J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 3-5-12 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 3-5-12

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Don didn’t give names to his two dogs. He simply referred to them as “My Dogs,” or, more usually, “The Two Dogs.”

At first I thought this owed to his slight disaffection for dogs. Not that he outright disliked dogs; he just wouldn’t have had dogs on his own. He inherited The Two Dogs from his sister, who had twin boys who passed away tragically in their youth. Don had taken responsibility for raising the dogs after his nephews died, and there was much to this story that I did not know, and felt I would not know until Don was ready. I knew Don had a special affection for his nephews when they were alive, due mostly to the twin boys’ love of animals.

I asked Don one day if he was ever going to name the dogs.

“The nephews never named them,” Don said. “I decided to go the way they did.”

After a silence I ventured to ask, “Was there a reason why they didn’t name the dogs?”

“I guess you could say: they never had a chance,” Don said. “Anyways … I’ve gone this long without naming ’em, so it’s hard now to think of ’em having separate names. I kind of see the two of ’em as the same, like a unit. The two of ’em together.”

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I thought perhaps the way Don associated the dogs with his nephews was somehow better served by the dogs remaining un-named, and as we stood in the shop talking, I thought he might tell me a little more about his nephews and The Two Dogs.

Instead, Don said, “The Two Dogs proved yesterday they ain’t worth a howl as watchdogs. They found a wild cat, living in that tree out by the far east artesian well. If you look up at the first wye in the main trunk, you’ll see a hollowed out place where a big ol tomcat has a nice little tree condo.”

I had actually seen the tomcat before, when I was patching the overflow pipe on the water tank served by the well. The tomcat had come racing by me with a mouse in his mouth and scampered up the tree in such a frenzy I’d taken a couple of steps back. The tom was indeed a big cat, tiger striped. He disappeared into a hollow in the wye of the trunk, but his tail wagged slowly outside at me. I told Don I’d seen the tomcat.

“So you know he’s quite a testy tom,” Don continued, “The Two Dogs took a notion that tom wasn’t going to be coming down outta that tree without a chase. So they laid down there in the shade, one on each side of the trunk. They had that cat covered tigher’n two coats of paint. But that tomcat had a habit of coming down for a drink of water every day. I caught him with my field glasses. That tom snuck down so quietly he got a drink and got back to his condo while The Two Dogs slept.”

I couldn’t resist. “Well, I guess that proves they won’t give you much protection against cat burglars.”