Dogs I have known April 11, 2012Posted by #4 in Everything but the kitchen sink, My attempt at humor.
Tags: Australian Shepherd, Bigfoot, Calf, Cattle, Dairy farming, Dog, German Shepherd Dog, Oklahoma
Everyone knows what a dog is, right? Faithful companion, guard, security blanket, alarm system, ranch-hand, wiggly, licky, sheds a lot, hungry, equal opportunity hindquarters sniffer, fast and lazy and fun. Sometimes downright scary too. I’ve been around a few in my day and they have left me with many fond memories. Some sad ones too. Except for my bizarre cat years, it seems like I have always been around dogs. Ironically, I think I’ve personally only owned one.
I grew up in Oklahoma on dairy farms of various size and odor. My first memories of the farm involved me, a pair of boots, a coach whip and a corral full of cows. Yep, I was right in the middle of it. It can only be described as a miracle that my tiny body didn’t end up wedged between a pair of filthy cloven hooves. I think I was still in diapers. Just shows how stupid cows are; I mean, come one, what would you do if you and your friends were hanging out together, just shooting the breeze and some snot-nosed brat wearing diapers and some boots waddles up and starts to whap all of you with a coach whip? See my point?
Along with cows, every farm needs a dog. It just seems to be a winning combination. You need a dog to ride along while you throw hay to the herd; you need a dog to chase off all the varmints; you need a dog to eat the scraps from under your dinner table; you need a dog to lie in the summer sun next to you while you drown worms in the pond. You also need a dog to bark at the cotton-mouth moccasins that try to sneak up on you while you nap as you drown worms ( this is very important, if you know what I mean); although we did have one dog, who I don’t believe lived long enough to even get a name, who wasn’t very good at snake detection: it was an Australian Shepherd that ran home one day, crawled up under the house, vomited and died. Not sure why, really, except we did have world record populations of cotton-mouth water moccasins on our farm. So I’ve just always believed no-name got fanged by a snake.
The first dog I knew in our family was named Corky. He was a German Shepherd. Since I was so young when we got Corky I don’t remember the circumstances that led to our family getting him and I don’t believe he followed anyone home so I have to assume we came to own Corky legitimately. My first memories of Corky were of him leading me around in the yard by holding my hand in his mouth. He was a very kind and gentle dog to play with me like that, or maybe he was just having a taste to see if I was any good. I recall that I would go out into the street, possibly because I didn’t know anything about cars and traffic, or maybe I was just stupid for my age, but Corky would bring me back by taking my hand in his mouth and leading me back into the yard. This was before we moved to the farm so it was probably around 1967.
On the dairy farm, Corky proved himself to be the ultimate farm dog. He followed my step-dad everywhere he went; milking cows, plowing the fields, hauling hay. If there was work to be done Corky was there. He was a good guard dog too. We came home from church one time and Corky had “tree’d” a utility repairman in the back of his truck. Wouldn’t let him leave until we got home. That was great. Corky not only guarded us, he guarded the livestock. My bedroom window looked out over what we called the “dry pasture”. This was a pasture down below the orchard and it ran along the creek on our farm, the creek where Bigfoot lived, and in this pasture we kept cows who had just calved. These cows would nurse their calves until they were old enough to be weaned and then the cow would be placed back in the milking herd. We boys then got the job of feeding the weaned calves with grain that was surprisingly good (don’t ask me how I know that). We also fed the calves that weren’t weaned but were no longer with their momma. Me and my brothers, okay, mostly my brothers, would put a powder mix into these giant baby bottles, fill them with water and mix it up then snap a huge red rubber nipple on the bottle then stand there and feed the calf with the bottle. If you got bored doing this, you could always straddle the calves neck if they were big enough and hold the bottle out in front making the calf chase the bottle and you’d have an instant rodeo ride. But we were good boys and hardly ever did that…
Anyway – I awoke one morning to loud barking and I stood up in my bed and looked out the window in time to see Corky running flat out down into the dry pasture. I didn’t know why until I looked beyond the dog and saw cows and calves surrounded by wolves.
