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Pet tales from down on the farm

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Huck was rescued by the Sparks family when Janet saw him roaming the neighborhood.
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By JANET SPARKS - For The Courier-Times

Life in the country can be full of animal tales when it comes to God’s pet creatures. Prominent memories for someone living on a farm her whole life are stories about pets.

Dad made his living raising purebred livestock that he sold to farmers and breeders to be used to increase their herds. Cattle and show hogs would come and go each year without we kids becoming too attached. We always had a border collie to help with herding the cattle up and down the road to different pastures.

Our border collies were always named Buck. Buck knew his job and would perform Dad’s commands. He was lovable to us kids, but never hesitated to do his job on the farm. We also had a fox terrier that went by the name Mack. He was friendly but not as lovable as Buck. Mack was a hunter and especially helped with our rat population in the barn. He attacked rodents with a vengeance and always won the battle.

He would also attack other animals, not paying attention to their size. Many times we found Mack in an outside corner of the house injured from a fight with a groundhog or bigger dog. Dad would treat his wounds, feed him, and Mack would lie there at times for days. When he felt better, he left the corner and appeared at the back door. That was his way of telling us he was on the mend. Our two farm dogs were valuable assets to our farm operation.

Hubby was also raised on a farm where pets were always a part of his life. That is why we allowed our kids to have pets. My parents bought the first dog. Yes, it was a border collie. I still remember the day they brought it to our house. A cute, little, black puppy with white paws was presented to our daughter. With a squeal of delight she accepted her new pet as the pup eagerly licked her face. I am not sure who named her, but her friendliness earned her the name Happy.

Hubby and I were not so “happy” when she somehow found her way under the house with her litter of puppies. She will always be remembered as our first farm dog.

We tried over the years to keep cats on the farm to help with barn rodents. We were not often successful. We had a yellow cat one summer who seemed to be adventurous. The kids and I were home for summer vacation and were eating our lunch. Our kitchen has a big window to the south that faces the garage.

I happened to look up and see this object wobbling across the horseshoe driveway. I could not make out what it was, but the expression “a drowned rat” fit. I brought the kids’ attention to what I saw and they couldn’t tell its identity. The closer it advanced to the house, the more it took on the form of a cat; a cat covered in black, gooey oil!

We immediately took action before it reached the house and deposited its oily goo on the concrete steps. We filled a tub with warm water, Dawn detergent and proceeded to wash the poor, confused cat. After several baths, it began to resemble our pet once again. Somehow it had fallen into a bucket of oil hubby had in the garage. Curiosity almost killed our yellow pet cat.

The chicken that turned out to be a rooster became quite a story. Our son worked for the local sale barn while in high school. Buyers, believe it or not, would bid on animals and then decide they did not want to take their purchases home. Many times the abandoned orphans found a way to our farm.

This is how a rooster that had been assumed a hen took up residency at the Sparks’ home. He was named Moe. His strange behavior led us to believe he had head trauma. Moe decided the best place to live was with the dog. Moe ate dog food alongside the dog. He slept with the dog and ran over the farm with him. We had a bad snowstorm one winter.

Moe perched himself on the fence in the dog pen. Someone looked out the window and saw Moe hanging upside down frozen to the panel gate. Hubby and our son went to Moe’s rescue to thaw his talons from the gate. He suffered frostbite on his talons and comb. His comb was never straight after that incident. He also began to make a weird noise.

Instead of a crow sound, it was more like a weird barking. Hmmm, was that coincidental? Moe’s strange lifestyle (for a rooster) remained the same until his death.

The adopted stray

Strays were more frequent on the farm 30 or more years ago. Pet owners were not as liable for the whereabouts of their pets back then. Dogs often passed by the farm. Most never stayed if we did not encourage it. One sweet, brown, long-haired collie was an exception. She wandered into the yard one day with a slow, sweet demeanor.

We encouraged her to stay by feeding and petting her. She stayed most of each day, but would wander north to the neighbors where she was fed and pampered once more. I don’t remember who named the sweet dog, but we started calling her Lady; an appropriate name for the stray that had found not one new home but two.

A few weeks later the neighbor called and said Lady had delivered puppies in their barn. We were delightfully surprised. Homes were found for all the puppies. Lady continued to spend her days between the two of us. The years passed and our kids became teenagers. Lady had slowed, was hard of hearing, and could not see very well. I worried about her welfare traveling on the road between our houses. I received a phone call from our neighbor one day questioning Lady’s whereabouts.

The neighbor said a few days before they were sitting in the kitchen. Lady was walking on the road when a small red pickup truck stopped, scooped her up, put her in the cab, and drove on north. Our son had that type of truck. The neighbors assumed it was him. When Lady did not make her daily visits to their house, she called me about this. Lady was never seen again. Her gentle demeanor was sorely missed and the circumstance of her disappearance has never been solved.

Our most recent stray has remained a permanent fixture. A few years ago a stray dog was roaming the neighborhood. Not knowing this, I looked outside one day and mistakenly took it for a coyote. After questioning my husband about what I thought I saw, he informed me it was a Siberian Husky. He knew it had been around awhile, but didn’t think to tell me. It was planting season and the 100-acre field across the road was tilled. One evening the Husky was roaming that field. I decided to put out some food and maybe coax it into our barn lot.

I put a dish filled with food by the pole across the road. Then I called to the dog and occasionally shook the bowl. The dog became  interested and inched its way toward our yard. I moved the bowl into our yard and closer each time to the barn. The dog eventually made its way to the bowl of food. It took a few days for it to feel comfortable around us and decide we meant it no harm.

The pretty husky had on a collar which prompted hubby to ask around if it belonged to someone. No one contacted us about the pretty blue-eyed canine. I made the decision to keep him after doing some research on that breed of dog. Every word of research was true including the wandering part. A husky is a hunter and will take off in an instant to follow prey. Hence, his name; Huckleberry Finn or Huck for short.

He certainly likes a good adventure away from the farm. He is lovable and playful along with being stubborn and a quick runaway. He is a keeper in my book and along with all the other pets in my lifetime, a 5th-Saturday blessing.

Kennard area resident Janet Sparks is a retired elementary school teacher. She writes this column on months with five Saturdays.