Tag Archives: Border collies

Buddy’s Last Tail Walk

It’s a sad day on the ranch. Buddy’s walking, continence, and comfort level continued to deteriorate. This dog who was born on our ranch (in my closet actually), herded the cattle with great skill, miraculously broke up bull fights, and has now died on this ranch will be missed. Buddy’s pain led to mournful yelps these last weeks. But he died surrounded by his pack of dogs and humans while proudly overlooking his domain from his station in the back of the pickup. I feel compelled to write this sad note for all who knew Buddy personally and for those of you who knew him only through this blog. He was quite a dog!

By this morning the dark clouds of Hurricane Hanna had spread over south and central Texas including Medicine Spirit Ranch. No moisture has fallen to the ground as yet from the gray, ominous clouds, in contrast to that on our cheeks. Just after being laid to rest in a grave beside his mother, Mollie, the sun briefly broke through the dark sky, illuminating his still body like a spotlight. Interpret that as you will. Buddy died peacefully and at a time that was appropriate.

Buddy’s incredible herding skills moving cattle will be remembered. But even more so, we will miss his love for family. His bravery in the face of large animals was unsurpassed. He was the most loyal being I’ve ever known. For reasons known only to Buddy, he sought me out wherever. He was my constant companion. He laid beside me in the bed for six weeks when I was recovering from my own back injury. He was aptly named.

Perhaps such devotion, if in a human, would be seen as cult-like. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel flattered by his allegiance and devotion to our family. Of course this is a Border collie trait, but Buddy showed this behavior in spades.


Buddy will be missed. What a dog!

Buddy as a younger dog. That’ll do Buddy.

Tailwalking Buddy

Not that many years ago, a Border collie puppy named Buddy was born beneath a row of slacks that hung within my closet.

Alissa, our daughter in law, holding Buddy as a puppy

This puppy along with two other older Border collies would one day drive off a pack of marauding coyotes that, under cover of darkness, had stolen up behind Buddy’s human companions.This was the puppy who eventually would grow into an adept ranch dog capable of breaking up fights between huge bulls and of skillfully moving a cattle herd across our ranch.

A young Buddy

This was the patient dog who spent six weeks at my side while I, not so patiently, waited out a painful back injury. This was the puppy that would eventually grow into a wise old dog and who has now entered his dotage. In short, Buddy has now grown old.

Six months ago Buddy passed his 14th birthday. While his eyesight and hearing are not as keen as they once were, his major physical limitation relates to his mobility. You see, his rear end tends to give away, causing him to unceremoniously plop down. His collapse is usually followed by his soulful eyes pleading for a bit of help to regain his four footed stance. Trudy or I will then help him to his feet and allow him to get underway. We have found that by holding onto his tail and slightly elevating it, he is far more capable of walking without falling. This maneuver seems to aid Buddy’s balance and walking. We refer to this as tailwalking Buddy.

For a dog as independent-minded as a Border collie, it is surprising that Buddy accepts our tailwalking, but Buddy has a way of accepting gracefully his limitations that accompany his aging. I never thought acceptance would become one of his traits along with his intelligence, herding ability, and loyalty to his human companions.

Buddy also must now wear a belly band and incontinence pad. We suspect Buddy’s leakage also relates to his old spinal cord injury.

Notice the belly band around Buddy

Our method proves effective but requires us to buy large amounts of incontinence products at the grocery store and order his male belly belts online. Together this combination of items has saved spotting around the house. Again Buddy accepts the belly belt and pad without seeming to question. When he enters the house he waits patiently just inside the door for Trudy or me to fasten into place his padded doggie belt. (I worry as to what the store clerks must think about Trudy buying such large quantities of male incontinence pads! Fredericksburg is, after all, a fairly small town.)

Trudy and I have made other modifications around the house including elevating Buddy’s dog bowl to make it easier for him to eat, placing runners in our tiled bathroom to facilitate Buddy making it to his elevated dog bowl without falling down, and lifting Buddy into and out of the padded bed of my pickup.

We are unclear as to why Buddy shows progressive walking impairment. We do know that years ago Buddy suffered a spinal cord injury from a ruptured disc that briefly left him with paralyzed hind limbs. We suspect this is the likely cause, worsening now with his advancing age. With patience and rehab Buddy following his original injury gained a normal gait although never achieving full strength in his hind legs. Border collies also may develop hip dysplasia that could also be a contributing factor.

