Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rugged individualists I’ve known and loved

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Steve Wyn-Harris looks back on a lifetime of farm dogs, before Ditch takes over the column with a favour to ask.
Ditch interrupts normal programming to ask a favour of From the Ridge readers.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The 2023 Tux South Island and New Zealand Sheep Dog Trials Championships are on this week.

I sent them a note letting them know that I wouldn’t be competing.

I’ve had farm dogs all my farming career but, as you are likely aware, none of them have been dog trial material or even close.

My favourite dog saying is “if all of your dogs are useless, the problem might not be your dogs”.

That is a little unfair on my team as they have all been handy and friendly, which has suited me fine.

Dino, named after the Flintstones’ pet dinosaur, was my first love.  I bought her exactly 40 years ago for $10 as a freshly weaned pup.

She was a fawn-coloured Beardy.

I bought a book on how to train sheep dogs and set about teaching her and me the basics.

The naming might have been a mistake because she became remarkably like the Flintstones’ pet.

A recurring gag in the cartoon series was Dino knocking Fred over and licking his face. She didn’t knock me over but would slobber all over me given the chance.

“Get in behind” never worked when she suddenly stopped moving sheep and took off after a hare or rabbit. She caught a hare once and it immediately started to scream, which so unnerved Dino that she let it go, never to catch another one.

But she was better at catching possums and even climbed a leaning-over tree once to get one.

I didn’t encourage her to grab a possum as it was a brutal affair and she and I would have a tussle over it so I could humanely dispatch it, at which point she would completely lose interest.

She was the only dog I ever entered in a dog trial.

It was a Young Farmers Club event, and she was going great for half of it and looking like a winner when she saw a rabbit and took off much to the amusement of everyone else and my shame.  

Wag was next and remains my most expensive dog at $100. Now I think about it, I’ve only spent $110 on dogs in my whole career.

Wag and Dino had a brief courtship and it resulted in Please. I can’t remember if I pinched the idea (or invented it myself) of naming a dog where every command and cuss ended in politeness, but I have seen it since in a cartoon.

She was a great bitch, and it was a shock to find her dead in her kennel one morning from that twisted stomach condition known as gastric dilatation-volvulus. Not uncommon in large-chested farm dogs.

She’d previously been ravaged by a neighbour’s eye dog despite me telling him that my bitch was on heat, and could he keep Pete the roué tied up.

This had resulted in Tar, in keeping with the politeness theme and because he was black.

He was also completely useless and hare-brained, but I kept him as he was company for his mother.

When I saw Please dead, I turned to him and said, “We are in trouble.’ 

However, I’ve never seen a useless dog suddenly become so good. All he needed was plenty of work to take the edge off his exuberance.

He would head silently then hunt them back to me or just straight out be a huntaway and great in the yards.

I had frowned on him earlier but he became a great mate and worker.

Kidney malfunction got him in the end, so I got a pup called Rum for nothing and to bridge the gap, a station dog called Coke also for free, looking for an easier life.

Well, he got that because he was a one-man dog and never did a stroke for me other than coming out for rides on the bike. I spent several years feeding in retirement someone else’s dog.

Somehow in his decrepitude he managed to get Rum in pup and their daughter was Gin.

That name was another naming mistake because with mother and daughter looking very alike and two different spirits, all three of us got quite confused.

One evening I went to feed them and saw that Rum was blown up and had that twisted stomach disorder.

I rang my vet mate and when I told him that she was cold to the touch he said she was in shock and pain and there was nothing to be done to save her. He offered to come and put her down, which was good of him.

I said I’d do it. When Jane saw me off to do the task, asked how could I? I replied how could I not? The alternative of an agonising death was a worse scenario.

And then I found Ditch as a tiny pup, dumped in the water table …

I’ll take over from here, thanks Steve. I can tell my own story.

He realised that I was quite clever when he hid to see how Gin was getting out of her kennel all the time and saw me lifting the pin.

He nearly killed me feeding me a ham bone.

And of course, I had that disease where my own immune system was killing off my red blood cells.

I went onto chemotherapy. Cost him a fortune.

The incoming farmer has fancy pants trained-to-the-eyeball dogs and doesn’t want or need me, and the boss doesn’t have anywhere for me to live at the new house.

The boss says he’s loved all his dogs despite their various deficiencies and foibles and reckons he’ll really miss having a dog.

So, if you want a handy dog with another two or three years in me and in exchange can offer a warm kennel, a feed each day and the odd chat and pat, get in touch.

Ditch.

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