Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

This isn’t going to be one of those tear-jerkers about how sad it all was. That’s not the way Earl operated and there’s no sense to compromise him now. He wouldn’t like it.

Earl came from Rangely, a dot of a town in northwestern Colorado, as a gift to my daughter from her then-future-husband, Ty. Earl was supposed to be a Chihuahua, and was said to be a purebred, but the kennel lady lied to Ty, and hell, you can’t tell too much about a small pup at weaning time, anyway.

We got lucky, it seems, for Earl was something bigger than his advertised breeding, but we were never sure what. Oh, he had a few of those “small dog” mannerisms, like a shrill bark, but I can’t recall a thing that intimidated him, even though I doubt he ever topped 10 pounds on the scale.

Earl spent the summer of 2006 with me, and we learned a lot from each other. I refused the oft-used moniker such as Grandpa, and instead became Uncle Tony, a name Earl recognized as readily as his own.

My daughter, Lauren, was doing a college internship at the McCabe Ranch and much to my early reluctance, I found myself Earl’s daytime chaperone. I refused to coddle him and he went irrigating with me every morning and afternoon, running alongside as I trudged the fields, moving the water and checking the cows that shared the pasture with my horses.

If the cows seemed too close, Earl would come to my “rescue,” jumping high and snapping at their noses, keeping after them until they moved off at a run. Then, he’d trot along, not looking for approval, just resuming his pasture patrol, long, thin tail darting from side to side.

Earl wouldn’t come if he thought you were going to lift him up into a vehicle, but if you opened the door and asked him, he’d fly in with the greatest of pride. That’s how big dogs do it, I reckon. He taught me the joy (again) of having a dog and made it possible for Topper to come into my life. Earl loved to hug your neck, if he liked you.

Earl seldom saw a stranger he didn’t challenge and it was with trepidation I looked back one day to see a mother skunk about 10 yards behind me in the grass. Earl was jogging my way, head moving side to side and I fully expected a confrontation, but the two just stopped and looked at each other for a second, and went their separate ways.

We could have insisted Earl be a lap dog, but no one would have been happy about it, especially Earl. He thrived in the horse barn at Chaparral, darting around the big hunters and jumpers, keeping watch over his kingdom. Facing down coyotes was not uncommon for him and once Ty had to pull him from the clutching jaws of one heading into the dark abyss, with Earl loudly insisting upon his superiority.

And last Thursday night, as I came home late from a meeting, Earl gave me a playful look of “Let’s go, Uncle Tony,” and away we went with Topper to feed the horses. Earl ducked between my legs as he usually did, and I watched him notify each horse, letting them know he was staying at my house.

He’d done this hundreds of times. Walking toward the hay shed, I looked up just in time to see Earl, nose down in the grass, get snuck up on and slammed by a curious front hoof. It wasn’t fair by any means, but it was animal-to-animal, in God’s world, not a speeding car or some such thing.

There wasn’t a scratch on him and his legs worked fine, but something wasn’t right and you could tell he was leaving us, even as he ran to the gate. I carried him into the house and laid him on the couch, where the impenetrable wall of death washed gently over him and Earl became the stuff of legend.