Man's Best Friend

Apple season stirs up memories for us every year. The best dog that ever lived is buried beneath our old apple tree — the one with the hollow hiding hole in its trunk. Seven years ago, we had a team of hot Belgian mares that needed a job to do. We loaned them to an Amish neighbor with 30 acres of corn to cultivate. While helping the mares settle in the barn at his farm, our girls became enamored of a thick little Blue Heeler cross.
Haymaking iwth Queenie and the team.

She was old, her “motherness” hanging low beneath her belly and swinging side to side. Though she was too old to keep up with the other dogs, and though the new pups on the block made her life one of nips and annoyance, the farmer kept her on because of her loyalty. “She was with my father in the field the day he died in the accident. I can’t hitch up without her watching over things.” Seeing how taken the girls were with her, he lifted the dog into our truck. “She’s yours if you’ll take her. I figure she’ll have more peace with your girls than with our pups.”

That’s how Queenie came to stay.

Every time Shane hitched up our Norwegian Fjords to make hay or bring a tank of water down to the lower 20 to the sheep, she’d give a little bark of bossiness and sit in front of the team mesmerizing them, daring them to move even one inch while leather and clasps and snaps and pins were put into service and all was made ready for the chore of the day. When he’d take the reins in hand, she’d leap up onto the forecart to ride shotgun all afternoon.

When we moved to our current farm, Queenie spent the winter asleep by the wood stove, sniffling and wheezing while she dreamed and sighed over her younger days as a dog in southwestern Wisconsin.

That summer, she fell off the fore cart while Shane was raking hay 2 miles away. She got caught up in the windrow tumbling as Shane pulled the team up and looked down at her in fear. She was fine, but he had to deny her the pleasure of accompanying him to the hay field from then on. He would lock her in the barn and whisper “I know, I know, girl, but it’s for your own good!” One day, she broke out, and ran the 2 miles across Highway 95 to the hay field she had only visited once by truck. When Shane saw her, he shouted “great heart cannot be denied!” and lifted her up into his lap as he finished the season’s hay-making.
Queenie ang the girls count sheep on a Wisconsin farm in 2014.

She had all the feel of a great lady with a wealth of experience unknown to us. One day, there was a commotion in the barnyard, and the girls came running in to tell us they had spotted what they thought was a raccoon under the woodpile. On our farm, the coons are grain thieves and chicken snatchers, and so this news was met with the pull of a trigger. When Queenie heard the shot, she rocketed around the corner, out of nowhere, like a bullet, and dove under the wood pile snout first. Out she came, backing out with an impressive display of feigned savagery shaking a woodchuck from side to side as it thumped, lifeless, against her solid body. It was like watching your great grandmother leap into the air and karate chop a shoplifter before stabbing him with a knitting needle. “Whoa Queenie! You have some pretty impressive hidden talents!” we exclaimed.

The day we were told by the vet that she had sepsis and was actively dying, we took her home to put her down ourselves. As Shane went in for his .22, Queenie died in my arms. She was too good a dog to make him waste a bullet on her. We were humbled by the seeming perfection of her life, the example of her quiet loyalty, the charm of her presence on our farm. Soon after, Maj, our older mare, passed away of old age. No doubt she felt, with Queenie her taskmaster gone, she now had permission to do so. It was the end of an era for us.

When we buried her beneath the apple tree we said, “Every autumn, when the apples are ripe, when the season draws to a close, we’ll remember her. Some things are too good to last on this poor earth.”.
John Coley farms in farms near Collinsville, Alabama.This article appeared in the December21/January22 issue of Rural Heritage magazine.


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