Trudy tailwalking Buddy

 

At times Buddy whimpers, yelps, and pants, all symptoms that suggest he is in pain. Learning this our veterinarian prescribed pain pills. These pills have helped. Nevertheless, nighttime is the worst time for Buddy. Trudy and I have spent many nights letting Buddy in and out of the house, requiring us to tailwalk him up and down the stairs to the yard, laying on the floor attempting to comfort him (he sleeps under the bed), and providing middle of the night snacks. Our list of interventions is short but repeatable. It is also exhausting.

A recent addition of a second pain medicine has provided further benefit. Nevertheless, on a daily basis we seem to see an overall worsening of Buddy’s mobility. His decline inevitably brings up the wracking question as to how long we should proceed with our Buddy routines in light of Buddy’s  discomfort. If Buddy stopped eating, lost his zeal to travel in the pickup, or no longer showed his love of life, the decision would become much easier. For now Trudy and I will help our aging Buddy dog to travel around the house and yard by holding his tail and dutifully trailing along behind him. Metaphorically speaking, is not this what Buddy has always done for us?

I’m here for you my human companions

Tom and Buddy

 

Thoughts On Dogs and Aging

My prior blog piece shared aspects of our 14th Birthday party for Buddy and his sister, Howdy.

A grown up Howdy

A sampling of doggie themed tasty appetizers

We enjoyed feting these two old Border collies. Just think of it; 14-dog years are the equivalent of 94-human years. Such graceful aging by both dogs justifies giving them a party.

A young Buddy posing

It is hard for me to wrap my head around how Buddy who once was so active, athletic, and energetic, has become so old acting. I first observed him changing by his weight loss. Buddy has always been thin but he became even more so. I suspected Bella and Little Jack, our other dogs, were eating his food. We began taking precautions against this. Finally I added canned food to his dry food (plus table scraps) along with keeping a watchful eye during doggie dinner time. No poaching from the senior dog!

Buddy in recent years has developed a pained gait. No longer does he sprint across the pastures, spring across cattle guards in a single bound, and ferociously herd cattle fifty times his size. No, Buddy now gingerly walks cattle guards, has a mincing, head down gait and is subject to having his rear end collapse unceremoniously out from under him. He now even requires my assist getting into the cab of the pickup or into the bed of the pickup. Traveling in the pickup, though, is probably still his favorite activity. Buddy accepts my help, but I sense he doesn’t like his need for such help. But he still loves to ride in the pickup, traveling across the ranch with the breeze flapping his ears and barking happily. Watching this, I know his life is still good and enjoyable.

Buddy sleeps more now. I’ve noticed like Buddy my own fondness for afternoon naps. If he is not working on the ranch with me (which basically consists of Buddy sleeping under the pickup while I work), he travels among his many dog beds strewn throughout the house. He simply requires more rest now than he did previously. When sleeping I often see his legs moving. I imagine that Buddy is dreaming of prior exploits on the ranch, or else dealing with a particularly gnarly cow in his dream state.

Enjoying the warmth of the sun and a good nap

I’m surprised by how well Buddy has accepted his limitations. When Trudy and I return from a trip to town, we are always mobbed by our dogs. They bark and act as if we have just returned from an extended round-the-world trip. Buddy, however, can no longer compete with the other dogs for our attention and instead holds back. While Little Jack and Bella jump up, bark, and ferociously compete for our attention, Buddy hangs back, merely cutting his milky eyes in our direction with a look of hopefulness plastered across his graying doggie muzzle.  I can tell he loves it when we approach him and pay him special attention, while also needing to defend him from the onslaught of the other dogs.

Buddy long ago lost his position as dominant dog in the house. He can’t stand up to Bella or even Little Jack who are stronger now and more assertive than he. He seems reasonably content with his lowered station in life and doesn’t seem to fight the inevitable. This reminds me of humans on the brink of retirement who often say, “You just know when the time is right.”

Buddy shows resilience in the face of getting old. He accepts his infirmities, loss of station, and limited mobility. However, he does require greater affection and petting. He warts us for petting almost constantly. I wonder if his neediness for his human companions’ approval helps to mitigate his sense of loss in the other areas. While he no longer can achieve the redemptive power of work, he has put away a lifetime’s worth of impressive works.

