J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 4-30-12 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 4-30-12

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Just when I thought Don’s Two Dogs had shown me, and the farm crew, the full rainbow of What Dogs Can Do, I went to see a good friend who has a dog named Bandit, a bob-tailed blue heeler.

When you look into Bandit’s eyes, you have a hard time shaking the suspicion that he sees into you, that he’s figuring out things about you that even you don’t know about yourself, yet. He has a very spooky gaze, but is a lot of fun. Bandit will fetch anything he can carry, and he’ll try anything. There’s always a ball, stick, or tractor part around when Bandit’s around, and while visiting with my friend, we usually toss something while talking, and Bandit fetches.

My friend calls him “a nut,” with deep affection.

It was as if Bandit had been born to retrieve. At the toss of an object, he’ll take off with screeching paws, pursuing with undivided dedication. Sometimes Bandit’s paws get sore from excessive fetching. When this happens, my friend has to tell visitors not to throw anything because Bandit needs to rest his sore paws.

One day, when the family was in town shopping, my friend and his kids were in the parking lot tossing one of those super bouncing balls for Bandit: a small, hard rubber ball that could bounce 10- to 15-feet in the air. Mother was in the supermarket and Bandit was having fun catching this high flyer, because instead of tossing the ball for distance, which might expose Bandit to danger, the kids threw the ball down against the pavement in front of them, causing the ball to bounce high in the air. That way, Bandit would catch and fetch fairly close to the truck.

Everything went along like that for a while, until Bandit leaped up to snag the ball, but the ball disappeared. As it was Bandit’s process to lunge up at the ball if he had the chance, he apparently lunged, open-mouthed, and the ball, now wet from his own saliva, went right into his stomach. They knew this because Bandit was still breathing, running around looking for that danged ball, genuinely confused about where it could have gone.

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To a dog like Bandit, for whom retrieving was both his passion and profession, the disappearing ball must have been extremely puzzling. He had seen it in mid-air, felt it in his mouth, and now it was gone. Things like that didn’t happen to Bandit.

It was also confusing to my friend and his kids. They half hoped it had been an optical illusion and the ball was nearby, but it wasn’t, and my friend had seen what happened.

They rushed Bandit to a vet who did a life-saving operation to remove the ball.

So, when you visit Bandit these days, there are no small balls available for action. My friend got a rubber ball about a foot in diameter that has a tough rubber handle on it. When visiting, we kick the ball now and again, and Bandit dashes after it, bringing it back faithfully.

Bandit’s survival remains a moderate medical mystery. It is highly improbable that the ball would go so easily into his stomach, instead of lodging in his throat and choking him, but when you look into Bandit’s eyes, you understand that many unlikely things are possible.