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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dog Tales…

Valley swansA couple months ago I wrote a post about two unwanted canine walking companions (“A Valley Walk…with Plenty Apologies,” 12/7). That post came to mind the other day when I was reading my one-year old grandson the classics. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, the grandson certainly enjoys the classics. This time it was the Dr. Suess favorite“Go, Dog, Go,” a story that’s long on rhyme, meter and wholesome childish silliness but short on plot (and for a classic, extremely brief, I might add). A story turns around its title, and I’m just sorry I didn’t think of “Go, Dog, Go” for the title of that December seventh post. What follows, I guess, is an epilogue of my experience walking the Valley with dogs.

I’m afoot this gloomy morning, striding along toward Swiss Hall. A black pickup truck rolls toward me. A passenger side headlight is out, and that tells me the driver is Hank Van Ness. Usually I have to look up to see Hank, as most often he’s grinding by me in the big yellow bucket loader (“My other car is a front end loader”). A friendly wave is the usually the only exchange between us; Hank spends more time, I’m sure, in that rig than his pickup. I prepare for another wave, but this time the pickup slows. Usually the slowing signals the presence of another vehicle behind me, the oncoming one backs off to honor the pedestrian’s right-of-way (steam yields to sail, you know). However this time the truck stops alongside me, the window slides down, and sure enough it’s Hank Van Ness behind the wheel.

At my age most folks I see around and about remind me of somebody I know, knew, or am familiar with. Hank Van Ness is no exception. His soft spoken nature and looks put me in mind of a favorite actor of mine, the late Richard Farnsworth. Both have well trimmed mustaches and a gentle, calming way of speaking that immediately puts the listener at ease. I’m not saying Hank and Farnsworth are exact  doubles for each other…whenever I see him, there is just something about Hank that reminds me of Farnsworth. I wonder if he’s ever considered the movies.

“How far are you walking today?” Hank asks. Strange question, I think. Now when I’m afoot, my turnaround point is Sargent Road and that’s what I tell Hank. “Just wondering,” Hank smiles, “I thought if you walked the Loop, my dog just might tag along.” “Wouldn’t be the first time,” I inform him. Hank smiles, and to my surprise nods knowingly. I launch into my dog tale about my walk with Frohning’s black dog and Hank’s shepherd mix, how the three of us slowed traffic on the Tuaclo Loop as if we were a flock of sheep thronging the road. Hank, much the same as a parent concerned about his child’s behavior in school, wanted to know if his dog was sashaying back and forth across the road, too. “I have her pretty well trained. Whenever I say ‘car,’ she moves immediately to the shoulder.” How was I to know that? Besides, I was too busy apologizing to the stalled drivers (“They’re not my dogs!”). I seem to recall it was “Blackie” that was tacking back and forth across the road, not Hank’s, and tell him so.  I can tell he’s relieved to hear this. (We all want to think good thoughts about our pets, don’t we?)Valley snow drops

We begin to swap dog tales. I tell Hank about Broers’ pup I had as a walking companion a few years back, how I finally had to use some harsh words and chuck a missile or two its way to discourage my company from following me all the way to 203.

That led me to share another dog tale with Hank from a midwinter’s night some years ago. In the early morning hours I awoke to the sound of feet drumming the frozen ground outside our bedroom and heavy panting as the animals loped by. I heard them a second time, excited, apparently in pursuit of something. I jumped out of bed and rushed to the rear of the house. The motion light above the backyard deck had been activated, and in its glow I saw two large golden retrievers, tongues nearly dragging the ground, panting on the lawn just off the deck. They startled and ran when I opened the door and shouted. Thinking I had nipped their hijinks in the bud, I went back to bed.