For this, my old dog, I say thank you.

It seems to me there is wisdom for humans in watching our pets age. Perhaps Max Ehrmann in his Desiderata said it best:

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth…

He continues:

You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Doggie Birthdays

We recently celebrated 14th Birthdays for both our male Border, Buddy and his Sister, Howdy. She resides with her human companion, Suzy Gillette about twenty miles west of Fredericksburg. Fourteen years old in human years equals 98 dog years- now that’s really old and calls for a PARTY!

Buddy on left and Howdy in the middle as puppies. Howdy was a large puppy born breech. I had to help deliver her myself.

An event of such grand significance, in addition to Howdy and Suzy, demanded we invite our good friends Tom and Linda Norris. They’re invested in our family and willing to act a little silly to celebrate whatever, so long as wine is served. Trudy made scarves for the birthday dogs as well as scarves for Bella, our female Border collie, and Little Jack, our Texas Brown dog. Their canine attendee scarves had printed messages that read, “He’s Our Buddy.”

A grown up Buddy

 

A grown up Howdy

As you can see, both Buddy and Howdy have almost identical markings. The big difference is that Buddy is black and white while Howdy is red and white. Their behaviors are almost identical- both being rather shy, loving, and extremely smart.

Trudy put together a menu fit for a canine banquet. It was as follows:

Mighty tasty I might add. Needless to say this menu was for the human attendees.  The meal for humans was served in dog bowls (see below). The doggies had bowls overflowing with doggie treats and favorite canned dog food.

Admittedly, ours were brand new dog bowls, but what a lark to see the humans eating their “paw-sta” from dog bowls. All really got into the spirit of the party and enjoyed their meals.

Needless to say we also enjoyed snacks and appetizers prior to the big meal. This included a snack mix, we referred to as Puppy Chow.

Puppy Chow

The tasty appetizers were largely for the human attendees at the party, but I’ve been know to sneak a few treats for our doggie companions. They were mighty good and enjoyed by all!

A sampling of the tasty appetizers

As you might expect some adult beverages were available to heighten the enthusiasm of the human companions. These came in red, referred to as Buddy’s Bonanza, and white, referred to as Howdy’s Hurrah. The dogs were served generous supplies of cool, fresh well water.

Following the meal, cookies were served to the human companions. As you can see, Trudy outdid herself by creating cookies in the image of dogs.

Trudy created cookies in the image of dogs

 

Needless to say, both humans and dogs enjoyed themselves. We celebrated our faithful dogs, told stories about their skills and foibles, and described how they mirrored our own aging process. Both dogs are slowing up. Both dogs have some health problems. Buddy suffers from a weak rear end. It gives out on him periodically. Nevertheless, he is always anxious to load up in the pickup and cruise the ranch. Admittedly he can no longer leap into the bed of the truck, requiring me to catch him mid-air and lift him in. Both dogs continue to play vital roles in supplying the affection and loyalty to their human companions.

The occasion brought to mind the Ode To A Dog written years ago by George Vest who was a Missouri State Senator. It turned out that a loyal and much loved dog had been shot and killed by a neighboring farmer who suspected the dog was marauding his stock. The State Senator presented in court, representing the bereft dog’s owner. What follows was this lawyer’s poignant closing argument to the jury.

 

A Portion of George Vest’s Closing Argument To The Jury:

Gentlemen of the Jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. Where all other other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.

 

Needless to say, George Vest won his law suit!

Such strong and loving sentiment for our loyal canines, seems to me, to deserve an occasional celebration. I recall with love and amazement how Buddy as a half grown Border collie broke up a fight between two bulls and then herded our bull back across the neighboring ranch to the break in our fence. I also recall how when I was laid up for six weeks with a bad back, how Buddy laid beside me virtually the entire time. Such loyalty from a dog earns loyalty from this human.

Happy Birthday Buddy and Howdy. For our lives, you have added much.

Buddy with his place in the sun. Rest well my old dog for you deserve it.

 

Morning Symphony

Trudy and I continue to “camp out” in our guesthouse while our home undergoes renovation and restoration. Because of a flood, our wooden floors required replacing and we had to move out for three weeks. While we were at it, we decided to do a bit of updating as well. Fortunately we had a guesthouse to move into rather than having to move to a motel (a dog friendly one, of course). We plan on moving back to our usual house in just a few days. Hoorah!

