A Four-Legged Angel to the Rescue

An injured rancher, cornered by a protective heifer, is rescued by a loyal pooch.

Posted in , May 25, 2012

Susan Stone and her dog Smoky Joe

I didn’t exactly come to ranching naturally. I grew up in the city—Richland, Washington, to be exact. Mom was a housewife and Dad, a metal worker. One thing Dad loved: horses.

He rented a pasture on the outskirts of town so we could have horses, and I spent every minute riding. That’s when I began dreaming of becoming a cowgirl. But all I did was dream.

Finally, after marriage, divorce and raising my kids on my own, things changed. I got a job as a ranch hand in Winnett, Montana. I had a lot to learn but loved it—the freedom of working outdoors, the pride in raising cattle and the joy of riding a good horse.

It was dangerous work—a cow on the fight could cripple a person, and I’d learned to be careful. Still, it was all I’d dreamed and prayed for.

One day I was eating breakfast with my boss and some of the other cowboys at The Jersey Lilly, an old Montana café. A woman walked over to our table cradling some Australian shepherd and Border collie mix puppies.

“I’m giving away the litter,” she said. I had no intention of getting a dog, but one little black pup insisted on coming to see me. He almost jumped right out of the woman’s arms! I fed him a bite of bacon from my plate. And just like that I was done for.

I named him Smokey Joe after one of my favorite singers—Smokey Robinson, and for his shiny black, white and tan coat.

He was something special. That same afternoon he learned to sit on command in the pickup. Pretty amazing for a six-week-old pup. A few months later he mastered commands and hand signals and even started working the sheep.

By the time he was nine months old he was working cattle like a pro. Smokey Joe was quiet as fog on the river—never barked once, only yipped when he wanted a cow to move along. He followed me like a shadow. I’d never seen a dog so loyal, so smart, so obedient.

He trailed cows with me in the pasture and brought the cattle up the alley. I couldn’t imagine being without him. It was a match made in heaven. Thank you, Lord, for sending me Smokey Joe, even when I didn’t know how much I needed him. You must have known something I didn’t.

When Smokey was about four, I started working on another ranch. Every rancher knows that cows with newborn calves and dogs don’t mix, so my new boss, Evert, and I were always careful to make sure Smokey never came in the corral or cowshed while I walked through the cows, checking for calves.

“Stay out!” I’d say, and he wouldn’t dare set one paw inside the pen. Not ever.

One day Evert helped me take a heifer into the shed to pull her calf. “C’mon, girl,” I said, guiding her toward the maternity pen. Out of nowhere, she charged! She sent Evert leaping for the fence, then rammed the wooden panel and knocked him off, badly bruising his leg.

We grabbed a rope and slung it around her neck, snubbing her up to a post. “She should quiet down after the calf is born,” he said, catching his breath. But once we got the calf pulled and turned the heifer loose, she ran into the fence panels to get at us again.

Quickly, we climbed over the fence to safety. She was definitely one of the worst heifers we’d ever calved.

The next morning, I found a brand-new calf shivering in the wind, out in the big pen. If I didn’t get him into the shed, he could chill down and die. But first, I had to move that testy heifer.

I looked around for Smokey Joe. I spotted him watching me from three fences away, stationed outside the pens. “Stay out, Smokey,” I reminded him firmly, not that he really needed any reminding. He knew better.

Going slow and easy, I got the cow to take her calf to the far end of the shed. So far, so good, I thought, eyeing the big sliding door I had to close behind her. I think I can sneak in there and shut it. Stepping into the corral, I started toward the door.

Wham! The heifer burst out of the door, bellowing and blowing snot. I threw up an arm, waving it in her face, hoping she’d stop, then turned to run.

But that side of the corral wall was built solid—not one place to get a handhold or even an opening to put my foot, and it was way too high to jump over.

She got me down and threw me up against the windbreak, dropping her head to work me over, bawling like a mad bull, pushing and shoving my body through the muck. She rammed me into the fence planks and stomped on me.

I kicked at her face, trying to chase her off. That only made her madder. My mind went blank—I couldn’t even scream or stammer out a prayer. She shoved me up against a railroad tie, mauling me like I was a rag doll, before falling on top of me.

I felt my ribs crack. Every breath pierced my lungs. Searing pain shot through my neck. I was hurt. Bad.

Curl up! Protect your head! I flung my arm over my head, trying to cover my face, shutting my eyes as the cow swung around. I could feel her butting me when suddenly I heard a ferocious bark.

Smokey Joe?

He erupted from under the stock panel, launching himself at that heifer. Every hair on his body stood straight up. Snarling and yowling, he attacked any piece of her he could reach. He bit her legs and tail, sinking his sharp white teeth into her hide.

Slobbering froth, she whirled to take him on.

He sprang up to meet her charge, teeth bared, savagely biting her face and ears as she tried to trample him. Smokey Joe just wouldn’t back down, not that dog! Within minutes, the cow let out a bellow and ran back into the shed.

Smokey Joe trotted stiff-legged over to the shed door and stood stock-still, refusing to budge until I got safely out of the corral.

He’d never before disobeyed my orders. But he flew into that corral to rescue me. How did he know I was in trouble? The fences he’d come through were made with heavy planks and a steel stock panel. He’d had to crawl under them to get to me. He’d never done that either.

Leaning against the windbreak, I pulled myself up, holding my ribs and struggling to breathe. Smokey stood guard, square between danger and me. No, I wasn’t able to get my job done that day. But Smokey Joe had done his.

It turned out I had a ruptured spleen to go along with the broken ribs. I had surgery and spent four days in intensive care. Today, nine years later, Smokey Joe still bristles up whenever a cow gets close to me.

Yup, he’s my gift from the Lord all right, my angel with four paws. And an answer to a prayer I didn’t even have a chance to pray.

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