By Billy Orville Taylor
My heritage is from the South and while I was bein’ fetched up, four days after my seventh birthday to be exact, I found out that dawg was dog. My teacher was reading a book to my class about a dog that could run. She said it was DOG. OK, OK, it's dog! I give up!
In the story the dog was named Spot and we should, “See Spot run.” I remember thinking, I’d seen dogs run all my life. That's no big deal, but, what a dumb name for a dog. Every dog of my acquaintance was named Ol' Blu, Ol' Yeller or jus’ plan ol’ Dawg. There was some talk of a dog named Ralph that lived on a cane farm down by the Little Missouri River, but nobody really believed that.
A lot happened to me around my seventh birthday. That was also ‘bout the time I realized that damn and Yankee were two separate words. The school marm was from Cincinnati, and for some reason didn’t take kindly to being referred to by the two words together. Anyway, back to the dogs.
Ever notice that the family down the street takes their dog to obedience school but lets their kids run wild through out the neighborhood. They’ll spend countless hours training the dog but give little or no time to the youngun’s. That always seemed backwards to me. Some folks think more of their dogs than they do about the rest of their kin. They may have a good reason, I s’pose they know their kin better than I do.
I’ve spent countless hours hiking in Big Santa Anita Canyon and have observed many dogs and their owners on the trails. I would like to pass along some observations that might help the dogs, their owners and the rest of us as spectators.
Many visitors to our canyon unleash their dog as soon as they are on the trail. This may be the result of guilty feelings that have built up all week in the minds of the owners. They want their dog to feel a little freedom after being cooped up all week in an apartment or small yard.
We must remember, “The road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions,” to quote some ancient sage who didn’t leave his name, fax number or e-mail address for that matter. The owner's good intentions are sometimes misguided.
City dogs are not educated in the ways of the wilderness. The open spaces, unknown smells, squirrels and other wild animals can and do send a dog into twitterpation. As we humans know, when we are twitterpated, we can and oft times do lose presence of mind. The same thing can happen to our four-footed, fuzzy, furred, fearless family Fido. When in pursuit of canine carefree euphoria, our friend will run through patches of poison oak, splash in the creek, roll in the dirt and grass, thus becoming a conveyance for a large contingent of ticks, fleas and mucky mud. Our mutt will immediately return to us so it can share the experience and also the by-products. This behavior by the pup is welcomed by the family’s veterinarian and groomer as it helps them make their pool payments.
Snakes are another curiosity for ol’ Spot. Most of the reptiles in Big Santa Anita Canyon present little or no problem for the pooch. However, the Pacific Rattlesnake is the exception. It has to survive just like everything else. Remember, when it’s going about its business of trying to hustle up lunch and encounters dog and/or owner it packs a potent poisonous punch for pup and people alike. This crossing of paths could mess up your whole day. If the dog survives a hit to the muzzle, it can be left blind. Protect your precious puppy by maintaining control and don’t place your hands and feet in an area you can’t see.
The terrain and area of our canyon is vast compared to back yards and apartments. The family dog can and sometimes does get lost! The storied Lassie could find her way home, but she is a movie exception, not the rule. Most city dogs can’t find their butt when chasing their tail. It is a sad sight indeed to see a family calling the name and looking for a lost pet late Saturday or Sunday evening after returning from a hike.
The ol’ timers in our mountains know a domestic dog doesn’t stand a chance when put up against a pack of coyotes. Coyotes have to make a living too, just like everyone else in this world. They are opportunists, like all of the other wild critters in the mountains, and will convert any lost domestic animal into supper. Not a happy thought!
When we meet friends on the trail ever notice what ol’ Woofy is doin’. He’s greeting everyone with enthusiasm by running around, wagging his tail and licking everyone in the immediately area. This may be cute to grown-up folk, but please consider how this appears to 1 to 3-year-old little young’uns.
Put yourself in the child’s place. You’ve been bodily removed from a wonderful cartoon on T.V. and stuck in the middle of a trail only God knows where and He ain’t tellin’. You’re bein’ told how much fun you’re havin’. You don’t know where you’re goin’ or where you’ve been or why you’re there. While you’re tryin’ to figure out this puzzlement, out of nowhere comes a creature taller, bigger and hairier than you, with fangs as long as your index finger and a tongue that looks like a slab of beef liver. It licks you from your belly button to the top of your head, not once but three times. The third lick knocks you flat on your framus.
If this same experience were enjoyed by an adult, by way of say, an 8 foot tall, 400 pound dog with fangs the size of the ones on a saber toothed tiger, your first reaction would be total blinding terror, followed by an immediate need to change your shorts. Why do we all forget we were once little nippers and had to look up at the world and everything in it?
Heat exhaustion or heat stroke can also happen to our family pets. Dogs and cats, unlike their owners and horses, can’t sweat. For those amongst y’all with delicate sensibilities, insert the word perspire for sweat. This sweating process has a cooling effect for people and horses. Dogs can only pant and give off heat in that manner. However, they need water, and lots of it, to do so.
Perchance, at this point in the diatribe under-way here, this might be an opportune moment to clear up the difference between sweat and perspire. A Grand Dame, of the ol’ Southern Plantation Culture, once informed this writer that “ladies glow, men perspire and horses sweat.” It would place us all in good stead to keep this correct order in our minds, as I have all my life. However, I do remember my eighth grade graduation dance, one hot afternoon so many years ago, Anna Fay Farley did glow like a horse. Speaking of live stock, let’s return to the dogs.
