Category Archives: Border collies

Dogs and Storms

We experienced a tornado watch with lightning, thunder, and almost two inches of rain. While I am always pleased when rain falls on the ranch, Buddy, our senior Border collie, doesn’t see it quite the same way.

Buddy is on the right

You see, Buddy is scared to death of storms. During a storm he will either hide under the bed, crawl behind the toilet in the bathroom, or take cover in my closet. The latter is rather poetic since that’s where he was born almost twelve years ago.

I worry about Buddy’s bladder capacity during these storms but have found him difficult, if not impossible, to dislodge from his safe spot. Last night I stuck my head under the bed and tried to talk him into going outside. Buddy who is normally very well mannered and responds immediately to commands, stared right back at me, as if he had suddenly gone deaf and paralyzed.

I sensed he was telepath-ing me a message that went something like this, “You must be nuts Buster if you think I’m getting out from under this bed in this terrible weather!!!” When I increase my encouragement to the extent of physically trying to remove him, Buddy growls. It is not a menacing growl nor one that worries me. He would never bite me but his lack of enthusiasm for going outside becomes quite clear.

Poor Buddy, thunder visibly shakes him up. His eyes become furtive, he shivers, and he takes immediate cover. With his dog ears, he knows when a storm is approaching far earlier than his seemingly deaf, slow footed human companions. (Our good points consist of feeding him, having cattle to herd, and letting him ride in a pickup.) I know we could get Buddy some doggy Xanax but the storms are pretty rare and, well, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Buddy is getting on in years but his tolerance for storms is not improving with age. Typically after feeding the stock and doing ranch chores in good weather, he retreats behind a screen in the living room where we have his dog bed (actually one of three). There he can look out from beneath the screen, avoid the canine rambunctiousness of Jack and Bella, stay out of the human traffic patterns, and get a good nap. We refer to this corner of the living room as “Buddy’s Office.”

If the weather turns bad, Buddy slinks off to the bathroom, my closet, and at night to under our bed. He actually is able to find safe places which convinces me this dog is really safety conscious.

The storms bother Little jack not one bit. Jack, our “Texas Brown Dog” adopted us three years ago after surviving on the road for over a month. Guess he got used to storms.

Bella, our female Border collie, has some wariness of storms in that this is the only time she becomes  affectionate. Last night during the storm she climbed up on my chest, put her head next to my neck, and laid there. This is most unBella-like behavior! She just doesn’t take well to affection. But last night she proceeded to lick my face with he raspy tongue until she had removed several layers of skin and acted like she had missed me for an eternity.

Am hoping for better weather tonight and a better night’s sleep.

Bella on the left and Jack on the right

2016: A Backward Glance

As we close out 2016, it’s worth spending some time for a backward glance. For Medicine Spirit Ranch and this blog, it’s been a great year. Today is a milestone for Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, as this is our 100th post!! Since the inception of the blog, each year has shown increased readership. I thank you for your interest and your terrific responses. Please keep them coming.

On occasion we’ve  written about important and meaningful topics such as personal aspects of the civil rights struggles. In fact our most read blog piece has been Reflections on Greenville, Texas: The Blackest Land and the Whitest People. More frequently we’ve dealt with  ranch and retirement topics, for example the birth of cattle twins on our ranch, the bottle feeding of the rejected twin, a series of posts about Norman during his calf development and adolescence, and the birth of a freemartin.

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil drinks his own libation

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil enjoys his own libation

We’ve written about stocking our tanks with fish and the discovery that I was unwittingly  chumming for the hunting benefit of a Great Blue Heron! Also pictures of various landscapes and sunsets have appeared from time to time with the hope of sharing our little piece of heaven.

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

We’ve had great friends and our wonderful family spend time this year on the ranch including Betty and Cecil Selness from Minneapolis, La Nelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock, Judy Wilkins from Lubbock, Katrina Jansky and son Chance, from San Marcos, Will and Claire Plunket from Austin, Dave and Amy Riley and their family from Dripping Springs, Roger and Marilyn Johnson from Horse Shoe Bay, Greg and Nancy Hocevar soon to be of Fredericksburg, along with lots of family including grandchildren Ramsey and Graham, and Katie’s fiance, Kevin, and his wonderful family from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts thatread Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands. You didn’t think the room and board was without strings did you?

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It has also been a great year for magnificent Texas sunsets, for breaking the drought with a bumper crop of hay, for the Super Moon rising over our barn in spectacular fashion, for fat cattle, for two lazy horses, for three always ready-to-travel dogs, and too numerous to count white tailed deer and other welcome animals e.g. painted buntings along with unwelcome ones e.g. skunks and porcupines that take considerable exception to our dogs.

A Texas sunset

A Texas sunset

Hay is (mostly) in the Barn

Hay is in the Barn

Also my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales was published this year. What a treat not only to see it in print, but also to experience many gratifying reviews. I’ve had a blast speaking at libraries, book clubs, service clubs especially Rotary and Lion’s Clubs, and private book events. I welcome speaking invitations. My thanks to all of you who have helped me in this never ending crusade to have the book appear, succeed, and obtain visibility.Carrying the Black Bag book

Of one thing, I am certain. We’re blessed to enjoy the love of family and friends, and the ambience of Medicine Spirit Ranch, and the readership of this blog.

The dogs and reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

The dogs and I reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

Bella: My Canine Silky Sullivan

My two Border collies, Buddy and Bella, love to race up the hill to our front yard. Buddy jumps out of the pickup and takes off at full stride while Bella instead lags far behind. Given Buddy is the alpha male, this behavior may spring from her respect for his dominance.

Bella on the left. Jack refuses to get out the pickup, instead demanding to ride up the hill.

Bella on the left. Jack, our so-called “Texas Brown Dog” on the right always refuses to get out the pickup. “Those silly Border collies, jumping out of a perfectly good pickup.”

