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MegDella’s Flock

A tale inspired by “Saranac Shelties”

“Hearts of the Adirondacks”
Middle Saranac Lake
L-R: Angel, Shadow & Lady
Lady was our family’s 1st Shetland Sheepdog
She inspired this

Author’s Note: My mom, Carol Monroe, brought home our first Shetland Sheepdog just after I graduated high school, shortly before I left for Cornell. Her name was “Lady”. She quickly adopted my father & was his faithful companion for the rest of his days.

From there, as she generally does with things she becomes involved with, my mom fully committed herself to training, breeding and raising Shetland Sheepdogs. She joined local dog clubs, started her own kennel, began showing dogs. Her line of “Saranac Shelties” won many awards.

MegDella’s Flock was my first serious writing effort after leaving the service, penned shortly after Robin & I married. There have been many that followed, both stories and dogs. “Lady” was the first. She is the dark tri-colored Sheltie on the far right in the photo above. She inspired this story. We all were her flock.

To this day there are likely still “Saranac Shelties”, my mom’s canine legacy lineage, living throughout the Adirondacks.

Our family still camps every summer on Middle Saranac Lake.

Shetland Sheepdogs still guard our flock.


       MegDella stood on a sloping grey outcropping, watching her flock.  The heavy scent of damp wool and steaming manure saturated the cool morning mist.  Below MegDella, several younger dogs circled grazing sheep, coaxing them slowly across emerald fields.

      The docile creatures were fat with wool.  It hung like grapes awaiting harvest.  The sheep bleated a chorus across the valley, accompanied by commands from the working dogs.

     MegDella was the matron bitch of the farm; the last of the Shetland sheepdogs Rebecca’s father had bred to tend his flock.  She’d seen nine north island winters pass.  Her long, sable coat was thick and warm.  Her rugged legs could still outrace a wandering sheep – but she’d inherited more important chores.

     The dogs drove the flock towards a gate in a low, stone corral.  Several loose sheep played tag in the field, but the circling Shetlands enjoyed their work, cornering renegades by nipping their heels.

     MegDella watched.  Off to one side she’d spotted a sheep, lying apart.  The ewe was laboring, there in the grass.  The less experienced dogs left it behind.

     MeDella turned from the flock, barking for her mistress.  The young woman stood up, surveying the field.  MegDella barked again, then jumped from the outcropping, leading her mistress towards the ewe.

     Rebecca O’Reilly followed the sheepdog across the field.  She lifted her skirts and knelt in the grass.  The ewe’s soft wool was dewed from birthing.  Beside her lay a shivering lamb, nursing intently on swollen teats.

     Rebecca cradled the newborn lamb in her arms, carrying it gently towards the barn.  The infant’s mother bleated softly, waddling behind the flock’s young mistress.

     Rebecca laid the lamb on a bed of soft straw in one corner of the barn.  The lamb nuzzled her hand, suckling her fingers.  Beside her, MegDella stood sniffing with a shepherd’s nose.  She turned to Rebecca.

     “ Well all right, ya proud shepherd.  Here’s another young lamb for your flock.”

     MegDella tentatively offered the lamb her muzzle.  The essence of new life filled the dog’s nostrils.  She licked the lamb’s trembling nose, claiming it’s scent amongst her flock.                                                

      “Aye MegDella – gently now.” 

Rebecca rose, brushing straw from her skirt.  MegDella followed quietly, leaving the lamb with its mother in the barn’s cool peace.

     The other dogs pushed sheep through the split rail gate.  Rebecca counted.  The winter had been hard. Their first alone.  MegDella had watched her mistress strain beneath the burden of three men’s work.  They’d lost six ewes and a ram to the cold.  The rest were long overdue to be sheared.

          The farm rested on a small plateau bordering the eastern edge of a wooded hill.  An ever-present breeze carried hints of the sea.  Rebecca’s father and brothers had worked this land, building the farmhouse from heavy squares of thick, dried sod.  The thatched, straw roof overlooked the valley, where grazing sheep dotted other men’s fields.

          The barn flanked the house.  A crude wooden door secured its front.  The rear opened out into the stone corral, now filled with sheep.  The barn’s dirt floor was covered with straw.  It sheltered MegDella’s simple flock.

          MegDella stayed by her mistress’s side.  Rebecca was young, her shepherd father’s only daughter.  Her long, chestnut hair was streaked with gold, framing high cheekbones and her father’s chin.  Her eyes were green – then blue – then grey, mirroring fiery Irish moods.

