There is no faith which has never yet been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog. ~ Konrad Lorenz
I know many of you, our readers, love dogs as much as I do. They truly are messengers from spirit. The following is a true story I wrote years ago about Shep, an incredible dog angel in Fort Benton, Montana.
In April 2001, I found myself wandering through remote northern Montana. I was writing an article on Lewis and Clark, and following their epic trail of discovery across country that remains nearly as remote and unspoiled today as it was in their time.
Though the calendar said spring had arrived, Montana was still pretty wintry. One cold snowy afternoon, I arrived at the northern end of my journey, Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri River. I spent several days in that delightful, friendly little town.
In Fort Benton I came across what has to be one of the greatest stories ever told of canine love and loyalty. The next few days the story of Shep unfolded and came alive for me, though he’d been dead nearly 60 years.
Shep became a legend in his own lifetime. And now that he’s gone, his legend continues growing, and touching the hearts of all who hear his story.
During the summer of 1936, a sheepherder fell ill while tending his flock, and was brought to St. Clare Hospital in Fort Benton, Montana. A nondescript sheep dog had followed the herder into town and soon set up a vigil at the hospital’s door. The kindhearted nun who ran the hospital kitchen fed the dog during those few days before the man died.
The herder’s family in the East requested his body be sent back home.
On an August day, the undertaker put the body on the eastbound train for shipment to the herder’s waiting relatives. As the gurney was rolled out onto the platform, a big gaunt shepherd dog with watchful eyes appeared out of nowhere and watched as the casket was loaded into the baggage car.
Attendants later recalled the dog whining as the door slammed shut and the engine slowly started pulling away from the station. Then the dog, later named Shep, turned and trotted down the tracks after his beloved master. That day Shep began a 5½-year vigil broken only by his own death.
Day after day, meeting four trains daily, Shep became a fixture on the platform. He eyed each passenger hopefully, and was often chased off as an unwelcome mongrel. But he was never completely discouraged.
Neither the heat of summer days, nor the bitter Montana winter days, prevented Shep from meeting every train.
As Shep’s fame spread, people came from everywhere to see him, photograph him, and to try and make friends and possibly adopt him. Shep did no welcome any of the attention. After checking each train, he usually retired quickly to get away from those who came to see him.
Most people missed the point Shep was a one-man dog. The bond he had formed with the herder many years before was simply the most important thing in his life. Food, shelter, and attention were now provided by the railroad employees. That was all he wanted, except his master’s return.
Shep was an older dog when he came to the station house in Fort Benton. Throughout his vigil, the long nights under the platform and the cold winter had taken their toll.
Stiff-legged and hard of hearing, Shep failed to hear old 235 as it rolled into the station at 10:17 that bitterly cold winter morning of January 12, 1942. He turned to look when the engine was almost upon him, moved to get out of the way, and slipped on the icy rails.
Shep’s long vigil had ended.
Shep’s funeral was held two days later, with Reverend Ralph Underwood delivering the eulogy. Shep was laid to rest on the high windy bluff overlooking the station where he vainly waited those long years. The sights and sounds of the singing rails and the whistles around the bend are gone now, also passing into history.
No passenger trains pull into the station today. But Shep still maintains his lonely vigil atop the windswept bluff overlooking the abandoned depot.
Adapted from Dogs: Heartwarming, Soul-Stirring Stories of Our Canine Companions by John Cali. Copies of the book are available here (as an ebook) and here (as a print book).
Copyright © 2018 by John Cali
Here are two short, touching dog videos.
The first, narrated by the legendary American actor, Walter Brennan, is an excerpt from Shep’s eulogy by Reverend Ralph Underwood, who presided over Shep’s funeral.
The second is a short documentary of Shep’s life and death from the article Shep of Fort Benton, Montana by Old Time Farm Shepherd.
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When I look into the eyes of animals it is a beautiful experience and dogs are exceptionally special! They have joy and wisdom beyond words. I always somehow feel better after I’ve interacted with a !
Thanks very much, JoAnn. I know that feeling.
Nice reports on dogs John. I’m given the idea that a dog can be as or more important to their owner than a sibling or human mate. I guess you currently do not have a dog. Neither do I. I would go to a lot of effort to take good care of a dog. Love, George
Thanks, George. I agree — dogs can be as, or more, important than a human companion. No, I don’t have a dog at the moment, but I keep toying with the idea of getting another. Love, John
I too visited that place during a Lewis & Clark trip in 2004 .. Loved that little town
Thank you, Kenneth. It’s a beautiful, friendly little town.
Dear John, Thanks for your wonderful messages about dogs. We had a dog when I was young and I loved him. As an adult, my first priority, having lost my wife to divorce, is finding a girlfriend or other finding other people connections. Thank you for your connection. Love, George
Thanks very much, George. May you find that connection you long for.