September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Life of a farm dog
When I was young, we had D-O-G (yes, really, we would yell D-O-G, that was her name), a sweet mutt of a dog that would follow us everywhere. Then we gained Tristen, one of her puppies that I was lucky enough to get to keep for a birthday present when I was 15 or 16. He was an angel of a farm dog; never chased, never bit, was wonderful with kids, stayed out of the way of the cows, but best of all, he was a terrific listener. His listening ears and thoughtful eyes helped me through those teenage years that are a miserable roller coaster of emotions. He and I would go hide in the haymow and he would listen to my tales of heartache and lost loves.
Maggie arrived when I started college (about 13 years ago). She was a purebred Border Collie that had the potential to be quite the cow dog, but was never trained to do so. She was a ball of black and white fur that snuggled her way into our hearts and became fast friends with Tristen. They were always at my side. The guys on the farm joked that I could never sneak up on them because they saw the dogs coming first. Maggie quickly became the matriarch of the farm. If she got up to go sleep under the apple tree, Tristen would follow. If she was barking at the creatures in the night, he followed suite.
On a typical January day in Wisconsin in 2004, with temperatures well below zero much of the time, I came home from teaching to find that Maggie was gone. We looked everywhere, drove up and down the road, called the truckers that had been there that morning to see if they saw her. By the time it was dark, our throats were sore from yelling her name, but still there was no sign of her. The next morning we started searching again and after a couple days we had pretty much given up all hope.
Twelve days later, my brother Thomas and a friend were out with beagles ready to go rabbit hunting when a crazy thing happened. Instead of chasing after a rabbit, the dogs started howling and went towards a nearby culvert. All that was visible was a tiny bit of black nose peeking out of a buried tube. A pick axe, shovels, and a cold thirty minutes later, the men pulled a wet, cold Maggie out of the culvert. The irony here is that she more than likely got herself in there by chasing a rabbit and couldn't back up to get out. We took her to the milk house, gave her a warm bath, and took her to the basement to warm her up and get her some food. It was nothing short of a miracle that we found her alive and mostly well. That just secured her place as a "wonder" farm dog in our hearts.
Maggie and Tristen continued to live together on our farm until six years ago. Tristen was failing fast; I was carrying him up the basement steps every morning to get him outside and feeding him hot dogs for supper. When he died, Maggie and I cried together. She was just as lost as I was without our mutual best friend. But we trudged on, and a few months later we brought an adorable yellow lab puppy to the farm for Maggie to pal around with.
Bull is nothing like his name sounds - he may be big, but he is so tender and sweet, and wonderful with crawling, climbing, and grabby children. Much like Tristen, he and Maggie soon became inseparable. When Ira and Dane were young, it was a parade every time we headed to the barn. I would push Dane in the stroller, pull Ira in the wagon, with Maggie and Bull, and occasionally Big Wussy (the cat - a whole different story) tagged alongside. Maggie taught Bull how to live on a farm, how to protect the boys from cows that turned the wrong way coming out of the parlor, and how to be a good listener. He and I have spent a lot of time talking while I pull weeds - well, me rambling and him listening, of course.
Maggie, at 13 years old, was losing the spring in her step and Bull could sense it. The past few weeks he would go with Stacy up to the barn early in the morning, then turn around and come back to the basement to be near his dear Maggie until I came and carried her outside for the day. I explained to the boys to be extra gentle with her, that she was like a little Grandma Ike dog. (They know that Grandma Ike is a fragile lady and that made sense to them.) Last weekend I knew it was the end of the road. Looking in her eyes and thanking her for her years of dedication and love, and making sure she knew she would be missed by all of us, I said one last goodbye to Maggie. She joined her old friend Tristen in the flower bed, and the coral bells that she loved to smash are going to be moved to grace the top of her grave.
So, while some little girls need a horse, I think back on the special dogs that I've had and hope that my kids get to have dogs that are as special as these.
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