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Posts tagged “Australian Cattle Dogs

Grown Up

So, Chase.

Most adorable puppy ever. Yeah, I know I said that about Gus. I wasn’t lying. Gus was the most adorable puppy too. But Gus was my first terrier and my first small dog. (Really small, by my standards) I was a little shell-shocked. And yes, Gus was outrageously cute and funny. But Chase is “my breed,” which meant I was on familiar ground with him, even if every puppy is a bit different. I have to admit, Chase is my first Australian Cattle Dog that wasn’t drop-dead serious straight out of the womb. Even as a puppy Chase had a sense of humor and was unusually sweet and interested in normal puppy things. I’m so used to Cattle Dogs that are an anomaly. (It’s true, they’re not like raising other dogs.) So Chase was a breath of fresh air. Especially at this stage of my life when I didn’t really have a ‘plan’ for a dog that typically needs a day job, and often then some.

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That’s not to say Chase wasn’t ever naughty or a challenge. He was. But it just didn’t seem like those moments were such a big deal. When he was a pup he was overly interested in Nina’s poop and he went through the typical phase of eating dirt, grass and pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down outside. He also struggled with bladder issues well into his second year. Not housebreaking; he was housebroken. However, too often he failed to signal that he needed to go out. It got to the point where I nearly made arrangements to have our vet do a deep dive to look for a true medical reason for the constant, almost daily accidents. (We knew it wasn’t a bladder infection) It’s mostly better now, but I’m still not 100% certain there isn’t something organically wrong. (Small bladder? Small brain? Who knows?)

When Chase was just a little over a year old we started to feel a pea-sized “bump” under the skin on his right side. Truth be told, we kind of ignored it for a bit. Nina was getting pretty old by that point and my focus was mostly on making sure the senior dog was doing OK. But I mentioned the bump at his next yearly vet appointment only to learn that the bump was “maybe” a little more of a big deal than we thought. A simple needle biopsy was done and the results that came back looked “suspicious,” so we were advised to make an appointment to have the bump removed ASAP. Chase had surgery a week later. I dreaded the home management with two other slightly neurotic dogs underfoot (Oh look, a wounded comrade! Let’s take him out!), and a youngster who needed to wear a collar for at least two weeks. I need not have worried. Chase (and the other dogs) did fine.

A slightly intoxicated patient just home from surgery.

Still a happy camper!

Unfortunately, the surgical biopsy came back positive for mass stem cells. Cancer. But they got clean margins when they did the surgery and they didn’t seem too overly worried except that Chase was pretty young to be having this kind of thing crop up. Mostly, we just need to keep an eye out for bumps or anything out of the ordinary. Oh goody! More body touching with a dog who typically doesn’t relish being touched anyplace other than his head and neck! I’ve learned to be very stealthy about routinely feeling up my dog. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this whole experience freaked me out a little. It did. I mean, I know nothing lives forever, but I didn’t see this coming at all. I try not to dwell on it. Chase has been a very healthy dog in every other way, so why spend all our time together worrying about what might happen down the line?

I do know Chase might be my last Cattle Dog. Probably not my last dog, but Cattle Dogs are not always the easiest dogs to live with,and the older I get, the more I have to think about what kind of energy I have to offer this breed. I’ve been very fortunate with Chase and he’s been one of my easiest Cattle Dogs to raise. He adapts well to whatever level of energy you offer and he’s game for just about anything. Chase has a lovely disposition and is super easy to manage with his want to please attitude. Truly, I feel like I won the jackpot with him and I’m not so sure I want to press my luck and try another. I’ve done “difficult,” I’ve done blind and I’ve done super high energy. It’s nice to have “normal” for a change. Well, as normal as any Cattle Dog can get. ūüėČ

Mr. Perfect


Long Overdue

Chase

So, it’s been a long time.

Much has happened on the home/animal front since I last visited my blog. Chase (above) has left puppy-hood far behind and has grown into a respectable, fun adult, Gus is as grumpy and pushy as ever and sadly, sweet Nina has left us. Oh, and a horse (Arlo) has come and gone too. *Sigh* Like I said, a lot has happened in my absence.

Covid has, for the most part, been a non-issue at my household and with my extended family, including my 92 year-old mother-in-law. Ridiculous restrictions aside, not much is different in my day-to-day life. That’s not to say I haven’t known people who’ve had it or died from it, but as a healthy, middle aged person I have relatively few concerns for my own “safety.” Besides, I may have had it at the start of last winter anyway, well before there were any tests for it or even major concerns about a pandemic. I survived.

