Sookie Obituary

A couple of months have passed since we lost our old girl, Sookie, I think it’s about time we write about how wonderful a dog she was! Our blogs are of course reindeer related and with Sookie being one of our top ‘reindeer dogs’ she has certainly left her mark here at Reindeer House.

Sookie on her favourite hill, Meall a’ Bhuachaille.
Sookie at Loch Morlich – another favourite haunt!

Sookie joined us here at Reindeer House in June 2009 as a 2 year old. One of our herders at the time comes from an island off the west coast of Scotland and when we showed interest in getting a collie type dog to help manage our free ranging herd of reindeer it happened to be that her sister, who is a farmer on this island, had a wee collie suited for the job so along came Sookie. At first she was fairly timid; a classic collie! Coming from island life with her mum and brother she was certainly chucked in at the deep end and she wouldn’t let just anyone stroke her and was certainly shy of men, even giving them the classic collie nip on the back of the legs as they walked by. But as time passed Sookie settled in wonderfully and Reindeer House became her forever home. Many herders passed through the door during Sookie’s 14 years with us. She particularly knew how to ‘woo’ the men. I think most of them thought they were the only one… little did they know she had those puppy dog eyes for most of them. What a gal!

Tiree, Moskki and Sookie.
Sookie out on a ski tour with Ruth, Lotti and Fiona.

For the first few years she had a kennel outside which she went into at night. Sookie never barked and was always a quiet character – my wee terrier, Misty, had enough voice for both of them and she ruled the roost! I lost Misty in 2014 and then Tiree, my Aussie Shepherd, joined the Reindeer House team. Sookie was always such a push over that even Tiree as a puppy seemed to be more dominant than her. But as unassuming as she was she just cracked on with life, nothing seemed to faze her. She was many a herders ‘chosen dog’ when it came to big hill days, gentle strolls to the loch or camping trips. Always super reliable and extremely loveable.

Sookie enjoying a snooze in the back of Fiona’s van.
Tip, Tiree, Murdo and Sookie, all raring to go!
Tip, Sookie, Moskki, Tiree and Murdo.

She taught Tiree how to be the perfect reindeer dog. Waiting for long periods of time next to a rock on the open mountain for us herders to return with the herd. The longest I left them was 3 hours and they were still in the exact same spot on my return. If their presence was required to push the reindeer off of land they weren’t meant to be, this was always done with upmost control. They’d also wait at the visitor gate going into our enclosure while we were doing morning feeds. And as Sookie got older Tiree took on that role and now herself is training the next generation so thanks Sookie for helping!

A young Tiree, learning the ropes from Sookie.
Tiree, Fiona and Sookie on the old Utsi Bridge…
…and the same trio on the new Utsi Bridge!

Everyday Sookie would mound around outside our shop and exhibition area. She’d never stray and if people wanted to stroke her she’d just move away. She wasn’t for being fussed by strangers, however, she did love it when they threw her sticks… again classic collie! So she’d drop sticks next to people’s feet in the hope they take her up on this game. And of course who could resist. As she got older and a bit stiffer with age she could still wander around outside our shop but she had to wear a jacket saying ‘please don’t throw me sticks’ as the sharp movements were taking their toll on her body and she would come in a bit stiff in the evenings. She was so confused to why people had stopped throwing her sticks, poor girl, but it was the best thing for her. Instead she’d spend more time in and about Reindeer House and as she grew much older she just slept a lot.

Some of you may remember when she went missing for 4-5 days back in September 2018. She was out hill walking with a friend and as he headed up the hill and over a ridge he suddenly realised Sookie was nowhere to be seen. This was pretty out of character and for days we were out searching and wondering what had happened her. Then on day 5 there was a report of a dog at a farm and low and behold it was Sookie! She was extremely delighted to see us and the reindeer herding world was delighted to see her fine and well. Ever since that incident Sookie did have some separation issues, understandably. So leaving her in the evenings home alone meant she would bark sometimes so we fitted it into our life and worked around her so she was never alone.

More ski touring fun. Just like the reindeer, the dogs also follow our ski tracks.
Sookie taking a rest on a ski tour.

In her last 6 months she aged quite quickly. She would always pootle along on a nice flat walk around Glenmore but sometimes we’d head out with her and get 100 meters into the walk to find Sookie had decided to go home. That was fine, it was always her decision. On other days she’d bound along like she was a puppy so there was life in the old dog yet. Sookie never really had one particular owner, however, myself being the main constant person throughout her 14 years of living at Reindeer House I guess I became her ‘go to’ person and she became quite attached to me. I think on days I was away or on holiday she would pace around the house looking for me. She did settle though, usually in the office where there was always someone around so if she woke up she knew she wasn’t alone. For her last six months Lotti and I would have to sleep with our bedroom doors open because if Sookie got to a closed door and couldn’t get in then she’d bark. If however the door was open and she could see us in bed she’d settle and go to sleep. Things you do for an old dog but when these pets are in your life, sometimes longer than people are, they become part of the family and for family we do anything so Sookie had it pretty good really.