The next morning I noticed the center boards of the deck had been splintered apart. The two canine vandals had attempted to dig through the decking to get at whatever it was, a terrified rabbit, most likely, that had sought refuge beneath the boards. The carnage did not end there either. When I went out to the woodshed later, I noticed the outer tier of stacked wood had collapsed and spilled out onto the ground. The pair, in trying to dislodge their prey from the cordwood, had dug under the outer tier, undermined it, toppling half the stack.

I gave Hank a description of the culprits. One had a yellow cattle tag on its collar, the other, almost its twin, was collarless. I would often see the tagged retriever wandering about when I was out in the Valley and knew it belonged to the Frohning family. The other I wasn’t sure about. “That would be Wilson,” Hank chuckled, “Andy and Gloria’s dog.” More interesting information followed, including the origin of the dog’s name (“Wilson” after the basketball friend of Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away”) and a strange tale of a dognapping. All I know is because of those two midnight marauders, I had to replace the splintered decking with two new treated 2’ x 4’s.

A blog I follow posted the other day that the domesticated dog (Canis lupus familiaris, I was informed) requires but a slight amount of animal protein in its diet and whereas its wild canine relatives need a diet high in animal protein, man’s best friend can fare quite well on a diet of carbohydrates (grains and such). I commented on the post and in a reply comment the author stated further that over time most of the pack instincts have been bred out of our modern day canine pets. That may be so, but it’s my experience dogs with no fence between them and mischief are certain to find it: one dog’s a pet, two or more dogs on the loose is a pack. Hank and I agree that more than one dog given free rein can wreak some serious havoc in the neighborhood—especially if there are chicken yards about.

It’s always good to talk with the Valley neighbors and I welcome the chance to catch up on the local flatland news. Hank and I must have swapped dog tales for a good twenty minutes. My apologies to all the traffic that had to slow, stop, and ease by us in the oncoming lane.

And the strange question that began our conversation? It turns out Andy Werkhoven had read my dog walking post about the exasperating experience and shared the post with Hank. That’s why you’re reading The Ripple’s latest…a classic case of the news creating the news.

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  1. Ah, but, "chase in a disorganized group" is different than pure, cooperative pack hunting, and the orderly sharing of a meal that ensues when a wolf pack dines.

    As for dogs, the distance between them you need to maintain in the kitchen to keep them from killing each other over licking the dinner plates- that's a telltale sign- they are more selfish scavenger than collaborative pack mate. Or so the prevailing theory goes.

    I think when a group of dogs happens to find temporary interest in each others' company, and then they are presented with the opportunity of a flock of chickens, it's every dog for himself. In my house, if two dogs find themselves alone with a roast, often a fight erupts before either one can take the first bite! ;-)

  2. Ah, ha, CF. Always the scientist, aren't you! You are correct, of course, and I defer, as always to science. I used the word in a more general sense as in "mischief-causing--you know, like a "pack" of teens on a TP-ing mission.I suppose one could refer to many dogs on the loose as a "bunch," but believe most would use the collective noun "pack" to refer a number of roaming dogs, regardless whether they exhibit "coordinated efforts" or are just along "for the ride."

    You make a a good point with your "dogs vying for dinner plates" scenario and the self-serving behavior of the modern dog. When I was a teen living on the ranch, one of the hands--and a friend--had two golden retrievers (Dusty and Goldie). Unfortunately their master contracted TB and had to spend a month in a Spokane sanitarium. I--unfortunately--volunteered to care for them in his absence. He gave me money for canned food and come feeding time, I would open two cans, place the contents of each on a paper plate, set the plates on the floor of the empty picker's cabin, and bolt for the door before the air filled with flying fur and dogfood as each would rush the other's dish; I'm surprised they both didn't starve!

    So please excuse my liberal use of the word in deference to "artistic license," (Thank goodness you can't see my hang-dog expression. Perhaps The Ripple should be called the Valley Enquirer??)

    Coyotes? Are they pack animals? They seem to be loners (like wolverines). Perhaps they're mid-stream evolution-wise between wolves and familiaris?? Thanks for the comment. TMJ