I’ve had several dogs whose breeds were generally considered working dogs. I use the term loosely. My first, Miles, worked at chasing squirrels, taking naps, and being the first to get any food dropped on the floor. The second, Jimmy, takes after squirrels as well. But workers? Definitely not when compared to Spice’s farm dogs Hayley and Chuck.
The first time I saw Hayley and Chuck in action, the brother and sister were herding chickens. Chuck pounced on an attempted runaway, held her down, and nibbled her gently. That chicken found out pretty fast who the boss is. When Chuck let her go, she made a beeline for the other girls in the flock.
Hayley and Chuck joined the Spice Acres family in August, when they were eight weeks old. And while Ben Bebenroth calls them his family’s dogs, they aren’t just pets.
“They have a job to do,” he says. Especially when it comes to pests. “We aren’t allowed to do anything about wildlife control,” Ben explains. There are rules about trapping, releasing, or killing wildlife in the national park — even if that wildlife is tearing into Spice Acres crops — and fencing is expensive. Chuck and Hayley chase destructive wildlife away. “They are awesome as a pair,” says Ben. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, the dogs head out of the farmhouse to do their rounds.
Sometimes they get the better of pesky creatures. “They killed five groundhogs last year,” recalls Ben. But not before one very destructive groundhog ate through $1,000 of romaine in a two-week time period.
But sometimes a creature gets the better of Chuck and Hayley. “They’ve been skunked four times this year.” Skunking happens regularly enough that Ben has a recipe for washing the smell away: one pint hydrogen peroxide, one-eighth-cup baking soda, and one teaspoon Dawn dish soap. Then his clothes go directly in the washer. It works well, unless the washer breaks down mid-cycle, as it did earlier this spring, “and I had to leave for Nashville the next morning.” Hauling out the smelly, dead, water-filled washer wasn’t fun when he returned home. “That’s just farm living.”
The dogs wear electronic training collars with three different shock settings. Very rarely does Ben have to resort to the most intense setting. The controller has a half-mile radius on an open field, but Spice Acres and the surrounding land is far from flat. If Hayley and Chuck are chasing away unwelcome wildlife and they head into a ravine, he can’t reach them.
“They have to be free to do their jobs,” he says, but that freedom doesn’t always sit well with park rangers, or park visitors who can be a little unnerved when they encounter the pair on the run. “It was worse when they were pups. Now they are much better.”
Ben tries to run with the dogs three to four times a week to help them burn off some of their energy. “As long as we’re paying attention to them, they’re happy and satisfied.”
Like any good siblings, they fight. A lot. “They are wild farm dogs, and that’s what they do.” Ben says it can be unnerving for some farm visitors. As if on cue, Hayley and Chuck start a rip-roaring race and snarl fest. But while the dogs are related, they don’t look it. They also have different personalities. “Chuck’s lazy, really laid back. He’s really good about doing his work, but he is a groaner.” And Hayley? “She’s the attention queen.” Well of course I am, she insists as she circles my legs and nudges a hand.