On hot days and cold days and the days in between you’ll find a ranch dog on the front porch or maybe beneath the shade of a mesquite tree or even under the house if it can get there. It’s an unhurried life. Ranch dogs don’t know the meaning of a leash and there are no restrictions on things like pooping. Besides, Southwestern ranches have their own pooper scoopers in the way of dung beetles that swoop in and roll everything to places unknown.
Ranch dogs spend their nights on alert. In fact, ranch dogs prefer the night because that’s when the excitement begins. One dog takes sentry on the back porch while another dog is at its post at the front door and dog number three meanders from the end of the driveway to the walk-around and all points in between. When coyotes start howling in the distance ranch dogs join the chorus yodeling and whooping and sometimes singing.
Alla en el rancho grande, alla donde vivia
Habia una rancherita, que allegre me decia
Que allegre me decia….
Habia una rancherita, que allegre me decia
Que allegre me decia….
Oy on patrol
Ranch dogs come in two forms. One type of dog stays close to the house always on guard. Another sort spends its time roaming. I’d probably belong to the second group if I was a dog but I appreciate the fact that my dogs stick around keeping me company. The roaming dogs, however, can be a problem sometimes. They get lost or hurt and sometimes they get shot by people who come from other places and don’t like seeing dogs on their deer leases. Something along those lines occurred a few months back or at least that’s what one of my neighbors believes happened to her dogs. Cisco and Bell were loving dogs and I enjoyed seeing them. But they roamed. One day they disappeared and rumor has it that some folks from the city shot them. Maybe, maybe not. I miss Cisco and Bell even though they didn’t belong to me. They were good singers and could keep up with any coyote virtuoso.
Most ranch dogs belong to the mutt class. Some are well fed while others look emaciated. It all depends on who owns them. Some dogs get a lot of petting and others never get paid any attention. When I drive into the little town four miles south of here I pass by a house with five scrawny, underfed mutts that run out into the caliche road barking at my pickup truck. I feel sorry for those dogs. But there are three other dogs at another house I always like to greet. Well-fed and obviously loved they’ll dash out barking as if ready to chew off one of my legs. When they get to the gate I start talking to them. “How is it going Alley Boy, Pepper, Shiner?” The two males christen my pickup truck’s tires while the female circles me panting. I started carrying treats in my truck and now when they see the truck they know snacks are at hand.
Maggie and Oy
This is thorn and sticker country so dogs need to have short coats. A friend visited my cabin a couple of months back and brought his cocker spaniel with its long floppy ears and thick fur around its paws. A beautiful dog but after a walk in the brush that poor animal was covered with burrs.
I love blue heelers but there are other breeds suitable for Southwestern ranchos. A relative of mine just got a Catahoula Cur. That breed comes in all sorts of different colors ranging from brindle to bluish to red to black and white. It’s supposed to be a roaming dog and should be exercised. My relative is not into exercising so I worried the dog would get itself into trouble. But this Catahoula seems to hate walking as much as its owner so things look good. I know a fellow who owns a couple of Rhodesian ridgebacks but I’m not very familiar with that breed. I haven’t seen any Rottweiler’s, Dobermans or Pit Bulls around these parts. Perhaps that’s a mindset not common to this region—at least not with the old timers who grew up in these parts. Just like you’ll see more Winchester 94s than AR15s. And more Colt single actions than you’d run into in other places. You’ll see more slipjoint pocket knives too and dust-covered blue jeans, scruffy low-cut boots, sweat-brimmed hats and heavy cotton long-sleeved shirts. And houses as well that aren’t built to impress as much as they are to be a home. The dogs follow that line of thinking as well, or at least the types of dogs I’ve seen reflect that mindset. Nobody feels the need to impress anyone else. That ideation belongs in the city and folks out here don’t much care for cities. Besides, those that want the city end up moving or they’re miserable which makes no sense because cities are always looking for more people.
The other day my son and I went woods roaming and the dogs stayed back at the cabin finishing their evening meals. We’d hiked about half a mile when we turned and saw a spot in the distance coming towards us. “It’s a dog,” my son said. Sure enough, Oy had tracked us down and was running full speed. When he got to us he was obviously excited. We gave him some water and looked around to see if any of the other dogs had followed but it was only Oy. He looked at us with this expression of “What’s going on guys?”
The next day I took Oy and Maggie walking and Maggie, as usual, had to explore the surrounding area. But Oy stayed close by my side. It was hot and as we headed back to the cabin Maggie decided to push ahead and was soon out of sight. But not Oy. Even as the light faded and the gloaming receded into darkness Oy stayed next to me. When we got to the cabin the other dogs came out to greet us. “Go get water,” I told Oy. Afterward we sat on the front porch looking at the super moon rising above the eastern horizon. I reached down and petted Oy and thought about how much he means to me. As do all my dogs. We’ve got a new addition to the pack named Little Boo. We keep her inside because this land can pose real dangers to small dogs. My friends Benito and Toni Treviño lost their Maltese-Poodle mix not long ago when they let it out for a few minutes at their ranchito and a rattlesnake struck. You’ve got to be careful.
Now and then a wild hog or two will venture too close to the cabin and Maggie lets us know from her station on the back porch. Oy will swing around and the barking gets fierce. Pita will start barking too. Sometimes long-distance-travelers get too close and the dogs go wild. You see, ultimately that’s what a ranch dog does. That’s their main job. They protect the human component of the pack. Fearless and brave and loving and a host of other things ranging from rambunctious to stubborn to patient and forgiving. When one of them passes as did Chucha after being bit by a rattler or Chula and then Dingo after old age crept up on them there was a lot of sadness and even some tears. You see a ranch dog is the quintessence of what a dog should be. It is the truest expression of a dog. Not to demean the perritos living in city houses or apartments. They are loving and watchful and worthy of the best care. But take those animals to the ranch and watch the metamorphosis occur before your eyes. An instant connection to its lupine past. Then your dog turns to you and you see true love in its eyes and you know you will never be abandoned. The world might be falling apart around you with crazies and other assorted fanatics on the loose. But when you’re with your dog all is good with the world. That’s what a dog does. Someone told me that a dog helps lower your blood pressure. That’s true, I guess, sometimes, maybe. Most of all a dog just lets you know you’re number one. And hell, that’s good enough in my book.
Little Boo and Pita