J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 2-20-12 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 2-20-12

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Everyone involved with farming and ranching knows the value of a good hired hand, just as hands know the value of a fair and decent boss. There’s an old joke about the rancher and his hand. The hired hand asks for a raise. The rancher says, “At that wage, if you save up, you can buy me out in a few years, and when you do, promise you’ll hire me back to work for you at these same wages so I can save up and buy you out.”

When we have a good working relationship with a person in agriculture, whether with an employee, vendor, or neighbor, we value it. In some instances, we value it enough that we will put up with a few flaws the person might have outside the working relationship.

In one case, I worked with a man, Don, who was one of the best – honest, prompt and skilled. Then he was given two dogs. Large dogs, Labs mixed with mutt, who were rather overfed and possessed of boundless energy at exactly the wrong times. The one time these two dogs made it into my house, I wondered how much my home insurance covered damage to the contents. From dogs.

Don received the two dogs from his sister. That was all he said at first. Later he explained that he had the honor of taking care of the dogs. But Don had admitted to me years before when I asked if he’d ever had a dog, “Nope. Don’t want one,” he’d said. “One dog’s about as worthless as another.”

But Don accepted the honor of caring for these two large dogs with the commitment of a young man favoring a famous person. And not just until someone who really wanted them came along, No, he was to take care of the dogs for the rest of their lives. The two dogs were fully grown, mature dogs, but they were a long way from a couple of good, old dogs getting ready to die. This looked to me like a relationship that was going to go on for many years.

The problem was that Don really didn’t like dogs. Acting out of duty, he didn’t communicate well with the dogs, so in the beginning, the dogs were more headache than companion to him. They did things like dig under the skirting of his mobile home, knock down the furnace’s transfer ducting so as to direct the entire heat source for the house down to them, two big dogs in a nest of fiber glass insulation, made from remnants of ducting.

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They broke Don’s furniture, they scratched the sides of his newer pickup. And more than many dogs, these dogs went about mischief in ways that often resulted in injury. Like the time they pursued a rabbit into a 6-inch irrigation pipe. One dog went to each end of the pipe, waiting. Overcome with impatience, they each attempted to enter the pipe from opposite ends, and each dog got his head stuck. Then they tried to run.

Many future dog stories will come from some of the remarkable antics of Don’s dogs. There were times when I felt like giving Don an ultimatum: either you or the dogs.

Fortunately, I didn’t.