 

About halfway to the finish line during this quarter mile sprint, in a fashion reminiscent of the thoroughbred racehorse, Silky Sullivan, Bella will lay back her ears, arch her back, hasten her pace, and rocket ahead like a low flying missile. At the last cattle guard that requires Buddy to tiptoe over it, young Bella will launch herself airborne, flying by or over a creeping Buddy. She then lands first at their seemingly agreed upon finish line, our front yard.

Many reading this post, may not recall Silky Sullivan- and for very good reason. He was a large red stallion whose racing feats occurred in the late 1950s. It will take someone from my generation or older to recall him. Silky Sullivan was known to have fallen behind as many as 41 lengths, only to come on like gangbusters and win by three lengths. His running style became synonymous with victory despite incredibly long odds.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Vh8vyCQRV4

Perhaps Silky Sullivan is best known for his appearance at the 1958 Santa Anita Derby where he fell behind over 30 lengths only to overtake the other horses and win the event. He became known as the “California Comet” and likely caused many instances of heartburn among the bettors.

Bella, our female Border collie, implements this unusual running style. She seems unwilling to race head-to-head with Buddy early in their races, but Bella dearly loves overtaking him and flying across the finish line first.

I suppose some people also eschew head-to-head competition but still harbor the never-to-be-denied desire to win. This Silky Sullivan approach to life may not be limited to racehorses and dogs, but  may  include humans as well. Of course this behavior in humans may be more nuanced than it is in animals. Instead of an overt competitive edge, the desire to get ahead may be more subtle. What do you think? Do you know anyone who may demonstrate this “Silky Sullivan” approach to life? Do you ever show this type of behavior? Food for thought.

Buddy- The Slacker: Part III

This final part of Buddy the Slacker concludes when our nine month old Border collie, Buddy, races to our rescue.  Trudy and I can do nothing but stand perplexed as our bull has engaged in a ferocious battle with another bull. I hope you enjoy this concluding episode of this true story and look forward to your comments as to how to improve the piece.

 

Buddy is on the right

Buddy on the right

Appalled, Trudy and I scrambled for safety behind a large live oak tree. Once there we cautiously peered around its trunk and observed the ongoing bull fight. I felt powerless to intervene, having lost all hope of driving our bull homeward.
I felt dejected. These trying circumstances had outstripped my capacity for retrieving our bull and now I worried that our bull would end up gored by the opposing Shorthorn bull. Just on reaching my emotional low point, a flicker of movement caught my eye. I swiveled my head and caught sight of a black and white form flashing by me. Recognition soon set in. Trudy and I gasped. Young Buddy, ignoring shouted entreaties, raced headlong toward the bullfight.
“God, he’s going to be killed,” yelled Trudy, her cry rising above the din of the mêlée. Trudy slumped down next to the tree; fearful to even watch, believing our half grown dog was about to be killed.
The bulls, focusing on their fight, paid little heed to the young, yapping dog. With the bulls locked in a head-to-head clutch, Buddy circled behind our Charolais bull. Relinquishing his attempts to intimidate with his high-pitched barking, Buddy instead gave our bull’s tail a vicious chomp. Startled by the attack and from an unanticipated direction, our white bull momentarily broke off the fight and took a step backward and looked behind him.
Our neophyte herder, sensing his opportunity, then circled around and sped between the then narrowly separated bulls. He charged maniacally at the red Shorthorn bull with his teeth bared. With a bite, as quick as a mongoose, Buddy gashed the red bull’s broad, dark nose. By bloodying him, Buddy had startled him and backed him off. Feigning a direct charge,Buddy then was able to turn him slightly away from where the Charolais stood. To my amazement, our young Border collie then began to arc back and forth behind the Shorthorn and, at the same time, gather the remainder of the cattle herd and drive the whole lot of them out of the creek bed and up a nearby hill.
I whispered to Trudy, ” Can you believe what we’re seeing?”
“Is that vicious dog the same sweet puppy that licks my face in the morning?”
When apparently satisfied by the degree of separation between the two bulls, Buddy looped back down the hill. He then made a kamikaze-like assault on our Charolais, breaking it off at the last instant. This feint forced our bull to retreat several steps. Then after a series of charges, nips, and barks Buddy succeeded in turning the bull away from the Shorthorn and then ran the pale leviathan along the winding creek bottom in the direction of our ranch.
“Come on, let’s trail him,” I urged, pulling Trudy up from her sitting position.
Trudy and I scrambled from our protected site and observed what was going on from a safe distance. We saw Buddy expertly drive the Charolais along the creek bank and into a copse of trees. While lost to sight, the ripping sound of breaking limbs along with Buddy’s urgent barking marked their exact location. Soon the panicked bull emerged from the trees hurried on by our overachieving canine.

Buddy provided constant pressure, hastening the bull always forward in the direction of our ranch. The pair, bull and neophyte herder, soon passed through the broken blow out fence and back into our home pasture.
I yelled to Trudy who trotted alongside the opposite creek bank, “How can a barely forty pound dog, too young to train, manage to break up a bullfight?” She shrugged her shoulders and turned palms heavenward. I wondered where within Buddy’s DNA resided such amazing abilities?

