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Life Lessons of a Resilient Farm Dog: Finding Happiness Against All Odds

Terri Moore

Vice President, Communications

Tough, 2023 Farm Bureau Farm Dog of the Year with her owners, Denny and Donna Ashcraft.

photo credit: AFBF, Big Foot Media

It sounds silly to suggest we can learn important lessons from a dog but stay with me for a minute and I bet you’ll come around (unless you’re a cat lover, in which case there’s no hope).

When you observe a dog’s loyalty to its master, have you considered how it translates to our lives and loyalties? Many of us have. The bond between pets and their owners is often so fiercely strong that affection, reflection and even admiration come along with it.

That’s certainly the case with this year’s Farm Dog of the Year, Tough, and her human family Denny and Donna Ashcraft. Tough is a Border Collie with a wall of trophies for her herding prowess. Denny and Donna will tell you there is nothing she loves more than working. When an injury left her paralyzed from the neck down, the Ashcrafts were devastated. Tough had become part of the family. They wondered how a dog that loved to work so much would deal with a lack of mobility.

Tough would have none of it. She comes by her name honestly. The Ashcrafts watched with awe as Tough fought back. She wobbled around, fell down and got back up…over and over again. Remarkably, she eventually returned to herding. Not the champion herder she once was, but still able to help on the farm. As Denny describes it, she’s still 10-foot tall and bulletproof in her mind and she’s happy helping where she can. It’s a remarkably touching story. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here.

The bond between pets and their owners is often so fiercely strong that affection, reflection and even admiration come along with it.

The life lesson? Learning to be happy in our circumstances. The Ashcrafts point out that once you understand Tough’s journey, it’s pretty hard not to feel as though we can all learn to adapt to life’s twists and turns and find happiness. It reminds me of the much-repeated Swindoll quote, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Even if you’re a dog.

Tough is the American Farm Bureau Federation’s fifth Farm Dog of the Year. The program has become a powerful connector with pet lovers of all types, all across America. In fact, Tough’s video story has been viewed nearly 80,000 times. Overall, our 2023 competition reached nearly 150,000 people. We’re delighted to celebrate farm dogs through this competition and hope you’ll submit a nomination if you have a great farm dog that is both a helper and companion. The form and rules can be found at fb.org/farmdog.

The grand prize winner receives $5,000 in prize money and a year’s worth of Purina Pro-Plan dog food. We appreciate Nestlé Purina PetCare’s sponsorship of the contest. The winner (or its owners) will also be recognized on stage at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in January 2024. Up to three regional runners-up will each win $1,000 in prize money. We also host an online People’s Choice Pup contest with a $1,000 prize to the winner, so owners have two chances at bragging rights and some cash. Honestly, we’ve heard from past winners that what they cherish the most is the video we produce to tell each winner’s story.

The contest ends July 14 so now is the time to nominate your farm dog. If you know a farm family with an amazing canine companion and helper, encourage them to submit a nomination. Through their stories, we provide a window into a heartwarming aspect of farm life.

Terri Moore is vice president of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.