Animal Husbandry

by Bruce Patterson, September 29, 2010

Wheeling his pickup to town for an after work beer, Dale glanced at his Lady sitting all dainty-like beside him. What a fine young thing she was. Her nose out the open side window, her ears flapping in the wind, the tip of her long tail gently tapping the seat, Lady was just as pleased as punch to be off the ranch and taking in the smells and scenery. “What a sweetheart,” Dale thought to himself. “What a pal.”

Dale never did believe in keeping animals as house pets. With every living thing, counting humans, having to earn its daily bread, why would Dale want to make an exception for, say, a kitty cat? Even the best damned kitty cat sleeps about 90% of the time and, if it ain’t sleeping, then it’s sitting and hallucinating, or sharpening its claws on your curtains, or licking itself from one end to the other. About the only time a cat ever gets interest­ing is in the dead of night when a person is trying to sleep, and Dale never would stand for that, not with him rising with the sun. So every cat he’d ever owned he kept as a barn cat. He’d feed and water it enough to encourage it to stick around to fill out it’s diet with field mice, wood rats, pocket gophers, fence lizards and what all. If the cat was a decent enough hunter, it’d stay fat and happy and, if it was to its liking, Dale would bring it inside the house often enough to show his appreciation. While relaxing on his couch, he’d even let the cat rub and rub on his pants leg while he stroked its flagpole tail. Then when a mouse invaded Dale’s bedroom, he’d bring in the cat at sundown, shut his bedroom door behind it, sleep on the couch and, come morning when he let the cat back outside, it’d have a cute little bump in its belly.

Who’d ever pay good money for a yappy little pedi­gree lapdog? Better yet, how about buying yourself a yappy little lapdog with a pedigree face as ugly as a moldy, dripping honey bun? You put a leash on the mis­shapen critter and take it for a walk, folks stop and gawk, little kids grab a hold of their mommy’s skirts and some­body half-shouts, “Good God, man! That’s one seriously ugly dawg.” And you look down at your perfumed dar­ling, your heart swells with affection, pride and admira­tion, and you reply, “Isn’t she now.”

Dale remembered how the other day he’d run into his old buddy Jim. A pick and shovel prospector with hands the size of catcher’s mitts, Jim was coming down the mountain, Dale was coming up, and they stopped, killed their engines, rolled down their windows, rested their arms on their doors and commenced to gabbing. Jim’s wife was sitting shotgun and, even before Dale had fin­ished admiring her two-foot-tall, lacquered-up bouffant, he heard a yip like a mouse getting stepped on and up pops this tiny little fir ball and it’s hanging on Jim’s sau­sage arm. Squirming and clawing and licking its nose and eyeballs like it was getting set to leap from the rig and land headfirst on the red rock, it just might have, too, if Jim hadn’t of covered it with his hand leaving just its flickering tongue and twitching button nose showing. When he lifted his eyes and saw how absolutely humili­ated Jim looked, Dale resolved on the spot never to tell a soul about what he’d just seen. When it came to explain­ing how a man like Jim could own a toy poodle with a fancy haircut and a little red ribbon bowtie sitting atop its head, he could do that for his self.

Dale glanced admiringly at Lady. About the best young cow dog he’s ever had, she was liable to nip you if you were fool enough to call her a toy. When Lady barked, she had a reason and she didn’t knock herself on her ass. Some folks think it’s the cutest thing to watch some little toy dog, all flustered about who-knows-what, barking and knocking itself backward across a kitchen floor, its BB paws skittering, but not Dale. A little windup stuffed toy monkey crashing symbols together was about as entertaining and a whole lot cheaper. So was a Mexican Jumping Bean.

Dale remembered how, back when Lady was learning her trade, she’d gotten to nipping at the hooves of a little heifer and it kicked her under the jaw and sent her flying. Making a big arc in the sky, Lady did a slow-motion back flip, got her paws under her, and hit the ground ah-running, again nipping at them hooves. So she got kicked again but — this was a couple of years ago — that was the last time. Being tough didn’t make Lady stupid, either. How tough was she? A while back during a hot afternoon, Lady was hanging out in the shade with the cows when one of them, bewitched as cows sometimes get, up and keeled over and landed square on her. Dale saw it, cringed and thought Lady was a goner for sure. But then, under a rising puff of dust, he saw one of her front paws reach daylight, then the other, then her nose and head wiggled free and out she came from under that cow none the worse for wear. Not only that but, knowing a cow shouldn’t be lying on its side for long — having to lift all of that meat, bone, fat and fur constricts their breathing — Lady gave her a good hard nip on the ear and startled her back up to her feet where she’d be safe. And if there was any malice in Lady’s bite, she sure didn’t show any. Even after the trauma she’d just gone through, she was still on the job, her eyes wide open, her tail calmly wagging. Why Lady was such a sweetheart that if she was the only dog a person ever laid eyes on, he’d never get to see what hackles look like.

Town wasn’t much more than a stand of cottonwoods shading a roadhouse with a backyard collection of clap­board cabins and travel trailers up on cinderblocks. “Sylvia’s Oasis,” the roadhouse was called. While that was a stretch, Sylvia’s beer was sure good and cold. Once Dale was sitting in The Oasis when a tourist came in and asked Sylvia if her beer was half-cold. Well she planted her hands on her hips, stuck her chin up and shot back, “Is 35 degrees Fahren-heit cold enough for ya?”

On a sweltering day like today, Dale reckoned as he parked in the shade of the biggest cottonwood tree, Sylvia’s beer was frigid enough to freeze his dentures if he forgot to swallow quick enough. That plus get his tongue to shivering. After setting boots on dirt, welcom­ing Lady up into the bed of his truck, shutting the tailgate behind her, fetching a pot of cool water out of Sylvia’s outside faucet, setting it in the bed and then pointing his finger at Lady to get her to stay, Dale went inside and took a seat. Sylvia had been all alone and so Dale knew he was in for an earful. While a barkeep’s job was to keep the drinks moving, the money changing hands and their mouth shut, tending bar was just one of the things Sylvia did, her owning and operating everything a fellah was seeing all around plus plenty more just outside. So if Sylvia wanted to talk the shine off the floor, or get the flies so bored they lost their grips on the ceiling and plinked on the bar, there was no use in Dale trying to stop her.

About the time Dale was settling in, a State Trooper happened by town, noticed a commotion of dogs circling a blue pickup truck and stopped to investigate. Standing tall in the bed of the truck was a sleek shepherd mutt mix and six trailer park dogs about half her size were leaping up and down and yipping and yapping, chasing their tails in frustration or snarling and fighting, and instantly the Trooper knew the bitch was in heat. She was in heat and yet in no mood to be jumping down into the middle of them crazed, raggedy things. If anything, she seemed amused.

Not wanting for things to maybe get out of hand, the Trooper went inside to alert the owner to the problem.

“I take it that’s your dog out there in the blue pickup,” he said to Dale.

“Her name’s Lady,” Dale replied to his frosted glass of beer.

“Well she’s in heat and I think you should get her home.”

Dale chuckled. “No, sir. I left her parked in deep shade.”

“Not that kind of heat: in heat.”

“Well, if that’s the case, she’s got plenty of water. I won’t be sitting here too long.”

“You still don’t get it. Your dog wants to screw.”

Taken aback, Dale slowly turned, eyeballed the Trooper up and down, then shrugged and said, “You go ahead if she’ll let you. I always wanted me a police dog.”

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