J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 12-12-11
On a blustery winter day I dashed out to the shop to get a small piece of hardware to finish up a honey-do when I spotted a small brown pup nested in tall grass on the south wall of the shop, the creature’s back was to the metal siding for warmth.
When I approached, the pup shivered, then stood, looking up at me with eyes that would’ve melted the coldest of hearts.
I brought her inside and gave her a bowl of half and half. And yes, I warmed it a bit on the stove before putting it in a bowl on the floor. The pup lapped it up like she hadn’t eaten anything substantial for quite a while.
I put together a doghouse outside, and named the pup Pinto, because of her resemblance to a bean. She grew along pretty good over the rest of the winter and did an excellent job of protecting us from cottontail rabbits and pocket gophers – actually bringing several carcasses to the back porch for us to admire. With her several different barks, she alerted us to visitors, strays and distant coyotes. In short, she exhibited all that is dogness, all that a dog is and should be.
Come spring, Pinto followed me to the field, shadowing me, back and forth as I worked the fields, trotting in an impression left by a tire or gauge wheel which was smoother than the field clods.
I got a custom job late that spring to mow a section of brush for a guy who intended to improve on the native grass a bit by chopping down the sage and rabbitbrush. Pinto followed me along each day on this job, though sometimes a little slower as she had to negotiate the woody remains of the bush hog mower.
One afternoon, the mower flushed a jackrabbit and Pinto knew what to do about it, pursuing with all her might, yelping and casting all caution to the wind concerning obstacles such as gnarly sage limbs.
From the elevation of the tractor cab, I had an excellent view of what happened next. The jackrabbit went zig-zagging and hop-darting along until it came into a clearing where it met up with another jackrabbit. They looked at each other, then flung over onto their backs. When Pinto came charging into the clearing, the two jacks rotated to meet her head-to-foot on thumping her with their hind legs, several blows landing squarely on Pinto’s nose, others knocking her sideways, and still others grazing her tail. The jackrabbit’s hind legs were remarkably like the trained and practiced punches of a professional boxer.
Tail between her legs, Pinto took off for home. Later that day when I returned, I found her in her doghouse, head resting on her front paws, ears drooping, eyes sad. In the ensuing days, Pinto failed even to chase off the little cottontail rabbits around the yard. She spent most of each day in the doghouse, looking forlorn and eating little.
One of my rancher neighbors, Buck, is a partial to dogs, and if anyone knows about unusual dog conditions, it’s Buck. I took Pinto to see him, and he could find nothing physically wrong with her.
When I described the scene with the jackrabbits, Buck gave me a long look. “A blow to a dog’s head from a jackrabbit, of all creatures … could cause a dog to lose its caninity, just like some humans lose their humanity.”