The best dog show I ever saw

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The dog show on television got my dozing attention, and I estimated that I watched roughly 8,762 dogs that I wouldn't allow in the house.

Show dogs are trimmed and buffed and tidied nasty-neat. They can waggle and trot beyond complaint. But the dog that has fun is my kind of dog, and it will not be seen, I think, on TV for many days to come. My dog, I've prayed, will own some land - not too much and not too little - with garden and orchard, a bubbling spring of clear, cold water, and a woodlot.

My dog may have little class, but he'll be long on managerial talent, for he must take charge of affairs, accept responsibility, and do everything except pay the taxes. Prince comes to mind. Prince was of the rustic, countrified, bucolic strain common to our environment. His parentage was inclusive, and we found him in our mailbox sans papier as the free gift of a passing but unidentified jokester.

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Prince, when weaned at last, adopted plowing as his m├ętier, and we were unable to till without him. He would fall in behind the tractor and walk along doggedly all day in the newly turned furrow, inspecting the stile for quality and durability. At the end of the row, the tractor chauffeur would be obliged to look closely while turning so he didn't back over the fool.

Soon after our son went to do his military stint, Prince quit farming. For a time we kept no dog. The next spring, our son came home on furlough and rose the morrow morn to continue plowing where I had ceased the evening before. He gassed up and began to plow.

At breakfast time he came to the house to say, "You've got to get a new dog! Every time I turned I looked so I wouldn't kill Prince, and he wasn't there. I can't plow without Prince."

So we got The Baron Lootvigg. He was a fine-looking hound but also stupid enough, and I fixed him a comfortable residential suite in the barn with the pair of barn cats already tenants in sufferance, Mephistopholis and Mrs. Topholis. He was not, but she was outraged at this uninvited intrusion, and she jumped on the back of The Baron Lootvigg, dug in her claws, and rode him a cappella over to Colebrook, N.H., whence they walked home to be lifelong friends.

Some years later, The Baron was entered in the Rotarian Summer Dog Show, and when all the dogs were at charge-and-stay for the obedience contest, the village boys tossed a pussycat in the window. All the dogs except The Baron Lootvigg broke their command with enthusiasm and treed the cat on the piano. The Baron never flickered a hair and won the obedience contest. It wasn't because he was smart; he was just petrified by cats.

Let me also recall Argos, our German shepherd, about which the chief of police called. "What do you do with the tennis balls?" he said. I said, "To what tennis balls do you allude?"

He said, "To those your dog swipes over at the tennis courts." Every time a tennis ball was lobbed over the hurricane fences, a shepherd dog jumped out of the surroundings, grabbed it on the fly, and ran off in my direction.

"And you," he said, "have the only shepherd in your direction." When we looked, we found Argos had 169 tennis balls under our front porch. See what I mean?

When Marm and I visited Germany, we headed our VW Beetle into the Harz Mountains one late fall day and have been glad ever since. We were rewarded by a feathery snow shower, when flakes fell like tufts of cotton and gave us a fairyland of delight. It made no depth of snow, and the road did not become slippery. I slowed and there was no emergency when a man stepped from between two trees directly in front of us.

The man paid us no heed but looked that way, then our way, and turned to look back into the forest. He wore the broad sheltering hat of a shepherd, a shepherd's heavy cape or cloak, now sprinkled with flakes, and he had a crook as in any good Yuletide tableau. If he saw us, he didn't acknowledge us.

I lifted a finger in a Yankee salute and tilted the beam of my headlamps. He did not respond. Then from the forest appeared his dog, a handsome Alsatian, to touch his nose at his master's thigh, and then look up and down as his master had done. The dog, too, seemed not to notice us. I whispered to my wife, "They're moving the flock!"

And there we sat in the nursery-tale snow shower somewhere in the legendary Harz Mountains, and watched a sheep dog do something you'll never see at a dog show on TV.

The shepherd did nothing. He stood apart, missing nothing, but there was nothing for him to do. The dog went back whence he came, and then the first sheep appeared, clearly not sure what she was expected to do. The dog nudged her across the road. Then came the flock, follow-the-leader style. The shepherd watched, and the dog superintended. "Count them!" I said, and she said, "That won't be easy." I told her to do it the way the dog does it, count the feet and divide by four.

I believe that dog did count his sheep, for he knew when the last had crossed, and somehow he told the shepherd. The dog followed that last sheep out of our sight. Without a glance at us, the shepherd followed his dog. The best dog show I ever saw was over.

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