Cammen Kay – our unsung hero?

Quietly in the background, with no fuss or bluster, we didn't always give Kay her due!

When we bought Kay, at about a year old, our intention was to train her but not, necessarily, to keep her forever. Yet I think Kay is probably the only dog we haven't ever suggested we could sell.

When Andy first started to plan First Steps in Border Collie Sheepdog Training (as much as we ever plan anything) we picked three dogs to use as demo dogs, and one of those was Kay. Anyone who's seen the DVD will probably remember Kay's debut in the introduction where, I think we can say, she demonstrated exactly what she thought of it all.

Lovely image of man and sheepdog. Border collie yawning.
Kay was quick to demonstrate that life in front of a camera isn't all it's cracked up to be!

Who could have guessed that she would prove to be the ideal pupil, and a lovely character too.

I remember when my son was at primary school. He'd produced an excellent story and, having been highly praised by his teacher, was pretty confident of receiving that week's class prize for achievement. Imagine his disappointment when a classmate was given the prize for seeing and recognising his own name?

I'm not suggesting it was unfair, but I often used to remember it when we were training and assessing sheepdogs!

Kay was surprisingly slow to learn to drive, but with perseverance (from both Kay and Andy) she eventually nailed it and continued to be an excellent driver of sheep throughout her working life. Everything else she just picked up in one or two lessons, so Kay's progress didn't attract much attention.

Sheepdog driving ewes and lambs along a farm track to the yard.
Kay always enjoyed driving our landlord's flock along the farm drive - not too fast, and not too slow.

On the other hand, a dog that was hard to work with (mentioning no names - Max), or frustrated us with a persistent and annoying problem (ditto Carew, Bronwen, Scylla, I could go on) would receive high praise and accolades when there was a perceptible improvement, however minute.

In the meantime, if we needed a job done, if we wanted to take puppies to the sheep in safety and with minimum effort (for ourselves) or if we were holding a training class and needed an assistant, we called on Kay.

Kay taught herself to watch from a distance (often relaxing under a tree), spot when the trainee dog lost control of the sheep, quietly run out to bring them back to the trainee and then simply melt away without interfering.

Sheepdog driving sheep into a paddock
It was easy to take Kay for granted, she was so reliable.

Kay's workmate, Carew, was/is a superb sheepdog - gentle and sensitive to the sheep she would move 200 ewes at a speed to accommodate the smallest, slowest lamb, and yet with power to spare when it was needed. Carew's work style drew your attention, but little Kay was always on hand to back her up.

When Carew left us to work with a dairy flock, Kay was promoted to Number One dog and we finally realised just how good she was, and how much we'd come to rely on her. Without our noticing, Kay had became our go-to dog.

At 12 years of age Kay's become rather deaf, and with her eyesight not what it was her working days are over, but she seems to enjoy her retirement. She takes an interest in her daughters, Jet and Maddie, and her granddaughter Scout, and still enjoys the traditional collie sport of "flattening" precocious young pups who try to take advantage of her good nature.

We have Ezra's daughter, Dulcie, making meteoric progress, and she, with Jet and Maddie, have taken over Kay's work duties, but we'll probably never know if they could be such accomplished training class assistants.

I hope Kay understand how much she's appreciated, and I can't help thinking that this photo suggests her answer is "YES! And rightly!"

Tricolour border collie looking majestic
"I think you'll find this is our best side"

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