March 25, 2007

Sammy the Pyscho Dog

For sixteen years our dog Nikki was a family fixture. She died a year and a half ago or so. I was getting pretty lonely for some canine companionship and so after an appropriate period of mourning on our part - and of some being convinced on Kathie's part - I headed off to the local animal shelter to find me a real cow dog. I had been keeping my eyes open for a blue or a red healer - a working dog that can sometimes actually replace a cowboy or two when working cattle. They are quick and smart and herders by instinct. They can go for as long as a horse and are, for the most part good natured towards humans. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that it sure would be nice to have a dog to help out during the fall round-up at least to help hold in the steers that might try to squirt out and break. Not asking all that much – I didn’t think.

So, here I am perusing the canine captives at the doggy jail run by the Humane Society. What they were passing off as healers – may have had a trace somewhere back in their muttigree and murky gene pool, but they just didn’t have the profile of what I needed. A real cow dog had to look like one. Maybe some of you have seen the cover of Wally McRae’s book of cowboy poetry Cowboy Curmudgeon (Now remember, this is the guy that wrote that most famous of all cowboy poems Reincarnation). If not, I have attached a scan – for private non-commercial use of course. By the way, Reincarnation is not in this book. What is noteworthy is the artwork on the cover. There you have it, Wally in all his cowboy glory, kneeling in the sagebrush, horse ground-tied in the background, holding his cup of morning cowboy brew of boiled unground coffee beans. Gazing admiringly upward is his faithful (but unnamed) cow dog. That was the dog for me and to my great delight the canine concentration camp had one that sure looked like the one in the picture.

I took her for a test walk and it seemed to go OK. This dog, a female about three years old had been given up by her previous owners because they were too ill to take care of her anymore. They told me she was an Australian Sheep Dog but wouldn’t sign an affidavit. After paying $75.00 I adopted my new cow dog and took her home. She seemed alright until the kennel cough set in big time. We got her through that with another $75.00 in antibiotics. And then began to notice that this dog had undergone some serious abuse. She had scarring on her right rear leg that had gone unnoticed and she has signs of having taken some severe kicks to her right rear knee. It was clear that the sickness of her previous owners had been emotional and mental as much as anything else. This dog had issues. She hated young men except me of course – her rescuer, but adored women. So I take her out to meet the horses.

Our horses don’t take a lot of nonsense from dogs. Rory the 1400 lb. 16 hand (1 hand = 4” measured from the ground to the top of the withers - 16 hands is on the tall side) paint has been known to purposefully charge, kick and step on them. Target, the regular sized blue-eyed bay paint-that-ain’t is very territorial. He was cut late (meaning he was gelded/castrated when he was a little older) and I broke him as a stallion – hoping that he would retain a little spirit as a gelding. That part worked. He is a little on the aggressive side to other animals and enjoys taunting, chasing and nipping at dogs. These traits make him a very good cow horse – by the way. Towards me – we are the best of friends and he gets a little jealous at times. Like when I showed up with our brand new cow dog.

We renamed her Sammy – probably because it was more feminine and we hated her old name Chinch. Off they charge. Sammy has a reality check, hunkers back and hits the electric fence. She shoots off like a rocket through the alfalfa stubble and last years tumbleweeds - two fields down the road. Never knew she could move that fast, especially with her knee being a little out-of-plumb.

I finally got her back to the house for a day or two. We went on back to the horses and I figured I had some reverse sacking-out to do. (Sacking-out is when you desensitize a horse to various things – like saddle blankets – you name it) In this case I needed to sack out Sammy to the horses. So I snub her up close to my leg and hold her. The horses come over for a sniff and some equine lipping. Sammy trembles like she is going to have a heart attack. I just hold her and let the horses loose interest and get used to her. I only had to ask Target to let go of her leg twice. By now, Target and Rory are resigned to the fact that there is a new dog around the place. No problem for them. But poor Sammy isn’t so easily convinced. And I am left thinking that if my cow dog can’t handle being around horses, what will she do around cattle? I am afraid that it might be to just run off and find a shady place to hang out and hide until the work is done. I am hoping that her herding instinct takes over. She should have it in her someplace to be a working dog. If we can get that far, it would give her a real leg up (no pun intended) on some of the mental health issues she inherited from her previous owners.

Until then, she gets referred to around our place as Sammy the Psycho Dog. And it makes me wonder a little about the book cover illustration. If a man can’t trust something like that on good authority - then where is the world headed? But more importantly, it makes you wonder what was in that old coffee cup Wally was nursing – not sure I want to know at this point.

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