To this day, I stand in awe of the talents of Border collies.
Trudy turned toward me and waded into, and through the shallow creek. She climbed the bank and approached me, her head down. On nearing me she raised her head and flashed me a warm smile. I noticed she now moved with greater fluidity and in a more relaxed manner.
We did not know then, but never again when the bull broke out from our ranch, would we encounter difficulty returning him- thanks to Buddy. On spotting our Border collie, our wayward bull would immediately reverse course and beeline it back home— such was the respect the Charolais had gained for Buddy.
With newfound spring in my step, I headed for my pickup parked under a pecan tree near the water gap. Nearby I spotted Buddy sitting on his haunches, staring in the direction of our grazing bull.
“Just look, that dog’s grinning like a fat man at a smorgasbord,” said Trudy. Buddy bore an unmistakable snout-wrinkling doggie smile. She reached for my hand and gave it a loving, gentle squeeze. We stood hand-in-hand for several minutes, gazing upon our cattle and at the same time, admiring our collie. Soon I would need to make repairs to the blowout fence, but first I wished to savor the success of Buddy’s achievement and enjoy my wife’s change in mood.
With my idle hand I leaned down and stroked Buddy’s soft, furry head. He was panting, his pink tongue bobbing up and down like a yo-yo. His amber eyes still sparkled with excitement. Over several minutes I sensed his adrenaline rush begin to ebb. As I stroked his silky fur, he laid back his ears, turned his head, and fixed on me an expectant gaze.
The bond between man and dog is like no other between man  and animal. The empathy and understanding of a dog is known to slow the anxious human heart. The love of a dog remains steadfast, providing affectionate licks to the hand that may lack food to offer. That day I felt the loving bond between man and dog like never before, and I felt appreciation for a very special animal like never before.
“Now that looks like one happy dog,” said Trudy. She moved closer, and we hugged.
“I’m sorry for being so cross earlier. You know I love you.”
“Forget it, perfectly understandable. You know, this dog of ours might just work out.” Trudy’s face split in an endearing smile and I heard her emit a giggle, as warm as a toasted bun.
Buddy had not only herded massive animals that day, but also my lop-eared canine had herded my wife’s disposition from sour to mellow. I couldn’t decide which feat was the more impressive.

I realized that love, like good wine and I Love Lucy reruns, only improves with the passage of years. I felt the love especially strong that day for both my wife and for my dog.
That memorable day left me with two thoughts that still resonate to present day. The first is that love presents itself in unique ways be it intoxicating lust, the security of mature love, or the incredible and unique bond between man and dog. Love of many kinds empowers the soul and warms the heart. The second consideration is that help may arrive, when least expected. It may even charge in on four paws and have a wet nose.

THE END

Buddy- The Slacker: Part II

In Part I of this story, I discover a destroyed fence at a water gap and immediately suspect our wayward bull. I then mobilize my long suffering wife, Trudy, to help me round up our missing bull. Meanwhile our Border collie puppy remains behind in the back seat of my pickup, sleeping. The story continues:

 

My good friend and neighbor, Tom Norris along with his three young grandchildren, Trudy, Francisco, and I had chased our bull multiple times across a good chunk of our rural county. Tom’s grandchildren, careening about in his four-wheel ranch utility vehicle, had greatly enjoyed the pursuits. Tom’s grandchildren had later pleaded with him, “Grandpa, next time we’re at the ranch can we pleeeease chase the bull again?”
But in this instance “Colonel Tom,” as we were fond of calling him, and his young charges were unavailable and Francisco was off work for the weekend. The task of rounding up our wayward bull fell solely to Trudy and me.

And we had no choice but to take action, as the bull had escaped in the direction of a ranch known for its prize-winning, pure bred Angus. A white calf amid a herd of Black Angus stands out like a beacon, as with great embarrassment I had experienced once before and for which I had felt the need to apologize to my neighbor.
These bull chases had become a fretting issue for Trudy. While all marriages have disagreements, often over money, frequency of sex, or how best to raise children, our marriage had matured to the banal stage where  bull chases represented the principal challenge to our marital bliss. Okay bull, this time it’s gonna be you or me.

 Charolois Bull

Charolois Bull

Earlier I had left Buddy, our nine-month old Border collie, in the pickup with the windows down for ventilation. Before heading down the creek, my parting glimpse of the young dog was of him perched in the back seat with his left ear standing up and his right ear flopped over. Buddy had never been able to elevate his right ear, an immature trait I assumed, but one that imparted to him a comical appearance.

Buddy at a somewhat older age in the bed of the pickup

Buddy at a somewhat older age in the bed of the pickup

Trudy and I continued to trundle along the creek bed. Here we are busting our butts, chasing our bull while our lazy dog snatches a snooze in the pickup. What good is a working dog that just sleeps in the pickup? What a worthless slacker! Maybe I should get rid of him at the same time that I get rid of the bull?
Trudy and I rock-hopped our way down the shaded creek bottom where slivers of sunlight created silvery streaks in the rolling creek water. We ducked beneath bowing branches of live oaks, dodged flickering cottonwoods, and pushed through pungent juniper whose needles clawed at our skin. Trudy’s arms were scraped and her hair became disheveled with twigs attaching to her curly russet locks. The burbling creek and rustling leaves of the cottonwoods hinted at challenges that still lay ahead.
A quarter of a mile into the adjacent ranch, in an area overgrown with clinging brush and waist high native grass, we discovered the neighbor’s herd of cattle. We also discovered the location of our bull, Cool Spirit. Our peripatetic bull stood tall in the middle of a scraggly herd of mixed breed cattle, languidly licking an old, skinny cow whose bones bulged from her hide like a hastily built stork’s nest.

The old saw came to mind about how after midnight the women in the bar must get better looking, and I wondered if such a sentiment might also be true for horny bulls.
Of all the forms of love, lust seems the easiest to truly understand as lust simply trumps all logic.

