Cow Dogs I Have Known

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I’ve had the privilege of owning and working with some extraordinary cow dogs. Most of my dogs were Australian Shepherds, which have been my favorites, even though there are other breeds that work well. Some of my first experience with cow dogs was in brushy country in NW New Mexico, where a man I worked for had some blue heelers and mutts that could do wonders with wild cattle.

These dogs would literally grab recalcitrant cattle by the nose and hold them down until a rider could subdue them. Perhaps because of this I started my search for a cow dog. However, I never went for the dogs that go to the head of a cow. I prefer those that drive cattle, and feel the bulldog type action a little extreme. The first dog in my adult years was a black and white Australian Shepherd named Sassy. Sassy was a family dog. My dad loved her as much as I did. Sassy was with us on the Jicarilla Indian reservation where my Dad ran a cattle operation in the 1970s.

Sassy would ride with us in the truck pretty much every where, and when we called the cows, she would howl right along with us. Even blowing the horn seemed to require the accompaniment of howling for Sassy. There were numerous episodes of note in Sassy’s life, but the one the whole family will never forget happened when we took her to Albuquerque to be bred when she was about four years old.

We’d found an Australian Shepherd sire that we felt would be a good match, so Daddy took her down and left her with a dog breeder there. Unfortunately, Sassy wasn’t happy and managed to slip out under the fence one day. We were devastated to hear the news, thinking there was no way we would 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 couple weeks later we had a call from a horse shoe-er that felt he might have seen her near some stables on the edge of the city. Daddy made the trip just in case, thinking that if Sassy were to hang out anywhere, it would probably be around horses. When he arrived at the stables there wasn’t a dog around, but he stayed a while to see if she would show up, as the horse shoe-er said the dog only came into the stables occasionally. I answered the phone that afternoon and Sassy was on the line howling to me! The hero of the story refused the reward, telling my Dad it was reward enough just to see them back together.

My next 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 on the Triangle Ranch when I was working there and later when I owned it. We ran yearlings on the ranch many of those years and Snappy and I could move several hundred head by ourselves most of the time. He was a joy to work with and always ready to go.

Tragedy ended Snappy Tom’s life, although he was fairly well up there in years when the incident took place. I went up to check some windmills in a Mazda pick up my Dad had, and put the dogs in the back end inside a camper shell. My daughters were with me or the dogs would have been up front. The dogs always wanted to go any time there was a trip somewhere. This was in July and it was quite hot. I forgot about the dogs when we returned to the house and went inside with the girls.

When I came to and remembered the dogs were in the truck, I ran out and found both dogs sick with heat exhaustion. I took them both and held them in a water tank trying to cool them off as much as possible. Cracker Jack, my Dad’s Australian Shepherd was much younger and survived the ordeal, but Snappy Tom didn’t make it. This was difficult 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 she did everything with me that my earlier dogs did. Unfortunately, when Chile was about mid life, I changed my life style and pretty much quit cowboying. Chile lived out her life though, on the ranch working with my Dad and I would see her from time to time and we would work together when we had the chance.

There were other dogs over the years, but these three are the ones that stand out in my memory. There is nothing like a dog to enrich your quality of life.

write by Nickolas George

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