It was a cold, wet March day when I first made my way down the gravel and dirt road to Our Lady of the Rock Priory, a 22-year-old Benedictine Monastery
on Shaw Island. Shaw is one of the San Juan Islands in the northwestern part of Washington state, all of 12-square miles in area, and reached only
by ferry. The monastery itself is perched on a lovely mossy rock surrounded by trees, with a magnificent view of wide open pastures, lush and green
this time of year, 100-year-old forests, and a saltwater bay and estuary. Yes. I could already picture one of my Kerry puppies (sired by “Skye,” Int.
Ca. Ch Lefebvre Farm’s Top Hand HIC) ruling this kingdom, which is why I had come.
Here I met Mother Therese for the first time–all 4-foot-plus of her. She was dressed in her denim working habit, rubber barn boots, a 200-weight polar
fleece vest, and a black wool watch cap pulled down over her head and ears. She offered her hand, gave a very friendly shake, and welcomed me to the
monastery with a twinkle in her eye.
I already knew that Mother Therese had become enamored with the dam of Skye’s litter, Keristars Meghan. I also knew she had read Edith Izant’s book, The Kerry Blue Terrier, from cover to cover, had a collection of books on Kerries, and felt that owning a Kerry was consistent with the rare animal collection at the monastery’s
self-sufficient farm, which included two registered Kerry cows, a breed developed in County Kerry, Ireland.
It was time for a tour of the farm, and Mother Therese led the way, pointing out all the animals, calling each by name. I was introduced to a small herd
of Scottish Highland cattle, along with the llamas, sheep, Jersey and Kerry dairy cows, pigs, a Toulouse goose (“LaTreck”), and the only resident canine,
a yellow Lab named “Roc.” All of the animals were so gentle they could have served in a petting zoo quite nicely.
We walked on past the dairy barn, which housed the dairy cows, hay, and milking parlor, past a quaint, two-story farmhouse used for guests, through the
herb garden, and along a split-rail fence reminiscent of those in Abraham Lincoln’s day. Mother Therese pointed with pride to the small chapel that
sat on a low hill in the woods. All the material that went into its construction was logged off the property and milled locally. The view from the
chapel back towards the dairy barns was like a picture postcard. The only thing missing from the scene was a Kerry Blue Terrier.
It wasn’t until a year later that I again made the 2-hour trip by automobile and ferry from Seattle to Shaw Island. This time it was to see “Maeveen,”
Mother Therese’s Kerry bitch puppy, whelped on February 21, 1998. I was looking forward to seeing this pup again in a real farm environment doing things
that farm dogs do. I wasn’t disappointed.
Mother Therese emerged from the dairy barn to greet us with a bouncing Kerry Blue at her side. “Maeve” was now a teenager and full of spit and vinegar,
but well-mannered despite the freedom she had to roam the 300-acre farm at will. She had complete free-run of the property–no fences, no confinements
of any kind–yet she always came when called, and stayed with us as the three of us made the rounds at the farm. This time, it was Maeve, the monastery’s
self-appointed tour guide, who led the way.
Maeve had been spayed not long ago, but showed no signs of taking it easy. In fact, she had recovered enough to recently go swimming in one of the farm’s
two ponds with her Lab buddy. (She was very repentant that night, according to Mother Therese.)
Being a farm dog at such a place is quite a bit of work for a one-year-old pup, but Maeve assumed her responsibilities early on. The first job she learned
was doing a bed-check of Mother Therese’s cot each morning to ensure it was still as warm and comfy as the day before.
Maeve’s day starts out real early (for city folks), as she is needed down at the barn to supervise the milking of the dairy cows. (The monastery is one
of the few state-licensed farms to produce and sell raw, unpasteurized milk.) In addition, Maeve has to say hello to her new friend-the young Jersey
calf. While in the dairy barn, she patrols the bales of hay to make sure no varmints have moved in during the past day. Twice a week, Mother Therese
and Maeve take off and deliver the milk to their customers on the island. Maeve knows the route and customers better than anyone at the monastery,
and greets her special friends and buddies along the way, including her mum “Meghan,” with whom she happily plays for a few minutes.
Back on the farm, Maeve accompanies Mother Therese to the pastures to check on the other stock. It’s quite a responsibility for one little girl to watch
over all these animals and their little ones. She has to look out for the goose (actually, to look out for where he has been, as he leaves quite a
mess!). Along the way, Maeve demands her “Good Morning” from each of the nine other nuns at the monastery, a welcomed interruption from their daily
Normally, the next stop would be the pigsty, but the pigs have all gone to market and there is nothing but an empty sty and the smells of old friends.
So the next stop is to see the llama mama and her little one. Since the llama’s head towers a good 8 feet above the ground, Maeve climbs up on the
chapel porch to get nose-to-nose with her. Mother Therese says that all the farm’s mother animals allow Maeve to approach their young ones. Other dogs
are treated in a much more aggressive way.
After a tour of the farm, I was invited to stay for lunch, a courtesy often extended to visitors to the San Juan Islands who are at the mercy of the Washington
State Ferry System and their schedules. Shaw, being one of the smaller islands, does not have the frequency of ferry service as the larger more populated
islands, so you must plan your time well.
As we sat down to lunch at the guest house, my attention strayed to the window, where I could see an enormous gaggle of 100 or so geese feeding in the
pasture beyond. Puget Sound lies on a flyway used by thousands (if not millions) of Canadian Geese on their annual migratory treks from north to south
and back again. Obviously, the “honkers” had chosen the monastery as one of their hostels, presenting a real messy problem.
As I watched, the geese suddenly rose en masse, followed by a streak of blue. It was Maeve, making what we call in herding a big “out run,” circling the
geese in an attempt to collect them. The result was the flushing of the geese, and they all took off in search of another pasture–one without a Kerry
It was then that it struck me how well Maeve was living up to the “all-round farm dog” heritage of her breed. She patrolled and guarded the property, protected
the barns from vermin, kept watch over the stock, accompanied her mistress to market, and displayed a herding instinct that would have made even her
father proud (whose herding instict is certified). In this world apart from the world, Maeve is proving every day the incredible versatility of the
Kerry Blue Terrier.