While we have felt frustration over our inability to access certain items, my morning routine has remained unchanged. It begins with a canine symphony, or should I call it a canine cacophony?

You see, after I shower and begin to dress for the day, my two Border collies, Bandit and Bella, begin barking like crazed dogs. They become so excited by the prospect of going out onto the ranch. They are not at all patient


“Two-footed humans sure move slowly!”

.

Jack, our little brown dog, appears nonplussed by the whole matter. If anything Jack places himself between the Borders and me, attempting to prevent the overly excited collies from jumping up  while I totter about on one leg, putting on my jeans.

I am a good dog in the morning, not like those noisy Border collies.”

I’ve found that the barking of the Border collies cannot be suppressed. I try repeatedly to shush them verbally, but to no avail. I even resort to gently squeezing their jaws together. Nothing works. Bella, bless her little canine heart, has even taken to nipping at my legs (very disconcerting for me), if I don’t move along at her desired pace. She clearly herds me in the direction of the pickup and becomes visibly frustrated if I need to double back.

Unfortunately, even on reaching the pickup, the morning symphony of dog barking doesn’t stop. My good neighbor and friend, Tom Norris, says he can always tell where I am on the ranch because of the dogs’ barking. You see, sounds carries very well in Live Oak Valley.

I suppose my dogs’ barking is a new form of G.P.S., i.e. godawful pet sounds! Or maybe it should be C.P.S, Canine Positioning System. Eventually the dogs stop barking, although I suspect it may be because of doggie hoarseness.

My frequency of blog posting (and FB posting) has slowed lately. This absence results from the time I’ve  devoted to writing another book. I am entering the final phases of finishing my next book (well prior to sending it off to potential agents and publishers and the lengthy process that is sure to follow). My book is tentatively titled Hitler: Prescription for Defeat.

The book seeks to answer the “Holy Grail” of questions about Hitler- that is, what was it that affected his reasoning to the extent that he made such colossal blunders in judgement toward the end of World War II. The premise of my book is that Hitler’s failing health and abnormal personality largely explain his errors in judgment and aided the Allies in achieving victory. The book goes into Hitler’s major and minor illnesses along with describing his unusual personality characteristics and how these aspects worked against him. His health is spliced into a number of the major battles of World War II. Wish me luck!

I have  received feedback from my beta readers on Hitler: Prescription For Defeat and have made the necessary edits. I feel so grateful for the time and expertise of Janet, LaNelle, Tom, and Madeline for carrying out this helpful task. Thank you. Extra sets of eyes prove very useful!

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to read my first book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will pick it up at your favorite bookstore or order a copy. The book has won awards, and received generous comments from Amazon readers. These reviews on Amazon are extremely welcome and encouraging.

Carrying the Black Bag book

My absolute favorite feedback about Carrying The Black Bag came in the form of a picture from a family member who was at the time training as a Pediatric surgical nurse.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

The days at Medicine Spirit Ranch are lengthening and warming, and it won’t be long until Central Texas looks like the picture below. Spring with the wildflowers is hard to beat!

Bluebonnets and Paints

Flash Floods in the Texas Hill Country

Only a few weeks ago I wrote a blog piece on the terrible drought and now we have floods! Such is the weather in Texas. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, just wait a few minutes!”

For the last two days we’ve been largely stranded on our hill outside of Fredericksburg. Several times I’ve gone down the hill only to have the flooding of Live Oak Creek prevent my from leaving the ranch. This happened after the ground had been thoroughly saturated and then another 10 inches or so of rain fell. The thin soil  can’t absorb that much water, so it runs off into the streams at a rapid clip. On a positive note my stock tanks are now full. It’s been a long time since I could say that. See below

It is surprising how strong the current can be, as its been known to wash out fences and sweep away cars and trucks. Trudy and I have gained a healthy respect for flash floods and try not to tempt fate. Our schedules are not that precious. See debris line below, showing earlier extent of the flood and white water other side of low water crossing.

Our dogs have reacted in different ways. The dark, rainy days suggest Jack’s favorite past-time- napping. See below. Jack likes his creature comforts, especially snoozing on a pillow top mattress on our bed with his little head on a feather pillow.

Jack: Rainy days make me sleepy. For that matter sunny days do too.