Nina will have been gone two years this coming April. Sometimes that seems like forever ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday. I don’t often run across pictures of Nina. She didn’t like the camera so I don’t have a backlog of photos of her like I had with Hazer. Still, any time I happen across a picture of her it makes me sad. I miss her. Losing her was less of a gut-punch than losing Hazer because it wasn’t sudden, but any loss is always too soon. I miss her simplicity, her unpretentious way of just being there and asking nothing in return. She was a very easy dog to love.

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The other big change was deciding to let Arlo go. When Covid came I was still boarding him. Why, I’m not sure, since it had been my goal all along to bring him home to live here on our farm with my other horses. But I dragged my feet and one year turned into two, probably because I enjoyed having company to ride with and if I brought him home it meant I’d be back to riding alone. But when Covid hit and things began shutting down I saw the writing on the wall. I don’t have the disposable income to board a horse I can’t ride and by late March many barns were planning to close even to horse owners for an indefinite period of time. (That turned into MONTHS, some still not really open by any standard that one might expect) I panicked, and decided to bring Arlo home even though I really didn’t feel ready. He had been gelded late and while he did do turnout pretty well with most geldings (there’s always that one jerk in the group that NOBODY likes), I have two senior geldings and a mare at home that are all turned out together.

Arlo did very well initially. The first few days I saw some some basic, normal, horse-to-horse curiosity, squealing, and the general appearance of peace. Rascal seemed to take very little interest in the newcomer, but for some reason Bully, the low horse in the herd, took it upon himself to try to buddy up with the new horse. Arlo was fairly neutral with everyone, even shared a pile of hay or two with Bully, but then on day five or so the mare went into her first heat of the season and all hell broke loose. It became apparent in a matter of minutes that this arrangement was not only not going to work out, but it was fast becoming dangerous for the two senior boys. Arlo, (who had probably been used for breeding in his former life) became very stud-like with Dharla, who responded by alternating between hussy and hellion. The older boys didn’t seem to understand Arlo’s intense interest in Dharla and their desire to intervene put them at risk of becoming collateral damage.

Ah, how the best of plans can go awry.

Long story short, Arlo went back to the boarding barn and I put the word out that he was for sale. I couldn’t keep boarding a horse who was never going to come home and I wasn’t able to make the changes needed to accommodate his specific issues. I’d spent the better part of two years working to make Arlo into a good citizen and enjoyable ride. He’d made amazing progress in that time and was a delight to own, but some horse behavior is nearly impossible to change, especially when it’s deeply ingrained and hormone driven. I’d given Arlo as much time as I could to acclimate to his gelded state, but breeding rituals can sometimes stick forever. As sad as I was to have to let him go, in the right situation he was an absolute fantastic dream of a horse and my loss was certainly going to be someones gain. I found a local woman who wanted him and they hit it right off and made a great match. Arlo now lives about fifteen miles away and is loved by his owner and all who come to his barn. (He has such a winsome personality!) I miss him a lot and I try to make light of the situation, but it just wasn’t meant to be. To be honest, this was the first time I’d ever witnessed seriously intense stud behavior firsthand and I knew immediately that it was something I was not going to do at this age and stage of my life. Although Arlo was always the perfect gentleman on the ground, rode beautifully with mares and geldings alike and never had any problems being stalled next to a mare, turnout was a whole ‘nuther story. My first loyalty has to be to the horses I’ve had nearly all their lives and if that means admitting when a horse just isn’t going to be a safe fit, so be it. I do hear from Arlo’s owner from time to time, complete with pictures. She wanted me to try to come over to ride him this winter just for the fun of it, but I decided it’s probably not in my best interest to have to say goodbye to him twice. Once was hard enough.

I’ll see if I can bring more things up to speed a little at a time, but this is plenty for now.


Red and Blue

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I feel like I should be starting to act more like myself: Less grief, more¬†¬† …. well, less grief? It’s not that I don’t feel happy. Sometimes I do. Gus will do something that makes me burst out laughing or I’ll smile when one of the horses nickers for green grass. (They’ve been getting SO pushy about grazing!) I’m excited things are starting to blossom outdoors and in spite of the chilly temps, last week I saw my fist humming birds. That always makes me giddy. But the truth of the matter is, I’m still battling daily bouts of the blues.

It’s not like I go around looking for all the ways I can miss my dog. I don’t. But so often I’ll start to do something or I’ll be smack dab in the middle of something when it hits me: Hazer always used to do X, Y, Z every time I did this. When you live with a quirky dog you develop a lot of odd habits. For example, Hazer always used to want to drink out of the narrow opening of my garden watering can. He’d come trotting over every single time I filled it and wait patiently for me to turn the spigot off before tilting his head sideways (that’s the only way his head would fit under the handle) to get a drink. Gus caught on to that game, but Hazer always got first dibs. For a dog who really didn’t like water, Hazer loved drinking out of my watering can. Every. Single. Time.

