At my first farming apprenticeship, my boss had a dog named Bosco. Bosco was and is a mix–maybe part lab, maybe part pitbull, definitely 100% high energy. He is Paige’s baby. Bosco and I did not always get along quite as well; he had a tendency to greet me (and small children) by jumping up and “nipping” playfully. I lost a nice wools sweater this way, and I think several neighborhood children will grow to adulthood with an irrational fear of large black dogs. In the dog days of summer, we could count on Bosco to lounge peacefully in the shade on the farm, but as soon as the temperature dipped, he was as likely to be digging up recently seeded lettuce as to be terrorizing my sweaters.
Invariably, Bosco would dig up some tomatoes, or sit on a squash plant, or (perhaps most commonly) sprint up and down a bed we had just transplanted, sending soil and seedlings flying. Paige would become furious. She’d yell at Bosco, yank him to the truck, and take him home to be tied up. For a week or so, we’d farm in peace. Until one day, Bosco would return, forgiven, and we’d start the whole thing over again.
At the time, I rolled my eyes at this cycle of horticultural violence. “He’ll never reform!” I said more than once.
Last summer, I got my wish for a trained Great Pyranees guard dog. The first time I saw him, he hugged me back, and I loved him completely. Andrew expressed mock chagrin when I replaced my Facebook profile picture (from our wedding) with a picture of me with Patou.
I acquired Patou as a vegetable guard dog. My plan was for him to live outside, patrol our fence lines, and chase away deer (of which there are legion on our mountainside). He does in fact live outside–and I do think that he has kept our garden deer-free. But let’s not kid ourselves. If you asked Patou what he thinks he’s guarding, he’d say without hesitation, “MK.” I’ve loved him too much!
If you ask Patou what he thinks about the vegetables, he’d probably give you a funny look, as if to say, “what’s a vegetable?” He has not mastered the critical distinction between beds and pathways, and he has been known, when a storm is rolling in and Andrew and I race to complete a task, to run up and down recently seeded beds, sending soil and and seeds flying. A case in point: last week Andrew and I harvested out onion crop. Late in the day Wednesday, Patou came to join us. Fine–he can’t do any damage among the onions. Of course, he plopped down directly in front of me, on top of the onions. “I’ll come back for those later,” I said, prompting Patou to stand up and wander off behind me. When I turned around, he was reclining in the middle of the nearby swiss chard. With many admonitions of “bad dog!” and “out!” I ejected him from the swiss chard shade and I returned to the onions. At which point, he transitioned to the beets. At that point I put him in time out in the milkhouse, but we finished the onions within 5 minutes, and let him out again. Remorse does not seem to be an emotion with which he is familiar.
I do have one weapon in my struggle to keep Patou out of the beds: electric fencing. He knows what an orange line means and has no desire to test it. As it so happens, inexpensive baling twine is also orange, so I can set up a bluff fence of twine and keep Patou out. The problem with bluff fences is that they must be maintained–weedwacked, pulled taught, repositioned when beds change. I’m already stretched to the limit, so setting up dog fencing often gets put off until Patou makes a royal nuisance of himself.
Karma is a funny thing. Now I am the one with the intractable dog and the marshmallow heart. Andrew says he saw it coming from a mile away.
Editor’s note: As I began writing this, Andrew asked me to come out and help him call Patou. Andrew hoped to coral the dog up the mountain with the livestock for the evening. We looked high and low, in all of his normal haunts, until I became convinced that he was on the lam, exploring greater Myersville. We then spent 20 minutes driving in the dark, using a flashlight as a spotlight, and calling his name and disturbing our neighbors, before we gave up and came home. I took one last look, and as I called for Patou, I heard an answering bark. I found him, at long last, up near the chickens, exactly where we wanted him. But, before we could close a gate to keep him in, he had jogged back down the hill where he settled in to guard me for the night.