Friends beyond the barnyard pick

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Sometimes, animals choose us.
What would any farm be without a cast of characters from the animal world?
The heart of an empathetic country squire is often large enough to encircle Mother Nature’s castaways rather than just those animals they’ve enclosed within their barns or gates or crates.
I have heard adults tell stories of well-remembered rescues from their childhood farm experiences.
One, a woman of about 60, fought back tears when she recalled her father helping her raise a baby fawn back in the days of her youth.
“He was such a busy man, and I’d never seen this side of him. He helped me prepare a bottle, he told me when it was time to put a salt lick out. He told me when it was time to let her go. That year was probably our very closest of my entire life,” this grown-up farm girl told me.
Some of the roughest, toughest farmers show an entirely different side of their soul when it comes to the sidekick that shares their days, their evenings, their pickup trucks.
I am talking, of course, about the good old farm dog.
Bill. We grew up with Bill, a wise English Shepherd.
Bill was the epitome of a true working dog. He came from my father’s father, R.H. Young, who raised and shipped English Shepherds to all 48 states. Bill was the last pup my grandfather ever raised.
Bill knew, without a man’s watch, when it was time to herd the cattle into the barn for milking. He knew, with great enthusiasm, that Cliff Fulk’s livestock truck arriving on the farm meant it was time to sort hogs.
I still find myself shaking my head in amazement when I recall watching that dog sort hogs. How did he know? He would slice the chaotic pen right down the middle, and somehow he would push the little ones back and hold the fat hogs close to the chute for loading.
He did his work lickety-split. If I hadn’t see it with my own eyes, I still would not believe it.
Dad used to say Bill was worth more than a dozen hired hands. He worked quickly, efficiently, correctly. He was firm enough to get the job done, but had learned he needed to hold back on the instinct to nip at all those hog heels.
“Don’t be too rough,” were the last words my dad would say to him before sending him in to do his sorting work.
Bill listened. And all for just a pat on the head when the work was done.
Chet. When I was about 12 years old, a dog named Chet chose us as his family.
Chet could not have been more opposite from Bill. Bill was a pedigreed dog with stock dog instincts flowing through his veins.
Chet was a pound puppy – part collie, part shepherd – adopted by my married sister who was living nearby.
Chet wandered off from her home one day and was missing for a couple days. My dad found him, one hind leg stuck in a trap.
After that, Chet decided he was staying by my dad’s side.
Years later, all Dad would have to say is, “Tell us about that day you got stuck in a trap, Chet,” and that dog would hold up a paw -a different paw every time – and cry and carry on, telling us all about it. He should have been a Broadway performer!
Differences. Bill would leap through mud puddles to get to wherever he needed to go. Chet would tiptoe around them.
Bill would practically fly into the bed of the pickup truck when he realized dad was getting ready to go somewhere. Chet would stand by the door of the cab, wagging his beautiful tail, waiting to be invited inside. If only he could talk, he would have requested air conditioning in that truck cab.
Bill was a porch dog. Chet preferred to see himself as a king-sized bed dog with fine chocolates on the night stand, please.
Bill looked at that dog with utter disdain, and yet he never gave up on him. There was always this sense of “Maybe I can teach this pup a thing or two … .”
He urged Chet to come along to the big pasture. He showed Chet how to belly crawl under the electric fence. He gleefully tried to teach this new kid the joy of rolling in something really dead and extremely stinky.
Chet looked as though he just might pass out at the very thought.
Both Bill and Chet lived well into old age, though it wasn’t a long enough run for those of us who loved them.
Bill never stopped trying to teach the new kid how to be a farm dog, and Chet never wavered from his stance of gentleman farmer, preferring not to get his paws dirty.
Chet proved to us that a fellow doesn’t even have to go in search of a wonderful dog companion, as sometimes they choose us.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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