May 2020

Among farm dogs, there is no passing of the proverbial torch. No ceremony to celebrate the end of one’s career and the start of another’s. No press release announcing changes. A younger dog just seamlessly replaces an older version of itself.

This has been Leo Tammi’s experience for four decades, but there was just something about the latest transfer of power that made him want the world to know more about his full-time furry staff.

Hemi, a 14-year-old border collie, is now retired and more inclined to find a small resting place these days at Tammi’s 115-acre farm in Augusta County, Va. The rounding up of sheep — Hemi’s primary task since he was one — is now under the purview of Rue, an energetic, albeit “highly strung” farm dog, his owner says.

To recognize Hemi’s career, yet also to bring attention to the value of such animals, Tammi applied to have the border collie under consideration for the Farm Bureau Farm Dog of the Year contest, run by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

It worked. Hemi was among the 10 finalists nationwide for the “People’s Choice Pup” category.

While the dog fell short of victory in January, his owner accomplished just what he wanted. 

“It was a way to tell a story and let people know more about these special dogs,” says Tammi, a member of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative. “I don’t know how people can have livestock without a dog. There’s story after story of how these dogs have saved my butt. We couldn’t get work done without them.”

‘LUCKY’ DOG, HEMI

Tammi and his wife, Judy, historically have raised upward of 600 ewes, though that number is about half today. While Hemi was in command, the farmer was impressed by the dog’s calm demeanor and dedication to his craft.

Border collies have a strong desire to work, Tammi says. Gathering lambs requires a farm dog to be able to listen  and respond to an owner’s command — “quae tae me,” a Gaelic phrase, will lead Tammi’s dogs to make a wide counter- clockwise arc around a group of lambs — and also be willing to go to the ends of a property in search of animals to bring home.

At the farm, Rue can barely hold back from doing work when Tammi provides direction. It’s easy to imagine that Hemi would have been the same way in his younger days. “He’s really earned his keep over the years, that’s for sure,” Tammi says.

In his Farm Bureau application, Tammi mentions a run-in Hemi had with a coyote and relays a story from the 2012 derecho, which brought excessive winds to the Shenandoah Valley, leaving a wide path of destruction.

“Hemi must have impaled himself when he jumped some of the debris in his outrun,” Tammi writes. “[An] X-ray showed a 14-inch stick was 3 inches in his chest and right on or in his heart. He also had a collapsed lung. We pulled the stick out. It didn’t bleed much. Fortunately, it hadn’t penetrated the pericardium. That was lucky. After a night in the emergency veterinary clinic, Hemi came home. Judy swears he was smiling when he came out of the truck and crossed the front yard.”

Hemi continued to work and take commands while impaled and before Tammi noticed. The dog was lucky that day, Tammi says.

At his farm, after some reflection on what Hemi has meant to him, the owner had a change of heart.

“A border collie’s work ethic is so strong. It’s just an amazing experience when you find that the dog wants to please and listen. You can almost see a light go off in their head. They understand what you’re saying and they do what you’ve asked. You know you’re really connected with the dog,” he says. “I guess, really, I’ve been the lucky one for having a dog like that.”