Blind border collie continues to herd livestock

Published 8:35 am Monday, August 26, 2019

Confident people might say they can do their job blind-folded or they can do the task with their eyes closed. Nick, however, is literally blind, been blind for years, yet the farm worker has put in just as much effort and gets just as much done as any of the other workers at the farm.

Nick the border collie has worked at Meredith Moore’s farm in Carter County for roughly a decade.

“When he was young, he lived in one of the stalls,” Moore said.

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When she would take another dog besides him out to tend to the sheep and other livestock, she said Nick would jump up on the windowsill and whine.

When it came time for Nick to begin working, she said his dedication to the job was incredible.

“He has absolutely exceeded every expectation,” she said. “He has met every challenge and more.”

She said she did not even have to train Nick like most of the other dogs. He learned by watching his co-workers perform their duties, so he already knew all the verbal commands.

Border collies have a tendency to suffer from eyesight problems to begin with; “collie eye” is a genetic disorder common in the breed, but cataracts exaggerated the problem, and Nick went fully blind at the age of eight.

“It was too early,” Moore said with a sigh.

The surgery to fix most of the issue was too expensive, she said, and so Nick and Moore had to make a decision as to how to continue. Fortunately for the duo, Nick was still eager to go to work.

“He learned to listen,” she said. “You just keep talking to him. He knows his job.”

Twelve-year-old Nick follows his handler out to “the arena” where the sheep hang out just like before his condition, he still obeys verbal commands as thoroughly as he did before and he can even keep track of the sheep based on hearing their feet run across the ground.

If the sheep get too far away, he can sometimes lose track of them, and he sometimes runs headfirst into the fencing at the edges of the arena, but his handler for the day makes sure he stays on track.

“[The sheep] would love to catch him against the wall,” Moore said.

Despite these additional hurdles, Moore said Nick still loves to work as often as possible.

“That is a border collie characteristic,” she said. “For them, work is life. If you do not give them something to do, they will start doing things destructive.”

Nick relies even more on verbal commands now, but Moore said he has always been obedient to a fault. If he is told to run, he runs. If he is told to sit, no matter what, he sits.

“One night, I had him in the arena, and it was the Fourth of July,” she said. “I ran inside to answer the phone, and I told him to stay.”

When she came back outside, she described what she saw as World War III in her backyard.

“There were fireworks going off everywhere, loud noises,” she said. “And he never moved.”

Whether it was due to his blindness or a sense his eyesight was failing beforehand, Moore said he always tried to keep one part of his body touching Moore at all times while he is out in the field, a way of anchoring himself to something he can feel.

“He tries so hard,” she said. “If he can do it, he is gonna try and do it for you. He still wants to work.”

Moore said she has spent just about every minute of her life around collies. Her family owned one when she was little, and she has raised and trained many of the breed in her lifetime.

“He has been an amazing breed representative,” Moore said. “He shows what the border collie can do. A good border collie is worth the work of three men.”

She often recommends working dogs to friends of hers who own farms, as she said the difference can be striking.

“Once you get to working livestock with a dog, you will wonder why you do it any other way,” she said.

To Nick, though, he is just happy to be able to go outside and do the work he loves doing, with the occasional back rub or head pat during the day, of course.