Barbara Wood: Chicken guard wanted; only dogs need apply
I sometimes think about how sad it is that most of our pet dogs, bred for generations to do specific work — hunting, herding, guarding, rodent-killing — do not have jobs.
It is probably my intelligent, hyper-active, keen-nosed Labrador retriever who makes me think this. He comes from a breeder whose dogs are hunters and rescue dogs. Their website shows a beautiful lab harnessed to a climber's belay rope.
Alas, poor Wheeler (so named because his color is exactly the same as that of my favorite Wheeler Farms compost) has no job. Instead, he devotes his brains and muscles and nose and fierce determination to a rubber ball that he carries with him on his daily four-mile walks. He manages to convey with exquisite non-verbal cues to his companions and passers-by that they must throw the ball.
During the day Wheeler usually hangs out near our gate, which has a gap near the ground that one of the dozens of tennis balls that have somehow ended up in our yard will just fit under. When someone passes by, especially those who have learned his routine, he rolls the ball under the gate and waits for them to throw it back over the fence.
I have noticed quite a few people slipping him dog treats through the wire gate.
In the evenings, when Wheeler's favorite spot is curled up on the ottoman in front of my chair with head nudging ever closer to my lap, everyone takes great pleasure in trying to hide his ball from him. He always finds it.
The number of people who give in to the non-verbal pleas to throw the ball in the house are apparent in the fact that there is, at this moment, more than one round ball mark on the window that needs to be washed off.
Recently, however, Wheeler proved he does have a job.
We have several quite old hens in our coop who quit laying eggs years ago. I can't really remember how old they are, but our youngest daughter, who just turned 21, got them when she was in 4-H so they are at least 10 years old.
One has been having some trouble walking lately and spends most of her time, when it's not raining, basking in the sun. I suspect she doesn't always make it into the coop at night, either, since once or twice I've noticed her outside and put her in before locking the door.
Apparently she didn't make it in yesterday. During the night a terrible fuss was heard, followed by barking. This morning, the old black hen appeared at the back door, with a large handful of feathers gone from her back.
Wheeler, it seems, responded to the fuss she raised when the raccoon, or whatever predator it was, grabbed her. He chased it off. A disconcertingly large pile of feathers is next to the coop and the old black hen is again lying in the sun.
Wheeler, it seems, does have a job. He's a bird dog, just not the traditional kind.
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener who lives and works in a 1889 farmhouse in Woodside.