Saddle Sore: Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
She was a big Australian heeler, maybe 35 to 40 pounds, with a sleek, red coat, trailing long above her knees. The noise of my approaching Jeep flushed her from her hiding place in the front pasture and she ripped across the field as though I’d fired a rifle. “Just a stray dog,” I thought and immediately let it go. That same scene replayed itself a couple of times over the next two weeks, and I supposed a new neighbor was letting his dog run wild. I tried to catch the crafty beast several times, but she was far too wily for that.
That previous November, I’d boarded my horses out for the winter at a ranch in Loma, and hadn’t looked in the back pasture or the hay barn since, a time span of approximately three months. There was nothing around that the big dog might chase, I didn’t think, so her presence didn’t really cross my radar. I assumed she liked the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun in the front pasture and went home at night like a good dog should.
About a month after the first sighting, however, a neighbor did call, although it wasn’t what you might think. He and I’d had numerous conversations over the years, probably even shared some embarrassing secrets along the way, so I was totally flummoxed when he came at me like a loose cannon: “Do me a favor and keep your damned dog locked up.” When I tried to explain that I didn’t have a dog (not then), he really jumped me. “Don’t give me any of that bullshit. She comes outta your barn every morning and runs around the horse pasture like she owns the place. She’s gonna kill my cat and I’ll get even.” I began to get visions of that stray red heeler I’d seen, making herself at home, and caught onto the situation.
However, I wasn’t ready to give him the proper explanation, not just yet anyway, and proceeded to engage him in a conversation of convolutions. “So, the dog is playing in my horse pasture, on private property, which she has every right to do, and she’s chasing your cat. Why don’t you keep your prized feline off my property, and then there won’t be a problem?”
Sometimes it’s difficult to make someone understand that cats can trespass too, and in my estimation, the dog had every right to kill the cat, if she could catch it. Keep in mind, I had no idea who the canine belonged to, but since the neighbor had unilaterally assigned responsibility to me, I felt compelled to represent the dog, at least for the time being. Funny how we sometimes take ownership of a situation when we ought to keep our mouths shut, but I just couldn’t resist handing part of his “ire” back to the cat owner. We ended our conversation in a rather unfriendly mood, although I did promise to see what I could do about it all.
A snow cat driver on Aspen Mountain had lost an Australian heeler, but when I checked with him, it wasn’t a match. I should have kept the dog, I reckon, but for some reason I was a bit wary. I admired her for staking a claim on the only unsecured barn for miles around, but figured a man has to be able to catch his dog once in a while.
The animal control folks came and put a live trap in the horse barn, and the dog, bless her, ate the bait twice before finally springing the apparatus on herself. It wasn’t easy, for a heeler is a lot of responsibility, but somebody finally adopted her.
I don’t know why, and even though I never got close enough to pet her, that dog’s memory still rides with me and I can’t forget her, maybe because she came by here for a reason, and I missed it.
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