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Herding Cats PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stacy Mantle   
Saturday, 05 December 2009 03:05

A few years ago, my husband and I got a new dog. We obtained this puppy, whom we christened “Cheiss,” through a series of serendipitous events – more specifically when Sam, my husband, accidentally ran over the little guy with his car.

Now, it’s not that we make a habit of running puppies down with our car. We generally obtain our pets through traditional methods, namely through adoption or rescue (but not a rescue that was caused by us).

This event was unusual to say the least, and occurred when the puppy bolted across six lanes of traffic, moving at roughly 45 mph,and darted directly under Sam’s vehicle. So, the running over part was a bit inevitable.

(There is an argument that Cheiss threw himself under the car because on some level, he knew his situation couldn’t get much worse and in the process won the equivalent of the doggy lottery, but we’ll never know for sure…)

Needless to say, my husband was devastated. And so, he frantically called me from his cell phone after the young pup miraculously scampered off from his 45-mph collision and disappeared into the nearby desert.

"I can’t find him anywhere," Sam frantically reported. "Come help me look for him!"

As the accident had occurred on a six-lane road, near the freeway off-ramp, in the wild deserts of Arizona, we had a fairly large search area. But luck was with us that day, and we located not only the puppy, but also his homeless owners and two doggie brothers who were all living out of shopping carts on the Indian reservation.

Cheiss had fallen into a nearby canal as his homeless owners passively sat nearby, watching him struggle to get out of the water with countless injuries.

"My husband just ran over your dog." I shouted in their direction as I ran towards the struggling pup, being the first to arrive on the scene. "We need to get him to a vet."

They simply nodded and replied rather coldly. "We know – we saw him get hit."

In disbelief, I shook my head and told them that we were taking their pup to the veterinarian. But they were in no hurry to help and instead stood by passively watching as Sam wrestled their frightened pup out of the canal.

Finally, in desperation I yelled at the passive group. "Either you can help us catch him, or I can call the cops and they can help us."  Cops apparently got their attention, and they finally assisted my husband in fishing the injured pup from the canal.

The young dog was in shock, that much was obvious. I mean, he had just been struck by a vehicle and drug fifty feet, which is enough to throw anyone into shock. So we rushed him to the nearest veterinarian’s office that, by good fortune, was the same veterinarian who cared for all of our animals. The good-natured doc shook his head, figuring that we had just found the dog lying on the side of the road and spent a few minutes chastising the irresponsible driver who had left a young animal in such pain. Finally, he looked up and asked if we had seen the accident.

I glanced at Sam who was by now feeling wretched and mumbled, “I was the accident."

Dr. Florez hastily mumbled an apology, and proceeded to tell us that he saw a precious few people who brought in a dog they had run over, then remained willing to pay for it’s care – a statement that saddened us even more. He continued the examination a bit more consoled that there was indeed good in the world, and identified the dog as a “chow mix,” estimating his age to be about 4 months.

We spent the afternoon anxiously awaiting the x-rays, blood-work, and exam results. When the call came finally came in, the diagnosis was poor, but our veterinarian remained optimistic.

“He has a crushed femur, which will need to be removed,” he said with his heavy South American accent. “He’s anemic from tick infestation, has fleas, possibly tick fever, and worms. He’s severely undernourished and only weighs 12 lbs.”

Sam and I just stared at the vet, asking what he recommended, while dreading the answer.

Dr. Florez just smiled. “Let’s get him fixed up.”

After a quick discussion on the formidable charges involved with "fixing" the little guy up, and that was even after our good vet’s deep discounts and offer to waive several major costs if we would agree to offer the dog a lifelong home, Sam and I added a neuter, vaccinations, and flea/tick dip to the long list of services and left him in the veterinarian’s capable hands as we arrived home trying to figure out how to pay for the expensive event.

Three days later we took Cheiss (short for "Cochise") home as our newest addition to the family. And that’s when the games began…

Dr. Florez had told us he believed the dog to be a chow mix. But, we soon took issue with that when he began herding both my husband and I. When our kids came over, he began nipping at their heals to get them into a position that he thought they needed to be in, and even the other dogs found themselves in separate corners of the yard with our nipping little "chow" mix at their heals. Our legs became peppered with tiny little bruises, and we were mostly afraid to enter the room where Cheiss resided.

But it wasn’t until the cats curiously poked their heads out from hiding that our real problems began. As it turns out, cats don’t like to be herded.

The problem escalated when Cheiss decided that our coyote should be herded as well – away from the food.

Tristan, the coyote, took immediate offense to being moved around by a 4-month old puppy, and he began educating the pup on life in our very hierarchical pack.

Beagles don’t appreciate being herded either, nor do people, and for a good month, our household was in an uproar over the new addition. The cats hissed their malcontent, the coyote set out to train the newcomer, and as Cheiss’ leg healed, and he doubled in size, our pup’s arrogance increased as well.

He was obviously an intelligent dog, despite the concussion and possible brain damage that he had sustained in the accident. But we found that our other pets had taken on the responsibility of training the little one.

Cheiss learned that "to herd" was to be forced into submission by the coyote, or be scratched across the nose by a cat; and he learned that no matter how hungry he is, the coyote always eats first. The pecking order had to be clearly established, but we can now walk freely through the kitchen area without fear of being nibbled. His shattered leg, and the empty socket that once blanketed a crushed femur, is nearly healed.

We have all learned a valuable lesson in the last couple of months, and that is: there is a big difference between pack animals and herd animals. Cows, sheep, and horses live in herds. Dogs, coyotes and cats live in packs (okay, or “prides”). You cannot mix the behaviors, they are sole and separate.

After several years, Cheiss is now playing peacefully with the Beagle, being respectful towards the cats, and acting very much the gentleman towards the Alphas, which consist of myself and my husband. While there have been ongoing attempts at takeovers of the pack from Tristan, we have seen new hope spring forth from the eyes of this puppy. We continue our hope for a long, quiet and peaceful life together. As new rescues come and go, we have learned that anyone can become an integral part of the pack. We are thinking, for Cheiss’ sake, our next adoptions should be a herd animal. While he is currently ruled by his favorite red ball that he prefers for fetch, we can see in this Chow-Aussie mix the heart of a herd dog.

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