This if for all of you who have shared your life and/or your spoonful of butter pecan ice cream with a dog. If this isn’t you, you may want to pass on this one, and no offense taken.
This is the story of a dog I currently share my life with, one of the five. Her name is Cricket. She is a red tri Australian Shepherd bitch, and she will be 12 years old this December.
I flew to Boston in 2006, just before we moved to Oregon, to pick up Cricket’s black tri sister, Macy. Very long story short, I came home with Cricket. It’s all been (mostly) good ever since. Cricket is out of one of my dogs, by the son of a very well known working dog, granddaughter of one of the best cattle working Aussies ever, Red Baron. But, to read this story, you didn’t really need to know that. All you need to know is that this little sprite has been working cattle for us since she was 14 months old officially. Unofficially, she took her first heel at 8 months of age, when she slipped through a gate and took on a rank steer that was causing trouble.
She has never looked back since that moment, and chafed at having to learn her commands on lowly, stupid and unchallenging sheep.
Don’t even ask about how she felt/feels about ducks.
You probably don’t care about how she works stock. That’s okay, because the percentage of people who actually still use dogs for working livestock these days can be measured in the .0X% range. Most people who own working breeds are people who do stockdog trials, and other performance events. They train on someone else’ stock, go to trials, and go home to the cities and ‘burbs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all, because the one important thing they are doing is working their dog, as it was originally bred to do. That counts, every time.
Besides being a very important part of our cattle/meat sheep operation, Cricket is what we call the benevolent dictator. She rules the roost, without a lot of force, but when needed, she can be the nasty version of bitch all day long. And woe to the person who shows up on the ranch and mistakes her for a cute, fuzzy cuddlebug. Show up unannounced, and the first you will know of her presence is when she nails you, silently, from behind. Between my tactical 20 gauge shotgun and Cricket, intruders best have notified their next of kin first.
Once she accepts you into the pack, she will show you the same loyalty. Otherwise, she will grab you by the hand every time you move without her permission.
She grows old now. It wasn’t until this year that she started to show her age. Or, maybe it started last summer, when my boss cow took out two of her teeth. That would never have happened to younger Cricket. But, as it is with her, bloody mouth and all, she still put that cow back where she belonged, took a little shot to the cow’s nose for good measure, and trotted over, satisfied she’d done her usual good job and didn’t quit when things got jiggy. Quit is not in her nature.
She can be a hard dog to get close to. She’s not cuddly, never has been. Doesn’t bark much at all, and her growls are the simple, silent, lip lifted and nose wrinkled type that you damn well better pay mind to. When she wants attention, she simply stands and looks at you, allows a brief head rub or butt scratch, and then she flops down near you, petting time over. She knows where I am almost all the time, and can be found nearby, within earshot. Let me open a Drumstick wrapper and even if I couldn’t see her before that, there she is, sitting in front of me, with ‘that look’. I always said she was born old, wise, and hungry.
As of late, she’s not been that hungry. I can eat a Drumstick unmolested by ‘that look’. She started not wanting her morning feed. And then, she coughed up bloody mucous one afternoon.
My dog is dying.
I don’t write this to elicit sympathy. I have gone through all the stages. I’m over it. Because Cricket neither knows, nor cares, that she has a softball sized tumour sitting right above her heart.
She doesn’t know nor care that she is dying. Because as far as she is concerned, none of that matters, not to her.
Before we got this news from our good friend and long time vet (and one of Cricket’s fave people), we had started her trial career. Quite late, as most dogs start at around a year old.
She started at nearly 11. The transition from working ranch dog to trial dog was not an easy one, and it still doesn’t seem to be working out well, but we try. She tends to resent the micromanaging control I need from her during a run, after years of her just hearing ‘get ’em up’, and me just opening gates for her. But, we have managed to muddle through a few trials since last September, got a couple of titles in doing so.
But she still tends to not listen and just go do what she thinks needs to be done. Makes for some interesting wordage, as cursing is a no-no during a run. I’ve learned to use alternative cuss words. And she still ignores me, mostly.
Rosie and Cricket pose with their swag from the Idaho Classic Stockdog Trials, May 2017
Just a few days ago, Danny the long yearling bull got a bit stuffy about me trying to keep him from going through a gate I didn’t want him to go through. He thinks he’s a pretty Big Bull on Pasture. Unlucky for him, I had Cricket with me.
We don’t know how long we have left with her. Ryan thought anywhere from a few months, to maybe a year. She’s far too young for this to be the end of the road. I toyed with the idea of maybe getting her into some studies up at OSU (Oregon State), and maybe I will. Otherwise, in a few months we’ll take another series of pictures, see how things are progressing, decide if we will do anything, or nothing. She still has that indomitable spirit, that confidence, that ability to be with me, even when I don’t see her. So long as that is the case, we will just enjoy the time with have with her, and continue to trial her from time to time. Shame that the pup beat her out for the Most Promising Started buckle in Idaho. It only happened because Cricket was being Cricket, She Who Knows What The Bloody Hell She Is Doing And Doesn’t Need Some Dumb Human To Tell Her What To Do.
It cost us the 9 points that would have given us two old bitches the buckle over hubby and the pup. And, it made the people watching laugh.
Dogs just don’t live long enough. But what they do is live every moment, never worrying about what the future holds. I have decided to take my cues from her on that, and just live with her every moment I have left with her.
To all my dog loving pals, I know you’ve been here before, as I have I, and that you wouldn’t have missed it for anything, anything at all.
To that I say, ‘Get ‘em up, old girl!’