Tiree, Ruadh and Sookie enjoying themselves at one of their favourite lochs.

Although she may have gone on for another few months she did slow down and lose a lot of weight in her last few weeks so one of the hardest decisions had to be made but for the right reasons. She had a fantastic life with so many wonderful people in it and she went with her dignity intact – 16 is a great age for any dog and she was never unwell. Tiree has some pretty big boots to fill which from a reindeer dog perspective she’s there and her loyalty is something extremely special. Fraoch, our 18 month old collie now with us at Reindeer House has got a good way to go yet so thanks Sookie for setting such a high bar! It’s been great and now we have lots of lovely memories and photos to remember her by. Slainte Mhath old girl and thanks for being my best friend for the past 14 years!

Fiona

Olly’s photo blog

I have been here at the Reindeer Centre (on and off) for eight years now, the last three has been the longest stint I have done with the Reindeer Centre. Now admittedly this is mostly due to Covid, but if it wasn’t for the Reindeer Centre’s generosity in keeping me around as the world went in to lockdown the week that I was meant to be leaving, I probably would never have stuck around and got more involved with the surrounding area.

I’m not one for talking a lot, so here are some of my favourite photos from the past three years with some words.

I usually work with the reindeer through the winter, as this is the time of the year they are really in their element, pun intended. The moment this photo was taken it was wind chill of -7 with wind gusts of 60mph. It is something I truly wish everyone who visits the reindeer could witness, to see their greatness, as the reindeer are behaving as though it was a mild autumn day.
This was an incredible moment, during the calving season of 2020, I was lucky enough to watch the birth of Legume (mother Scully) and see him take his first steps. Not something you can see every day, reindeer being a secretive animal especially when it comes to calving. 
This is a photo I took of Roman silhouetted on the skyline, I thought it was a good.
I think this photo of Tiree, a Reindeer House dog, does a good job summing up of a feeling I, and I feel a few other herders, get at times through the Christmas season.
This photo of Spartan and Roman looks very impressive and in the heat of a fight. Far from it, in truth, this was just a half-hearted tussle, preparation before the rut. But looks cool.
Something that I take a lot of joy from seeing is a reindeer yawning, I manage to catch one in action, though you are really missing the full affect without the noise.
The reindeer being semi-domesticated are relatively easy to work with (especially the castrates) but then there are times you remember that they are still an animal, and not ones for negotiation. On this day the rut was in full swing, and Morse (a breeding bull) hopped the fence, as he found the cows on the other side of the fence too enticing. Joe and I did manage to return him back to his group, though all the herding was done a good 20ft away from him.  I took this photo when we were in the shed, I find it fascinating to see such a difference in the reindeer when in rut, not only physical, but behaviour.
Throughout the past three years, I have worked on many maintenance projects, one of the on-going jobs is the boardwalk up in our hill enclosure (which every slat, post, and nail has been carried up – no helicopters) this summer I, along with the help of others, reinstated the top platform, which I was very pleased to finish with some flair! And pride in every step. I hope you get to see it someday.

Olly

Photo Blog: December 2021

As Ben and Fiona have explained in previous blogs (click here, and here to read), we had a busy December with events and parades up and down the country, as well as a busy Centre here in Glenmore with fully-booked Hill Trips and Christmas Fun paddock slots! Plus hundreds of adoption packs to make up and post out, alongside all the usual office antics.

For this week’s blog, I’ve collated a series of photographs found on my phone during this particularly busy month to give a brief snapshot of what went on in the life of a reindeer herder. Turns out I don’t take many photographs whilst I’m sat in front of a computer answering emails so the photos are quite biased to all the fun times I’ve had out and about. Thankfully this makes for a much more enjoyable blog… lots of pictures of reindeer!

