July 11: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

July 11, 2022

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!

  1. Submit by July 16, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. robertawrites235681907

    Hi Charli, this is a very poignant story. I had a dog when I was 13. She was a mongrel but a really good hunter. She lead our Great Danes on an adventure that resulted in their being shot by a local farmer for attacking his sheep. I had to have her put down and it broke my heart.

    • SueSpitulnik

      Robbie, Having to give up a pet that way is the hardest. They do indeed become one of the family.

    • Charli Mills

      Robbie, that’s so heartbreaking, especially at 13. I hope you have had healing in some way. Daisy was very healing. Maybe, get a dog for a day and understand that they have such grace for us humans that it’s okay to hang onto their good memories. Hugs! <3

  2. restlessjo

    You have a past that I can’t really relate to, Charli, but you tell it so well.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad that our nows cross paths, Jo!

      • restlessjo

        That’s such a nice thing to say. Thanks, Charli! I just enjoyed floating with you. And Mause!

  3. Norah

    Queensland blues, cattle dogs, and reds are all familiar to me as working dogs on my relatives’ properties. Friends have had blues and cattle dogs as pets, which seemed to work okay for them. We never had dogs as pets when I was growing up. I’ve never owned a dog. Mum and Dad, both being from the country, always considered dogs to be for work rather than pets. Now both my children are dog owners. One has a designer dog, the other has two rescue dogs. We’ve just had a weekend away together – 8 humans and 3 dogs. Surprisingly, we all got on well. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Reds were more “exotic,” Norah! How fun that two friends in two hemispheres can relate to the same working-class dogs. Yes, I grew up with that same dogs-are-for-work mentality. I’m a complete couch companion with Mause, now! 😀 Only one of my three has dogs, but she has lots of animals. The others do not. Is the designer grand-dog a poodle design? Crossing poodles with other breeds is popular in the US right now. Ha! Glad all the humans and canines get along together.

      • Norah

        Yes the designer dog is a labradoodle with hair the same colour as its family. ???? The other two dogs are mixes and both rescue dogs. All very loved by their respective families and totally pampered. Not a work dog in sight. ????

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Whoa. Stop. Back up. Shorty’s a dog? But… I thought…”
    “Relax Kid. Names ain’t exclusive. Shorty’s Shorty. An once upon a time Shorty had a dog called Shorty.”
    “Oh. Phew. Cuz far as I’m concerned they’s only one Shorty.”
    “Ya know Kid, there might be a lesson in this post fer you.”
    “What’re ya gittin at Pal?”
    “Meanin mebbe ya should reconsider keepin a pig as a pet.”
    “Curly’s a workin ranch puglet, Pal.”
    “Really? What zactly does Curly work at Kid?”
    “Works right along side a me.”
    “Uh-huh. An zactly what is it you do agin?”
    “Shush Pal.”

    • Anne Goodwin

      Thanks for clarifying 🙂

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Pal’s guessing here, Anne, but I’m glad I (and Kid) weren’t the only ones confused by that opening.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for making sure everyone followed the Shorty line! Kid and Curly are doin’ fine!

  5. tnkerr

    Love my herding dogs. Blue and red. It doesn’t matter.

    • Charli Mills

      Ah–! You have heelers? They are awesome dogs in the right setting.

  6. TanGental

    I’m such a townie…

    • Charli Mills

      Townies can ride horse and sic heelers on cattle too, Geoff! 😀
      Aw, I’m such a townie now.

      • TanGental

        How we morph and adapt. But deep within there’s still take girl astride her pony…

  7. jeanne229

    Hello Charli! Just tried to post the following comment…it’s been a while since I have been active on WordPress so not sure it went through. Looking forward to catching up with you. Jeanne

    Hello there Charli…I treated myself to your post this morning and was touched by your story. Witnessing the luxury that suburban dogs enjoy these days (special diets, cozy beds, warm vests for winter and gel cooling mats for summer, toys and chews and snacks), I have often reflected on the farm dogs my aunt and uncle kept up in North Dakota, and even on the mixed mutt (Spitz/Spaniel) we had as a pet in the 1960s and 70s. Those dogs ate dry kibble supplemented by whatever scraps came off the dinner table, including beef fat and gristle and bones of all sorts. The thought of taking a dog to a vet would have been laughable to those folks. As for treating working dogs like pets, domestic life would seem to be like a prison to those animals. And I am glad Daisy was given another chance at a more suitable life. I’ll bet Mause was happy too ???? > I

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Jeanne! So good to hear from you! Yes, you understand the working dog life. I had forgotten about saving gristle for the ranch dogs. Much has changed in regards to the luxury modern dogs can enjoy, but you are so right — working dogs would find such a life stifling. Mause is happy meeting all the dog buddies at the new dog park, and coming home to a solo bed.

  8. Jennie

    What a beautiful story. Writing your words of healing must have felt wonderful.

    • Charli Mills

      It was healing, Jennie. Thank you.

      • Jennie

        I’m so glad. You’re welcome, Charli.

  9. Anne Goodwin

    None of these breeds are familiar to me. I know sheepdogs here in the UK make fine pets. Seems you enjoyed your one day.

      • Anne Goodwin

        Nope. Was thinking of ‘a friend’.

    • Charli Mills

      I think heelers would be too wild for the UK, Anne! Like your American and Australian cousins, but maybe I shouldn’t loop Aussies in with us Yanks. Sheepdogs are iconic pastoral dogs. They would be proper pets. Hmm, maybe Mause needs a sheepdog.

  10. Lakshmi Bhat

    I learnt so much about dogs today. Thank you for sharing.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for reading, Lakshmi! Did you have pets growing up or as an adult?

      • Lakshmi Bhat

        No Charli.

  11. SueSpitulnik

    I’ve known of Australian Sheep Dogs for a long time, but have never heard them called Heelers, so I learned from this post also. I can imagine the cute little puppy being lovable. It’s hard to picture her becoming the alpha so quickly and bossing Mause around. I’m glad you were able to return her. I found this prompt difficult as I didn’t have any personal icon memory to draw on.

    • Charli Mills

      I think they go by various names, Sue, including some names that are family-friendly. She was alpha in a minute and poor Mause didn’t know what was happening. Some prompts are blank spaces, but that can spark an idea in a different way.

  12. Marsha

    Such a sad story, Charli. I’m sure Mause thinks you made the right choice. As a dog lover, I know from experience how difficult losing a pet can be, if only a short-timer. Loved the memory, though.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for having such a heart for dogs, Marsha. Mause is doing well, and Daisy got an adventure.

      • Marsha

        I’m glad Mause is okay. Daisy will be a survivor, I’m sure.

  13. Kerry E.B. Black

    We have a working dog, but not in the sense you’re outlining. My daughter has special needs and deals with the effects of cerebral palsy (which she calls terrible palsy, which is pretty fitting, I think.) She has a service dog who’s been a part of our family for ten years now. Latte (the service dog) was specially bred in California and trained to have an incredibly patient personality. She keeps my gal in her bed at night when she might otherwise roam the house and put herself at possible risk. She recognizes and pushes handicapped door opening buttons. She can sense if my gal’s about to have a seizure, though she was never trained to do so. Latte has been a blessing for my family.

    We went through an intense training through the Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) to learn to properly command and care for Latte. We’re obligated to provide tons of documentation about Latte’s care and agreed in writing to only feed her a strict diet. When she’s vested up, Latte represents not only herself and our family, but also the entire CCI community from which she came. CCI takes this very seriously.

    As a result, we don’t “play” with Latte when she’s in public working. We don’t feed her treats. (If she gains weight, it will impede her ability to “blend in” and will cause CCI to terminate her licensing as a service dog. We’re retested yearly – except for 2020, which was a mess for everything.) We’ve been called unfeeling, cruel, mean, and worse as a result by people who want to give her treats or pet or play with her while she’s working. (Since my girl uses crutches, she’s not tremendously stable. If her dog becomes distracted, it could cause a disaster.)

    It infuriates me when I see people purchase vests and place them on untrained animals to pretend they are service animals. It denigrates what trained animals do for their service team. When an untrained animal acts disguised as a service animal acts out, it makes all service animals look bad.

    Latte has always conducted herself with professionalism and polish. She’s very loved. (And in the privacy of our home, she plays and is as pampered as any purse pooch.)

    Now, though, as Latte’s gotten older, my gal’s been experiencing vivid nightmares about losing her dog. I don’t know what we’ll do when that inevitability occurs. Until then, we’ll be grateful for the time we have with her and the tremendous service she renders.

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