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The Life and Times Of Farm Dogs

By John Gould / April 17, 1998



The genteel city-slicker who keeps a dog for ornamental or cosmetic purposes, or perhaps merely for companionship, will not readily appreciate the infinite nuances that prevail in the life of a farm dog. A farm dog's career is burdened with obligations and responsibilities up to (but not including) paying the taxes. He is in charge, and knows it, and he never has time to shirk.

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A farm dog is basically utilitarian, and does not loll about and take up space without deserving it. First, naturally, he is the Swiss Guard of the fortress, and must raise the hue and cry if he hears a door close over in the next town. The next thing a dog learns is to knock it off after he has announced a visitor. In this connection, I can cite Hamilcar Barca, our faithful mutt of the children's youth, who was permitted exactly 22 barks per incident, as designated by a Chinese counting rack that he was taught to use.

Our boy taught him to add 8, 8, 4, 4, and subtract 2, and to stop barking. The only real trouble we ever had with this arrangement was the afternoon Henry Blaisdell drove a flock of sheep up the road for shipment by rail. Hammi barked his quota for each sheep.

I don't remember all our dogs, because they were many and they constantly faced danger and were more expendable than dogs nurtured in the lap of luxury without cark and care.

Beevo, my first dog of boyhood, had a short reign. I fetched him up with love and bannock, and one day he was big enough to hunt rabbits, which was his trade. I took him to the swamp on the Blethen farm and let him go. He shook, as dogs do when you unsnap the leash, and then he bayed in a loud and florid manner. Then he ran into the swamp and crossed to the other side, and I never saw him again. I don't have any idea. I missed him at my feet in bed for a week or so, and then I got Wilbraham.

Wilbraham was a cross between an Irish Wolf Hound and a Chihuahua, which bothered the American Kennel Club when we tried to register him. (I never really had much success with the AKC. They seemed to know a great deal about everything except Maine dogs.) Wilbraham was structurally competent, and could stand at the end of our long dining-room table and pick a biscuit from the platter in the middle of it. I forgot how we came to lose Wilbraham, but it was a good idea.

Our best dog, bar none, was good old Friedrich, the Baron von Bonkenschloss-Spielmeister. Known only as The Baron, he achieved fame throughout our county, and a little bit in the next, as a fine friend of the people and a collector of anything he could carry if it wasn't nailed down. And I must tell this very funny anecdote with great care to protect the innocent.

It was on a summer morning, long before deer season, and I was talking to Philip Mahaney, our resident game warden, about recent poaching activity that had sullied the fair name of our law-abiding neighborhood. Phil said he'd hunted all over, and he thought he knew who the poacher was. "But I'm not sure," he said, "and until I am, everybody is under suspicion."

I said, "Yea, verily!"

Just then The Baron came from behind our barn with a clearly visible portion of fresh meat, including antlers, and laid it with pride at Phil's feet. Phil was a gentleman, I must say, and he stooped to pat The Baron and say, "Good doggie, old boy! Bringing home the bacon, eh?" The Baron much appreciated this kindly recognition.

Phil came back the next day to say he had caught the poacher, and the evidence supplied by the faithful Baron had nothing to do with the matter. "I wonder where he got it?" mused Phil. And I said truthfully that I didn't know.

The Baron was so intelligent that the lad took him to an obedience school, and The Baron won the medal on recital day. It was a cinch. You could tell The Baron anything, and he never forgot. When he was a puppy he thought he'd have some fun, so he went to chase our barn cat, Pophyro. Pophyro was a veteran and had but one eye and he never ran from dogs. So Pophyro climbed aboard the youthful Baron, dug in his pole-climbers, and rode The Baron over into Township Six, Range Seven.

FROM that moment on, The Baron remembered cats and remained unlacerated. And on recital night, after the obedience lessons, The Baron was up on the piano at the Civic Center, and with all the other student dogs was holding a "charge and stay" posture while the judges decided. Just then some mischievous boys hove a pussycat through the open window, and the up-to-now quiet assembly had everything except John Peele blowing his horn in the morning.

The cat, lacking a better solace, treed on the piano, right between the paws of stolid Baron von So-and-so, and under his nose. The Baron remained as indifferent as the stone Sphinx after all these inanimate years.

It did take some time to restore canine order. The Baron won the obedience medal, which came on a bright blue ribbon and with a proper citation of scholastic success. But The Baron went his way in time, and we found other farm dogs smart enough to walk all day in the furrow behind the bottom-plow, and other duties city dogs never bother with. There was Lucius Delammamoore, for one, who was descended from the Argos of Odysseus and the Gelert of Llewellyn, famous in the Welsh National Anthem.

The AKC told us to go jump in the lake.