Vagneur: Our four-legged friends |

Vagneur: Our four-legged friends

Tony Vagneur

We did it to ’em. We took the energy and wildness out of wolves and honed it over the centuries to get the kinds of dogs we wanted: working dogs, good-looking dogs, smart dogs. You get the point. A border collie lives with me, a black-and-white, neutered male who is, if not entirely wild, certainly filled with an abundance of energy.

When I was young, we kept border collies on the ranch, and the overflowing energy wasn’t a problem because we worked the dogs every day, and if they weren’t exactly working in the winter, they were following the feed sled or helping cut cows out of the herd in the afternoon for one reason or another. In today’s world, the paradigm of ranching has changed and some of us ol’ codgers have scammed the system, to a degree. Other people feed our cows and take care of our newborn calves while we’re looking for fresh powder in the trees or loving the speed we get from rock-hard boilerplate. The cattle don’t seem to mind, but no one can farm out a good working dog (who earns every crumb of kibble in the summer) and expect him to be faithful to the cause only when it suits his master.

That, naturally, means that during the ski season, I’m responsible for ensuring that Topper, my faithful dog, gets an amount of exercise essential to his well-being and which prevents him from developing obsessive behaviors, such as chewing on things, peeing on the plants or biting houseguests. It is physically impossible for me to provide all the activity he desires, but we’ve found a happy medium that keeps him reasonably satiated and me from crumbling at the knees. From mid-November through the end of ski season, we walk at least four miles a day; twice a week, we go on wilderness hikes of four or five hours each, which seem to be the catalyst that keeps him pleased with his winter life. It doesn’t hurt my conditioning, either.

In the course of an evening or morning walk, there isn’t a lot of earth-shattering activity taking place, although we’ve calmed panicked kids, caught runaway dogs, seen a mountain lion, growled at bears and followed Karen and Bob home more than once, just for a treat. We’ve met many differing people which I reckon we’d have never talked to were it not for our dogs.

A couple of years ago, Topper hooked up with a good-looking golden retriever, a little obese and cute in an inquisitive sort of way. For several days, they romped all through the park, over the rolling hills and through the deep snow, an odd sort of match that Topper seldom makes but one that he clearly enjoyed. It was certainly good for his roly-poly friend. Then one day, the rather unfriendly human on the end of the leash opposite the dog refused to release his canine.

“We don’t like her running around so much, and I’m tired of her getting dirty.” Apparently, he wasn’t going to let her be a dog, either.

For a period of time, some people with small dogs would hurriedly pick them up and hold them tight when they saw Topper and me coming down the lane. Other people with large dogs either turned around or crossed the street when they saw us. None of them were too friendly, either, giving me the best glare they could as we passed by, and I wondered what we did to offend them.

You already know the answer, I’m sure, but there was another border collie on our beat, a big, beautiful beast by the name of Angus, who looked a lot like Topper and, although well-leashed, took particular offense at dogs who would rush up to him carelessly, their owners barking, “My dog only wants to play.” You can’t pin it all on Angus, who has a reputation not entirely of his own making, and he and Topper have run, sniffed, bumped shoulders and galloped after scents galore, without having an altercation, all off-leash. Maybe it’s the family blood, but who can say.

Here’s to Ella, Cody, Lucy, Roxie, Lucy, Rosie, Lucy, Jake, Jango, Dhoka, Sammy, Earl, Taj, Eddie, Isis, Angus, the twin Australian minis and a host of others we’ve met on a regular basis.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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