Yesterday was one of those gray, dreary days that make us long for sunshine and blue skies. Winter’s crop, so far, has been fresh mud on top of old mud.
As I made my way to the barn early in the morning, my attention was drawn to the fence where a bright red cardinal offered the only color of the day. The cardinal had a boisterous batch of tree sparrows in a tizzy over something.
The shepherds, running ahead of me, circled back to see what the fuss was about. I had taken some bread crusts and orange peelings out near the fence line, knowing that this time of year the birds need to forage for a snack or two. The cardinal, by sheer size alone, had laid claim to the little patch of treats, no others need apply. Each time the tree sparrows would come near, the cardinal would fight them off with every trick available in the bird world.
My English shepherds, Billy and Channing, found out quickly that the cardinal was willing to fight even them for the scraps. I heard Billy let out a yip as the red bird swooped near his head, wings flapping.
Channing rushed to my side, ears pinned back. Billy looked a bit humbled as he took several steps backward.
“Ah, Billy, did that big old bird chase you off?” I asked as he whined and carried on, tipping his head as though trying to tell me his side of the story.
The whole episode brought to mind the dogs of my teen years, when our registered shepherd found himself with a sidekick from questionable lineage suddenly following him around the farms. Chet had been a pound puppy that neighbors brought home.
One day, while checking crops back in the far fields of the farm, Dad had heard a puppy crying. Chet, a sable and white mixed breed, was caught in a trap near the creek. Dad rescued the dog, and after that, Chet would repeatedly leave his home to be with the man who saved him. Our home became Chet’s home.
Bill, the shepherd, realized he might as well show this young pup the ropes. Bill would jump in to sort hogs and Chet would sit outside the barn and cry, whining until the older dog came back out. Bill trounced through mud puddles. Chet would tippy-toe around them. Bill jumped in the bed of the pick-up truck. Chet would wait for someone to open the door for him so he could ride in the cab.
While Bill was a contented porch dog, Chet made it perfectly clear that he preferred the warmth and comfort of the house, sneaking a little nap on the couch if no one was looking.
The older dog tried to teach Chet to hunt groundhogs, a plan that fell apart before it started. Bill barked as he headed the groundhog off, keeping it from returning to its hole, giving Chet the chance to nab it. We laughed as Chet tried to bow out gracefully, his head hung low, obviously wanting no part of this.
Both dogs lived long lives, and one of our favorite things to do was to ask, “Chet, which foot got caught in the trap?” That dog would put his head back and cry, holding up a different paw each time, carrying on as though the pain was still so terribly fresh that he needed our sympathy. Oh, and a nice little treat for his trouble would be nice, too.
Bill was the ultimate farm dog who could do it all; Chet was the gentleman farmer who really didn’t want to get dirty. All these years later, I still miss them both.