Monday, May 29, 2017

A Dog's Life

The cattle are delivered to the mountains. Now it's hours of beating the road up and down, back and forth, tending them. By winter we’ll be sick of that and ready to have them home again, but for now it feels good to have them out from underfoot and in the high country. 

I still thrill at the green grass in the mountains. Against a crystalline blue sky, it’s the prettiest thing you ever saw.  

My dog Kate was a trooper going up the Trail. She’s showing some age and that makes me sad, but she hung tough and herded with her familiar intensity. And on the last day I still had to call her back from the herd as they settled in for the summer. Having her with me is like having a great big arm that extends way out, first to the right and then to the left, sweeping in a big arc moving cattle. Rocks, fences, creeks, trees - grain fields - she's got them covered. A border collie’s work ethic is a thing of beauty and enviable to anyone with a lick of sense. Anita says I need to break down and start another pup while Kate can still teach her the ropes. If I do, that will make four new dogs on the crew next year. I guess the veterans could use some help.

It seems like an accident that my dog and I do as well as we do. I don’t really train. We just start working cattle together and somehow figure it out. Gary says you just need to spend time with a dog and they’ll start to understand you, all your verbal and non-verbal ways of communication. The best advice Anita gives is to get your dog hooked on you as a first step. Then they’ll stay with you and figure out how to please you. I can ride by myself for long periods and I never feel alone, because I’m not alone.  

They’re so loyal. I remember the day we were coming back from taking cattle to a far-off pasture. The memory has faded and was during the lifetime of my only other dog, Beauty. I must have left my horse with the cattle, because I was riding double with Mark for some reason. Beauty, who was accustomed to staying with my horse, hadn't realized I had switched mounts. As soon as I noticed she wasn’t with us, I called and called and was quite worried that I had lost her. Then she showed up. That tugged at my heart. And I don’t deserve it. It’s not as if my dog sleeps at the foot of our bed. She’s my working companion and I don’t do a lot of fussing over her. But I let her work, and what fun we have - her most favorite thing in the world. 

Martha, Clyde, Kate and Jill, pros all

Seth and Cassie holding herd

lead cows in the distance
Katie tucking them in


  1. What a beautiful tribute to this often unheralded ranch partner. A good dog makes every task easier. Their loyalty, intelligence and work ethic are simply mind boggling! They are a joy to watch and a bigger joy to know.

    1. Mind boggling is such a great description. Thanks!

  2. I’m fascinated by the relationship between ranchers and their dogs, both herding and guarding. I wonder how the bond between a rancher and her/his herding dog differs from that with their horse. And, what’s the appropriate bereavement card to send after the loss of a dog or horse? I keep a supply of pet sympathy cards on hand, but ranchers tell me their dogs/horses aren’t pets, they’re working partners. Wendy….?

    Thanks for this!

  3. I would have to agree on the working part. I know for me, I wouldn't own a dog if it weren't for the cattle. Many, many ranchers would answer differently, though. I think it's interesting that as much as the world has changed over time, horses and dogs are still the best tools to move cattle.

  4. Beautiful! As always, you paint with your words. This one hit my heart as I am one of those who couldn't imagine life without my dog (friend). However, a working dog brings a completely new appreciation and perspective to the relationship. You captured it! Thank you!

  5. I love the image of a dog as the extension of a long sweeping arm!