Hillary Clinton once described her husband, Bill- America’s best-known philanderer, as too often thinking solely with his little head. And this was by all accounts a very intelligent man. This is not to imply the sexual urge is not a strong one. In the case of our bull, he had charged through seven-stranded barbed wire fences, accepting untold cuts to be with an apparently intoxicating, pheromone-secreting cow. Bill Clinton had also paid his public penance as a result of his irresistible dalliances.
Just then something jarred my thoughts back to reality.
“You see that big bull over there?” Trudy said, a note of urgency in her voice.
“Good Lord,” I yelled on spotting it. Apprehension shot through me like an electric current. By then the red bull with its head lowered was advancing in the direction of our Charolais. Our bull had already spotted him, and had shifted his attention from the homely target of his desire to the menacing shorthorn bull. In turn our bull lowered his white, curly topped head. The two bulls glared and snorted at each other from a distance of under thirty yards. Each weighed well over a ton apiece. My worry rocketed still higher. Oh my god, we sure ‘nuf don’t need a bullfight.
Unfortunately our approach acted like a Toreador’s red cape. Just as Trudy and I edged closer, both bulls suddenly became determined to establish their dominion over the herd. They began pawing at the ground with their huge cloven hooves, throwing sprays of brown dirt under massive, bulging bellies.
Their aggressive displays, fearful as they were to us, dissuaded neither in the slightest. Their shows soon gave way to all out combat.

The bulls, like two hot rods playing chicken ran straight toward each other but then failed to dodge. They crashed head on into each other. With their muscles rippling, the huge animals strained to drive the other into a compromised position. They continually emitted loud and fearsome sounds like preternatural beasts from Hades. Their fight by then had kicked up a thin brown cloud of dust that carried with it their rank aromas.
Their heated battle raged back and forth from bank to bank across the shallow creek bed. The bulls’ massive blows caused the very ground under my feet to shudder. Their combined bodies weighing close to 5000 pounds knocked over small trees, as if they were mere broomsticks. They clattered through the rocky creek bottoms. It was a frightening spectacle to observe.

TO BE CONTINUED

Buddy- The Slacker: Part I

Today I begin a three part series about Buddy, my male Border collie. I have written about him before. My story this time follows the story about Bella who acted as my reminder and is again in the vein of how our pets benefit our lives.  I think the story meanders a bit and would work better as a book chapter than as a blog post. The length alone requires it be presented serially. I would love your thoughts on this piece and how you’ve learned or benefited from your pets. I hope you enjoy my story about Buddy. Was he really a slacker?

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Wire mesh panels dangled askew from a heavy steel cable. I immediately understood what had destroyed the water gap, as our bull had previously proved an excellent breakout artist and a frequent explorer of Live Oak Valley. I reluctantly grabbed for my cell phone and dialed my wife at our ranch house.
“Guess what, honey? Bull is… missing again.” I heard my voice crack, as I forced these words out, words that I knew would be unwelcome.
“Oh shit, not again?” she shouted irritably into the receiver.
I flinched under the assault. Then I heard a long exhalation followed by a pause before she said, “Be there in a few minutes.” I heard her phone click off.
Within fifteen minutes Trudy and I were again hiking the rocky creek bottom at our Fredericksburg, Texas ranch. It smelled of decaying vegetation, heady juniper, and a hint of desperation. The glare in her eye told me she was displeased at being mobilized for yet another bull chase. Trudy hesitated at the damaged blowout fence, shook her head, and pivoted toward me, her eyes flashing.
“Can’t believe the damned bull’s out again.” Her arms crossed, her lips tight. “What’s Francisco call him?” She knew full well what our ranch hand called him, but by reminding me, she’d already made her point.
“Hamburguesa,” I breathed the words in a barely audible voice, careful to avoid her gaze.
“Ah yes, hamburguesa,” she boomed. “And why, pray tell, did he call him that?”
I gave a mental shrug. Since I desperately needed her assistance and was feeling trapped, I answered civilly. “Well, Francisco grumped that next time he met our bull, he wanted him between two buns at McDonald’s.”
Trudy’s hand shot up like that of a great orator and jabbed the air emphatically as she had probably done many times in court, “Yeah, sounds good to me too and make mine a double bull burger and hold the cheese! I’m watching my calories, you know.” With this she gave an exaggerated wiggle of her hips and sucked in her stomach.

Trudy with Hay bale

Trudy with Hay bale

I bent low beneath the creek-spanning steel cable and marched resolutely into the adjacent ranch. I had a bad feeling about the venture that lay ahead.
Trudy and I trudged along the creek bank, as I furtively glanced about in search of water moccasins. I felt inwardly embarrassed by my compulsive searching for the dreaded serpents but felt unable to resist my urgings.
Growing up in Texas, I’d heard stories about poisonous snakes. As standard a fare at Boy Scout campfires as s’mores was how nests of wriggling water moccasins could boil up unexpectedly from the depths of a creek and pull a hapless person down to an agonizing death. While no real proof existed for this often-repeated tale, those of us in our Boy Scout troop remained convinced such horrible things must have truly happened.
Trudy’s pace hesitated, distracting me from my cogitations. She turned toward me. “Why is it, COW-BOY, she said with particular emphasis, “after countless breakouts, you haven’t already sold that roaming ruminant and bought a bull with instincts more akin to a homesick prairie dog?”
Ouch, I know a practiced soliloquy when I hear one. She must be seething.
To be sure I felt Trudy’s frustration as fully as she did. In the past we had scoured the hills and valleys of neighboring ranches, searching for our missing bull. We’d navigated treacherous arroyos, clomped through nearly impenetrable stands of juniper, and skittered down rocky embankments on our pained backsides. All of left us sore, scraped, frustrated, and with Trudy barely speaking.
I had also not missed her emphasis on “COW-BOY” with the unmistakable sharpness in her tone. While stinging, I was at least relieved my lawyer/wife had used it, rather than one of her more scatological, so-called “legal terms of art.”
“Well Trudy, he was expensive, out of a champion line. And he throws great calves.” This is your final foray, big guy. Once I lay hands on you it’s the one-way trip to the auction barn for you.
Trudy opened her mouth likely to harangue me further but before she could speak, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she splashed down into the shallow creek. I heard her emit a grunt and saw her face develop a scowl worthy of Ivan the Terrible on a bad day.
I couldn’t help but smirk at her watery dilemma.
“Yikes, this water’s arctic!“
“You okay?”
She scrambled out of the chilly, spring-fed creek.
This isn’t going to be fun. Needing Trudy’s help, she needed mollifying. “Well, we may sell the big guy. His escapes are happening more frequently and he’s learned how to evade us.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Bella my Reminder

For those of you who have read my musings, it will come as no surprise that I enjoy three wonderful dogs. Our relationship is truly symbiotic and benefits me at least as much as I benefit them. Just two days ago, I saw further evidence of this.

