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Jessie Veeder, Published August 10 2012

Coming Home: Misfit dogs bring heart to ranch

WATFORD CITY, N.D. - During my years living away from the ranch I acquired some items that are unnecessary and ridiculous now that I’m living out here surrounded by cow poop and gravel roads.

My strappy high heels come to mind as an example, as do my rollerblades and the mountain bike I was sure I was going to ride up and down these unreasonably steep hills.

But I insisted on packing them up even though I knew many of those things would sit idle in storage, collecting dust and serving as a reminder of another version of my life.

But there are a couple items that do their best every day to inform me that some impractical things refuse to be stored away.

They’re my dogs. And their newfound wild tendencies are causing this animal lover to reconsider her stance on the animal kingdom.

See, I’ve never been known to be sensible when it comes to pets. In my life as a ranch kid I’ve brought home garter snakes, a half-dozen wounded birds, several captured turtles and frogs from the creek, a variety of lizards from the pet store, stray barn kittens, and one baby goat I bottle fed and dressed in diapers.

But it’s the dogs that made my childhood magical and taught me important lessons about what it means to be responsible for a creature that wasn’t only our companion but also a partner with a purpose out here. My family had quite the assortment of dogs over the years, all of them loved for their personalities and bred to help us chase the cattle out of the brush, fight the bull that turned on us in the pasture, and protect the house from snakes, raccoons, or any other misguided varmint that found himself in our driveway. These dogs were tough, loyal and made for the job.

Which leads me to my predicament that began six years ago with the addition of a Lab puppy, which quickly grew into 105 pounds of slobber, clumsiness and a giant tail that can clear a coffee table in one sweep.

Add to the mix a black pug I begged my husband to bring home during an aggressive case of temporary insanity and here we are: two relatively practical people living on a cattle ranch with the most impractical dogs for the lifestyle.

Have you ever seen a pug chase a cow out of the yard? Well, I’ll tell you I might as well dig out those high heels and join him because that’s the level of usefulness I’m talking about here.

But naturally my clumsy, smelly, displaced dogs love ranch life. They love to drink out of puddles, swim in stock dams, roll in cow poop and conduct contests to see who can accumulate the most wood ticks. And I don’t blame them. In my opinion, there’s no better life for a dog.

But I’m having issues with the way they’re handling this freedom. I feel they’re taking advantage of this wide-open space and the endless opportunities they find to try their luck at squirrel hunting, horse hassling and howling at the coyotes. Combine those shenanigans with the fact that the pair regularly trek to oil sites in search for men willing to play endless games of fetch and feed them T-bone steaks from their dinner plates, and I may soon be taking out a “dogs for giveaway” ad in the classifieds right next to the one for my rollerblades.

I can about imagine what my father said to himself when I rolled into the barnyard and unloaded the soft-pawed misfits. It was probably the same string of words I used when one of the pug’s buggy eyes had to be removed after an unfortunate scrap with a porcupine, leaving me with a vet bill I never want to discuss.

But for all of the disqualifications these animals brought with them to the ranch, they have also brought with them a whole lot of heart.

And being out here in a place that fascinates me more each day with nothing but my scrawny arms and big ideas, I guess I can relate.

If you need me, I’ll be out looking for my dogs.

Jessie Veeder is a 28-year-old musician and writer. She lives near Watford City, N.D., with her husband, on the ranch where she grew up.