Tribute to a Trail Dog

In nature, canine types are not friends of equine types, largely because they think we taste good. The whole horse-and-hound pairing was invented and popularized by humans. I’m a little less dog-friendly than many of my friends, maybe because I tend to be the smallest in most herds and therefore perceived as the easiest prey. Dogs who have proven themselves to be trustworthy are fine, but any newcomers best be prepared to be chased. I once put the run on a chocolate lab named Jonah who attempted to escape through a gate she didn’t fit through. T rescued her, which was good since I found out later she was a sweetheart and had no interest in gnawing on my legs. Although, she did like my hoof trimmings, but then they all do. It used to give me the creeps to see them chewing on what used to be attached to me but I’ve gotten over it. It’s really just excess, like the hair I shed in spring. They can have it.

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Logan keeping me company on my first ride out of the arena.

Which brings me to Logan. He was another of the good dogs, one of the best maybe. I came to the farm in the spring of 2004 and he came the following January. We spent a lot of years together. I initially greeted him like I do all unknown canines, with a lowered head and flattened ears, but he quickly proved himself a good-natured beast. He liked to nip at our heels occasionally, but not in an effort to have a taste but rather to move us around. His Border Collie herding instincts were strong and he was quick to jump in and assist whenever the humans were moving us from one place to another, like through a gate. His efforts once cost him five teeth when he tried to put the moves on a cantankerous mare named Willow. The rest of us would just lift a foot and flick an ear in his direction, a peaceful “bugger off”, but Willow added bite to her bark. Didn’t stop Logan though. He continued to herd until this year, when his reduced reflexes and stability kept him at a distance.

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He never nipped when we were being ridden.

Although an avid barn dog, where we horses really got in our Logan time was out on the trail. He was trail dog extraordinaire. We did some long treks back in the day, and he’d keep up and then some. His normal position was right behind the last horse in the ride, but he’d often wander off the trail to take a dip in a creek or explore an interesting smell, increasing his total mileage for the day. He had tender paws on more than one occasion after a particularly long day over rough terrain, but did he complain? Never. At the end of most trail days you’d find him curled up in the shade near the horse trailer or wrapped in a blanket on a cool, autumn day.

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End of ride on a hot day.

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End of ride on a cold day.

We horses were sorry to see the premature end of Logan’s days on the trail. In 2011, Chico joined the family and he was a terrible influence on reliable Logan. The two of them were off in the woods chasing all sorts of varmints sending T and Nollind backtracking and whistling and waiting. I remember Logan’s (and Chico’s) last trail day very clearly. The six of us set out on a big loop at Etherington Creek. The dogs were pretty good all day, until we were almost back at camp. Chico spotted a deer and was off and running with Logan hot on his heels. The baying of the hounds faded into the distance as we followed as far as we could on the trail. T and Nollind were angry but also worried when the boys were gone a long time. They eventually returned, as they always did, but that was the last trail ride for those two. In 2012, dogs were left in the front of the trailer when we went to the mountains. As it turned out, it was probably best for Logan anyway, given the arthritis that started developing in his right leg around that time.

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On the trail in Kananaskis Country.

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Always keen to participate in a little rule breaking. 

Logan continued to join us on prairie excursions close to home for the next couple of years but, by the fall of 2014, he had trouble keeping up and making it home. The last time he came with us, he was on three legs at the halfway-home mark so Nollind dismounted, thinking he’d have Rosa carry the poor guy home. We’ve all seen the pictures of the cowboy with the dog riding in the saddle with him, well that dog wasn’t Logan and that dog had probably learned to do it as a pup. And Rosa’s expression was a lot like Logan’s … “What the?!” Just imagine two sets of buggy, brown eyes and you’ll have an idea of how things went. Logan limped home on his own steam. The next time we rode out, the heartbreaking sound of a dog left behind echoed from inside the house.

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Having trouble keeping up to Gidget and Judy in the fall of 2014.