My morning ranch chores are predictable. I begin with a stop in the pickup at the stock tank where I feed the ducks and fish. From there it’s off to care for and feed the horses, feed the cattle, and then  two additional stops at the new ranch, Hidden Falls, where I am growing catfish and bluegill in two different bodies of water. Following this predictable pattern, my tasks on the ranch vary.

I must have been distracted the other morning as I rattled down the hill in the old gray goat (a 1999 Dodge ranch pickup) as I missed turning on the trail leading to my first feeding stop. Bella, our Border collie, became perplexed and immediately sprang into action. As an aside, Border collies are incredible at picking up patterns and re-enforcing them.

IMG_0801In any event Bella suddenly left her front right seat of the pickup where she chooses to ride shotgun and hopped over to where I drove. She stuck her cold nose in my ear and feverishly began to nuzzle me. This rousted me out of my daydreaming. I realized what had happened and halted the pickup, backed up, and took the trail leading down to the stock tank to my first stop of the morning.

As soon as I had begun backing the pickup up, Bella settled back into her usual place, contented her human was finally acting in a predictable way.

Just as dogs fill the crevices of our emotional lives with trust and love, so too do they assist us in other even more tangible ways. Bella again reminded me of the many ways she and the other members of our pack keep me on the straight and narrow and fulfill their expectations.

Early Praise for Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales

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Wow, I’m really pleased by this early endorsement of my book due out in November. The following  review recently appeared on Goodreads:

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales by Thomas Hutton, M.D. tells the human side of medicine. Hutton’s warm storytelling will draw you into his book as you learn about what it’s like to become a doctor to practicing medicine. There are some truly heartwarming stories and some truly funny stories too. Last night I read the chapter about Hutton’s Dalmatian, Dice. Dice is not the brightest nor best-behaved dog on the planet, according to the author, as Dice managed to get tossed out of obedience school (a first I think) for his bad behavior. Dice and Dr. Hutton took a road trip, which Hutton carefully documents in his book. The chapter about the road trip is worth reading and will have you laughing. At least I was quietly laughing, as I did not want to wake up my husband who was sleeping next to me. (I love to read books in bed every night before heading off to dreamland.) Dice managed to save the day during their road trip, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how.

Hutton has other delightful tales such as the veteran who had a go-round with arsenic; there’s his tale of a Parkinson patient who played Pinochle every afternoon with his canine buddies (a hallucination probably caused by medication, according to Hutton’s book); or how love is lifelong under the most trying circumstances. You will also read about a mild mannered engineer who turns into a true Mr. Nasty thanks to a medical disorder.

Overall, this is a heartwarming book that illustrates the human side of medicine.

If I could give this book 10+ stars I would.

Highly recommend.

Review written after downloading a galley from Edelweiss.

BlackBagCover

Man and Dog- A Special Relationship

When primitive man walked onto the pages of history, a dog no doubt trotted amiably by his side. And while the strength of this ancient bond has not diminished, the nature of the relationship between man and dog has evolved from those early days.
After wolf/dog allied with man, together they secured meat, provided mutual protection from predators, and shared body warmth during cold Stone Age nights. Man has since voyaged from caves to the moon, but this special bond, like no other between man and animal, remains.
While dogs may still fetch newspapers, retrieve downed birds, and guard against intruders, a visit to a neighborhood park nowadays reveals the main role of dogs is companionship.
Jon Katz in his book, The New Work of Dogs (Random House) depicts dogs as filling expanding roles in peoples’ lives, loves, and families.
Our lives have become increasingly private and relatively more connected digitally than by face-to-face contact. A headphone wearing skateboarder, on-line shopper, or P.D.A punching subway commuter could compete as icons of our modern age.
Diminishing direct contacts have created newer and unexpected roles for pets. Irrepressibly affectionate and endearing, our pooches provide emotional props for our lives. Our pampering, caressing, and crying over departed pets demonstrate our need both to nurture and be nurtured. Our behavior exposes, if we dare to admit it, a reciprocal dependence on our canine companions.
Many of us work from home offices foregoing daily commutes to busy workplaces. We sit at our computers, delivering services (while scratching our Canis familiaris under the desk), rather than heading off to tailor suits or hawk vacuum cleaners.
In recent years, family sizes have shrunk with less opportunity for sibling interaction. Dogs now, more than ever, serve as playmate, best friend, and protector. The Darling family, as depicted in “Peter Pan,” illustrated this point with Nana, their English Sheep dog guarding the children and serving as playmate.
Martha, a friend of mine, tells a childhood memory of having regularly been sent outdoors by her parents to play and undoubtedly to provide a rest for her parents’ ears. Lobo, her German shepherd, was always sent along with Martha who was still a toddler.
Martha and Lobo would chase and play ball in the unfenced yard that lay adjacent to a busy thoroughfare. When Martha would totter close to the street, Lobo would scamper after her, sinking his teeth into her diaper and hauling Martha back to safety into the yard.
Lobo, like the fictional Nana in Peter Pan, served as both playmate and trusted baby sitter.
The nature of friendships in modern society has evolved or devolved depending on your point of view. Some cultures today and many earlier ones held lifelong friendships as nearly sacrosanct. With modern mobility and inevitable relocations, such filial attachments have diminished. Often before indelible bonding can occur, a friend up and moves away. Such abrogation of nascent chum-ships prevents lifelong friendships from years of shared experiences from ever forming. Nevertheless, our societal mobility affects our canines not in the least, as they accompany us willingly, as we move about from place to place.
Changing personal traits may have also diminished the quality of our human contacts. Don Chance, a Louisiana State University finance professor, blames an increasing sense of entitlement among his college students on the late Fred Rogers. In an article written by Jeff Zaslow in the July 5, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Professor Chance describes what can be called the “Mr. Rogers effect”.
The late Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh Presbyterian minister, for years hosted a popular children’s TV program-“Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” He possessed a gentle and affirming nature and aimed to make young viewers comfortable with their circumstances and improve their self-esteem. Toward this end, he affirmed them, by saying that he liked them, just the way they were.
Unfortunately, many parents, teachers, and much of intelligent humanity saw a yawning need for improvement in the decorum of many of these pint-sized reprobates. Along with improved self-image according to Zaslow, Fred Rogers contributed to leading generations of youth toward a finely tuned narcissism.
“If I am just fine the way I am, why should I improve or interact better with others? Why worry about the needs of others, as the kindly Mister Rogers likes me just the way I am?”
Obviously Fred Rogers cannot be solely blamed for excessive doting on our offspring. He undoubtedly meant well, instilling self-confidence in his youthful viewers. However, Mr. Rogers epitomizes a phenomenon among some young adults today of increasingly impolite and solipsistic behavior.
Despite our insular ways and self-centered behavior, many of us remain emotionally starved. Along with our 36-ounce drinks, we seek and need over-sized dollops of affection. If we fail to receive succor from large families or long-term friendships, then we look elsewhere, but where in modern life might we find it?
For the family pet, an opportunity has developed; one for which Fido has proves far more skillful than in retrieving the newspaper. But how can dogs communicate their support?
I know my dogs, Bandit and Mollie, patiently listen to my shtick. They have no difficulty making their wants known. For many lonely people, dogs represent their best, and sadly, only willing listener.
What about you and

