Monday, March 13, 2006

The Life of a Farm Dog

The life of a farm dog is a pretty envious life in my opinion. Back when my dog Ted was around, he made full use of his environment. He slept insides most nights on the porch or at the very end of the hallway. He was never allowed on the carpeted areas or even outside of the confines of a small rug that was his bed. We did this to eliminate odor or shedding problems. After breakfast he would go outside with us and stay out there until the late evening when we got in from our chores. If he was restricted on the inside, outside Ted was king.

My parents farm over a couple thousand acres which is more than enough to contain even an adventurous dog is our farmstead were exactly in the center of it all or if dogs understood the concept of boundaries. But since it wasn't and they don't, Ted went where he pleased whether it was on our property or not. As he got older and his arthritic hip began to affect him, he mostly stayed on the farm proper but when he was younger or on the day after his arthritis shot, he roamed like there was no tomorrow, sometimes four or five miles away from the farm.

I often wished that I could invisibly tag along on these epic journeys of his just to see what drove him to go this way or that. Some days he came as he went, cheerfully plodding along. Other days he would come in beat up, muddy and bleeding from various wounds leaving me to wonder just what had happened. Another time he came home with two of the finest T-bone steaks you have ever seen wrapped in white butcher paper and proceeded to unwrap and eat them in front of me. On rare occasions, he just never came home.

These were the most troubling incidents. Most of our neighbors knew Ted but I worried about him getting shot just for being in the wrong place or the wrong time. He had been shot once as a pup before being dumped alongside the road and that had caused him an arthritic hip and eventually an early demise so I didn't want it to happen a second time. Mostly however I was worried that he would get hung up in a fence somewhere. Animals in the thrill or the pursuit or the sweat of being chased, sometimes run into fences. In a new fence with taut wires, they would mostly likely bounce off and go in a different direction but with an old fence and sagging wires, the sometimes become tangled among the wires and die from blood loss or starvation. This latter troubled me more just because it most likely would have been a slow and painful way to go.

So on the rare occasion when Ted didn't get home around his normal time, I would find myself driving slowly down the country roads calling his name out the window. About half the time I would find him at one of our farming outposts where we have some grain bins or buildings calmly waiting for a ride home still miles left to go and the other half of the time he would be waiting for me back home after I gave up looking. My nearest guess is that he simply lost track of time or under estimated his energy. He never told me why. In the end, fences scraped him up and cut the pads of his paws many times but never took his life. A silly little injection of some drug once a month that took away the pain of arthritis did.

It didn't seem fair but I came to terms with it. Three weeks after his shot of medicine, I could see the pain creeping in with a groan slipping out while laying down or in the extra time it took to get up in the morning. His roaming activity would be curtailed so that he came in earlier everyday until the point where he simply laid around the lawn or out in the shop or wherever we happened to be. Then the first of the month would arrive and I would give him a shot in the evening and the next morning Ted would be like a pup once again. He would disappear for the entire day roaming miles and once again I might occasionally have to go out late in the evening driving the roads and calling his name. I suppose that is why I never scolded him when I found him. I would just open the door, tell him to hop in and together we would head back to the farm. His happiness was mine.

No comments: