-old heading dog I bought for $500 when working at Nokamai Station in Southland. Almost all black with a fleck of white on his chest and a white sock, he had prick ears and a slight ringtail. I have heard it said you only have one truly outstanding dog in your life. I do not know if that is true or not.
Heading dogs can be fickle and the one I have at the moment I consider a psychopath. Kemp wasn’t overly friendly and didn’t require patting. He was clean, tidy and got on with the job.
One time we were working at Elephant Hill in South Canterbury. It was early afternoon and hot. The yards were full with three hundred lambs being mustered for redrafting. Robert, my employer yelled ‘Gate.’ Followed by a stream of expletives. By the time I unclipped Kemp’s neck chain the lambs had escaped - through the creek, under the willows, past the house and into the pond paddock which was open to the run blocks.
‘Robert, let Kemp sort them out while we carry on here,’ I suggested.
Robert hadn’t finished swearing but had little choice. It was thirty minutes exactly when I saw the first of the lambs moving through the creek, under the willows back towards the yards. I felt a surge of pride. That evening we checked the pond paddock. Kemp had recovered the lot.
Robert’s only comment, ‘That’s a $2000 dog. Let me know if you want to sell him.’
I was away over the weekend at a wedding in Dunedin and arrived back at the farm just on dark. I laid the chopped dogmeat portions on the white plywood dog box, on the tray of my light yellow Holden Ute and drove up to the kennels. Something was wrong. I ran crying with disbelief to the still shape of Kemp covered in dust, and dead. His chain was wound round on itself in a twisted ball. I struggled to release him.
‘It’s too late for a post mortem,’ pronounced the vet looking away. ‘Was he an epileptic?’
‘I don’t know,’ I muttered. ‘He had a fit once when I was working in Gisborne.’ If only I had put Kemp in a dog motel for the weekend.
Kemp was the second really good dog I had lost and I felt sorry for myself and dismayed that I had failed to detect the signs of epilepsy. There is no greater prize for a shepherd than a good dog. No greater thrill than seeing dogs doing magic. No greater sadness in losing them.