It’s Not Exactly Labrador

I’ve mentioned many times, in previous blogs, our two yellow Labrador retrievers, Russell and Fern. 

Litter mates, Russell and Fern have been companions since their birth in May, 2010.  Until recently, I was under the mistaken impression that the breed originated in Labrador.  Actually, the breed descended from St. John’s Water Dog, an English breed taken to Newfoundland by English fishermen in the eighteenth century.  It had a short, oily coat, was as comfortable in water as on land, was unaffected by the icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland, and was eager to please the fishermen for whom they worked.

Sound familiar?  Everyone who owns one of these wonderful dogs is nodding right now.  If you would like to read more about the origin of this breed, you can check out the website Where Do Labradors Come From.  My only guess as to the origin of their name is that Newfoundland is relatively close to Labrador, and the name “Newfoundland” for a dog breed had already been taken.

As our dogs have aged, I have noticed that they tolerate the heat of a typical Kansas summer less and less.  When they were younger, they would romp and play until about noon, and then ask to be let into our house, where they slept all afternoon in a totally-enclosed, temperature-moderated porch.

Nowadays, they will want to go outside around 7:00 a.m. on a summer morning, do their business, sniff around a bit, then come back panting and wanting inside by 7:15.  They spend virtually the entire summer day inside the porch, although, as Fern can attest, it’s not exactly a huge sacrifice.

Winter (understandably, considering their ancestry) has always been the dogs’ favorite time of year.  Contrast the previous photo of lethargic Fern in summer with this photo of ecstatic Fern rolling in the snow.

Then this past week, it happened! Fall arrived in Kansas! And with it came brisk, cool, dewy mornings just perfect for long walks with Fern and Russell.

I have not taught my dogs any tricks.  It’s not that they are not intelligent enough to learn them, it’s just that I’ve always felt that balancing a treat on your nose was overrated and, well, quite frankly, more than just a little demeaning.

I do, however, talk to my dogs.  And they know a number of words, with their favorite being, without a doubt, the word “walk”.

So, on that brisk, cool, dewy morning I asked our dogs, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

Fern leaped, literally leaped, into the air.  Russell, instantly infected by Fern’s enthusiasm, began chasing her around our yard.  While they playfully dodged and darted, hither and yon, I stood back and smiled.

I got my dogs back!

On our walk, they immediately reverted to a familiar, tag-team hunting routine:  Russell, with his better nose, sniffed the tall grass for the scent of a hiding or burrowing rabbit.

Meanwhile, Fern, with her better athleticism, watched and waited for Russell to flush out the prey.  At first glimpse of the rabbit, she took off, racing towards it at full speed.  Russell also took up the chase, heading it towards his sister.

In the old days, they would sometimes actually catch the rabbit.  These days, they rarely return with any bounty.  For them, the joy is now strictly in the chase.

I know that there are many out there who are lamenting the return of Old Man Winter with its bitter temperatures and biting winds.  Not me.

Because I got my dogs back!

(Before Russell and Fern, there was Wilson.  You can read all about it in the May and June chapters of The Return to the Family Farm.)

Next Week:  Searching for Zip

She’s Special, and She Knows It

So, an interesting thing happened to me this morning while doing my chores.

Horses, like dogs, are highly intelligent animals.  And they each have a unique personality just as dogs do.  This story involves both species of my animals.

My three horses are named BB, BJ, and Zip.  BB is a mare (adult female) and BJ and Zip are adult geldings (neutered males, who, in the horse world, are said to be “gelded.” It’s said with a hard G).  BB is BJ’s mother.  Zip is not related to the other two.  (I call him “Uncle” Zip.)  They are all three registered quarterhorses, although Zip is 1/8 thoroughbred.


The accompanying photo shows BB with BJ ten years ago when he was a foal.

BB was the first horse that I ever owned.  I was raised with horses, learning to ride before I was even big enough to dismount on my own.  But the horses I rode were our farm horses and Daddy made all the decisions.

Not so with BB.  I was forty-six years old when I purchased BB as a yearling in early 2003.  Back then, we were both young, frisky, and at times, a bit too spunky and mischievous for our own good.

Today, we are both much more “mature” women.  We both still experience the occasional mood swing, but not nearly as often as we experience bouts of arthritis.  Let’s just say that we “get” each other.

I love BJ and Zip with all my heart, but in a totally different way.  They’re boys, after all.  Need I go on?

Anyway, BB knows I love her.  She knows she’s special.  And even though I know she loves me back, she is not above taking advantage of my love for her.

