Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Kurtz Ranch Gang

Just as the snow recedes by mid-April, revealing dormant meadows and a pot-holed driveway, the activity of the early summer ranch landscape also reveals other changes to the Kurtz Ranch. Before this summer season, one might see Griz out and about first thing in the morning. Then, after Emma had her morning nap, she too might be out traveling down the path to the barn or out to the mares and back home again. And Gunner, a twelve-year-old German Short-Haired Pointer belonging to our renters, could be found resting in the barnyard while the horses were being fed. But now, in and about the aspens, the cottonwoods, the corrals and alley-ways, the lawn and meadows, one tracks five black and white dogs plus Gunner, all moving as though there’s something exciting just about to happen. It’s apparent that Griz, Emma, and Gunner have company this summer. Boogie, Pearl, and Brute have come to play.

Cassidy recently brought her dog, Boogie, an Australian Shepherd, home from school in Texas. It was increasingly difficult to care for him in the heat of the south and with a busy graduate school schedule. Boogie stays outside as much as he can and helps work the horses and the roping steers as well as guarding his new home. At night he sleeps in Cassidy’s room. The climate and active environment are just what he needed, but we know he misses his side-kick. Once Andy arrived back at the ranch to train horses and conduct his horsemanship clinics, he of course brought his pals Brute, an eight-year old Boston Terrier, and Pearl, his new working Border Collie puppy.

Looking in on this scene, one might simply see a piece of an idyllic ranch landscape: pets free to roam and explore; pets playing tug-of-war, racing down the drive, or curling up under the shade of a tree. While it is truly an idyllic environment for the dogs, the gang is not without its' needs for maintenance. This spring and early summer have been the wettest in memory. The rains persist and while the West always needs water, the mucky wet that travels in and out of the house on dog hair is daunting. The question of assigning them as “outdoor dogs” was long ago abandoned. This is our life: mud season and all. Sneakers, cowboy boots, and irrigating boots come and go and while there’s an unwritten word that they come off at the front door, somehow the policy isn’t perfect. So, I am desperately seeking a doggie shower and am willing to give up a desk area in the laundry room to do so.

In addition to daily dirt, some members of the gang have medical issues. Pearl recently had surgery to wire her jaw shut after a Boxer crushed her jaw when she was just twelve weeks old. She must wear a muzzle, which she frequently rubs off joyfully, and a “lamp shade” to prevent her from pawing at her jaw and muzzle. Because she will be trained as a working cattle dog, she cannot be allowed to follow her herding instinct on cattle or livestock until she’s about a year old. So, she can be out and about, but she can’t be in the mares’ meadow, she can’t chase the horses or the steers, and one always has to be on the look-out for a missing muzzle.

I give Boogie his thyroid medication twice a day rolled up in a small piece of turkey or bread. It’s very easy to treat Boogie and he’s looking healthier every day. Boogie roams the ranch far and wide. He loves to travel the meadows and help out at the barn. When it’s time to bring the horses in or out, he helps push them down the alley and back again. When he comes in the kitchen, I know he’s looking for food and sometimes for the closeness he had with Cassidy. This morning after the thunder and lightning, he was at my feet looking for that reassurance he was used to finding so easily with Cassidy.

Pete and I look at each other every now and then and wonder, “Are we good parents or crazy parents? Who would take in such a crew of canines?” We’re probably a bit of both. While we're open to the needs of family, we also feel at times the boundary envelope gets stretched when the rowdy group flies through the kitchen or wrestles in the evening at our feet. So, when Boogie needs closeness, the boundaries fold. When the tug-of-war amongst the crew escalates, the gruff leader of the pack disperses the crowd.

In our wondering we realize it’s a motley mix of work and pleasure, of frustration and joy causing us to wrestle with both the flexibility of openness and the rigidity of boundary setting not unlike the rest of our relational lives. For now, I guess the Kurtz Ranch Gang – Emma, Griz, Boogie, Pearl, Brute, and their friend Gunner –is at summer camp and we’re all just be happy to play and sleep, get dirty and then clean, and at times, ruffled around the edges as we find our way to peaceful co-existence.

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