Okay okay. There are no wolves in Oklahoma – not even back in the late 60′s – but they looked like wolves to me. They were really coyotes. But BIG coyotes.
Like a linebacker Corky hit that pack of “wolves” and tore into them. I couldn’t believe it. I was jumping up and down in my bed and screaming my head off watching this marvelous German Shepherd rip into a pack of coyotes. They were every bit as big as he was but that didn’t matter. I can still see, vividly, Corky biting one on the back and shaking the coyote like an old sack. And you know what happened next? They ran off. Every single sissy coyote tucked tail and ran. Man – that was a great day.
I wish I had more fond memories of Corky, but like all canines, he only lived a few more years. He died of mange one winter. A very slow and terrible death for such a noble dog. He lost nearly all the hair on his body and he just wasted away. To this day I am not sure why he was never put down and out of his misery, but he wasn’t and one morning he was dead. I wish he hadn’t died such a slow painful death. I miss that dog.
Another memorable dog on the farm was named Pete. He was some sort of a wire-haired dachshund terrier mix or something. Pete came with his sister who was named Gypsy. They were a pair, but Pete spent his life following Corky everywhere. What I remember most about him was the way he ran. Pete had short legs and had to put down multiple steps to everyone of Corkys, but while he did this, occasionally Pete would hike one hind leg up and tripod it along for a moment. It was quite comical and really never slowed him down. Long after Corky had passed, Pete followed us to another farm and remained a great farm dog. When we left the farm and moved to the city, for some reason, my step-dad decided Pete couldn’t come along. My last memories of him were of his little brown body lying in the trunk of our car after the vet administered his lethal injection. I was just a boy, but I still think Pete got a bum rap.
Along with Corky and Pete, we had another dog. It was a bird dog named Lulu Bell. I have no idea if Lulu knew how to hunt or was even used for that, what I remember was that she was probably the friendliest dog ever and she showed this by whapping you with her tail that felt like a steel cable striking your leg, or in my case, body. She was a short-haired dog and quite skinny but she seemed to always be happy. Not sure what happened to her but I believe she was gone before Corky.
One farm we lived on had a guest house. An old preacher lived in this house, probably renting the guest house from my parents. This was the farm where I really learned how to ride a horse. One day a stray dog showed up. Can’t really say for certain what breed, probably just a mutt, but a fine looking mutt. Very friendly. Anyway, for some reason my folks were away and this preacher living in our guest house told me to shoot the dog. Now I was a farm boy. I knew how to shoot. Had a nice little .410 shotgun. Knew how to use it. Shot many things on the farm; squirrels, rabbits, birds, snakes, turtles, early Beatles vinyl albums (okay, I had no idea they were that famous and that those same vinyl records would be worth a gazillion dollars today- so give me a break) but I did not want to shoot this dog.
The preacher scared me for some reason, maybe because he was big and scary, so I dutifully took my little .410 shotgun and the stray dog and walked out into the pasture. I found a little stand of trees and tied the dog up and walked away a few yards and then lay down and sighted along my gun at the dog. He was wagging his tail.
I pulled the trigger.
I have never forgiven myself for that. I cried big tears that day. So don’t write me no nasty hate comments – I’ve done all that to myself already.
The next dog I remember was named Freckles. Freckles was another bird dog, but unlike Lulu Bell who was brown and speckled, Freckles was fuzzy and splotchy with red ears; just a big galumpy pup. He was cute.
I don’t remember much about Freckles except for the day we killed him. My brother, #3, was old enough to drive and he was driving an old International pickup truck, up the gravel drive towards the house, and if you haven’t noticed by some of my previous stupidity, you will with this one; I ran towards my brother like I was going to play chicken with him and the International. He wasn’t driving very fast but that turned out to be worse than if he had been speeding. I didn’t know it but Freckles was following me, just like any good galumpy puppy will do. I chickened out against the International because #3 wasn’t about to stop for his little brother (come to think of it..) and I jumped out of the way. This turned out to be too much for Freckles. He couldn’t follow and ended up under a wheel. I know – I watched in horror as the International and an unknowing #3 rolled right over the top of poor Freckles. Made me sick. Must be why months later I threw a dart at #3 and stuck him in the hand. Probably not, but now I know Freckles met his demise because of me. It was looking like dogs didn’t have a chance with us.