Our barn is built with two large stalls (all three horses can easily fit in one stall), an open loafing area (a roof and 3 sides, with an open front), and a totally enclosed interior area where we have the tractor, implements, tools, hay bales, work bench and horses’ tack.  This enclosed area is off-limits to the horses.  Supposed to be, anyway.  There is a walk-in door connecting the horses’ loafing area with our enclosed barn.

Let’s call this Door A.  BB knows how to open that door.

Actually, all three do, I’ve seen them do it, so we have to keep Door A locked when we are away from the barn.  But when I am doing my chores, I am constantly walking in and out, back and forth, carrying things, and it is a huge hassle to lock and unlock the door each time I pass through it.  BJ and Zip will not open that door when I am working because they know I will scold them and they respect my authority.

BB does not, because, well, you know, she’s special.

I began my work routine this morning, as I do every morning, by entering the interior of the barn through an alternate door (Door B) on the opposite side of the barn from the corral.  As always, my two dogs, Russell and Fern, were with me.  This is my routine:

  • I measure a scoop of cat food. I set it on the floor near Door A.
  • I set the container of rabbit food on the floor near Door A and fill a dish with fresh water for the rabbits. I carefully set the dish of water on top of the food container.
  • I measure a bucket of mixed oats, pellets and grains for the horses. I hide this bucket near the wall behind Door A so that when the door is open as I pass through, the horses won’t be able to see it.  They recognize that bucket.  And they love what’s inside.
  • I measure dog food for my two dogs who are waiting patiently with slowly wagging tails. I always feed them in the tack room while I am working with the horses in the loafing area.  The dogs are easily distracted from eating, so I close the tack room door while they eat.
  • Before I feed my horses, I shovel any poop and sweep the floor around the feeder. Horses are very clean animals and will not eat any food that has touched poop.  I make sure the floor is clean so if hay from the feeder drops on the floor, they will eat it and not waste it.


Unfortunately, the horses are not typically as patient as my dogs when they are waiting to be fed.  They will paw the floor, they will nip at each other, and they will jockey each other for position as they push their way towards the feeder.  Now these are agile, athletic, muscular creatures weighing roughly 1000 pounds.  Even though I demand a respectful distance while I am working, I still keep one eye on them as I shovel and sweep.

That is how it was this morning.  I kept a watchful eye on BJ and Zip who were nipping at each other in the corral, as I shoveled and swept the floor.

Crash! Clank!

I whipped my head around in the other direction and saw BB standing in now-open Door A.  Her front legs were inside the barn, her back legs were outside of the barn, and her belly filled the doorway.  I didn’t know what had crashed and I couldn’t fit through the doorway around her belly.

“Move!” I said as I smacked her rump with my hand.  She didn’t budge.  She did, however, lift her head from inside the barn and glance at me sideways.  At least I got that much of a reaction from her.

I bent down, peeked underneath her belly, and discovered the source of the crash.  She had knocked over the container of rabbit food and spilled the entire contents of the water dish that I had set on top.

“Oh, BB!” I said, exasperated.  She was sniffing the floor.  I know what she was searching for.  I’m sure you do too – that grain bucket that I had hidden behind the door.  I could almost read her mind.  “I know it’s in here somewhere.  I smell it!  Where is that darn green bucket?!”

Water was everywhere.  I needed to get in there and clean it up before it spread even further.  “Move!!” I yelled louder and smacked her rump again.  This time she moved.  She walked completely through the door, turned around and, giving up on the bucket search, went back outside.

I wiped the concrete floor, refilled the rabbits’ water dish, and fed the horses.  By this time, I knew the dogs would be long finished with their meal and waiting patiently for me to let them out.

I opened the tack room door and the dogs nervously rushed past me all the way outside.  I checked their food dishes.  They had barely touched their meals!  Sigh.  My dogs are the exact opposite of my horses.  They are very loving, but very meek, with easily-hurt feelings.  Had that been one of my dogs that I had been trying to move out of Door A, I would have only needed to raise an eyebrow and gently motion “move” with one of my fingers.

As it turns out, when my dogs heard me yell at BB so close to the tack room, they thought they were being scolded.  They immediately stopped eating and froze until I opened the door.  So, I called them both back into the barn, into the tack room, and coaxed them into eating again by gently petting them and softly reassuring them, “It’s okay, Babies.  I wasn’t yelling at you.”

It was an interesting morning.

(If you would like to know exactly why BB is, and will always be, special to me, read the “August” chapter in my third book, The Return to the Family Farm.)

Next week:  Wild Thing, you make my heart sing.