Out West we’ve got a saying: The best hired man a rancher can have is a good cow dog. My husband and I definitely had that in Buddy.
One morning I looked out the window and scanned the pasture for his black and white fur. Our Border collie-shepherd mix was semi-retired these days, but whenever he could, he slipped out to stand guard over the cows.
As a young dog Buddy was ever present. When my husband, Milton, and I went out to move cows Buddy rode along in the pickup. He wove behind the drags to keep the cattle in line on our way to the gate. During calving season, he put the cows safe in the shed with a couple of sharp barks.
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Feeding time was easy, especially in winter, with Buddy planted by the feed troughs ready to spring into action if a cow got too close to the tractor.
“You know what, Bud?” I told him at least once a day. “You’re the best dog in the world.”
Maybe I should have been more strict about keeping him indoors. Buddy still wanted to do his job but arthritis had slowed him down, and the cows were dangerous.
But I knew how much he loved to work. So where was he now? Milton was out feeding the cows with his tractor. Cows crowded around him, ignoring all his efforts to move them away. Buddy obviously wasn’t with Milton.
I left the window and opened the door to call. “Buddy!” But I found him right there, stretched out on the step. When I bent down to touch him he flinched. Our Buddy was hurt! “Milton!” I cried. Just as I called out, he came running around the corner.
“What happened?” he said, dropping to one knee.
“I don’t know. I just found him.”
Milton gently felt around Buddy’s body. “I don’t feel anything broken,” he said. “It doesn’t look to me like he got kicked.”
I brought Buddy some beaten eggs and milk, but he turned his head away after a few laps. Milton and I dealt with hurt animals all the time. As ranchers we had a lot of experience identifying injuries and taking care of them.
So when Bud’s stomach started to swell, we knew all too well what had happened: Cows charge and butt with their heads to defend themselves if they feel cornered. Bud must have been mauled and tossed in the air. His internal organs would have gotten bruised when he slammed back down to the ground. Pressure from the swelling can be fatal.
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Years before, Milton had gotten hurt when four big, round hay bales fell off a semitruck and landed on top of him. The bales had not only broken several bones, but crushed his internal organs.
Milton’s stomach swelled up just like Buddy’s was now. We spent a long, awful week waiting and praying for the swelling to go down.
I knew that Buddy might not be so lucky. We carried him down to the basement and settled him on a soft, fluffy rug. The heat from the coal furnace warmed the room, and the exposed pine rafters smelled sweet and fresh.
Buddy lay stretched out on his side, lightly panting. Now we just had to wait. I sat beside him, petting his head.
God, please don’t let Buddy die. He’s the best dog in the world, as you know.
I was no stranger to grief. I’d lost two infant sons to a genetic disorder just hours after they were born. I tried to picture the boys together in heaven with the angels, but I couldn’t truly imagine it.
I’d never get over such loss, but I always thought that picture might be the one thing that would give me closure. I thought of all the fun my other children had with Buddy. He followed them everywhere, played fetch for hours, cuddled with them on cold nights.
He kept me company around the house, walked with me to the barn and down to the mailbox. He was made to run in the sagebrush and chase rabbits, to work and play with the people he loved. He loved everything about life. How could he be dying?