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Jessie Veeder, Published January 19 2013

Coming Home: Cattle dog a necessary companion

Out here on the ranch there are a few necessary things that help us manage the work and the cattle through spring mud, summer heat and winter snow drifts.

The first is a dependable four-wheel-drive pickup that stores fencing supplies, grain buckets, spare tires, twine, dirt, little pieces of hay and 37 left-hand gloves under the seat.

The other is a dependable horse with four good feet to get to the places the pickup can’t.

And the most important is a dog made to ride in the back of the pickup, trot beside your horse and chase the varmints out of your yard and the cattle out of the deep, thick brush that lines the coulees.

But, let me be a bit more specific here. I’ve found myself out here with a 105-pound lab that attempts to uproot every oak tree on the place on a constant quest for the biggest stick and a husky pug with one eye and a tendency to pee on my favorite boots.

No, on a ranch you don’t really need an oversized and overambitious hunting dog, and you sure don’t need a leg-lifting, porcupine-fighting, delusional pug.

What you do need is a cattle dog. And they are a different species altogether.

Throughout my life the ranch has been home to some hardworking and loyal cow dogs, and I recall each one with the fondness you place on a childhood friend as she passes through your memory on an ordinary day. Because each one of those dogs lived through significant seasons of my life, wagging their tails and rolling over for a belly scratch as I stepped off the bus after my first day of school and out of the car after my first dance, first date, first big gig and first semester of college.

Looking back I realize that I’ve attached these animals to moments in my life where I found my face buried in their fur looking for comfort, companionship or something I couldn’t explain at the time.

My grandmother’s border collie soaked up the tears that fell after her unexpected death and her puppy protected me from snakes on my long, isolated, adolescent walks. I let the kelpie sleep in my room after my first breakup and, Pudge, our hand-me-down Aussie, came to live with me in Grand Forks when I found myself lonesome and overwhelmed during my last year of college.

It’s funny to think that these dogs, bred for aggression, herding and moving cattle through the roughest terrain, are also tender and unexpected therapists disguised in thick, bur-filled coats.

When I grew up and got my own place, the first thing I did was get a little brown puppy who turned into the big brown dog out there in my front yard chewing on sticks.

Having a dog has always made me feel more like myself, regardless of their bloodlines.

Pudge is nearing the end of her life now, and soon she will exist only in the memories I have of her curled up at the foot of my bed so far from home with little pieces of the ranch stuck in her thick fur.

Last weekend I rode along with my dad and husband to pick up a new puppy from a neighbor. Pudge’s old age has prevented her from helping with the cattle and – despite the pug’s best efforts – we need to work on raising a new cow dog out here.

In the backseat of my dad’s pickup I held our newest addition on my lap. I rubbed her soft ears and wondered if she knew what she was made for and what kind of tears might soak her fur.

I looked out the window at my frozen world flying by and smiled knowing she was now stuck to this memory of sitting in the back seat of my father’s pickup, a grown woman in a stocking cap, listening to my dad and husband talk weather, cattle and the plans we all have for this tiny, fluffy, most necessary thing.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D..