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Cow Dogs I Have Known
I have had the privilege of owning and working with some extraordinary cow dogs. Most of my dogs have been Australian Shepherds, which have been my favorites, although there are other breeds that work well. Some of my first experiences with cow dogs were in the scrub country of NW New Mexico where a man I worked for had some blue heelers and mutts that did wonders for wild cattle.
These dogs literally grabbed unruly cattle by the nose and held them down until the rider could subdue them. Maybe that’s why I started looking for a cow dog. However, I have never followed the dogs that go into the cow’s head. I prefer those that drive cattle and feel the bulldog type action a bit extreme. My first adult dog was a black and white Australian Shepherd named Sassy. Sassy was the family dog. My dad loved her as much as I did. Sassy was with us on the Jicarilla Indian Reservation where my dad ran cattle in the 1970s.
Sassy rode with us in the truck almost everywhere, and when we called the cows, she howled right along with us. Even honking the horn required Sassy to accompany the howl. There were many notable episodes in Sassy’s life, but one that the whole family will never forget happened when we took her to Albuquerque for breeding when she was about four years old.
We found an Australian Shepherd father that we thought would be a good fit for us, so dad took her and left her there with a dog breeder. Unfortunately, Sassy was not happy and one day she managed to slip under the fence. We were devastated when we heard the news, thinking there was no way we would ever see her again. We lived about 150 miles from Albuquerque. However, since Sassy was part of the family, we posted a $200 reward in the Albuquerque Journal.
A few weeks later we got a call from a farrier who felt he might have seen her near some stables on the outskirts of town. Dad made the trip just in case, thinking that if Sassy was going to hang out anywhere, it would probably be around horses. When he arrived at the stables there was no dog about, but he tarried a moment to see if one would appear, for the farrier said that the dog only came to the stables occasionally. I picked up the phone this afternoon and Sassy was yelling at me! The hero of the story refused the reward and told my dad that it was reward enough just to see them together again.
My other cow dog was Snappy Tom, so named because he was a red merle Australian Shepherd and snapped at flies when he was a puppy. Snappy Tom was my main cow hand for many years at Triangle Ranch when I worked there and later when I owned it. We ran yearlings on the ranch for many of those years and Snappy and I were able to move several hundred head by ourselves most of the time. He was a pleasure to work with and always ready to go.
Tragedy ended Snappy Tom’s life, although he was quite well off in the years leading up to the incident. I went to check out some windmills in the Mazda my dad had and put the dogs in the back of the camper. My daughters were with me or the dogs would have been in front. The dogs always wanted to go whenever there was a trip somewhere. It was in July and quite hot. I forgot about the dogs when we got back to the house and went inside with the girls.
When I arrived and remembered the dogs were in the truck, I ran outside to find both dogs sick from heat exhaustion. I took them both and kept them in a water tank to cool them down as much as possible. Cracker Jack, my dad’s Australian Shepherd was much younger and survived the ordeal, but Snappy Tom didn’t. That was a hard way to learn a hard lesson. I will always miss and love Snappy Tom.
Chile Pepper was my next cow dog. She was a beautiful red merle and did everything to me that my previous dogs did. Unfortunately, when Chile was halfway through my life, I changed my lifestyle and pretty much stopped being a cowboy. Chile lived out her life though, on the ranch working with my dad and I saw her from time to time and we worked together when we had the chance.
There have been other dogs over the years, but these three are the ones that stick out in my mind. There is nothing like a dog to enrich your quality of life.
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