A Cowboy & His Dog

For the Cowboys and Cowgirls in All of Us

Who likes Cowboys? Most of us grew up watching western's on TV and had our share of horse riding heroes. Our kids are no exception and although they don't follow the same western stories that we did, they still don those boots and hats and grab a toy six shooter when heading to the barn or off to an adventure across the pasture and woodlands surrounding our home place. And every cowboy story is not complete without his horse, his dog, or his pickup truck! 

This story is a humorous event relating the conflict between a cowboy's pride and allegiance to his dog. 

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This is the Story of a Cowboy and His Dog

She was a blue merle Australian Shepherd, beautiful, intelligent and full of energy. I typically would see the dog either riding in the back of Ned's pickup truck or working cattle on the ranch he managed with the help of Wanda. Wanda was tall, college educated, and beautiful with striking features that revealed her Cherokee Indian heritage. I often wondered how she ended up with Ned, but the lure of a cowboy should never be under rated. From time to time, Ned or Wanda would bring the Aussie to my rural veterinary clinic for regular vaccinations and checkups. I'll always remember the dog's inquisitive face and unusual eyes, one blue and one white! The old timer's would refer to that white eye as a "watch eye", reflecting the resemblance to the face of a pocket watch. 

The Aussie worked in silent concert with Ned's sorrel Quarter Horse gelding, a big sleek horse who seemed to enjoy his partnership with the dog. Watching them work cattle and separate calves was a thing of beauty. Ned basically focused on staying in the saddle while horse and dog coordinated in silence to efficiently separate and pen each calf. I've often pondered the key to their instant understanding of the other's intentions. I once told Ned, the horse didn't really need him except to open gates. Ned chuckled and said, "Aw Doc, that horse can open gates by his self. He don't need me for nothin' but fillin' th' feed bucket". 

One afternoon, I was finishing up with a companion animal case in my veterinary clinic. Hearing a familiar voice up the hall, I walked toward the waiting room. Wanda and my receptionist were engaged in a lively discussion that reflected a level of frustration and anger in Wanda's voice. Thinking I might be able to impress Wanda and interject some guidance, I inquired as to the dilemma under discussion. Wanda shot back a comment that referenced Ned as incompetent and prone to poor judgement, and she didn't refrain from using the word "idiot" with some frequency. 

I asked the specifics of the issue, and Wanda mumbled what sounded like "Ned sold his dog". I was convinced my hearing was failing as Ned selling the Aussie was simply not within the realm of possibility as I understood my small corner of the world. Asking again for clarification resulted in a look that had to resemble those faced by Custer at his last stand, and confirmed that indeed Ned sold the dog. Finding myself at a loss for words, I stood quietly as Wanda elaborated the facts leading up Ned's decision. 

The events unfolded at the local feed store where area farmers typically gather to exchange editorials on livestock prices, weather issues, hay supplies and a range of gossip that would rival the gals down the road at the local beauty parlor. Mr. Smith, a local cattle and poultry farmer, noticing the Aussie sitting in Ned's truck bluntly suggested that, "Them cow dogs ain't worth their weight in cow dung". Of course the comment didn't sit well with Ned who immediately challenged Mr. Smith's assertions. As the exchange progressed, Mr. Smith suggested if the dog was so good that anyone, including himself, could use such a dog to work their cattle. 

Ned confirmed she was "push button" and cow savvy. Mr. Smith then challenged Ned to sell her. Ned responded she wasn't for sale. Mr. Smith persisted and stated that everything has a price. Ned thinking his adversary wasn't really interested in the dog, faced off with Mr. Smith and priced the dog at $500. At this point both Ned and Mr. Smith's peers were actively following the discussion, and both men realized their credibility was on the line. So Mr. Smith reached into the front pocket of his bib overalls, pulled out a roll of cash, counted out $500 and handed it over to Ned. The deal was done. Ned reluctantly placed the Aussie into Mr. Smith's truck and quickly drove home. Wanda added, "He's been a basket case ever since, depressed and not speaking to anyone. Idiot!". 

Some days later, I pulled into the clinic parking lot and noticed a pickup truck with a blue merle Australian Shepherd in the bed. The dog was secured there with a chain and looked sadly in my direction. Entering the clinic, I was greeted by Mr. Smith who with a foul, angry glance stated, "That damn dog must be sick, she won't do nothin' for me. Doc, you gotta give her a shot that'll make her work." I suggested he bring her in and allow me to examine her. My receptionist and I watched as Mr. Smith walked out to the truck, unhooked the chain and pulled the dog over the tailgate. He then led her into the clinic and grabbing the chain, literally threw her onto the exam table. 

At this point I was working very hard to retain my composure and quietly began to advise Mr. Smith of the importance of establishing a working relationship with the dog. I suggested that he must gain her trust and treat her well, otherwise nothing that I or anyone else could do would force her to work for him. He mumbled something about spending a lot of money for a dog that was supposed to be "push button" and he'd teach her some respect if my therapy didn't work. I performed an examination and administered a vitamin shot. He handed me cash for the exam and injection, then pulled her off the table and marched out the door as I followed repeating my admonitions and hoping something would sink in. 