The mountain trails next to the stream offer ample water for ol’ Sport. There he can get belly deep in the creek and drink all the water he needs. Don’t y’all drink from the stream, though, ol’ Sport’s innards are made of sterner stuff than ours. The high mountain trails have little or no water. I don’t care if you carry water for yourself, but please tote some for the pup. A clever lady, once observed on the Upper Winter Creek Trail, had a dog backpack with a pint of water in each side and a bowl attached to the top with Velcro. This backpack was on the dog's back, not hers. The dog did the work but she did the planning.
When you're hiking up hill on hot pavement, consider the heat stored in the roadway. To the well-shod humanoid biped, this is of no consequence. However, to the unshod canine quadruped, this can cause pain. When your pup tries to levitate all four paws from the pavement at the same time, look for some shade or a cooler place.
Here's another scenario that brings stress to the heart of the well-dressed hiker. You have showered, splashed, patted and rubbed foo foo over your bod and upholstered yourself in the latest mountain finery. You head for Big Santa Anita Canyon! Going down the trail you observe tired and dirty hikers with more than a little disdain as they come up the toward you. They are in various states of disarray. Some could make a fashion statement in the "Hobo News." You feel very good about your appearance. You consider yourself the epitome of the well-dressed high adventurer off to conquer the wilderness.
Coming up the trail are a couple of large dogs with tongues lolling out of their mouths far enough to be stepped on, panting and drooling. This pair could've graduated in the top 3% of Pavlov's school, "Salivating By the Bell." As is the custom in the canine culture, they smell each other in various places as part of the greeting ritual, much as we do in our culture with a handshake. In your attempt to fend off dog #1, trying to keep it at arm’s length (unfortunately this move requires you to bend at the waist), dog #2 pokes its nose, sniffs and slobbers in an area of your body that was never meant to be used in that manner. Your attention has now been diverted to dog #2. As you turn to address #2, #1 now carries out the basic greeting custom in the same area. They are very friendly and show their delight at making your acquaintance by repeating the accustomed greeting.
In the midst of all this frivolity, the dogs' owner saunters into view with the dogs' leashes draped around his neck. The owner smiles, calls the dogs and walks slowly up the trail. You are left in the middle of the trail with saliva, slobber and drool running down your legs and dripping into your brand new white sneaks.
Being a person of great civility and decorum, you resist the basic urge to grasp the ends of the leashes with your bare hands and choke the livin' daylights out of the jerk who owns the dogs. He didn't even notice the mess or offer to pick up the cleaning tab. In your mind, revenge is sweet. You visualize that his home looks and smells like a kennel.
The rest of the day, every dog you encounter greets you like long-lost kin, a kissin' cousin, so to speak, because of the way you now smell and taste. "Happy trails," as someone once said whilst riding off into the sunset!
I'll bet, at sometime or another you've said, "Rover is harmless and wouldn't hurt a flea," when you run across a friend on the trail. Have you ever considered how that statement can hurt ol' Rover's feelings? Here's ol' Rover on the trail, fantasizing that he's in the wild and on the trail of some large and vicious beast to pursue and drive from his territory. He thinks he's the leader of the pack, with all the responsibilities that burden the shoulders of the Pack Master, and you're tellin' all and sundry that he's a wimp, a twit, a failure as a fur bag. Talk about a downer! Rover just stands there, head, tail ears and ego hanging down. . . . Bummer!
How would you feel if your boss and master said you were as worthless as mammary glands on that well known motorcycle of American manufacture? Your self image would hang lower than a construction worker's Levis'. Consider using this statement when introducing ol' Rover to the multitudes.
"This is Rover, the King of Cunning Canines. His ancestry goes back millennia to the Mighty Wolf. He is a powerful and wise beast. With his intelligence, he will override his killer instincts and impose self-discipline to become the benevolent and proud leader of the Pack, of which he considers you a member."
Then look at the sparkle in ol' Rover's eyes. You may be able to see the corners of his mouth turn up just a little in a smile. He will attempt to stand a bit taller. That's how a man is dog's best friend.
When crossing the stream at First Water a while back I encountered a man with a big yeller dog with a rope tied around its neck. They just stood there facing each other. As I passed, the man said, "I'll sell you this talking dog for twenty-five bucks."
I couldn't believe what I heard, and asked the man to repeat himself. He did so. I immediately scoffed at the assertion of a talking dog, laughed and turned to leave. I thought the guy's hamburger was short a patty and he was deep into the secret sauce.
At that point, the dog said, "Please mister, reconsider the man's offer."
It goes without saying that I was more than a little taken aback by the dog's request.
The dog then said, "Please buy me. I need a new home. This guy doesn't feed me enough, and when he does feed me it tastes awful. He keeps me tied up with this short rope. He makes me stay outside in the hot sun in the Summer and in the cold and rain in the Winter. He has never scratched my ears or patted me on the head. He treats me like a dog!"
With total amazement, I asked the owner why he wanted to sell his talkin' dog.
He said, "I'm just sick and tired of being embarrassed by all of his lies."
If the guy had taken an I.O.U. or would’ve accepted a post dated check; that dog would be conducting poetry readings at Chantry Flat on a Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The performances would be conducted from the porch at the Lonergan Pack Station. With hat in hand I would be hustling the crowd for small change or a hand full of Kibble.
But alas, fate can be cruel! My only chance at show business, gone forever!
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