Monday, November 9, 2009

Hairy Lucy

She didn't start out that way. When Prairie and I took pick of the litter, Lucita La Luz was a silky sweet pup with prick ears. We chose her for her confirmation and personality, which we hoped mirrored her grandmother, Bonnie, one of our favorite dogs.

Lucy joined the pack, at that time consisting of Oso, Bonnie and Chili, and assumed her role of relentlessly harassing the older dogs. Since she was too young to work, she did her best to herd the other canines at the ranch, racing ahead to cut them off and nipping at their legs, necks and shoulders. She was a colossal pest. But since all the other dogs had exhibited this same behavior as pups, they tolerated her or sent her packing with a no-nonsense growl.

When Lucy was about a year old, she and I were walking the fields behind the farmhouse when a coyote popped up from the marsh and loped off across the stubble. Lucy spotted him and took off like a rocket. I let her go, thinking this would be a good time to work on a call back, to get her to break her focus and listen to me. The coyote was a long ways off and I knew there was little chance of her ever getting close to it.

Her speed was unbelievable. I was so impressed that I just let her run. As I watched her churn across the field in a cloud of dust, it reminded me of the old roadrunner cartoons. She was humming.

I came to my senses and called her back, whistling long and sharp into the morning. When she heard me, she turned and ran all the way back to where I waited at the pond. She galloped up, tongue lolling, flashing a smile as if to say, "Now that was fun."

Lucy taught me an important lesson about communication. She was a pup when Zeke was in grade school and he loved to call her into his lap, where she would jump all over him and lick his face. As she grew older, this behavior transformed into a tightly coiled, forty-pound leap launched at your face as you walked across the yard. I hated it. Visitors like it even less.

I tried everything to break this habit, but nothing worked. Finally after two years, it clicked. She was not misbehaving, she was obeying a command. Zeke had trained her to "give kisses" and the command for this action was to look down at her and make eye contact. As soon as I figured this out, I stopped giving the command. When she bounced over to me in the morning, I looked straight ahead, said, "Sit" and held my hand out flat at my side.

At first she would sit obediently, but when I then tipped my head to look at her, she would jump, bam, teeth-first into my face. So I tried looking straight ahead and then petting her without looking down. It worked. I asked others to do the same and after a year she stopped jumping up altogether. It's amazing what we teach each other without meaning to.

Lucy was about four when she went to graduate school. She and Mike headed to the US Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho where they grazed sheep on knapweed and developed protocols for controlling invasive species using livestock. Lucy was our first dog who could work both sheep and cattle.

Back in Wallowa County, she worked hard and eventually retired at age ten. The older she got the hairier she got. Her undercoat grew more and more dense and she never seemed to shed out all the way. Combing and brushing helped, but she was still a magnet for burrs and seeds. After two expensive trips to the vet to remove foxtail embedded in her abdomen, I took to shaving her each spring. When several friends appeared on the scene with dogs that were also named "Lucy", she became first Big Lucy and then Hairy Lucy.

In her last chapter of life, Lucy was the grandkid dog, the sweet old beast that would stand while one-year-old Dawson patted her back and grabbed handfuls of her ruff. As long as she got a chance to snake a tongue in his face every now and then, she was happy to put up with him.

Saturday Lucy went to meet her maker. Zeke and I dug the hole and the younger dogs, Newt and Ruby, came over to give her one last sniff. I laid my hand on her back, "Lucy, you were a good dog," I said. "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust," said Zeke.

If anybody comes over to pay their respects, you can find Lucy's final resting place out back in the dog cemetery next to the native grass nursery. Her's is the one with the deep red basalt stone.

From the Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef