Dogs I Have Known
(c) Copyright Chuck Bealke, 1996
If you ever want proof of the phenomenon called hybrid vigor, you need look no farther than dogs. Over time at our Missouri farm we bought Cocker Spaniels, an Airedale, and a gorgeous Collie. These were great pets, but like most purebreds they were God's gift to veterinary practice. The Cockers had ear problems, skin problems, eye problems and even a hernia. The Collie was a bit healthier but was no stranger to the vet, either. My favorite dog, Tiger, was given me by a high school teacher and was a rather formidable (almost ugly) love child of a German Shepherd and a Golden Retriever. In five years Tiger only saw a vet once other than for shots. He was more vigorous, smart, and rugged than any of the pedigreed critters. Tiger was a great watch dog, and with one gruff bark he kept visitors not invited down our farm road (and even some of the invitees) inside their vehicles and convinced they should sample the drive in the other direction. He never bit anyone - he did not have to.
Our farm was about 25 miles outside the city, and folks seemed to come out and deposit unwanted dogs on public roadsides. A stray would wander onto the farm, and if it got fed often stayed for life. We got some great mixed-breed dogs this way over the years. If the dog was a female, the first time she came into heat, we would have visitors, and often the bitch and her male admirers would disappear of a sudden never to be seen again. Sometimes, we would lose a good farm dog to this group wander-off.
We had one such stray for a couple of years named Spot (for the big black circle around his right eye on an otherwise white head). He was chiefly notable for his insatiable desire to rid the earth of cats. He would sleep all night under a tree to get at a cat that he'd treed. He would always be looking for a cat moving her kittens around the barn, and would not rest until all the cats were dispatched from the farm - one way or the other. He feared neither scratches nor death in this regard. Another reason that his memory persists is that he killed a skunk once and then jumped into the family car as it returned loaded with returning schoolkids. I was watching the whole affair, and the speed with which the car emptied had me in stitches.
Our Collie, Prince, was a handsome specimen. His fine, full coat served as a mobile magnet for burrs and all forms of clinging weeds and weed seeds. These were scattered about the farm in great abundance, so Prince probably looked 10 pounds heavier in the summers. We found out quite by chance that his sexual persuasion was nonexistent. Because of Prince's fine pedigree, a man who was looking to get his Collie bitch bred asked my father if Prince's services were available for such. An affirmation and offer of this for free quickly brought the willing female and her owner to the farm. Prince rose to greet his solicitous visitor, and both dogs sniffed each other up and down for a few minutes. Satisfied that the visiting Collie was friendly and having her olifactory dimensions filed away, Prince sat back down on the cool ground and almost dozed. We were baffled at such non-interest, and the man wanting puppies apologetically mumbled that he must have been wrong about his dog's being in heat. He did not mumble for long. From the garage we heard what sounded like an animal howling as if trapped in a fire. It was Tiger, who had been locked in there to prevent his urges from interfering with Prince's job. It was obvious from the volume and tone of Tiger's requests for freedom that our human visitor had been dead right about his dog's readiness to conceive.
While many of the predominant two legged species thrive only in town, don't ever be fooled by the popular press that says dogs are better off in the city. That may be true for the weaker high bred sort; but every healthy mutt I've ever seen was as wild about country life as I am. A farmer I worked for had a little dog that followed the plow all day long Spring and Fall - even when the fields were near home. The rascal loved every minute of it and would often give a short bark of excitement at a new discovery. It is hard to imagine a happier creature than a healthy dog free to roam his farmstead and sniff every little thing that moves or is plowed up or both.