On a golden Sunday in Stonewall, a veil of morning light shimmered over the grapevines at Rustic Spur Vineyards. The estate is home for Jim and Ranae Mills, along with their daughter, Sherah Mills, who is the Vineyard and Winery Project Manager at Kerrville Hills Winery.
Most days, you can find Sherah installing and managing vineyards at her clients’ far-flung properties, which are located everywhere from Kerrville to Menard, Harper and Sonora. “I spend more time in the truck than I do in the office,” she explains. Luckily, she always has canine companions at the ready, thanks to her seven and fourteen year old Border Collies named Tannin and Annie.
Growing up in Bastrop with horses, cattle, and sheep, the Mills family was drawn to Border Collies for their herding heritage. “I showed lambs in FFA in high school, so I originally bought Annie to be an exercise dog,” she says. Ultimately, she was better suited as a family pet, following Sherah to college, and to every place since.
At fourteen, Annie doesn’t get around much anymore, due largely to a 2019 accident that dislocated her hip. Even still, however, she continues to have her place at home amongst the hens, two roosters named Hank and Hei Hei, and the family cats, Muscat and Madeira.
In May, Sherah said goodbye to her beloved ten year old Border Collie, Pirate, who passed away from a gastrointestinal illness. “My big thing is I always want to be there with them because they give so much of themselves to us,” she shares of her dogs. “Bringing them comfort in those last moments, that is all I ever want to do.”
Like Pirate once did, the Mills’ lovable Border Collie, Tannin, continues to comfort the family with his warm disposition, a trait he’s had since his earliest days as a rescue off the streets of San Antonio. “I call him our Velcro dog because he just wants to lean on you,” she says. “If I said the night before, do you want to go to W-O-R-K, the next morning he would be at my truck ready to go … Occasionally he’ll get up in the tractor with me or on the forklift!”
Though both Annie and Tannin exhibit the breed’s trademark intelligence, their personalities couldn’t be more different. Where Tannin sleeps in the bed and thrives off of cuddles and attention, Annie is sassy, aloof, and sometimes bull-headed. “It’s that red hair,” jokes Sherah. “She has gotten a little darker with some gray hairs around the face, but when she was a puppy, she was bright red.”
These days, Tannin still has his playful, youthful energy, which earned him the nickname, ‘Kramer.’ “Kramer’s famous scene in Seinfeld is sliding in the door, and that is Tannin,” Sherah quips. “If he knows you are opening the front door, he will come running up the stairs and he can’t stop.”
Meanwhile, his older sister goes by Granny Annie, a fitting moniker for the family matriarch that’s always keeping watch. In her older age, she has even taken to grooming Tannin on special occasions in a gesture of love and protectiveness. “Now that she’s older, in the evenings, she always wants to go outside after she’s done eating, and I’ll look at Tannin like, you need to go outside and help, so he’ll wait and look out for her,” she says. “I know some people babytalk their dogs, but I have never done that. We are one-on-one.”
That intimate bond is particularly comforting for Sherah, whose work in the field can be demanding and often solitary in nature. “The drawback of being in the vineyard is there are times when you’re out there eight, ten, twelve hours by yourself, and that can get to you mentally, so there is a companionship aspect to it.”
Company aside, Tannin’s playful nature also delivers a healthy dose of comedic relief throughout the workday. “I know he’s having a good time,” she says of watching him chase butterflies and wild rabbits. “As long as the dogs are happy, I don’t really care about anything else.”