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Hazer also licked the rugs obsessively. For some reason this activity soothed him, especially in the evening when we would watch TV. His licking kind of drove me nuts, and over the course of a few years he ruined one of my large wool braid rugs by constantly gravitating to the same place. He didn’t limit his licking to the living room either; he also licked the office rug and a small bedroom area rug. I wonder how many times over the course of his lifetime Hazer heard me say, “Hazer! Knock it off!”¬† When I said that he’d always pause. Sometimes the licking would stop just for a moment, other times he’d quit for the night. I was never sure which was the worse of two evils: Hazer licking or Hazer stressed because I’d told him not to lick. Both had the tendency to be annoying.

I’ve posted pictures of Hazer laying on various pieces of furniture, but he wasn’t the kind of dog who wanted to share your space. He never got up on the couch or a chair unless it was unoccupied at the time, and if you decided to sit down next to him he’d quickly vacate his spot. In all the years I had him Hazer rarely got up on the bed with me. As he aged he started to lay on my bed when I wasn’t home, but I only knew this because I’d hear the thud of him jumping off the bed the minute I walked in the door. Mostly, Hazer was known for sleeping in odd positions: upside down, flipped backwards against a wall and my personal favorite, with a pilfered shoe.

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The only time Hazer ever came¬† close to wanting to share my space was when we went somewhere in the car. Hazer would jump in the back of the Subaru and stand with his front feet on the narrow console between the seats. If he was feeling really affectionate he’d even go so far as to rest his chin on my right shoulder. That always made my heart melt and the sweetness of those rare, shared moments in the car almost made up for a lifetime of avoiding any outward sign of affection. Almost. I’d never owned a dog who guarded his affection like it was a resource with an expiration date. To say¬† I struggled to adjust to Hazer’s aloofness is an understatement, and between that and his overpowering sense of seriousness, I learned to cherish this singular display of love.

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Hazer was an unashamed, confirmed counter-surfer. He’d step away from the counter the minute I told him to knock it off, but I couldn’t trust him for a second if there was something edible or interesting anywhere near the edge of the kitchen counter. It seems really odd now, to leave a dinner plate sitting on the counter and know it’s not in any danger of losing half it’s contents the second I’m out of sight. Hazer was also a shameless paper-eater. Drop your napkin (which my hubby did just about every night) and it would get snarfed up and swallowed in a heartbeat. The paper towel and Kleenex always came out the other end, as was often confirmed during¬† reconnaissance missions prior to lawn mowing. Sadly, like the year-round tufts of red undercoat, all tell-tale evidence of this quirky habit have now vanished from our yard.

Every couple of days I reach into my kitchen closet and pull out a couple of toys for Nina and Gus to beat up. Hazer always had HIS special toys that none of the other dogs were allowed to share. Now when I see those toys I’m not really sure what to do. His Cuz. His stuffy. His personal squeaky toy; they still cause me to tear up. I’m not ready to let the other two dogs have them yet. For some strange reason that feels disloyal. What do you do with a dog’s personal effects? Their bed. Their food bowl. Their special blanket. I haven’t figured any of this out yet. I gathered up all Hazer’s beds. Yes, plural, because Hazer had a “thing” about beds. Every time I bought a new bed Hazer quickly claimed it as his own. To solve that problem, every room in the house had multiple beds. That way Nina and Gus could choose from whatever Hazer decided to ignore that day. Don’t laugh, it worked. I learned to pick my battles.

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Hazer taught me more about failure than anything I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I failed at everything I tried to do with him, sometimes over and over again. I remember the early anger and frustration that (eventually) morphed into humor at being out-witted by my dog. All of my previous dogs had been wonderful all-rounders. By that I mean they were multi-use dogs, capable of easing gracefully from one situation to another. They got along well with people and they were more than happy to be around other animals and dogs. But Hazer wanted none of that. While Hazer never met a person he didn’t like, he harbored a life-long dislike of all other canines, including (at times) his own housemates. I can say with some certainty that nothing creates better handling skills than a dog who can’t be trusted not to fight in his own home.

No matter what their breed or temperament, all dogs have their own special talent. I don’t mean they’re great at herding, obedience or agility. I mean they have a unique personality trait that benefits you in some particular way. Some are great comforters who want to cuddle when you’re blue, or some are great listeners who solemnly guard your secrets and dreams. Others are clowns who entertain us and make us laugh, while there are the ones whose presence makes us feel safe and secure. Each and every dog has their own unique and special gift to share with us. Some even have more than one. But sometimes we get so caught up in the rituals of creating good, obedient and talented dogs that we forget to give them enough space to let their skills shine. I made this mistake with Hazer and I regret that it took several years before I relaxed my grip enough to really see his strength. Hazer’s gift, his greatest talent, was simply being with me.