 

Our senior Border collie, Buddy on the other hand becomes anxious during storms. As always he is goal directed animal if there ever was one. He begins to look s for a job to perform. Below you will see what the flash flood caused with Buddy. As you can see he has prepared for a still worse flood, waiting in his pool float, umbrella overhead, and goggles at the ready. Buddy always has a plan.

“Let that water rise, I’m ready for it!”

I Have A Dog Who Answers The Telephone

Please excuse my absence from the blog, as Trudy and I were on vacation. The time away allowed time to contemplate some questioning feedback I received regarding recent stories posted about Little Jack Kerouac. You see some readers did not fully accept that Little Jack dictated his back history and all I did was merely write it down. Oh you of little faith.

I did too dictate my story

Such feedback made me think about other ways in which my dogs communicate, ways which hopefully everyone can accept. Now surely others have witnessed their dogs barking to go outside, to take a walk, to be petted, and in the case of my dogs, to go for a ride in the pickup. Yes, my dogs, especially Little Jack and Buddy, are quite insistent about nudging me out of my chair about 5:00 pm to go for a ride or to take a walk.

Bella, our female Border collie has her own idiosyncrasies. She communicates. She really does. She does this  by barking when Trudy or I don’t hear the telephone. Perhaps like many seniors our hearing is not the best. Trudy has graduated to the honest stage of wearing hearing aides while I simply deny my hearing loss and soldier on. Bella on the other hand has tremendous hearing. We say she has “dog ears.”

Bella, our little helper
Photo by Ramsey

If we fail to hear the land line or a cell phone ring, Bella will begin to bark. I’ve noticed she doesn’t bark for the first couple of rings. Presumably she waits to see if we hear it or not. Only when we don’t respond by the third or fourth ring does she become insistent that we answer the phone. Her initial barks cease and she begins to howl. I’ve never heard her howl except when we fail to answer a telephone, but believe me she is quite effective in mobilizing her humans to answer the phone. Bella can sound just like a hound dog. She’s become a regular little phone helper.

Now this behavior fits well with Bella’s helping personality. She likes to have a job and likes to prove useful. For some time she has helped out Buddy when he wants to go outside to do his business. You see, Buddy will stand quietly beside a door to go out. We don’t always observe him. Only rarely will his urgency cause him to scratch at the door to draw our attention. Bella, on the other hand, seeing Buddy waiting patiently beside the door will begin to bark. Her bark is persistent and loud. It’s hard to miss.

Bella and Little Jack guarding the ranch from the pickup

She also likes to accompany Buddy when we put him out, just in case I suppose. Buddy has actually become fairly dependent on Bella’s going out with him, as otherwise he is hard to push out the door. So you see beside answering our phones, Bella also serves as door monitor.

They say you have to give a Border collie a job, or else it will become self-employed and never productively. Well, I’m here to say some Border collies (read Bella) find their own jobs and are helpful. Who would have thought we would have a dog that answers the phone or monitors doors?

Do your dogs communicate with either you or any other dogs? I would love to have your feedback. Please leave your experiences in the comment section.

Puppy Love- Part IV and Conclusion of Jack’s Story

Editor’s Note: This is the concluding episode of Little Jack’s backstory. He clearly has enjoyed dictating his story, and I have enjoyed writing it down. I have learned Jack is an amazing little brown dog with a far more interesting and heroic background than i had suspected. He and I hope you have enjoyed his story. Jack has certainly enjoyed his fan mail.

 

Little Jack dictating his story

 

I knew I couldn’t survive much longer on my own. By then I had learned the pitfalls of being a lone dog on the road. Eating whatever I managed to catch had proven too infrequent to sustain myself. Moreover dodging guard llamas and donkeys, avoiding fierce horses, evading cars and trucks, and barely escaping the clutches a mountain lion had taken their toll on my freedom-loving doggie spirit. I was ready to exchange a few biscuits of freedom for a bowlful of security.

The following afternoon I trotted along the country road until it passed through a ranch entrance. There the road became an even smaller byway.

A sign at the ranch entrance

I then traveled up a steep hill. With the climb my paw pads became progressively sorer and my belly increasingly empty. When I lifted my nose from the ground, I saw a white stone house perched high upon the hill. It became a distant visual target that encouraged my flagging hopes. I knew exhaustion would soon overcome me if I couldn’t find rest and food. What did I have to lose by proceeding up the hill to its summit? Might this signal what I had been searching for my whole life?

