Ever since moving to Wyoming, I'd been admiring the black and white, medium-sized Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mixes that worked on the local ranches. They were nicknamed "cow dogs" by the locals for their relentless desire and tireless ability to herd cattle. Everyone I spoke to told me they were bred to work and unless you gave them a job, they'd make one up.
Since our German Shepherd is approaching 14, I figured that after he went to his great reward, we'd consider a cow dog. Be careful for what you wish for because one day during a walk around the neighborhood lake, an abandoned cow dog walked into our life.
"Millie" was a female Border Collie/Aussie mix with perfect markings. She appeared to be about six months old and aside from being rail thin and dirty, seemed to be healthy. We did all the usual things you do when you find a dog -- report it to the local animal control and humane society and watch the want-ads for lost dogs. Nothing. Not that we were disappointed. It took Millie all of one afternoon to worm her way into our hearts.
Fortune continued to smile on us when a retired dog trainer who worked with our daughter volunteered to train Millie to "get back into the swing of training." Soon Millie was heeling, sitting, staying, coming and best of all -- fetching.
Border Collies are relentless when it comes to fetching. Millie was no exception. Soon she'd developed into a world-class Frisbee dog and it became one of my greatest joys to watch her sprint through the yard to make twisting leaps four feet off the ground to pull down that spinning disc.
Since we had no animals for Millie to herd (the peacock and our other dog were no challenge) she took it upon herself to herd birds. You'd have to see it to believe it but Millie with run tirelessly through the yard, snout in the air, eagerly scanning the trees for birds. If she saw one take to wing, it's her job to "herd" them by influencing the direction in which they fly. Despite being 20 feet under the birds, she was often successful.
But Millie's favorite times are walking along the reservoir with the wife and me. Backed up 10 miles from the Buffalo Bill Dam, the reservoir is best viewed by walking along the top of its levee where you can take in the water, the shoreline and the snowcapped mountain backdrop. With so many sights, sounds, sniffs and birds, the location is people and dog heaven.
One afternoon, needing a break, Millie and I walked the reservoir on a blustery day. Because the levee is 50 feet higher than the lake and surrounding landscape, the wind blows through with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Since Millie likes to lead by a good 50 to 100 yards, the wind drowned out any chance to grab her attention.
I saw her zero in on a bush along the path ahead and suddenly leap backward. Then she went into the Border Collie version of a point which consisted of leaning toward the bush with muscles coiled to pounce. Picking up my pace to investigate, I soon heard what it was.
Rattlesnake. A MAD rattlesnake.
Immediately I called off the dog and got her on the leash and away from peril. But was I too late? I ran my hands over her legs and body and studied her nose and face for signs of a bite. All the while, the rattler kept his tail crackling. Millie hadn't yelped and wasn't favoring any portion of her body so I figured we dodged a bullet. I was right.
But the close call accomplished two things: it gave Millie an education to stay away from snakes and told me I better talk to the vet about getting some sort of venom kit. Since we frequently hike hours from town, a bite in the wilderness would be fatal.
Isn't it interesting how the universe usually nudges us with small perils as warnings before it slams us with the bigger ones that come from not listening?
For this man and his dog, we are grateful.
Mike Johnson is an energetic writer & entrepreneur. Learn more about Mike's offerings at www.MikeJohnson.biz