          Rebecca’s older brothers had been claimed by war, her younger by rheumatic fever, two winters later.  Her father was stubborn, but no match for time.  Rebecca had buried him the previous fall, next to her brothers, at the edge of the wood.  MegDella had watched.  On warm afternoons she’d nap in the shade by her master’s grave.

          MegDella pricked up her ears.  A man crested the hill on a small, rugged stallion.  Rebecca turned to regard the figure.  She eyed him indignantly, setting her chin.  The dog bared its fangs, but its wagging tail belied its intent.

          The man pulled up to the barn, dismounting easily.

  “Why MegDella,” he greeted.  “How are ye, me lass?” 

He knelt by the dog, scratching its ears.  “An’ ‘ow be yer mistress, Miss Rebecca?”  he asked, pretending not to notice the determined young woman with arms folded defiantly across her breast.

          The man reached into his pocket; “I brought ye a snack, me lass.”  His blue eyes laughed merrily as the dog lapped cheese from his fingers.

  “If only Miss Rebecca could be so easily persuaded.”

          “Patrick McDonough – you may be able to bribe my dogs – but I’m no shepherd’s bitch waiting to be bred.  Be certain of that!” 

MegDella turned and eyed her mistress, confused by the sharpness in the young woman’s voice.

          Patrick McDonough owned a farm in the valley.  He’d been their neighbor for many years, working and watching Rebecca flower from a freckled young lamb.  He was older than Rebecca, but his back was still strong.  He’d thrown the last spade full of dirt on her father’s grave, offering his shoulder to absorb her tears.

          “Pay no heed, MegDella,” the bearded man chuckled.  “I’ll mind me manners.” 

“Now Rebecca, me child, surely you’ve considered me offer.  I’m an honorable man, and shearin’ season is well-nigh upon us.  Ye’ll never get all this work done alone.”

     “I’m not alone.”  Her eyes flashed hotly.

  “I’m as good a hand as my brothers were – and Father never would have sold this land.”                  

          “But Rebecca, I’m not askin’ ya ta sell.  An’ besides, ye ain’t getting any younger, ye know.”  His lips teased a smile.

          “You rot bearded bastard!  Get off my land!”

          “Aye Rebecca, but remember, there’s hungrier wolves than I afoot in the wood.”

          “MegDella will handle the four-legged wolves – I’ll handle you!”

  The girl turned quickly, marching off towards the barn, leaving MegDella to evict her cheese bearing intruder.

          Patrick heard sheep bleating near the barn.

  “MegDella, we’ve known each other fer quite a good spell.  Keep a keen shepherd’s eye on yer mistress fer me.  Her spirit needs tamin’ – not to mention her tongue.  You sound the alarm if anything’s amiss.  That yelp of yours carries like a falcon’s cry on a windy day.”

          MegDella acknowledged his strong male voice and laughing eyes.  She barked and pranced as Patrick mounted his horse and turned towards the valley.  She stood by the house, watching the silhouette disappear over the hill.

          MegDella was still thinking of Patrick when she located her mistress inside the barn, quietly watching the ewe nurse its lamb.  There was something about the scent of the man – a clean soil smell, mixed with sweat and sheep, reminiscent of the master she’d served in the fields.

          The afternoon faded.  Rebecca worked her fingers raw, gathering thick piles of wool from her flock.  MegDella nuzzled Rebecca, licking her wounds.  A stiff breeze pushed the sun from the sky.  Naked sheep shivered in huddled flocks beneath the first stars.

          MegDella trotted to the farmhouse alongside her mistress.  They were both hungry, anticipating a morsel of hot mutton stew.  Rebecca ate quietly.  She turned back her quilt and sat on her bed, picturing Patrick McDonough’s laughing eyes.

          MegDella jumped up beside her.  The dog yawned sleepily, watching Rebecca brush her long hair.

          “What are ya thinkin’ girl?” Rebecca inquired.  The dog cocked one ear, raising its eyelid.

          “Aye girl – but he’s too much of father for that.  Now sleep me love; there’ll be lots more shearin’ ta do in the mornin’.”

          MegDella lay at Rebecca’s feet, twitching her nose in fitful rest.

          An angry growl shattered the night.  MegDella awoke, snapping to attention – alerting her mistress.

