If you catch me walking to the barn at any given moment, there are two sidekicks you will notice. Sometimes they are next to me, sometimes ahead of me, but more often than not—they are a few steps behind. Their attention is drawn to other, more exciting things than impending chores. One jabbers nonstop about her cows, what Peter is doing, or that her baby doll is tired. The other inspects the leftover chicken scraps, dodges mud puddles, and tries to convince his aching body to make it to the barn yet again. I must slow my pace to accommodate my partners: Cora has the curiosity typical of a two and a half year old; and my darling Bull has the joints one would expect of a weathered farm dog at age 13.
    According to the American Kennel Club, Bull is the equivalent of an 82 year old man. No wonder it is such an adjustment to my walking speed; I have a geriatric canine and an adventurous toddler. There are days I catch myself taking long strides, only to pause and turn around to find Cora and Bull dawdling ten steps behind me.
    As I look through old pictures, the observation that our beloved Bull has been present for the toddler adventures of all of my children hits me, and I smile. How could we have possibly picked such a wonderful farm dog from a litter of yellow lab puppies? I think it’s incredible. As an exploring pup, I remember the night he got kicked by a cow as I milked the misfits in our old barn. I was terrified he was going to die. He whimpered and cried, limped a bit, and on he went. I would lock him in a calf hutch as I milked after that, so he would be out of harm’s way. He became our old Border Collie’s best friend, and he and Maggie would traipse around the farm together as she showed him the ropes. She forgot the lesson about sniffing a small black and white striped creature though, and he learned fast the dangers of a skunk.
     Bull has always been a calm, cool, and collected dog. He fathered 35 puppies in his prime, and those traits we love so dearly in him have made it through to some of the second generation. He was only a few months old when Ira was learning to crawl, and Bull became his fuzzy jungle-gym on the grass. Ira would scramble over and over him; Bull would utter groans, but never so much as a yip or a bark has he even directed at a child. His tolerance for the clever and obnoxious ideas of a young one has never wavered. Cora will lift his eyelids and his ears, then examine his feet and his nose – all while the poor dog tries to catch a well-deserved nap.
    He’s been my listening ears as I was frustrated with other humans in my life, the farm therapy dog he was born to be. His hearing and instincts have made him the protector of small children. In the past, he would position himself next to the stroller and bark a warning to the cows that exited the wrong direction out of the parlor. From puppy on, he had a habit of sitting down as soon as some outstretched hand was willing to stroke him. Bull would sit in the middle of the feed alley, manure alley, on the gravel, and even on your foot. Now, the sitting process is a bit more labored, and you can see him deciding if lowering himself to the ground is going to be worth it before he even tries.
     Bull requires a bit more cajoling to make it out of the house on dreary, cool days, and sometimes a lift up off the floor in the morning to warm his arthritic joints up. Yet, turn the key on the calf van and he’s barking and trembling with excitement to go to the barn. He trots along beside it, as if to prove he can still do his job every day. He adamantly refuses to ride in any vehicle, as he has a bit of claustrophobia (we found this out after a torn truck seat).  I open the garage doors on the barns as opposed to sneaking over the cement curbs. He struggles to climb over them nowadays.
    His steadfast devotion is a wonder. He will follow me anywhere. I have to lock him in the calf barn when I head off to move cows around, or he will trail me from barn to barn. There are days I think I can sneak off without him, only to make it around the corner and see him moseying out of the milkhouse hot on my scent. Then I have to open every gate for him to be able to stick safely next to us as the cows swarm him. My attempts to tell him I’m coming back are a waste of breath.
    To say I love this dog is an understatement. I make sure he gets his fair share (or perhaps more than) of bones and meat scraps. I worry about him when I’m not on the farm. The gray is his face only adds to his charm. He nestles up to any pair of legs standing still, hoping to earn an ear scratching. He is stubborn in his old age, but that is to be understood. His greeting is one I look forward to each and every morning, and dread the day he can’t be my sidekick. Until then, I’ll just keep slowing my steps, and rejoicing in his companionship for myself and my children.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.