2nd of December – The unmistakable snozzle of Dr Seuss enjoying the fresh snow. The first half of the month was snowy and cold, great for the reindeer but unfortunately this meant we had to cancel some of our Hill Trips. Thankfully the majority were able to go ahead without complications.
3rd of December – Olly and I spying for the free-rangers in a winter wonderland. We watched the herd coming to our call from a couple of kilometers away! Note: stances might not be entirely natural. Photo by herder Sheena.
4th of December – Lotti and I went away for the weekend with this wonderful team of reindeer (Clouseau, Bond, Holy Moley, Trilby and Akubra) seen here having a snooze at the Langholm event.
5th of December – After a night at our Lockerbie base, we headed to Lancaster. Here’s Holy Moley trying to beat-up her own reflection whilst in the pen, much to the amusement of the crowd.
7th of December – the first day of our shiny new Mountain Equipment jackets here modeled by Joe and Lotti, whilst giving the calves some extra feed. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it!
7th of December – Witch having a big stretch after a snooze during Storm Barra! The ice cracked on her side as she stood up and moved – very cool!
8th of December – After one weekend looking dramatic in our paddocks for “Christmas Fun” Sherlock decided he’d had enough and cast his antlers! Here’s Ben modeling the impressive head gear. Soon after, Sherlock and the other young bulls were out free-ranging on the Cromdales.
9th of December – Cowboy, now 7 months old, already knows that tasty snacks are kept in white bags! What a cutie.
12th of December – Fiona and I had an event at a farm near Inverness. Good opportunity to write some adoption letters whilst waiting for people to visit the reindeer!
13th of December – Finding some peace and quiet away from the office by feeding the beautiful free-ranging herd! Note the lack of snow, there was a thaw halfway through the month but still chilly with frosts most mornings which means happy reindeer!
19th of December – Feeding the free-ranging herd again, lovely Sambar leading the herd in whilst busily chewing the cud.
20th of December – Tiree the dog having a snooze in the office, it’s all a bit much for her!
23rd of December – Herder Harry re-joined us again for December. Here he is being all cute surrounded by our cute but greedy calves.
24th of December – Another trip up the mountain to feed the free-rangers. Here’s Puzzle looking great!
26th of December – It was very windy and wild Boxing Day so we dropped down in to the woods to find some shelter on our Hill Trips.
31st of December – Some very snoozy reindeer after the last Hill Trip of 2021! What superstars they are.

Ruth

Lockdown for those who are still herding reindeer!

We are now into week 5 of lockdown and life for the reindeer herder who is still working has taken a dramatic change in some ways and yet it all feels completely normal in others. Myself (Fiona), Andi and Lotti are still employed while all the other staff here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre are on furlough leave… a term I’m sure everyone is familiar with now. Hen is tending to her ever growing garden, which in this weather is the best place to be; and Dave has got plenty of work on his croft to keep him amused, especially now his sheep are    lambing! The other herders have got plenty to keep them busy, though I suspect are missing their ‘reindeer’ time, especially as we go into a crucial time of year… the calving season. Unfortunately they cannot be involved with calving this year but we will be sure to keep them updated with all the new arrivals.

Bringing the cows into the hill enclosure ready for calving

Where the reindeer management has remained the same over the past month (luckily coronavirus doesn’t affect the reindeer themselves), being closed means our work is chopping and changing between a lot of hill time, feeding the herd and a lot of office time. We have had lots of new adoptions come in, as well as donations. Folks who used to adopt reindeer but maybe it has lapsed over the years have renewed as a way of supporting us while we are closed. We are so very grateful to you all so a massive THANK YOU. We will keep our social media well updated so where we can’t have the Centre open and taking all you lovely people on the hill to visit the reindeer, hopefully we can keep you in the loop with the goings on in other ways.

Kipling WILL get to the bag of feed, one way or another!

The past week in particular has been pretty hectic so it was all hands on deck! There was a group of six female reindeer who had decided they wanted to venture away for calving into the depths of the mountains so we headed out to bring them home. With four of them haltered up the other two followed nicely and we brought them back to our mountain enclosure. The next day the rest of the herd were brought in too and Lotti and I did the big split of who is pregnant and who isn’t. The ones pregnant have been kept back to calve in our mountain enclosure and the ones who aren’t will head back onto the free-range. That isn’t the last we will see of them though, as we will hopefully still catch up with them daily. The ‘Christmas reindeer’ (castrate males) and bulls who have spent the winter either here on Cairngorm or on the Cromdale hills are now all back at our hill farm on the Glenlivet Estate. Although we aren’t doing guided public trips onto the hill daily the management of the herd will remain the same so we may well get a few of the male reindeer back over here to Cairngorm once calving is over.

Fetching the remaining group of male reindeer down off the Cairngorm free-range.

