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Play Dogs of the New West


Todd, a geriatric Corgi, got his collar hung in the willows of the creek we named Daisy Creek because no one else had taken the initiative to name it something else. Steve, local seller of fine books, jumped in like a Marine—“Semper Fi!”—and untangled the old dog very shortly before he would have drowned. A toast to Steve! Roxy is here, Tim and Carol’s Australian who doesn’t give eight eggs for Daisy’s juvenile antics. Bluebell the cowpie-eating Poodle. Oakley, the rich-kid papered Golden Retriever puppy named after the expensive sunglasses; Daisy would periodically roll Oakley for measure, letting him know who was in charge of this camp. And Daisy’s favorite, Abbey, a  cow dog/Labrador puppy that could be Daisy’s sister, only with her long black tail intact. She is a ski/trail running dog from the Driggs, Idaho, pound. The two of them, a brace of bat-eared hellcat, ripped through the crowd and barbecued beans, upending bottles of beer and knocking over children in a less-graceful canine impression of a Shriner’s circus. As I watched this posse of New West dogs I realized that these nonworking “working dogs” (as they are called at Westminster) did not lose their sand after we stole them away from the ranches that are becoming fewer by the year; they very easily turned into “play dogs,” a class not yet recognized by the kennel clubs. Perhaps I’m biased, but I’ll argue that play dogs with cow dog blood in them—Heelers, Shepherds, Kelpies, Collies—play harder than the ubiquitous Huskies, Labs and lap dogs.


This lasted three beers long, when the dogs both collapsed, Abbey having to be carried to the car by her owner, Carrie, a Jackson Hole outdoor athlete and purveyor of bagels. None of the dogs harassed the Pulitzer Prize winner. Count it a good night and a job well done.




Daisy and I don’t use the outhouse to whiz. I pee in the weeds. Beside me, Daisy pees in the weeds. Peeing, we look at each other in the light of the quarter moon. There is an understanding: We are lucky to be here, under the stars, at elevation, with the birds and bats and mosquitoes. I am not a baseball player. You are not sorting cattle on a working ranch. We are lucky just to be here, peeing in the weeds. Tomorrow we’ll go fishing.


This story appears in Dog Is My Co-Pilot, an anthology compiled by the Editors of Bark and published by Crown.
© Jon Billman.



Jon Billman is author of When We Were Wolves. He is a former wildland firefighter and seventh-grade teacher; he now teaches at Oklahoma State University. english.okstate.edu

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