J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 6-11-12 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 6-11-12

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

One of Don’s Two Dogs died.

As readers will recall, Don did not name his Two Dogs, referring to them only as The Two Dogs. The older of the Two Dogs had become suddenly slow, and quit eating. The dog would drink a bit, but even that began to taper off.

The local vet could find nothing wrong with the dog, other than old age. Don admitted that, at 15, the dog was over a hundred years old in equivalent human years. Not only that, the dog had lost his right hind leg in a fight with a family of badgers, and ever since that time, the dog had seemed to wither a small bit every day.

As Don said to me one morning in the shop, “Sometimes, that danged ol’ dog is dumber ‘n dishwater, but there was a day when he could beat the bark outta any varmint. About a week ago he took out after a gopher and tried to go between two fence wires. Being one leg short, he caught his jewels on a barb.”

“Dang,” I said with a grimace.

“After that inci-dent, he’s taken to lying’ in the shade of that tree by the ditch where he just watches me go about chores and such. I knew something was wrong when a rabbit ran right in front of him, and all he did was twitch his nose at it.”

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“That’s not very dogly,” I had to admit. “Especially for that dog.”

“The most he does these days is snap at deer flies. He only does that when there’s a swarm. Most of the time, he just lays there, head stuck between his paws.”

“Wouldn’t hurt any of us to try a little of that,” I suggested, but Don didn’t cheer up much at the attempted joke.

It gradually became obvious that The Dog had to be put down. Don prepared a hole under the tree where The Old Dog had spent his final days, watching the world go by without him. He’d been badger-beaten, skunk-squirted, gopher-goaded, bird-bated, and fly-flustered enough for several canine lifetimes. He was ready to let it all be.

Because Don didn’t have the strength to shoot The Dog, and because he didn’t want to carry him home in the back of his pickup after the vet had done the deed, Don went to the vet to get the syringe. He placed The Dog in a hole among the roots, and then gave him the shot.

Don didn’t put up a cross, or pile of stones. He just put the dirt in over the dog and then stood on the soft earth, settling it with his boots.

I happened to see him standing and came over. The sun started to set as he told me about putting The Dog down.

“Whenever I think I got troubles,” Don said, “I think about geology. They think the Earth is about four and half billion years old. They used to think it was only a few thousand years old, but then some fellers got to finding some old, old rocks in different places. The piece of earth where this Ol’ Dog lays to rest, the sun has set over a trillion times. Multiplied it out on paper … it took almost half a page of zeros.”