When a gloomy stretch comes along, one thing that never fails to lift my spirits is to look through my lifelong collection of dog photographs.
One of the hall of fame kind of dogs we still collectively recall with joy was rescued from a shelter by my oldest sister shortly after she married. She was renting a house from my parents that summer when she adopted a sable and white collie-shepherd pup they named Chet.
My diary entry that December reads, “Poor Chet got caught in a trap back in the deep ditch today. Good thing dad found him or he would’ve died. He got some shots at Doc Smith’s and is staying here tonight in my bedroom so I can keep an eye on him. Poor boy!”
I was 14, and clearly relished the idea of a dog needing me. The shelter dog reciprocated, never wanting to leave. Chet was, for all time, attached to my father, but he slept in my room each night.
Chet became a farm dog only by virtue of where he lived. That dog would slowly and carefully walk around a mud puddle rather than run through it like our farm dog, Bill, tried to teach him to do.
Chet preferred sitting beside Dad in the cab of the truck, refusing to ride in the bed. Why lie on the porch when the kitchen beckoned at mealtime? A tasty morsel might fall in just the right direction if a dog remained on high alert under the table.
The thrill of watching a dog work is outpaced only by the joy of being adored by one. With the pair of Bill and Chet, I was lucky enough to have both.
Bill knew exactly the time to head for the pasture to start moving the cows into the barn for milking. Chet accompanied me to reach any Holstein stragglers, staying close by my side until the grass gave way to muck, and then he was on his way to a shade tree in the lawn.
Bill was strictly an outdoor dog, keeping the pest population thinned. Chet would never dream of staying outdoors at night. If he needed to pull on heartstrings, that dog could suddenly limp very convincingly.
“Which foot got caught in that trap?” Dad would ask. Chet would hold up a different paw each time, but he knew how to play his cards just right. Dad would laugh and say, “Come on in, Chet. With that terrible handicap, you don’t dare stay outside!”
That dog would fly up the stairs to my bedroom, the limp miraculously healed.
Chet grew to understand a great number of words, proving to be a step ahead of us so many times. But one of my Dad’s favorite things to do with Chet involved no spoken word.
Dad would slowly, quietly lift a box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates from the end table beside his easy chair. No matter where Chet was, or how deeply he might be snoozing, the minute that box of candy was lifted, Chet appeared by my Dad’s side.
“Oh, I changed my mind, I don’t need any candy,” Dad might nonchalantly say, setting the box back on the table.
Chet would let out an enormous sigh or a frustrated huff and head back to his napping spot.
If Dad rustled through the candy box, Chet would wiggle and whimper with anticipation. Though chocolate can be deadly for dogs, we didn’t know that then. Chet was sometimes given the last little corner bite, and he thankfully lived well into old age.
Chet had been taught to stay off the sofa, and he never attempted to get on it when we were home. But if we returned home quietly, we might find him in deep sleep, head on the sofa pillows which he had arranged just so.
He would very sheepishly stretch and roll off of the couch in one fluid movement, his brown eyes looking up at us as if to say, “What? Who, me? No, that wasn’t me on that couch. Your eyes are playing tricks on you!”
When the chores were done and field hunting lost its thrill, when the chipmunks had been chased to high limbs in the trees near the house, Bill would come to the porch to wait for Chet to come out to play. Like a great comedy team, the two dogs entertained us for hours.
I realize more with each passing year just how lucky I’ve been. I am forever grateful for a treasure trove of happy memories, all set on the great stage of open farmland.
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!