We’re missing him at the barn these days. It became his thing, what he could still do, this past summer. Whenever T was out feeding or grooming or riding, he was never far away, sniffing around or just lying there watching the happenings of the farm. I could see the changes this fall, in his energy, his mobility. We animals sense these things before humans. For a short time in September, we thought we were going to lose both of our old campaigners, Logan and Nevada. But Nevada’s near-death experience is a tale for another time.

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Family photo when we were all a lot younger.

As for Logan, farewell awesome trail dog and keen-if-not-effective herder. This pony won’t soon forget you.

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Survivor’s Guilt

I think I have survivor’s guilt, or some version of it. I don’t feel guilty for being alive exactly, which I know is technically what survivor’s guilt is all about. It’s not like Logan and I experienced some catastrophic event and I somehow escaped death and he didn’t. I’m just five years younger than he was and, therefore, always expected to outlive him.

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When we were both a lot younger.

And I don’t feel guilty for enjoying a walk, or a sunny day, or a sniff around the barn while T is feeding. These are all things Logan would enjoy with me if he was here, things we enjoyed together over our seven years as partners, brothers, and friends (T has this Nitty Gritty Dirt Band thing.) I actually experienced more guilt going for a walk and having to leave him behind in recent months than I do now that he’s not here to leave behind.

Where the guilt comes in is when I enjoy something I might not have had the chance to do with Logan here, I see where my life has changed for the better. It sounds even worse when I put it into words on the page. But, let me explain.

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Me as hotel dog in Red Deer for the horse sale.

Logan wasn’t a good traveller, he was noise sensitive, he didn’t like crowds, he got hot easily with his black coat, didn’t like being tied, and all these things added up to being left at home when it wasn’t a specifically dog-related activity because he was generally happier there. I, on the other hand, am a good traveller, am not bothered by most noises (except gunshots and thunder which are terrifying), love people (the more the merrier), have no issue with being attached to an immovable object by cable or leash, and stay quite comfortable on a hot day as long as I have water. But, to keep Logan company and, I think, to not create a double standard, I was most often left home with him.

I have been to Calgary, Strathmore, and other sundry locations more times in the past four weeks than probably the previous year, or even two. I know time of year has something to do with it, the weather is cool enough to leave a dog in a car, but I also know it’s because Logan is no longer here to stand at the door and watch me go somewhere while he stays behind. Funny thing about Logan was, no matter how many shaking, panting, over-heated, noisy excursions he went on, he’d still show up at the door, just in case it was something good, something dog-friendly, something fun. 10-Chico-guilt-ontheroad

Showing off my awesome travelling skills.

I love to be with my people, no matter the circumstances, and being an only dog, and a dog who is quite portable, has opened doors for me, doors that used to have Logan standing in them. Ouch, there it is again, the stab of guilt. Am I terrible?

I miss him, of course, we all do, every single day. T cries at least once a day, usually when she runs across another of his things—a toy, his desert walking boots, the blue and grey fleece jacket he wore most of last winter, his food bowl on stand that our friends gave him. And then there are the photos, oh so many of them, and he was such a photogenic guy.

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He joins us in spirit on every walk.

I’m bouncing between missing my friend and enjoying the freedom that’s come with his absence. Maybe I should talk to someone. Anyone know a good dog psychologist? Then again, if Logan was here he’d just say, “Don’t be an idiot, Red. Get out there and enjoy yourself without an anxiety-prone old cripple with a heart condition holding you back. It’s what I’d do.” And that was the truth, Logan never missed an opportunity to do what he enjoyed, even at someone else’s expense (usually T’s or Nollind’s), and never suffered guilt.

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Tagging along on a book event day in Okotoks.

So, my old and dear friend, in your honour, in your memory, I will uphold your credo, enjoy each day to the fullest, and live my best, guilt-free life.

~ ~ ~

 

On a whole other topic … Happy Fur-iday Birthday, Auntie Susan!  Celebrate by cuddling at least one dog today!10-Chico-guilt-sus