          Rebecca jumped up, grabbing her robe.  An anguished yelp came from the barn.  Rebecca reached behind the kitchen door for her father’s heavy shotgun.

          The moon was full.  Dark silhouettes bleated nervously, out by the barn.  MegDella ran ahead – then back – barking nervously.  Another yelp – followed by some guttural sound – wrenching fear from Rebecca’s heart.  She raised the gun, stepping towards the noise.

          One of her dogs lay dead by the fence.  Rebecca stood her ground, searching the flock.  MegDella turned suddenly – darting for the barn.

          “MegDella !” yelled Rebecca – too late.  The dog attacked, challenging the huge shadow threatening her flock.  Rebecca raced forward, leveling the gun like her father had taught.                                                  

     MegDella dodged away, baiting the wolf.  Rebecca glimpsed its yellow glare and dripping fangs.  She pulled the trigger.  The shotgun kicked hard, nearly knocking her over.  MegDella backed off.  The wolf lurched sideways- then turned on Rebecca in a howling rage.  It reeked of death.

          Rebecca aimed again.  The hammer clicked harmlessly.  With shaking fingers she cracked the chamber, reloading the shotgun.  The wolf half pounced.  MegDella intercepted, protecting her mistress.

          The dog had no chance.  The cornered wolf snatched the dog in its powerful jaws, snapping sinew and bone with a sickening crunch.  MegDella yelped once – a high, short scream.  The shotgun erupted, pounding hot lead through the wounded wolf’s heart.

          The intruder collapsed.  Rebecca ran forward to rescue her dog.  The wolf had crushed MegDella’s hind legs in its horrible jaws, but the dog still lived.  It whimpered quietly in a pool of blood.

          Rebecca cradled the dog in her arms, wrapping its wounds in the folds of her robe.  She rushed to the house.

          As she reached the porch, a galloping horseman appeared in the night.

          “Rebecca, are ye all right, me lass?”  Patrick dismounted, running to the girl.

          “I heard the shots and came right quick.”  He stopped in the moonlight.  “Ah lassie – what have we here?  There’s blood on yer robe.”

          Rebecca couldn’t answer.  She held out the dog, her eyes filled with tears.

          “Please Patrick.  Please.  She’s all I have left.”

          “Why MegDella, what’re ye doin’ all messed up like this?  I specifically told ye to give me a shout when things got rough.”

          He carried the bleeding dog to the house.  The Shetland winced as Patrick probed its wounds, cleaning torn flesh with strips of soft wool.

          “I can’t let ye abandon yer flock just yet now girl – yer father’d be hauntin’ me sure from the grave.”  He soothed Rebecca and the dog with his voice.

          “MegDella may live, me child, but her sheep herding days are definitely over.  I’ve stitched up her wounds and splinted the leg.”

          Rebecca looked into Patrick’s eyes.  For the first time she saw something more than her father.  She began sobbing quietly.  Patrick held her in his strong, honest arms.  He smelled the sweetness of straw in her hair.  He comforted Rebecca while MegDella drifted to painful sleep.

          The sun was high when Rebecca awoke.  She bolted upright – MegDella was there, at the foot of the bed, her hind quarters wrapped in Patrick’s bandages.

          Through the window, Rebecca heard bleating sheep.  A man’s voice growled from inside the barn.

          “Ha – ye blasted balls o’ wool.  Quit yer whinin’ ‘fore I make a meal of ye all meself.” 

Rebecca smiled.

          Presently, Patrick appeared from the barn.  He’d been shearing sheep, but from the state of his dress, and the straw in his hair, it looked as though things had not gone quite according to plan.  He greeted Rebecca through the window.                                                                         

          “Good day to ya, Miss.  It’s been a good while since those sheep of yers were properly disciplined – makes fer some interestin’ shearin’ I’ll tell ye.”

  Patrick let out a laugh.

          “Why MegDella – yer mistress is as pretty in the mornin’ as a man could stand.” 

The dog looked up, panting softly in response. 

          “Allow me to introduce meself, Lassie – I’m Patrick McDonough.  I’m a bastard b’ trade – but I dabble in sheep and cook a pretty fair stew.”

          Rebecca laughed merrily.  MegDella hadn’t heard her laugh all spring.  She saw her mistress’s eyes shine bright.  Patrick leaned through the window and kissed Rebecca.  MegDella lay watching, listening to the sheep as her mistress kissed back.   


Until Our Trails Cross Again: