Duke - The Cow Dog
One day I was fencing on the summer range. I had Duke with me, he was good company, along with Sox my pack horse and Hondo my saddle horse. It had been a long hot day, just fixin’ fence the entire day. I was tired and pretty warm and thirsty. It was about time to head back to the cow camp, get some chow and especially something cold to drink, and lots of it. It was then that I noticed Duke was limping. I kneeled down and examined his right front paw, the one he was favoring but couldn’t see any cuts or things sticking into the pads. Something had happened though, and he was in pain. We only had a few miles to travel back to the cabin, there I could soak his foot and maybe find the cause of his trouble. I finished the job I was doing there, putting my tools and staples, etc. back in the paniers. Sox was a great packhorse never had any trouble at all with him. It had been a good day, we were all ready for some R and R and chow. I climbed in the saddle and we started back.
As we rode along, Duke was taking the lead on the trail he knew we were goin’ back and he was happy about that. Every step he took was painful, but he was doing his best to keep ahead of the horses. After a while it became harder and harder to watch him limping along, dodging the rocks and stuff, getting more sore the further we went.
It slowly dawned on me that I could make a bed of sorts in one of the paniers for him, so he could ride the rest of the way. I stopped the horses, dismounted and untied my slicker from the back of my saddle. I spread it out and laid it over the opening on the eft side panier on Sox. I pushed it down in the middle to create a pocket or low place sort of like a hammock. The edges of the slicker grabbed on to the sides of the paniers by friction so the hammock didn’t sink down too deep in the panier. I then picked up Duke, he was a blue heeler, not that big of a dog and cradled him in my arms, carried him over to the hammock and gently laid him in it. I petted him and told him now he could take it easy, relax and get the weight off that sore foot. I was pretty pleased with what I had done for my dog. He laid there looking at me, not sure of what I was doing, but I told him it would be all right. I was sure he’d never ridden on a horse before, but Sox was smooth gated so it ought to be an easy ride. I petted him again and talked to him a bit more to assure him it was all right, nothing to worry about. Then I mounted up again and we started back down the trail. I looked back to check on things, Duke seemed to understand things were cool and all this was for his good. I was pretty proud of myself for thinkin’ about my makeshift ambulance and making it work. We ambled along and I turned to the front to keep my eyes on the trail ahead.
After maybe ten seconds, I saw Duke limping past Hondo and getting in the lead again. Darn, he’d hopped out of his hammock on to that hard ground from off that horse. That had to have hurt when his sore paw hit the ground, although I didn’t hear a yelp or anything. As we moved along, he seemed to be moving at a little brisker pace and a little more assertive about his place in the lead. I thought, “Well, I’ll put him back to bed and tell him a little more persuasively how it would help him, not to get impatient with him, but to just be like a doctor and say lovingly, but firmly, “Now stay put, doctors’ orders, O.K.?” But then I thought, well if he doesn’t mind me, he’s going to jump again and make matters worse for his wound, then it will be my fault for trying to make him do something he didn’t want to do in the first place.
As I watched him up there in front, he seemed to have a determination to show me he was alright and to let him do his job. He carried himself with that “pride”. He was definitely communicating to me, and I was starting to “get it”. He was a cow dog, his place was on the ground, ready for action, not in bed on the back of a horse, forget the pain! OK? Ok, I got it.
Duke taught me something that day. I should have known better anyway. Dogs are loyal friends and they also take pride in who they are and the job they have to do. They are a gift from God to man. My heart swelled a little in size for Duke, I respected him even more, and loved him more to, and as simple as the incident was somehow it was also a learning moment for me.
Dogs love people. They especially love their masters. A friend of mine told me of how his dad was saved from the charge of a bull by his dog who jumped into the bulls face and clamped his jaws and teeth down hard on the bull’s nose and wouldn’t let go till his dad got to safety.
Army dogs and police dogs risk their lives for their masters, and sometimes they give their lives. Dogs are special.
I never could find what was hurting Duke, but in a few days he was back to normal, happy to be with me and doing his job the best he knew how.