The animal in this ranch family did not care about the rules of the farm.
A ranch dog is a working dog. That’s what I learned growing up, with sayings such as “broth eats before eating” and “do not turn cows into pets”. But none of the old rules seemed to apply to Mouse.
The size of bread, the Chihuahua-Carlin mix was an unlikely addition to our pack of butcher’s dogs. But a cousin could not keep her, and my usually stoic parents were lowered the first time they took Mouse and she greeted her usual voice: she wagged her fine tail and licked her fingers.
My brother and I were fascinated in the same way, although a little disconcerted by the way my parents scorned it. Mouse had free reign, while purebred dogs were tied to their kennels. She started banging back while mom finished the morning chores. The mud in the pens was sometimes so high that Mom had to pick up the mouse before sinking, but the dog still contributed to the daily work: barking at a sheep, shaking when the horse sniffed and bending over to eat his alfalfa, chasing the barn cats. The only time she refused to go around was when Mom put a little raincoat on her. Then Mouse remained on the porch as if she were ashamed to be seen by the working dogs.
The mouse was sneaky and had an iron stomach. We came back once from building a fence to find that our lunches are gone and that the little dog has stretched, sniffing with the discomfort of being overfilled. From that moment on, we always took her with us, even if it meant stalling her in one of our stools while we were keeping our flocks. To Mouse’s credit, she barked the cows, although her aggression seemed to confuse them more than anything else.
When Christmas Eve came, more gifts were under the tree for Mouse than for us children. The poor purebred dogs never received a present: they were not even allowed at home. And we would not be allowed to touch our stockings or gifts before housework.
On Christmas morning, we do not need to wait for Mom to wake us up, she was already busy screaming at Mouse. Although Santa Claus pulled the bottom of the chimney, he had not put them on the mantle carefully. In the night, Mouse had climbed onto the counter and ate every piece of our Christmas sweets – and did not seem in the least displeased. She nodded when Mom screamed, but continued to wag her tail.
We could not imagine finding a veterinarian who would be open to seeing her on Christmas day, and she seemed to be fine – she appreciated the attention as we unpacked her many presents. Miraculously, the only side effect was a shit wrapped in festive foil.
Mouse came with us to the barn to do housework that morning, happy to run away from home. In the midst of chaos, we still had not opened our own presents. After all, the stock eats before you, unless your name is Mouse.
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