All the while this was all going on, through the years, my mom owned a Toy Poodle named Bridgett. She was white and small and temperamental. Can’t for the life of me figure out why she was temperamental. Bridgett was weird. Me and my brother would lie flat on the floor watching TV and she would lick our legs if we were wearing shorts or just underwear (hey, we were farm boys – not city slickers). Not real sure why we let her do it either, maybe we were the weird ones. Anyway, Bridgett was also responsible for biting a hole in my lip. I didn’t think I was teasing her that much! I must have been traumatized by her biting my lip because one day I dropped her off my back in the kitchen and she broke her leg. Mom took her to the vet and he put a pin in her leg and sewed her up, good as new, except Bridgett never believed after that that she was good as new. She carried that leg for the rest of her days, hopping around on one back leg while the perfectly healed leg dangled uselessly. That must have been her way of never letting me forget I was the one who dropped her. I don’t remember ever really liking Bridgett and sometimes she almost paid for that in dramatic ways, like when #3 blew a hole in the couch right next to her while he was showing me his gun. I don’t think she ever stopped her nervous shaking after that. Bridgett went with us on every farm and then eventually into the city, where one day she just wandered off and was never seen again. She probably died of old age and complications of living with farm boys.
It would be many years later before I would be around another dog. On my son’s birthday I went to the SPCA and picked out a cute shepherd mix puppy, brought her home as a surprise and we all put a name in a cup and drew one name out. The name was Sandy. Sandy has been our family dog ever since. She currently lives with my son in Illinois and she is learning how to chase squirrel and rabbit and coyote, although she has to be careful because the coyotes send out their pups as bait to get dogs to chase them so the pack can attack. Kind of sneaky if you ask me. Where’s a good Corky when you need one?
Sandy loves fish. I built a Koi pond in our back yard and for many years we raised koi and goldfish in this pond. Sandy would stand in the water and watch for hours as the fish swam by. Occasionally she would nip at them, but I don’t think it was ever intended as anything other than a quick smootch. I don’t know if she would ever eat one if she could catch it. Sandy is also the only dog, other than Bridgett, to bite me. Sandy was an outside dog who didn’t want to be an outside dog and she spent considerable time devising ways to sneak in the house and hide behind the couch hoping we wouldn’t notice and let her stay in. I tried to get her out from behind the couch one time which is when I got bit. I didn’t lose any fingers so I assumed she was only mildly annoyed at being tossed back outside. Sandy is a good dog and fortunately for her, the first to have never died because of something I may have done.
One other family dog I remember was owned by my grandmother. It was a Chow Chow and it was mean. It probably heard about me and my brothers. Grandma would never let me around the dog, probably for my own protection, but maybe a little bit for the dogs protection. I don’t know if she really liked me very much. Grandma, I mean, not the dog.
Currently I am living with a Yorkshire Terrier named Pebbles. She is my wife’s dog. Just telling about all her antics will take up another whole post, so I will save her for then; just know there is never a dull moment around this dog.
So other than the odd dog or two, like the Basset hound my brother creamed with a truck or the puppies that got into Mom’s chicken coop and killed a bunch of laying hens thereby earning a trip to the creek in a gunny sack, or the coyote #3 shot in pitch black darkness while Mom held a flash light, there haven’t been too many other dogs around. Which is probably a good thing for them. I guess being a farm dog is very rewarding but a little on the risky side of life. And being a city dog has its drawbacks as well; if you’re not cooped up all day in a house or apartment you’re dodging cars. but I got to tell you, every one of those dogs made an impression on me. I remember every one of them.
So if you are in the market for a family pet, take my advice: get a dog. There isn’t a cat or bird anywhere that can tackle a pack of coyotes. What other pet can you find that will follow you willingly into the wheels of a moving vehicle or along the shores of a snake infested pond? and when was the last time anyone’s pet cat led them around by the hand?
I rest my case.