Hank, the non-cow dog

 


A story in my local Montana paper, the Missoulian, described the growing problem of family pets harassing wildlife and livestock. It seems that the expansion of urban life into the wild is taking its toll on deer, elk, cattle and all kinds of burrowing creatures. The story really hit home as my dog Hank, aka "Where the heck did the dog run off to now?" is breaking us in.

Hank is named after the "Hank the Cow Dog" children's book series. My wife thought the stories were cute, and so was Hank, though our Hank lives not on a ranch but on the sagebrush-covered bluffs that rise to the east of Dillon, Mont. We're on the fringe of the great outdoors, with plenty of wildlife, including fox, deer and a variety of rabbits.

Hank's cuteness vanished sometime this winter as the morning winds turned chilly, and he turned a year and a half old and became an out-of-control teenager, hell-bent on taking advantage of his misguided husky and border collie pedigree. The husky wanted to run and the border collie lived to chase. Throw in a dashing herd of antelope, and no matter what commands I screamed, threats I made, or sailor's language I used, Hank was gone.

I know you're thinking that his lack of discipline was an owner problem. Well, I agree. So I've been training Hank, and he's slowly turning into a well-behaved dog. Regardless of his steadily improving manners, I was still concerned about the neighbors’ canines, and decided to investigate if there were any out-of-control mongrels housed near me.

Hank knew the territory, so I employed his well-honed sleuthing skills to uncover any roving hounds. Reaching the driveway's end, Hank quickly focused his tracking nose on checking every carbon-based plant life form to see if it had been “marked.” This, as you might imagine, takes a lot of time, but we were determined to uncover potential marauders.

First stop was Penny, a lovable border collie with a hair-trigger bladder who lives across the road. You touch her -- she pees. If Hank's missing, he's over at her house stealing something -- bones, rawhide chews and a really nice socket set that I keep meaning to return.

Down the road there's Pinky, an ADHD beagle mix that likes romping with Hank in her fenced yard. Across the road, the area's senior citizens Gus and Woodrow will love you to death if they find the energy to waddle up and greet you. Heading down the hill, Pepper and her cohorts are all Hank's friends and well-cared-for homebodies. Then there's Cody, acting like a college student on spring break. He's a handful, but his owners seem to have mastered the art of control.

Hank, feeling a keen sense of duty and possibly the scent of chuker quail, picks up the pace as I feebly attempt to keep up. Hank is desperately trying to figure out if "heel" and "get your butt over here" are the same command. Then, through a miracle of modern dog training, he's actually running alongside me. I stumble along as my legs beg for rest, lung sensors detect a low oxygen level and brain defers action until my heart checks in. Hank, sensing my dilemma, cocks his head and licks my hand as if to say, "If you die, can I go back to chasing rabbits?" I love that dog.

Our little subdivision closely represents the nation’s 80 million U.S. dog owners, as almost every house here has at least one shaggy critter. Hank was determined to interrogate them all -- even the mutt called Caesar that had a falling out with Hank a while back. Completing the rounds, I wipe my sweaty face as Hank confides there aren't any dogs in his territory posing a threat to wildlife or livestock. They're just supervised, well cared for canines whose owners are friendly, responsible adults -- paying taxes and flossing regularly.

Pet owners should be held accountable for their pet's behavior, and it shouldn't fall to game wardens or ranchers, who are often saddled with having to shoot offending animals. I asked Hank what he thought about the irresponsible folks who let their pets roam the rural countryside. He started to lift his leg. I said, "Easy boy, let's be sensible here. Maybe a friendly reminder would be a good start: Keep your dogs at home."

Joe Barnhart is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Dillon, Montana.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • MS ACCESS DATABASE PROGRAMER
    Looking for an access programmer. Contract position. Send resume with references and rates to: [email protected] www.prospace.biz
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...