Man's Best Friends

Man’s Best Friends

your dog? Let me hear from you.

Buddy

I love Border collies. This statement will never be called into question by those who know me. Not only do they make great pets, they have proved valuable in herding our cattle at Medicine Spirit Ranch. Especially impressive have been feats of herding involving our well-traveled bulls to neighboring, overgrown ranches. Without Border collies, the bulls might still be AWOL.
The story that follows is about Buddy. Please give me your feedback as I plan to submit this piece either to a contest or possible publication. It needs to be as good as it can be.
In its initial form the story had a middle portion showing Buddy’s incredible herding abilities. In this shortened story, I skipped the middle portion in the present version in the belief it took away some of the punch. I look forward to your comments.

 

Buddy

Impatiently, he waited for me to stop the pickup, piercing the night with excited, high-pitched yips. His succession of barks resounded up and down the hill through sheening groves of moonlit juniper.
Once the pickup had nearly stopped, I watched in the side-view mirror as my border collie burst from the bed of the pickup like a cannon shot. I pressed hard on the accelerator, attempting to outdistance Buddy to the garage a quarter of a mile ahead- a tiny victory, long sought after in this our nightly contest, but one not yet realized.
In the darkness, I could only make out the white “shepherd’s lantern” at the tip of Buddy’s tail. It appeared and quickly disappeared, as he sprinted through low brush, behind trees, and into gathering shadows.
I silently lauded his long strides as they gobbled up the gray ribbon of our ranch road. His youthfulness and agility made me a little envious as they contrasted with my increasing years and diminishing physical abilities. Age may have certain advantages but flexibility and speed are not among them.
The road bent away from the house in a semicircular direction while Buddy took a shortcut across a field of native grass. Before our paths diverged, I caught a glimpse in the headlights of the determined black and white collie, with ears back, charging confidently ahead. During this final sinuous stretch of ranch road, Buddy would typically overtake me, given his ability to out corner my hoary Dodge pickup. I galumphed over a rusty pipe cattle guard and plunged down the driveway toward the waiting garage and faux finish line.
Minutes later after parking the old truck, I looked for my competitive canine. I was surprised not to find Buddy waiting on the driveway with his usual smug look pasted across his muzzle. I waited a minute…. and then another, but he failed to arrive. I walked out onto the front lawn. The smell of newly mown grass and honeysuckle wafted over me. I breathed deeply, enjoying the scent. More minutes ticked by. My surprise became worry, giving way to eventual alarm.
I jogged awkwardly across the yard, searching the gloom of night for his familiar silhouette. What I spotted took several long moments to register. Slowly, like a photograph developing in a darkroom bath, it became clear, frighteningly clear to me. When it did, it filled me with an inky dread.
My normally agile Buddy moved oddly. I hurried closer to gain a better look. I was shocked by what I saw. My heart sank because Buddy with great effort was hauling himself along with his powerful forelimbs, his back legs lifelessly trailing behind. The significance crashed over me like a cataract over a broken dam. Oh my god, he’s paralyzed!
Within minutes I placed an urgent phone call to our veterinarian. Thankfully he responded immediately and said he was still working in his office and immediately to bring Buddy in. My wife, Trudy, and I gently lifted Buddy into the car and rushed back down the ranch road and across town. Red lights exasperated our progress, as did the sated, unhurried diners departing restaurants on Main Street. I felt additional tension welling up within me. On arrival at the one story, white stone veterinary clinic on the east side of town, I gathered Buddy in my arms and carried him through the double glass door Trudy held open. Within moments of Trudy ringing the bell on the counter, Dr. O’Neill appeared behind the main desk and proceeded to lead us down a darkened hallway to the first examination room. The clinic had a faint odor of wet dog mixed with an astringent smell.
Our vet flipped on the overhead light and asked me to place Buddy on the exam table. Following a quick examination of Buddy’s back, checking for movement in the limbs, and determining if Buddy felt a pinch to his hind foot, Dr. O’Neill gave an audible exhalation and said, “Mmm.”
“What do you think?” I asked.
“Well, Buddy needs an MRI–scan and may even need back surgery.” The weight of those words, while sympathetically uttered by the kindly, square-faced veterinarian, struck home like a hammer.
“Oh no!” Trudy cried out, her words echoing through the vacant halls of the clinic building.
The meaning of his words was all too clear, but I was flummoxed as to how Buddy had injured himself and what might be done to reverse it. “But, but what happened?” I asked while stroking Buddy, who lay quietly on the stainless steel examination table. His trusting, liquid eyes repeatedly searched our faces for an explanation for all this fuss.
“Sometimes these athletic dogs can explode a disc from their spinal column, causing weakness of the hind limbs,” Dr. O’Neill replied. He tenderly ran his hand over Buddy’s furry black and white head and gave his ears a fleeting scratch. “I’ll call ahead to an all night veterinary surgical center in San Antonio, let ‘em know you’re on your way and ask them to kick-start their MRI. Awfully sorry about Buddy, really am, he’s a fine dog. Sure hope they can help him.” His voice trailed off, containing traces of both hope and lament.
Shortly after and at high speeds, we hurtled southeastward through the deep Texas night on a winding U.S Highway 87. Overhead I viewed the blurriness of the Milky Way and Orion. Silvery moonlight fell between tree limbs and lay on the ground in shattered pieces. I switched the headlights to high beam to probe the uncertain darkness ahead of us.