Shortly after arriving in the front yard of the house, I heard a noisy, old pickup grinding its way up the hill. Fear welled up within me, as I had suffered close calls from such vehicles. I tried to hide, but could find no good place to do so.

Soon out of the truck stepped a clean-shaven man who was quickly followed by two large dark and white dogs. The dogs that later I learned were Border collies sensed my presence almost immediately. When the collies ran my way, I retreated, but the two dogs were bigger and faster than I was. The collies quickly trapped me inside the fenced yard. I turned on them, crouched, growled, and prepared to make my stand. While trying to appear aggressive, I knew my energy level and my physical state were depleted. I doubted I could protect myself for long from these larger well-fed, highly energetic dogs.

This is the pickup that came up the hill. Now I get to ride in it rather than have to walk everywhere

I hunkered down, my teeth bared, expecting a vicious attack at any moment. Then to my surprise the man called off his dogs and they stood down. The man then tried to catch me, but even in my depleted state, I was far too quick for him. You see two-footed, overweight humans move pretty slowly. This was my first time I saw Pickup Man. I didn’t know his intentions, and he frightened me, because by then I was afraid of just about everything and everyone.

Pickup Man with his Border collies and me

The man who by then was out of breath headed for the stone house and left me alone in the yard with his dogs. The Border collies fortunately kept their distance from me. Not long after going into the white house, Pickup Man came back carrying a piece of fried chicken. Oh, it smelled so good. In the face of the luscious smelling meat, my fears simply melted away. My thoughts of evasion collapsed before that tantalizing smell and luscious looking meat. I climbed straight up into his arms to eat the meat. I wolfed down the tasty chicken, as Pickup Man held me and carried me toward the white stone house. He stroked my head as he walked and said soft words.

Once inside the house he called out to his human companion. That’s when I first met Nice Lady. She came into the room and looked surprised at what Pickup Man was carrying. She approached us and gently took me from his arms. She caressed my head, scratched my ears, and said kind, soft words to me. She told Pickup Man how skinny, dirty, and, exhausted I appeared.

Nice Lady standing beside a Hay bale

The rest you might say is doggie history. Nice Lady proceeded to give me a soapy, warm bath in a large bathtub. She fixed a place for me to sleep next to her bed. She fed me regularly and liberally.

Nice Lady even feeds me with me sitting in her lap

Oh, and the food came from cans, a seemingly bottomless giant plastic bin of dry dog food, and even her dinner table. It all smelled and tasted so good to this half-starved dog. It took me several weeks to get used to all that food, as my system wasn’t used to eating much or very often. I eventually became used to eating more frequently and the food proved so much better than the meals I had eaten while on the road.

Here I am all cleaned up but looking pretty skinny

Nice Lady stroked me often and nursed me back to full health. I gained weight and my energy gradually returned. I knew I had found a promising new home with caring humans along with an accepting pack of dogs. And to make matters even better Pickup Man regularly took me for rides around his ranch in the backseat of his pickup. The Border collies he relegated to the bed of his pickup. Riding in a pickup was ever so much easier on my paw pads than walking.

Here I am with Pickup Man inside his truck

Well this is the end of my story prior to coming to live with Pickup Man and Nice Lady. It isn’t heroic like the stories of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, both legends in the canine world. Nor am I as well known, as a dog that lived up the highway in Mason, Texas, a dog whose name was Old Yeller. But it’s my story and I’m proud of it.

My adventures in the big stinky city and my exploits on the road made me, for better or worse, what I am today. For sure I learned resiliency.

I wanted Pickup Man to write down my story to fill in my background for Nice Lady and him. This is the best I can recall.

Later when talking to friends, I overheard Pickup Man and Nice Lady talk about naming me Little Jack Kerouac. They said something about a book written by a man named Jack Kerouac that described his time on the road. Pickup Man and Nice Lady thought there must be similarities between his story and mine. Kerouac had described his experience, as the road is life. Well I also had traveled a road of my life to this new and happier place, and perhaps like Jack Kerouac, I had grown from and been molded by my life experiences.

