When their border collie Tough was paralyzed from a traumatic spinal injury in 2015 while helping move cattle, Denny and Donna Ashcraft, ranchers in Jackson County, didn’t think she would recover. With hard decisions on the line and their dog’s quality of life to consider, the Ashcrafts watched over her with concern.
“We rushed her to the local vet,” Denny remembers. “She was paralyzed from the neck down, and we thought there was only one option for her.”
But with a name like Tough, the hardworking cattle and sheepherder began to recover.
“She was almost fully paralyzed for three weeks,” Donna says.
“After some time, she started to get some movement back and we saw glimmers of hope,” Denny says. “Her tail started to wag. We took her home and helped her through her recovery.”
“We put a life vest on her and floated her in a tank of water to help with physical therapy,” Donna says. “And we called in a chiropractor for her.”
Tough is as tough as they come, and after some time to rest, recover and do some swimming in a stock tank, she’s been able to continue to help on the ranch from time to time.
“She’s 10 feet tall and bulletproof,” Denny says about Tough, who they use as a working dog on their ranch in Mayetta.
“She’s slowing down some, sure,” he says of the now 14-year-old. “And she’s not 100 percent compared to how she was prior to her injury, but she loves to work. She’s good at it — you can tell it gives her purpose and makes her happy.”
Stock dog trials
The Ashcrafts got Tough from a good friend of theirs in Oklahoma. Within a week, Denny was attached.
“I started working her with our livestock, and I noticed her extreme talent right off the bat,” he says. “She was fast — almost too fast.”
Her natural talent led the Ashcrafts to put Tough in stock dog trials when she was in her prime before the accident.
Stock dog trials are herding events to test the working ability of herding breed dogs. This type of competition began in the 1860s in New Zealand and gained popularity in other countries by the 20th century.
Judges look for accuracy of the dog’s work with the guidance of a handler (Denny). The courses in the trials vary, but the dogs are assessed on their pen work, sorting, chute work and pasture work. Working dogs should be efficient but manage livestock in a stress-free manner.
“Tough handles livestock with considerable ease,” Donna says. “She’s always respectful and makes sure she’s in the right place so there isn’t a lot of pressure or stress on the livestock. And ultimately, we want to handle our livestock in a low-stress manner right from the start.”
Tough had a third-place finish in Fort Worth, won reserve champion at the National Western Stock Show in Denver and won grand champion at the San Antonio and Houston stock shows.
“She has a good feel for her livestock,” Donna says. “She has a good understanding of placement of livestock, and it shows in the trials and here at home on the ranch.”
DOG OF THE YEAR
Tough won stock dog trials in the beginning of her career, she’s won the hearts of Denny and Donna and anyone who comes into her circle, and recently, Tough won the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Farm Dog of the Year competition. With support from Nestlé Purina PetCare, Tough and the Ashcrafts were honored at the the AFBF annual convention in Puerto Rico in January.
“We’ve never been past the boundaries of the continental United States, so it was a big trip for us,” Donna says. “Since Tough is aging, we didn’t want to stress her with the flight, so she stayed home to tend to her flocks.”
The contest celebrates dogs who work alongside farmers and ranchers in producing nutritious food for families.
“It’s exciting to celebrate the important role of farm dogs on farms and ranches,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall says. “They’re loyal work partners every day on the farm. Their faithful and playful companionship constantly enriches the lives of farmers and their families.”
“Tough has a name that describes her life,” Denny says. “She gets up every morning with the same happy desire to go to work. She greets every new day like it’s the best day of her life, despite her limitations. Because of her ever-positive attitude, winning Farm Dog of the Year is even more of an honor for us. Tough has an incredible story to tell and an example to share that life is good, no matter the circumstances.”
The Ashcrafts win a year’s worth of Purina Pro Plan dog food and $5,000 in prize money.
“Because of Tough’s circumstances now, this award is quite meaningful,” Denny says. “We may have shed a few tears at the time of her injury not knowing what would become of her future, but had we known she would still be receiving recognition and awards as a 14-year-old not-quite-steady-on-her-feet bundle of love, we would never have been concerned. She’s the dog that just keeps on giving and sharing new perspectives on all the good life has to offer.”
A TRUE COMPANION
The decision Donna and Denny made to allow Tough to recover wasn’t easy, and it’s something those of us who have loved (and have been loved by) a pet understand.
“It was difficult to try to make that decision to give her more time and possibly see her suffer,” Donna admits. “But she had given us her heart and soul, so we wanted to give the same back to her.”
The Ashcrafts are selective about what livestock Tough is around now — so no more cattle moving for her — but Tough is really the one making those decisions.
“It was obvious she still wanted to work,” Donna says about Tough after she recovered from her injury. “So we let Tough tell us what she can do, and if the sheep were out, we let her work those at her own pace. We try to keep her away from the cattle, but sometimes she’ll sneak off and bring some heifers back to Denny.”
Tough is a special dog — a winner in competitions and in her attitude toward work and life.
“She teaches you to be happy in your circumstances,” Denny says. “She’s gone through a lot, but she’s still so happy.”
“Tough loves to work and lives to work,” Donna says. “And she lives for Denny. She just thinks he’s the cat’s pajamas. She has a passion for work, and she’ll do anything Denny asks her to do. She’s a companion for him, and if there wasn’t a job for her, they’d find something for her to do just so they could have time together.”
Tough is the perfect reminder that tough times don’t last, but tough dogs do.