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Dirty Mama: A dog’s life

Sep 16th, 2010 | Category: Columns

by Shona Hilton

In Little House on the Prairie, Pa talks practically non-stop about how important dogs are to a homesteader, “What about your dog?” he asks a couple whose horses have been stolen in the night. Adding later to his wife: “Tenderfeet!  Everything they own and no dog to watch it!”  How could they even THINK about being out in the prairie without such a valuable, nay necessary, addition to their entourage.
I get it, Pa, I get it.
When my husband and I married, we were given a sum of money from a distant aunt with explicit instructions to use it to buy a decent crockery set. So naturally we went out and bought Belle the Border Terrier instead. (This is a family secret to this day.)
As well as being our constant companion – out walking, at village dances and, of course, the pub (this was in Scotland) – we also discovered that Belle did what she was bred to do. Very well. People even used to ask to borrow her for vermin control.
Twelve years, one litter of puppies and a continent move later Belle is still numero uno when it comes to keeping the farmstead clear of little critters that eat (literally) into my animal feed bill. Along with her son, Bug, I have come to rely on them to do this job and boy do they love what they do.
The terriers have been joined by the glorious Vlad the Vizsla and now Mei the Mutt – who we found dumped, pregnant and scared on our road (hands up to those who think people who drop animals off out in the country should be taken out and dumped off themselves).
When we first got Vlad, my cunning plan was to train him up to be my bird dog. But with two small children, a house renovation, setting up a small farm and not having a clue how to do it – oddly enough this never happened. We also have chickens, lots and lots of chickens – I don’t really need to hunt for birds.
Last summer, however, our lots and lots of chickens were getting less and less as the raptor population clocked us and we started losing about three birds a week.
And then it happened. All by himself Vlad drew upon his noble lineage as a perfectly-bred upland bird dog, tweaked it around a bit and became hawk scarer extraordinaire. He hunts them, he points them, and he is out in the chicken field chasing them off before a hen can even think: “I wonder what that soaring dot in the sky could be?” We have lost one chicken to raptor talons since this transformation.
Although I do have to say that while this dog can spot a hawk a mile away, once he did fail to notice a pair of enormous Bald Eagles sitting in a tree about five feet above the chicken coop. It brought to mind a line from a poem by Charles Bukowski: “Men who stand in front of windows 30 feet wide and see nothing.” I have forgiven him as no lives were lost.
Don’t get me wrong though, my dogs are not just work animals. I would call them family. If we ever get rid of our livestock – the dogs stay. It’s just that we have such a mutually beneficial relationship and they really earn their keep – except for Mei the Mutt, she hasn’t figured out what her role in life is apart from sticking to me like a shadow. But given how we found her I’m okay with that.

Shona Hilton lives in an old log cabin on a small farm in the South Fork Valley of Whatcom County and contends with mud, rain, dogs, small children, pigs and poultry and all the other things which make country life worth living. She can be contacted at upthecabin@gmail.com.

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