I am now a wiser dog but also a pampered one

The friends of Pickup Man and Nice Lady all laughed at hearing why my name had been chosen and seemed to enjoy it much like I might enjoy a good steak bone. So that’s how I gained my new name, and I hope it makes better sense to you than it does to me. Humans can act pretty mystifying at times. But I am happy now with my name, Little Jack, and have learned to respond to it.

Now I’ll leave the rest of the story to Pickup Man, that is, if he chooses to write it down. I don’t know if he will, as he spends a lot of time sitting at his desk, clicking away on his keyboard. Sometimes he says he is moving his mouse around and on one occasion even claimed his mouse had died. Sometimes humans say the silliest things, because I know what a mouse is and even caught and ate several while on the road. I don’t know what makes Pickup Man say such crazy things, but I care for him anyway, even if a little daffy.. I think overall he is a good pack leader.

Frankly I’d just as soon Pickup Man get up from behind his computer and take me riding in his pickup, or else go for a walk across our ranch. I wouldn’t even mind if he takes along those herding obsessed Border collies of his. After all they long ago gave up trying to herd me. You see, I ‘m not the biggest dog around, but I carry a big bite.

I have gotten used to the Border collies and to respect their bravery

I’ve actually learned to respect those Border collies for their skill at herding cattle and for their bravery in the face of some really big animals. They aren’t varmint hunters like me, yet I have gained a grudging respect for their remarkable abilities. Admittedly, I have also grown to care for them, look out for them, and enjoy being part of the same pack.

What makes my life even better is knowledge that a full dinner bowl always awaits me at the house. Despite knowing this I still keep my nose to the ground, and seek out armadillos and possums. If I catch an armadillo or possum, I don’t even bother to eat it anymore, as I know better fare awaits me- dirty nose and all- at my white stone home on the hill.

As I write this I am almost nine years old, that is 63 in dog years. Wow, I am getting old. In the process I’ve learned a few things that I wish to share. Chief among my observations is gaining a strong sense of place. While early in life, I wished to explore the entire world, now I know that to be impractical. I now recognize my special place, my correct place in the world, is right here in Live Oak Valley living in a house on a hill.

I can explore the valley, splash in my favorite spring-fed creeks, relish my varmint chases, quietly observe graceful deer without feeling the need to chase them, and most importantly revel in a sense of belonging to one special place. I love my dog/human pack and my pack loves me. As I’ve grown older, being loved and loving others have become more important matters to me. I think perhaps that is what life is all about. This valley, this ranch, these dogs, and these people just feel right to me. It feels like I’m home at last.

I hope you have enjoyed my story

Oh, I learned lessons in the big, smelly city and even while lost on the road. My actions taught me self-reliance, survival skills, and provided me with almost limitless self-confidence. But I’ve proved myself and am now an accomplished, grown up dog. I take life a little easier now. You might say I’ve become semi-retired. At last I’ve discovered my real home and more about what makes this dog bark. Isn’t that an important aspect of anyone’s life?

 

The End

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps

The Importance Of Place

Have you ever noticed how comfortable you feel at home?  Each of us has a certain comfort zone and a sense of place. I’ve often wondered about this?

Buddy as a puppy. “Say this lap feels pretty natural”

This feeling of belonging, belonging to a certain geographical place affects us all- a place that feels right, looks right, smells right and provides comfort and mitigates the travails of the world. Whether it’s early imprinting, as occurs with baby chicks, or some combination of the sounds, smells, sights, and memories (an overall gestalt for an area), I am not entirely sure. Nevertheless, for many who have lived away from their special places know the strength and durability of the homeward draw. It’s like a magnetic force and can be almost overpowering.

Buddy:Being in this pickup truck just feels right

Trudy and I lived for ten years in Minnesota while I trained in Neurology. Our two children were born there and we have wonderful memories of Minnesota. We met some lovely, lifelong friends, enjoyed the incredible 10,000 pristine lakes, and delighted in many novel experiences (have you ever tried lefsa or lutefisk?).

Nevertheless, both Trudy and I felt a nascent longing to return to Texas, our native home. When offered the opportunity to join the faculty of the new Texas Tech School of Medicine in Lubbock, Texas, we quickly determined to leave our adopted State of Minnesota and head homeward.

What is it that makes a place comfortable for us? I’d lived in Texas during my formative years. Trudy had always lived in Texas. We both missed the gratuitous friendliness and expansiveness of spirit that is Texas.