One thing we have been publicising a lot is our Wild Farm meat which is our sister company based at our hill farm at Glenlivet with our other animals (NOT reindeer!). Reindeer herder Nicky has been fantastic in drumming up local business from her friends and neighbours, so meat sales have gone through the roof. Got to make the most of what business we can still do. I’m having to get involved with setting up adoption packs again. My role in the company over the past few years means I haven’t been so involved with this, but luckily I haven’t forgotten what to do! When Lotti and Andi need a hand to get a load done I swoop in to help out. As long as they don’t expect me to do this when everything is back to normal (wink wink!).

Such glorious April weather!

All in all we are getting quite used to the not-so-normal life of a reindeer herder and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rather enjoying it… Our local area of Glenmore is quiet so we have the surrounding hills and Loch Morlich beach to ourselves. With four of us living here at the Centre – Lotti, Olly, Joe and I along with the two dogs Sookie and Tiree we get out running, swimming, cycling, early mornings to watch wildlife at its best, watching movies and TV dramas and lots of lovely cooking. We have even had a pub crawl. This involved each of us turning our bedrooms into a pub… Maybe that is another blog for another time, watch this space! The one enjoying lockdown the most is my dog Tiree. For those of you who know her she isn’t the most sociable dog to strangers, however if she knows you, she loves you. So when going out on walks and pottering around the house with no strangers coming to visit, she is in her absolute element. She is currently fast asleep below my feet in the office after her 7 mile run with Joe at 6am this morning and the morning feed up the hill with us… It’s a dog’s life for sure!

Fiona

The Cairngorm Dog Centre

As many of you may know, the Reindeer Centre is not only home to many reindeer, but also several dogs. They are all perfectly unique in their look and personality, and don’t usually get in the way too much when we’re doing ‘reindeer stuff’.

There are three dogs here full time: Tiree, Sookie, and Murdoch. Sookie is a little older than the other two, but she can still rough and tumble like the best of them when she’s gone “wild” (by which we mean, she has a little bark and gets excited, but that’s about it). Tiree and Murdoch are the best of pals, and really enjoy having play fights. Sometimes these play fights sound vicious, but they’re all bark and no bite.

Dogs at the summit
Broc, Murdoch and Sookie at the summit of Meall ‘a Bhuacaille

There are a couple of other regular visitors, Tip and Moskki. They are both ‘farm dogs’ and are full of energy. Although Moskki is small, she is always up for playing with the other, much larger dogs, and usually wins! She is also a complete sook and will climb onto your shoulder if you’re in the office for a cuddle and a perusal out the window at what’s going on. Tip is very much a ‘one man dog’ and adores Alex. She usually sleeps the day away when he’s not here, but when he is here, Tip is the most vocal of dogs. Ask her to “speak up” and she has a frighteningly loud bark!

Murdo looking handsome
Murdoch looking majestic on the way down Meall ’a Bhuachaille

And then there’s my pooch. He doesn’t often visit the Centre, but when he does, he’s a little overwhelmed by the madness. Broc is a Heinz 57 of a dog, and is middle aged at least. He loves to cuddle and sleep, and eat and sleep, and chase a ball and sleep. Basically, he is a sleeping machine, and can spend hours in bed quite happily. Here at the Centre, he doesn’t get much chance to sleep, and he disapproves of the young ones and their playing. He usually hangs around with me in the office and then will sit at the door and wait for me to come back if I dare to leave him. He is just a lot quieter than these dogs, but is usually fine after a few hours and after telling the other dogs to leave him alone.

Dogs at the river
Broc and Murdoch enjoying a walk

He recently came on his ‘holidays’ to the Centre when my partner and I attended a wedding in Dundee. I filled a huge box of food for him (as every protective mother likes to feed up their babies), left a whole load of Dentasticks, gave him a cuddle and left. I knew he would be well taken care of, and this was confirmed when I got a late night message from Abby, proclaiming Broc as the King of Reindeer House dogs. Now, you need to understand, in Reindeer House, the dogs don’t get on the furniture. Not for any reason other than if all the dogs were on the seats, there’d be no room for people. The picture I received of Broc defied this rule. Broc was cuddled up on a seat, looking down on his minions. His minions were the three Reindeer House dogs, Tiree, Sookie and Murdoch. They were all sat on the floor, waiting for instructions from their King. I was pleased to see that Broc was making himself at home, but thought it a little unfair for the other three to be upstaged by their visitor. Upon my return, Mel also explained that when Broc had the stick, the stick belonged to him, and everyone knew that. Usually Sookie, Tiree and Murdoch will fight over sticks, chasing each other, playing a game. But Broc was different. The other dogs did not dare challenge him, and he was happy.

Broc might not be the best dog for obedience or sharing, but I’ll forgive him for being so cute.

Imogen

Dogs of the Hoos
King Broc with his minions, and the joy of a stick!

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