My receptionist, a good friend of Wanda's, watched and listened to all of this in angry silence. She then reminded me of a farm call that was on my schedule. I noticed her picking up the phone as I walked out to my truck and headed away hoping for a pleasant distraction from the day's events. A couple of days later, I walked into the office after a morning of farm calls to find Mr. Smith waiting for me. He said "Doc, that damn dog is gone. Looks like she got off the chain. I thought somebody might bring her here and you could call me if she shows up. You seen her?" I responded that we had not seen her and if she showed up at the clinic, we'd give him a call. Satisfied, Mr. Smith departed. As I turned to walk back to my office, I couldn't help but notice a little smile on my receptionist's face. I thought that an odd reaction to the situation, but dismissed it and went on with my work. 

Memory of the Aussie slipped to the back of my mind as I tended to my daily duties. Some days passed and I got a call from Ned. His horse was lame and he wanted me to hurry out there and check him over. Ned depended on that horse for his livelihood and the big sorrel was one of the four most important things in his life. The other three being his dog, his pickup truck and his kids. Ned and Wanda lived over in the next county, so it was a fairly long drive out there. On the way, I recalled the events surrounding his Aussie and wondered that he had sounded positive and upbeat when we discussed his horse. He hadn't mentioned the dog at all. 

I drove onto the ranch and along the dirt drive to the mobile home where Ned and Wanda lived. Ned was standing in the front yard with the horse on a halter and lead line. He shook my hand with a firm grip and a big smile. Ned was lean and tough, standing a few inches shorter than me. He was always dark tanned and a little weathered from a constant life outdoors. His dark felt cowboy hat sat back a little on his head revealing a mop of black hair and his dark eyes were wide and cheerful. I looked the horse over and found nothing obvious. Then asked Ned to walk the horse around the yard. Still nothing obvious, so I asked him to trot the horse along the drive where a harder surface might exacerbate a lameness and I could determine which limb was affected. 

When the horse trotted, I detected the slightest hint of an off gait limb. So mild that most folks would not have noticed their mount having an issue, but Ned was astute and spent half of his life in a saddle on horseback. So he readily noticed any issues with alignment and balance. I examined the limb, worked my way down to the foot which bore a new horseshoe. Ned told me the farrier had been out a couple days ago and sure enough a series of gentle squeezes around the hoof soon located the quicked nail. I clipped off the cinched end of the nail where it exited the hoof wall and then removed it. Ned trotted the horse again and he was sound. It seemed a little odd to me that Ned hadn't performed a check of the hoof and pulled the nail himself. He was certainly a seasoned horseman and could have easily pinpointed the issue.

I said "problem solved" as I packed my tools. Walking to my truck, I noticed a dog moving along the fence around Ned's backyard and closely watching my every move. The dog appeared to be an Australian Shepherd. I turned to Ned and asked, "You got a new dog?". He looked at me for a moment with a blank stare as I nodded toward the fence, then he turned to the dog and said, "Ah, yes, you bet, yes I do. Why come on over here and see her."  As I approached, she sat close to the fence and wiggled about in anticipation of a pat on the head. She was a red merle and very friendly, almost as if she knew me. I began to scratch her ears and comment how pretty she was. Ned stood by nodding and smiling like a proud parent and said, "I plan to breed her and raise some puppies." 

Then the Aussie opened her eyes and looked up at me. One eye was blue and one was a watch eye! I paused for a moment, then stroked her hair coat. As I looked closer, it appeared her red merle color faded to blue beneath the surface of her coat. I turned to Ned and said, "Look at this, why she's got a lot of blue down in her hair coat." Ned stepped closer and running his hands through her hair said, "Damn, it's that rain yesterday." Then he turned toward the house and in a loud voice yelled, "Wanda, get th' washtub and bring th' Miss Clarol, it rained and this dog's fadin' again!"  

I smiled and wondered if this created a dilemma for me, but I had told Mr. Smith I'd let him know if I saw her in my clinic. This certainly wasn't my clinic! Then I thought for a minute and turned to Ned and said, "You know if you breed this dog, all her pups will be blue and that'll raise suspicion about her true color." Ned, paused for a moment, then with a worried look on his face replied, "Why Doc, now you know 'bout them genes, yep that's right, it's them genes, why you never know how they might mix up and you'll get all blue pups. Now ain't that right Doc?" Then I replied, "Maybe, but of course if you used a red merle male, why you'd be sure to get some red pups, then nobody would every know any better." Ned's eyes grew wide over a broad smile and he said, "Why Doc, why you're a genius! Ah, oh, say Doc, you know anybody thats got a red male?" 

Turning to walk away I replied, "No, not right off hand. But you know that Mr. Smith who lives near my clinic. I think he's got one of these dogs. I bet he knows somebody who's got a red male. Now Ned, I'll ask him to give you a call." I hopped into my truck and looked back to see a startled Ned staring at me with a forefinger raised in the air in a gesture of surprise and horror at my suggestion. Then I said, "gotcha", and his open mouth turned into a broad smile. Ned said, "You had me goin' there Doc, yep you sure did." I returned his smile and waved goodbye turning the truck back down the long drive to my next farm call and another story .  .  . 

Copyright Tim and Karen Leard ©2012-2013 
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