A bite on the butt and an unplanned visit to a western Manitoba veterinary clinic was the price my miniature schnauzer, Asta, paid for yapping in the face of a mean, feral farmyard dog.
The vet’s bill was the price I paid for this unique risk faced by agricultural journalists and their assistants, but it also opened up for me another one of the quietly beautiful elements of farm life that most non-farmers never realize.
For unlike the aristocratic pedigrees and documented provenances of most pampered city dogs, quite a few farm dogs are “just-showed-up-one-day” canines.
Such was the case of the butt-biting dog at this farm, set in a rolling, partially wooded valley near the Saskatchewan border, which I was visiting to interview the farmer.
Asta came along, with the rest of my family, because we were turning this trip into weekend escape to rural Manitoba.
The farm neighboured a First Nation, and that community had a small population of semi-wild dogs, as some First Nations do.
This rough-looking dog had gotten pregnant, wandered off the reserve and showed up one day in the farmer’s yard, and the farmer being a soft-hearted fellow, let it hang around.
It found itself a little space in the corner of a shed and got ready to give birth, getting bigger and grouchier by the day.
Jumping out of the car when we got there, Asta sniffed around, found the pregnant bitch, yapped in its face, and earned his injury. The expectant female was in no mood for that. Wrong day, wrong dog.
I don’t know what happened to the feral dog or whether it and its litter stayed on the farm.
But in the years before and since I’ve found that a healthy proportion of the dogs on the farms I have visited have just shown up one day on the road or in the yard and been informally adopted by the family.
Some, like this one, probably came from reserves. Others might have wandered out of other rural communities, looking perhaps for refuge from an unloving or abusive owner or maybe just feeling more suited to the pastoral life.
A common phenomenon for farmers living within 50 kilometres of cities is finding a lost-seeming, healthy-looking and spooked dog hanging around the entrance of a farm after being “dropped off” on a rural road by an urban dog-buyer who (probably) suddenly realized they didn’t actually want to care for the dog they had bought. These dogs never have a collar or any other markings.
Some farmers call municipal authorities and have abandoned dogs picked up to be dealt with.
If the dogs are aggressive and harass cattle or other livestock, they sometimes are shot.
But some are adopted by the farm, finding an accepting home if the farmer thinks he needs a dog, or if he thinks his present dog or dogs could handle a sibling, or if he just feels soft-hearted that day.
Farmers are softer-hearted than many realize.
Before Christmas, I spoke with a Winnipeg dog rescue organization that had rescued a semi-frozen puppy (some of its siblings had frozen to death) found on a reserve by a band member. They have often dealt with abandoned and feral dogs in the countryside.
They suggested farmers who find themselves hosting a canine refugee check out local urban Facebook and internet groups to see if the dog somehow wandered out of the city or jumped out of a car and is simply lost rather than being abandoned. Facebook groups like “Lost Dog Winnipeg” are easy to find and exist for almost all sizable cities.
But they acknowledged many have been intentionally dumped, and there’s no easy answer for that. Most municipalities have some procedure for dealing with lost dogs.
I’m interested in your story if you have lived a situation like this on your farm. Have you adopted a dog that “just showed up one day?”
There are a lot of sad dog stories out there, with people buying puppies at Christmas and abandoning them months later when the dogs grow too big or require more commitment than rash dog buyers realize is required.
Urban dog rescue organizations and humane societies do what they can. But there are also some happy dog stories out there, and I’ve found a few on the farms I have visited.