Minnesotans were in no way unfriendly but seemed not as overtly warm and forthcoming as we’d come to expect from growing up in Texas. Plus we admittedly missed the Mexican food and Bar-B-Que along with the independent mindedness and largeness of spirit in Texas.

A friend of mine in Fredericksburg, Texas recently told me of having his grandchildren visit from New York City. Wishing to introduce his grandchildren to the wide, open spaces of Texas, he drove his grandchildren to The Big Bend Area. There with their recently purchased packs, canteens, and hiking boots, they set off on a well marked park trail to explore the grandeur of the Big Bend National Park.

After some time had passed, one grandchild developed a quizzical look on his face, looked around with an expression of perplexity, and said in a panicky voice, “Grandfather, we are lost!”

The grandfather asked in a calm voice, “what makes you think we are lost?”

The grandson replied, “Well, there are no people here, we must be lost!”

“I feel right at home in my pack.”
Buddy stands tall above Mollie and Bandit

 

The lack of people, the lack of built environments, and absent din of traffic noise was not “home” for the grandson. It was clearly different from New York City. No doubt the solitude struck the boy as unnerving and frightening. The grandfather shared that he strove to introduce an alternative sense of place to his grandchildren, one closer to nature than is New York City.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve learned a lot about animal and human behavior by simply watching our furry, four-footed friends. This includes the importance of a sense of place.

Buddy, our now senior Border collie, was born in my bedroom closet.

Daughter-in-law Alissa holding Buddy shortly after his birth

With rare exception Buddy has never ventured much beyond the outer fence of our ranch. Oh he frequently rides along on trips to the feed store and has on occasion gone on a wild bull chase throughout neighboring, overgrown ranches (see an earlier post, Slacker), but he is most definitely a home dog.

Buddy crouched and ready to herd

Once and only once, Trudy and I drove him to our daughter’s home in central Dallas. Buddy absolutely hated it. The loud sounds and strange smells were, I suppose, not what he was used to. He let his displeasure known by wetting on the floor, whining, pacing, scratching at the door, and at the end of the visit most eager to jump into the car and return to the ranch. We’ll never make that mistake again. Buddy is not and never will be a city dog.

Once when our ranch house was undergoing remodeling, we had to move about an eighth of a mile and live for several days in our guest house. Buddy, despite the short distance from our home, absolutely hated it.

We had packed a few things and loaded up the dogs for our stay at the guest house (The Yellow Rose). When the sun began to set, Buddy began scratching at the door of the Yellow Rose to go out. When later I went to call him in, I couldn’t find him. Buddy had gone home. I had to return to our main house, gather him from the back porch, and haul him back to the guest house.

Buddy: “Just thought I’d wait for you here on the porch at home while you dawdled  at that other place”

This sequence  of futility repeated several times before I wised up and closed the yard gate to the guest house so that Buddy could not leave. Needless to say, our dog spent a few restless nights at the guest house while the remodeling proceeded.

I learned from Buddy’s escapes that a sense of place proved more important than for him than did human companionship. His preference for place over person proved a little humbling but informative as to what was most important in Buddy’s canine world.

Like Buddy we all share a feeling of comfort when at home and mild discomfort when away from home.  A sense of place may go a long way to explaining homesickness, an emotion we have all felt.

While we may not understand why others feel comfortable in radically different places than our own and with different looks, smells, and accents than what we are used to, we can perhaps understand the comfort that comes to others with residing in their own familiar places.

“Why look elsewhere when I am already home”

A final thought regarding a sense of place deals with the impact of age. As Buddy gets older, he’s developing an even stronger love of home and dislike of travel. He is the first  to return to the pickup when we work on the ranch. Buddy is the first dog to want to go inside when spending time on the patio or in the yard. He is the least likely of the dogs now to participate in a deer chase or challenge a cow.

Perhaps as an older dog, Buddy feels more vulnerable. Home is comforting for him. Are there parallels in humans? As humans age, it strikes me we also develop an increased awareness of our frailties and have an increased love of home place. Don’t many older people, like Buddy, appear less willing to travel, explore, and seek out new adventures?

Our sense of place seems as important for humans, as it is for our canine companions. Perhaps our sense of place which is lifelong may even strengthen with age as it does for my four-footed friend.