We soon turned onto the four lane and divided Interstate-10 in the direction of San Antonio. I noticed eighteen-wheelers, heading at high speed in the opposite direction toward El Paso and, no doubt, the West Coast. Ahead of them lay over a thousand miles of desert with limited access to assistance should they break down. I, on the other hand, was headed east toward similar uncertainty. In the backseat Trudy cradled Buddy’s head in her lap, saying little.
On arrival at the San Antonio location, I hurried out of the car and opened the back door to gather Buddy into my arms. I rushed him across the asphalt parking lot into the nondescript emergency veterinary clinic. A diminutive and surprisingly young veterinarian approached us with a confident stride. She had high and well-defined cheekbones, a reassuring smile, light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and an air of quiet competency. After a brief exchange, she took Buddy, and with his added weight waddled away down the green tiled hallway.
I noticed Trudy had a frightened look on her face. I felt helpless to reassure her, fearing the worst possible outcome for Buddy. We lingered in the dimly lit waiting room that was filled with about a dozen worn, inexpensive chairs, a few marred wooden side tables, and a single TV that blared a documentary on the destructive nature of feral hogs. I tried to ignore the booming TV and paced restlessly, my mind full of thorns.
The petite veterinarian soon reappeared. Her green eyes darted about and her face expressed concern. “Dr. O’Neill was right. Looks like your dog herniated a disc fragment from his spine causing his paralysis. A disc can shoot out into the spinal canal like a bullet from a rifle. Your dog’s spinal cord received a pretty good wallop.”
“Can Buddy recover?” asked Trudy.
I saw the veterinarian drop her gaze and pause for several long moments before responding. She shrugged her shoulders, raised her head, evidencing a furrowed brow. “Time will tell. Whether the fragment still compresses the cord can be determined only by an MRI-scan. You’ll need to decide if that’s how you want us to proceed.”
If the disc still compressed the delicate cord, I knew de-compressive surgery would be required, and soon, to prevent permanent paralysis of Buddy’s back legs.
“I need to go check on a Labrador who decided to tangle with a pack of coyotes. The poor old boy got chewed up pretty good.”
I made a sympathetic comment regarding the Lab but my real concern lay with Buddy.
“Will check to make sure the MRI is free, that is if you decide to proceed that way. I’m leaving Farah here to answer any questions you may have,” said the veterinarian. She turned on her heel and with purposeful strides and ponytail bobbing strode away in the opposite direction. My gaze trailed the retreating veterinarian down the hallway like a lonesome puppy. I saw her pass through the door at the end of the hall and close it with such finality that it made me wonder if I would ever again see my collie alive.
Grief and fear overwhelmed me. Trudy’s cheeks glistened and I heard muffled sobs coming from her. We embraced, knowing not what else to do. The sad look on my wife’s face would have brought a tear to a glass eye.
The veterinarian had left behind a young, spherically built vet tech to answer questions. The plain-faced assistant appeared to have three chins and reminded me of the stolid, hardy pioneer women who, along with their men, had settled the Texas frontier in the 1800s.
What followed next was an unexpected and wholly different kind of trauma delivered by the no nonsense vet tech: “The cost of the MRI-scan is $2200 upfront,” Farah piped up in her flat, broad Texas drawl. “This is in addition, of course, to the afterhours clinic charge and veterinary expenses.” She said this while smacking her gum and fingering the stethoscope dangling from her side pocket. Farah had an unblinking expression, lacking in emotion or empathy.
Guess this is where she does the wallet biopsy to check our ability to pay.
She next rattled off costs for surgery including anesthesia, medicines, and rehabilitation. Exorbitant, I thought. Would Buddy really need weeks of pool therapy to recover? Somewhere in the conversation I confirmed her conjecture that Buddy had actually cost us nothing, being born to Mollie, our Border collie bitch.
This could end up running $3000, maybe $4000 even without the surgery! With surgery just no telling the final cost!
“Even with surgery, no guarantee this dawg’s ever gonna walk again,” she said. Her drawn out words seemed to hang in the air like a slowly dissipating puff of smoke.
I avoided her laser-like gaze by glancing out the window, viewing a faint glow in the east following the long and broken night.
The technician drew my attention back by saying, “Need to consider what kinda life a paralyzed dawg would have, especially a working dawg like your border collie.” I heard her talking but her words were slow to penetrate my thinking because of my great affection for Buddy.
“Might just wanna euthanize the dawg? Sure ‘nuf be a whole lot cheaper,” said the vet tech, impatiently looking back and forth at Trudy and me as if watching a lantern swinging in a windstorm. I noticed her cheeks and chins wobbled with the excursions of her head.
Neither Trudy nor I responded to her indirect advice, all gussied up and impersonating a question. I glanced at Trudy’s face, mirroring my own dismay. I slipped a supportive arm around Trudy, trying to steady both my wife and my own rocked emotions.
The course that the vet assistant advocated was, I knew, based on sound economics for a working dog. It was just as when a rancher makes treatment decisions based on price/expense ratios for his livestock. After all it didn’t make sense to do a thousand dollar surgery on a five hundred dollar steer. Wasn’t the same rationale also true for a working cow dog? To do otherwise invited financial loss in an already challenging vocation with a very narrow profit margin. I was new to this ranching bit, but I somehow felt differently about my dog. But I also knew the wrong decision could doom Buddy to a dreadful life of paralysis. My mind was dizzy with conflict. I felt a terrible resignation wash over me.
“So what you wanna do? Want us to just put the dawg down?” Each word struck like an icepick. Time passed as if in slow motion. Trudy took a step backward and slumped into a chair. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. The TV assaulted my ears with its cacophony of inchoate sounds. I failed to respond to the technician’s awful query, my mind in fitful desperation having by then escaped to a fonder memory of Buddy during cheerier times.

