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Guv Schweitzer and Jag

From his place on the floor at the governor’s feet, Jag looks up. He raises an eyebrow, sniffs once and puts his chin back on his forelegs. A few feet from Jag’s head, on the governor’s desk, is an array of samples of biofuel technology. Schweitzer, a big proponent of alternative energy, also pushes the idea of coal-to-liquid gasification to help bridge the gap to energy independence and give Montana an economic boost. On the far right of the desk, however, is a statue of something even more important to his idea of governing.

In 1936, a sheep rancher near Fort Benton, Mont., died, and his remains were shipped off by train. His dog, whom locals would eventually name Shep, accompanied the casket to the train station. Then, for the next five-and-a-half years—no matter what the weather, no matter what time of day or night—Shep waited for his owner’s return, greeting every train that arrived while shunning the advances of strangers who tried to befriend him. The story, a touching one that every Montana school child knows, is important to Schweitzer, who says, “I keep that statue there because I honor loyalty. Because there will never be anyone in your life more loyal to you than a good dog. So I honor Shep on my desk.”

Working Like a Dog
During my visit, I’m allowed to accompany Jag and the governor to three different meetings, all of which turn out to be testimony to the tedium and loyalty to duty they both must face. Incredibly, Jag doesn’t seem to mind; he bounds ahead of the governor, jogging down the long tiled corridors and climbing the marble stairs with his tail high. In the meetings, Jag greets everyone, then rests at the governor’s feet, quiet and well-behaved. Not once does anyone from the visiting delegations, including a threesome from New York City’s Green Oil, bat an eye as they brush dog hair from their pants. When Schweitzer meets with members of a ranch family who feel they’ve been treated unfairly, Jag is the icebreaker, eliciting from friend and foe alike a friendly pat on the head.

The next day, the pair is in Missoula. They arrive on the governor’s jet, a double prop King Air 90. The ride over from Anaconda, where the governor spoke in the morning, is a little bumpy, but Jag trots across the runway unfazed. Jag is no stranger to Missoula, where, early in his career, he was the beneficiary of a “full pardon” from the mayor, John Egan, after complaints came in that Jag wasn’t on a leash. Now, on the campus of the University of Montana and legally off leash, Jag gets down to business.

The first squirrel is spotted 20 yards away; his back is turned and he’s dissecting a nut. Without a woof, Jag drops into a low crouch, chin inches off the ground. He stalks the squirrel from behind, tail brushing the autumn leaves. At ten paces, Jag sinks even lower as he begins his final creep, but now the squirrel turns to face him, and the two lock eyes.

A small crowd has gathered, the bloodlustful and the horrified standing side by side. To everyone’s surprise, Jag doesn’t advance but waits, watching the squirrel as if transfixed. “It’s his version of a strip club,” Schweitzer offers. The squirrel, a brave one, stares down Jag, then finally, is overcome by common sense and takes refuge in a nearby tree. Later, there are more chances for Jag to herd squirrels (he will tree five in all) but by then, it’s time for Schweitzer to have his fun and herd his favorite food group.

The Stockman’s is the quintessential Montana bar: pool table, jukebox, peanut shells strewn on the floor. The sign behind the bar reads, “Liquor up front—Poker in the rear.” It’s all here.

As the governor quaffs a Kokanee, Jag makes the rounds, possibly remembering the last time he was here, when he was the happy recipient of a half-raw cheeseburger with all the fixing. Such friendliness, as Schweitzer tells the elbow-bending crowd, isn’t the case everywhere they go.

Charles Finn is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High County News. He recently moved from Montana to Bend, Ore. hcn.org

Photograph by Chad Harder

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