Here is From the Seasonally Occupied Territories’s first guest blog. It arrived as a comment but I think it’s too cool to get buried at the end of another post. No, it’s not about Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s about dogs and it’s written by a farmer — both good Vineyard topics, right? The author, Anda Divine, is a freelance book editor who also runs a small organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia.
A friend sent me this link to a photographer friend of hers, Mary Ludington, and I particularly loved the Dogs portfolio, which brought to mind the following snippets of dogs I have known.
Rhodesian Ridgeback: A long-ago friend of mine had a Rhodesian Ridgeback, whom I never met but who lived on a sheep farm in central Massachusetts. I always worried that this dog, whose ancestors were bred to hunt lions in Africa and thus had thin skin and virtually no coat, would suffer in the deep New England winters but apparently he thrived and even loved to romp naked in the snow.
French Bulldog: When my east-coast friend Susan lived in South Minneapolis, she and her partner had two male French Bulldogs — strictly indoor dogs who were the most most neurotic, oversexed animals I have ever met. They humped each other; they humped my leg; they humped a leg of the dining room table; they tried to hump the cat. Completely preposterous.
Golden Retriever: I gave my former partner a Golden Retriever puppy as a Christmas present in 1982. The puppy had a pale golden coat so we named him Sunny. Unfortunately, he bonded deeply with me instead of my former partner, which caused considerable friction in the household. Someone stole Sunny from our farm while I was at work. He is the only dog I have lost this way, and I was heartbroken.
Australian Shepherd: When my own sheep flock in Wisconsin reached the unmanageable size of 150 ewes and 225 lambs, I acquired a well-bred Aussie to work them with me. His name was Zack and he was terrific — smart, vigorous, no-nonsense. He, too, bonded deeply with me and actually came to despise my former partner, who, fortunately or unfortunately, wasn’t at the farm very often. When my former partner was at home, Zack took to crapping right under her home office desk, which caused even more friction in the household.
Border Collie: After Zack died, I needed another sheep dog, so a sheep farmer neighbor, Roger, gave me one of his, a black-and-white Border Collie named Lady. Well, sometimes there’s a reason why people give a seemingly generous gift. Lady was half-crazed with the sheep—she worked them much too hard and it was hard to call her off. Roger thought maybe I could reduce or eliminate this trait by retraining her but I could not. Lady went back to live with Roger and my sheep and I were restored to placidity.
Belgian Tervuren: It’s important that dogs live in environments suited to their temperaments, and also (usually) that they have a job to do. My Minneapolis friend Paula broke both of these rules when she acquired a beautiful male Tervuren some years ago. This is a working breed of dog, developed to herd cattle and sheep in northern Europe. They are high-energy, highly intelligent, and must have something to occupy their minds. Unfortunately, Paula lives in a second-floor apartment and she works full-time, so here this magnificent animal wound up indoors and bored up for hours on end. Not surprisingly, he started to misbehave and Paula became alarmed. I advised her to either commit to getting this dog involved in agility training and regular workouts and competitions (cattle and sheep being somewhat scarce within the Minneapolis city limits), or pass him on to a more appropriate owner. She did the latter and soon the dog was thriving on a cattle farm in Owatonna, Minnesota.
Afghan: I lived deep in the city of Seattle in 1972 but by early 1973 I had rented a small farm 40 miles to the east, near Issaquah in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. One morning I awoke at dawn and saw, out my bedroom window, mist rising from the damp fields. It was so early that the birds weren’t even singing yet, so the silence was profound. Suddenly two adult Afghans, buff-colored with black muzzles and ear tips, plunged into view, romping and dog-playing and bounding in huge circles around each other in complete silence. Their long hair flowed and glistened in the backlit mist and their breath clouded around them, and their eyes gleamed and their teeth flashed and they leaped and swooped faster and faster in joy and then suddenly they whirled away. I thought it was a dream; I realized that I had stopped breathing.
Doberman Pinscher: Half a mile from my house here in the Blue Ridge Mountains lives a male Doberman named Princess. His owner is a beefy, unkempt guy named Gary who gave this dog the name Princess because he (the dog) has a ridiculous high, squeaky bark that I can hear at all times of the day and often well into the night. Princess, in spite of his name, often and loudly asserts his presence to all concerned: cardinals, chipmunks, wrens, and voles.
Brittany Spaniel: My neighbor Bill, another fairly hefty guy, recently acquired a lovely, fine-boned female Brittany named Bella. Bill is doing a good job of training her, so Bella usually stays in her own yard. But earlier this year when I had chickens and I allowed them to roam freely in my yard, the temptation proved to be too much for Bella and one afternoon she came charging into my yard while my dog Goldie was napping on the porch. The chickens scattered screeching into the trees, of course, and Goldie was so startled that she didn’t know what to chase first, Bella or chickens on the move. Bella had so much momentum going that she accidentally wound up inside the open chicken pen where there were no chickens, and she just stood there looking around until Goldie descended on her and they mixed it up a bit, and then Bella tucked tail and ran back home and has never come back since.
German Shepherd: For all of my life I have longed for a bona fide purebred dog, something that could actually be called something, like a Boxer or a Schnauzer or a Vizsla or a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. But I’ve almost always had to make do with mutts — Nikki (Rat Terrier/?), Mandy (?/?), Bear (white Shepherd/?), beloved Rubin (Shepherd/Collie), Bruno (Shepherd/Doberman), Harriet (Shepherd/Boxer?), and Goldie (Yellow Lab/Beagle). Since “Shepherd” appeared frequently in these mixes, I once tried to acquire a top-of-the-line, CDX (Companion Dog Excellent)-caliber purebred German Shepherd from the best breeder I could find in the United States. That turned out to be the monks of New Skete, who since 1966 at their monastery in upstate New York have raised and trained unbelievably fine German Shepherds descended from the best sires imported from Germany. To be given the privilege of buying one of their puppies I would have to fill out a four-page application form and provide three character references, put down a deposit of $500 against the final price of about $1,500, and be willing to wait for a year to be granted a puppy. I would have to sign a contract avowing that I would take this puppy through professional obedience training and I would provide regular updates (text and photos) on the dog’s progress. Well, I became concerned that I would be intimidated by the provenance of said puppy and would lose sleep over whether I was a fit enough owner and that maybe said puppy, when he or she grew up, would wind up actually running the household, so I backed off. Sometimes I see a fine specimen of a German Shepherd in the city—always vigilant at its master’s side, always indifferent to urban temptations of squirrels and stray cats, always majestic—and I think I probably dodged a bullet.