Hazer wanted nothing more than to be by my side. You’d think I’d have known that since ACDs tend to be a quirky mixture of independence and Velcro, but I had a hard time coming to terms with Hazer’s idea of a good time. Hazer wanted to do stuff as long as he could do it HIS way, but mostly he wanted to do stuff to be with me. Unfortunately, I set my sights on making my dog a performance dog, and right from the start I set goals and created a general game plan to move us in that direction. Problem was, Hazer wasn’t particularly interested in performing. Oh, he was more than willing to do just about any task I asked, but he didn’t really love¬† performing for performance sake. I can clearly recall his look of frustration the second or third time I sent him over the A-frame. Been there, done that. Next? He was bored to death, which usually morphed into trying to find a classmate to threaten.

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When I changed tracks and got Hazer into herding he was a much happier camper. There, he could do something he truly enjoyed while working with me. From Hazer’s point of view that was the best of both worlds. Herding improved his responsiveness and intuition on our own farm and I’m fairly convinced it helped us fine-tune our connection. Unfortunately, we came to herding later in life and because of the rough nature of the sport I decided to “retire” Hazer after a couple of years. But the benefits from herding stuck and I wound up with a dog who wanted nothing more than to be the perfect farm dog. After that Hazer was by my side for every trip to the barn, where he’d calmly park himself in the hay and wait until it was time to go in or time to go do something else.

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So it would make sense I guess that I’m feeling the loss of Hazer most as I go about my regular chores and daily routine. I’ll always miss the quirky stuff Hazer did, the oddities that made his personality so unique, but mostly I miss his physical presence. When I’m ready to leave the barn my eye still travels to where he used to lay and wait. And halfway back to the house I automatically turn to see where he is. My body and mind still register him as there, even though he’s not. I don’t know how long it will take for reality to catch up and replace habit, but I’m torn between wanting that to happen and hoping it never will.

A few years ago I started a new ritual. Since¬† Hazer wasn’t particularly inclined to show or return affection I decided I would risk humiliating him and do it anyway. I’d cup his handsome muzzle in my hands, plant a kiss on his head and pronounce my undying love for him. Hazer’s typical reaction to any kind of emotional display was to stare at me with disgust, feign surprise or growl. He was like an adolescent child who despised any outward display of parental affection. Naturally, this made me want to do it all the more. And so I did.¬† Several times a day I’d pause to tell Hazer all the ways I adored him. And after awhile it seemed like he stopped hating the attention and he started to look more smug than annoyed. “Yes, my mom thinks I’m great. She says I’m her favorite red dog. Says I’m the most handsomest dog ever. Says I’m her best bud.” I’d like to think Hazer understood. If not the message, then maybe the sentiment behind the words. Because the truth is, he was all that and so much more.

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Things That Matter

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Having animals should teach you something about growing old. The closer Hazer gets to the edge of his life expectancy the more we’re just trying to have fun and make every minute count. It’s not that he doesn’t annoy me sometimes. He does. Make no mistake about that! But I’m trying to overlook the stuff that old age tends to exaggerate. Like his propensity to want to control things beyond his control, and his tendency to shriek at¬† every little thing. Even imaginary things.

It’s ironic that a dog who in all his long years never wanted affection or attention, now seeks it unashamedly. I used to think that would make parting company easier (when the time comes) and then he goes and has a change of heart toward me these last few months. Does he sense his time is growing short or did he just give up the fight to be a bastard to the bitter end? I’d like to think he had a change of heart, that all the years of trying to break through his tough exterior actually had an effect. Either way, I’m enjoying it. Soaking it up like a sponge. It’s nice to be able to touch your dog without him giving you the stink eye and moving away, or sneak in a snuggle and a kiss …. as long as I don’t linger very long.

Hazer, you’ve always had my heart, albeit from the other side of a glass wall. My only regret is that it took age and infirmity for you to break through the barrier. Here’s to making every last minute count.


Ready or Not

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We’ve spent the better part of the last two days prepping for the looming “historic” snow storm of 2015. We have batteries, candles, propane, gas for the tractor and snow blower and plenty of milk and bread. (?) It started snowing at 9:15 this morning and so far it looks like any other gray, mid-winter January day. That’s to say that at this point our storm of ‘epic proportions’ doesn’t have much bite. The weather channel has been peppering their forecast with words like ‘gravely dangerous’ and ‘life-threatening.’ I’m not exactly sure why, but perhaps we’ll find out as the night progresses? I’d think a better choice of words might be ‘inconvenient’ or ‘bothersome,’ but I suspect those words aren’t sensational enough to drive ratings.

So here we sit, waiting.

It’s cold.

It’s snowy.

It’s winter.

We’re bored.


Big Red

 

My big red handsome boy on a foggy fall morning.