Of feral dogs, and feral Westerners

  • The wide open spaces of the West

    Shaun C. Gibson
  • A "semi-wild canine"

    BigStock
 

Feral dogs are more common in the rural West than bathtub methamphetamine labs or chainsaw carvers. They roam dumps, harass and attack wildlife and livestock, and, I know from painful experience, they lie in wait on two-lane roads to discipline bicyclists.

“Rez” dogs may be famous for scavenging in roadside ditches outside Tuba City, Ariz., and Gallup, N.M., but chances are, if you’re living anyplace in the rural West — and that means not in a resort town — you’re going to meet a feral dog.

This leads me to suggest the feral dog as the region’s mascot. Sure, there are those who will protest; they’ll say wolves or bears or wild horses stand for the wide-open spaces of the American West. Thing is, there aren’t that many wide-open spaces left. Feral dogs, on the other hand, can be found in every corner of the region. They also better represent the sort of freedom — libertarian, hardscrabble, pathologically independent, persevering and often ugly — that we embrace here in the rural West.

Take the pack of feral pups that gained semi-celebrity status in our spread-out county in western Colorado. Someone must have been unable to care for a couple of border collies, so the dogs were abandoned. Perhaps they were just left to fend for themselves, or they were dumped at the end of a gravel road at one of those places where people drop off old televisions, and where teenagers pass the time by holding kegger parties and shooting at road signs.Eventually, the collie couple took shelter in a line of rusty cars sinking into the dirt. There, they bred without restraint, and by last fall the pack’s numbers had grown to some two-dozen animals scraping out a bleak existence. They ate roadkill and chased speeding cars down the highway, occasionally getting caught and crushed beneath the tires.

This was made possible, in part, because here in Delta County we don’t have a tax-supported animal shelter; in fact, we lack a lot that government normally provides. As is the case in much of the West, the loudest among us don’t want elected officials messing with our guns, our private lives, our homes, or even our neglected pets. Zoning is the “Z” word, and we can pretty much do whatever we want with our property. That means you can build some kind of ultra-efficient hippie home with composting toilets, or stack a few trailers on top of one another and call it a modular mansion. It’s fine until someone opens a hog farm or a gravel pit next door.

In the West, we’ve been so successful in keeping the government at bay that we’ve begun to look as ragged around the edges as a feral dog. Studies show we are less likely to have health insurance than anyone else in the nation, and adequate medical facilities are few and far between. Spending on public education is pathetic in this region, lagging far behind other states. Mental-health care is under-funded, and adequate care can be a day’s drive away, though many of us would probably rather be left alone anyway, to self-medicate. There are more substance-abusers in the West who need treatment, but don’t get it, than anywhere else in the country.

When you stop and think about it, we’ve a lot in common with feral dogs. Perhaps equity refugees living in half-million dollar homes in the region’s resort towns can’t relate; for them, a well-groomed golden retriever that accompanies them on the morning run is a more appropriate mascot. But in the other West, the often-forgotten West — the underbelly where the housekeepers, dishwashers and other workers live — there’s the feral dog, the little pit-bull mongrel that can pierce a $100 running shoe and rip through an Achilles’ tendon in under a second.

In my county, the border-collie brood was finally gathered up by a volunteer animal rescue organization, which then spread the word that some 24 bred-to-herd, highly intelligent border collies needed homes. It didn’t take long for people from all over the country to swoop in and adopt all of the pups. Even semi-wild canines, it seems, can reverse their fate.

What that symbolizes, I can’t say. But as a feral Westerner myself, I’d be happy to sit around and talk about it. You bring your guns. I’ll bring the beer. We’ll go down to the end of the road and shoot up some signs or something.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is the paper’s associate editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CLIMATE EDUCATION AND STEWARDSHIP (CES) COMMUNICATIONS DESIGNER
    Seeking an individual to design and develop marketing and support materials for a 1-year, 30-hour per week, grant-funded climate education program. Based in Durango, CO....
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL OFFICE MANAGER - BOOKKEEPER
    The Wyoming Outdoor Council is seeking an office manager-bookkeeper to join our team. The office manager-bookkeeper supports the program and administrative functions of the Wyoming...
  • HEALTHY RIVERS SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY
    WRA seeks a passionate attorney to join our Healthy Rivers team. The Senior Staff Attorney will research and advocate for wiser water management and updated...
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and will be accepted until: February 03, 2020. Overview Conservation Voters for Idaho (CVI) protects Idaho's environment...
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com