Years later, it was I who suffered from a back injury. I lay prone in my bed with my right leg frog-legged out, suffering from a ruptured disc in my low back. For six weeks I had assumed this awkward position, popping pain pills as if they were popcorn, and dreading the real possibility of impending surgery. For hours on end through the window I watched the flitting and swooping of barn swallows. I saw them disappear under the eves to their protected nests with morsels in their beaks for their hatchlings.
Along with her usual workload, Trudy had assumed my routine ranch chores. Her activities required prolonged absences from the house and this along with the remoteness of our ranch house forced an unanticipated silence in my life.
No longer was the opportunity for introspection competing with the demands of vocation, meetings, or ranch responsibilities. Following my retirement from a hectic medical practice, Trudy and I, as if compelled by habit, had become immersed in ranch work, volunteering, getting a new home in order, and establishing our presence in a new community. We had sought a reordering of our lives in a community, ripe with exciting opportunities. All my activities had earlier been put on hold weeks due to my injury.
It occurred to me, as I lay there hour after hour and day after day, that my existence before the injury had been like standing mere inches from a TV screen, unable to clearly make out the flickering images. Only now during my inactivity was I able to back away and see what was really taking place.
My new mental and physical distance from the hectic life had also brought about a sharpened awareness as to what was truly important. While travel, work, and professional accomplishments were important and had offered a degree of satisfaction, what seemed really important were the personal relationships and the imprint that love in all its forms had firmly stamped upon my life.
I lay there recalling the exhilarating intoxication of amorous love, the assurance and satisfaction that accompanied mature love, the quiet wonder of family love with the caressing voices and company of openhearted children and grandchildren. I thought of the nurturing love that comes from expanded knowledge and from my personal search for wisdom. I pondered the spiritual and devotional love that relinquished self to a greater good. I also recalled the unconditional love between pets and their humans. When thinking of pets I thought of Buddy. Love with its many faces had invigorated my life, comforted me through challenging times, and had fed and nurtured my spirit.
While convalescing from my ruptured disc, I frequently recalled Buddy’s tragic back injury so many years earlier. I assumed his back injury had been as painful as my own, but he had braved his injury with great courage and without pain medicine. I relived the mental anguish over that night at the veterinary clinic in San Antonio when presented the persuasive but repugnant option of euthanizing him.
At least there hasn’t been any talk of euthanizing me. I chuckled out loud. My long-standing feelings of hurt over Buddy resurfaced once again- a sickening mental all-time low in my life that just then co-mingled with my back pain.
I remembered during the darkest nights at our new ranch, walking behind Buddy’s white tipped tail and him leading me home. Like a beacon his shepherd’s lantern had always stood out, signaling both his movement and the path I needed to take.
As if controlled by an alien force, my hand stole out behind me and blindly searched the bed covers. I felt the coolness of the cotton sheet as my hand swept from side to side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. And there it was. I felt moist breath on my hand, followed by a distinctly wet nose, and whiskers that tickled my hand.
I scratched behind the soft, furry ears of my now elderly Buddy. His tail began to thump happily against the bed. I cocked my head around to see him gazing at me with expressive and soulful eyes, his head cradled on his paws. From his position of recline, he slowly and mechanically stood, his back abnormally humped. He gingerly approached me. Buddy then circled three times and he lay down. His gait and actions had slowed but he showed no hint of complaint or surrender to the circumstances life had dealt him. Buddy had not required surgery and with time and home therapy had largely regained his strength in his hind limbs.
Buddy’s life had been complete with joyful forays around the ranch. He had nimbly herded our cattle, frolicked in fields festooned with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, and had cared for his humans. I had no doubt he felt contented.
For weeks Buddy and I had lain beside one another in the quiet bedroom. There we shared our common sense of community. How unifying it all seemed. We two beings had been apportioned a common fate– suffering similar infirmities and growing older together.
I found Buddy’s presence comforting. Having witnessed his defiance of his injury gave me both increased strength and augmented my limited store of patience. Buddy’s tolerance for his diminishing physical abilities had imparted a life lesson not soon forgotten.
Just then, as if to show thanks and demonstrate his devotion, Buddy gave my hand a languid, velvety lick.