The herd

I got back just as winter resumed its white onslaught; back from “herding cats.” A number of years ago, a friend mentioned his attempt to gather fraternity friends for a golf tournament was like herding cats. The phrase can be used for various venues.

When I was a young lad, our family acquired a cat. My sister had “passed” and Mom thought something cuddly would be good for we kids. Dad named her Jezebel. I could have cuddled all of my turtles for as much “love” old Jezebel displayed. Scratching was her style. Throw in a bite or three.

Dad thought he could “dog walk” her for exercise. Where he came up with this idea I have no clue. But he was determined. So was the cat. He’d hold her legs while he attached the harness and leash. Mattered not that she was uncooperative. Dad was old Navy! Orders were orders. The cat would WALK.

She never walked, she dragged; claws ripping into the asphalt as Dad yanked her to the corner and back. Neighbor’s curtains cracked and closed as the street watchers stayed alert for one of these excursions. (I loved those “walks.” No blood marks on my arms for a week after!) I learned a lesson! Don’t walk cats. Walk dogs. Or snakes, at least they slide.

Walking one dog can be therapeutic, two an event, and three or more a problem. Double up and you enter the twilight zone where anything can and will happen. Even with safeguards established.

I have been walking dogs since 7th grade. The breed is important but the number more so. The breed of preference is the Lab. Their ability for control and temperament to please underscore their walking attributes. It worked for many years. Even multiples. Then we (me, my wife and daughters) chose to wean ourselves from this workable formula and decided to underwrite a change in breeds. Erroneous thinking.

We love our current menagerie, but now dog walking has morphed into cat herding. It is with thankfulness when I can look on a days venture into the unknown with mirth, always after the fact. On the walk itself I am too busy attempting to stay upright, maintain some mien of dignity, and make sure I come back with “all hands on deck!”

We shredded our guidelines of dog ownership by introducing two Pekinese, one Cane Corso, and added a “caboose,” an Australian Shepard.

The Pekinese are stubborn and irritable. The Italian Mastiff (Cane Corso) stubborn and skittish and the Shepard absolutely motivated to herd anything and everything while maintaining warp speed!

I claim none of them but get the joy to help pay/feed/and pick-up poop. I’m the designated driver, the morning exerciser. It’s good for me. Makes me get this snarled body out for some exercise. Yep, I get to tax myself physically, mentally and emotionally. And I do love these knuckleheads.

Pickles, the queen Peke, has to be harnessed and leashed. Think Lab then spin 180 degrees in temperament. Tommy Lee, the oldest son of Pickle’s one and only litter, is much nicer, but he can get into trouble. He gets harnessed. A leash garnishes my neck just in case. Evelyn Jane is my wife’s baby, the Mastiff, about 90 pounds of beauty…and obstinacy. She wears a coat for warmth which also acts as a flak jacket. Pink – she’s a girl. An incoming torpedo colored in white and brown can come at any time and from any direction. Light speed and closing. Jayce.

Jayce Douglas is the most intelligent dog I have known. His power of observation combined with patience is spellbinding. I do carry an extra leash for him and/or Evelyn, but its use has been minimal. His responsibility, as he sees it, is to make sure all the dogs are behind him and “packed.”

We had set out with me “barking” out the walk’s plan when out of the bushes came the neighbor’s dog. His real name is Beaver but the girls unknowingly had taken to calling him Goomer. I preferred the more rakish name of Butthead. A nice enough dog, but not ours and so there is no authority and he displays minimal discipline. Not good for pack control.

In the best of weather the daily walk can be a tad trying. I love the squad, but you better not day dream. In winter with ice and snow, the walk becomes dicey. I motor on one good leg and one slightly dragging. The dogs are all in their prime. No “handicapping.” They have learned some walk discipline and the marching route is understood and safe. However each have their agendas which naturally collide at times. The result can be chaotic and funny, hurting and snarling, trying and thankful…that we make home all safe.

We were bearing well. The weather topped out nice and the recent thaw had released erotic smells, new enticements, at least to the dogs. Their boundaries began to expand excepting Pickles, who was on the leash. While Evelyn moved about, Butthead attacked her leg and Tommy Lee tried to grab Butthead. This juiced up Jayce and he came darting in to maintain control. When a muskrat decided to dart across the road it was like throwing gas on a fire. Instantaneous mayhem.

The larger three began an Oklahoma stampede and the Pekes attempted to catch up. Now I don’t want them to get bit (muskrats DO bite) and have a vet bill looming, nor do I want the dogs to get themselves all worked up so to hurt each other. I should have had more sympathy for the rat, but I didn’t. My concentration was on the dogs. I shuffle stepped after them with Pickles lurching forward, pulling on her leash. As I got to the dogs they were flipping the rat in the air, jostling for their turn at the intruder. I tried to arm sweep them aside and I dropped the leash. Now they were snipping at each other as well as the rat. The loose leash got wrapped around my ankle and the fight moved to the opposite side. I headed down.

I am used to falling, but this was sudden and I was not sure of the landing zone, until I looked over my shoulder. Yellow snow! The marking patch used for the past month by the dogs. I’m down, yelling, dogs barking, rat squealing…

I get everyone back, unleashed, flak coat off, and in the house, excepting Jaycee, who headed to the coral for his horse herding time. I got Pickle”s head washed (someone peed on her somewhere on the walk,) and put their food out.

I took a shower and slipped in bed. As my eyes closed the clock illuminated 8:30 a.m. I’m exhausted.

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