For a day, I had Daisy.
What feels like a lifetime ago, I grew up around cow dogs. Shorty went where I went on the old Hardwick Ranch outside of Paicines, California. I remember lifting Shorty’s front paws and dancing with him. One day, when I was about four, he killed a rattlesnake on the hillside where I swung on a rope in the massive oak tree above the ranch house.
Working for Nevada ranches as a teenager, I came to realize, that cow dogs do more than herd and guard. Ranchers installed them in the beds of their trucks as anti-theft devices. Some cow dogs, like McNabs and Kelpies, worked with such ferocity that only their handlers could approach them. Then there were the Queensland Heelers, part dingo, part dalmatian, and a hodgepodge of other cattle dog breeds. I gave a piece of my heart to those speckled blue dogs that could hang on the neck of a steer by their teeth.
Growing up, I understood these dogs were not pets. Our infamous Queensland bit many people, including me. We had to muzzle him for vet visits. Any time my mom tried to brush out his winter coat, he’d snap at his own floating tufts of shed hair. Yet, I was convinced heelers could be pets. I was 19 when I tested that theory and bought a blue heeler puppy.
The story doesn’t end well.
I loved Lobo and got into raising litters of Queenslands for ranchers in Nevada. I met Todd and he had a neurotic Springer Spaniel. When we married, our dogs formed a strange blended family. One dog was smart, the other, not so much. I had difficulty adjusting to the personality of bird dogs, a struggle that remains, although time among spaniels and GSPs has tempered my opinion of the breeds. At least GSPs are smart.
Lobo guarded my two baby daughters and went everywhere with us. It was impossible to keep her penned. If she couldn’t go over or under a fence, she climbed it. Then one day, she bit a local boy and he had to get stitches. The awful reality of owning a dog that could attack a child led us to a difficult decision. Before our small family moved to Montana we put down Lobo and buried her in the mountain canyon where I used to ride my horse. I put my ranching days behind me.
Over the next three decades, we welcomed and said goodbye to many dogs. Most were German Shorthaired Pointers. With each new puppy, I felt an ache for the ghost-faced heelers who are born mostly white. A few times, I expressed frustration. Why not a different breed?
Over the past ten years, I’ve noticed families who wouldn’t know the backend of a hay truck from a living, breathing hay burner owning heelers as pets. The name has changed, too. What we called Queenslands are now called Blue Heelers. There are Texas Heelers, Red Heelers, and Australian Cattle Dogs, too. They all look similar. I began to believe they were adapting well to domestication off the ranches and away from rural settings.
To say this past year has been one of the hardest to live is an understatement. Everything I thought I knew about myself or the world continues to meet with a grinder of sorts. It’s in times of uncertainty that we notice anchors of familiarity and long for something we shouldn’t desire anymore. Within the whirlwind that has been May, Todd’s Covid, my quarantine, a Franciscan retreat, another allergic reaction (a black fly black eye this time), and planning for environmental disaster, I spotted something that plucked my heartstrings.
At the new Hancock dog park, Mause met a Queensland baby, a blue heeler puppy. Todd found out where the litter was located and like a woman in a daze, I went with him to see. On a UP cattle ranch outside Mass City, Daisy jumped into my arms as her littermates gnawed on my ankles. I forgot how hard cow dogs bite. At eight weeks, they draw human blood. We brought Daisy back to our unraveling home. How was this ever going to work?
Daisy helped me right the wrong of my past. Cattle dogs deserve to live in the country and guard herds and homes. If I had a horse, she’d be the best trail dog ever. I have a kayak and dingoes, as far as I know, are not enamored with water. We thought Mause would love a baby and have the energy to manage a heeler. By evening, Daisy had claimed the couch the way heelers claim truck beds. When she took Mause down for the infraction of thinking the couch was big enough for both, I had the wisdom to recognize that one cannot change the instincts of another.
Blue heelers are working dogs and we returned Daisy to her litter to find a more suitable home. She had an adventure and I got to love a Daisy for a day.
Mostly, the bizarre situation opened an unhealed wound in my heart in the shape of Lobo so I could tend to it. It’s hard being a transitional generation. It’s hard to be a cutting from one’s roots. I grew up in a cattle culture from a long line of ancestors that likely go all the way back to domesticating the first aurochs. My grown children don’t know how to ride horses and they were the first generation in my family to grow up in a suburb. The one daughter who does farm refuses to add black Angus to her goat herd. I accept I’m not a working buckaroo.
But I am a buckaroo writer. I can create stories from the old world. I can craft characters, like my protagonist Danni Gordon, who would be better suited for adopting certain lifestyle traits I’ve retired.
If you had a day to spend with an icon of your past what would that be?
July 11, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story inspired by the idea, “for a day.” It doesn’t need to be never-ending, like me forgetting to update a prompt. What is so special about the action, person, or object experienced for a day? Go where the prompt leads!
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