The Sorting Pen: Keeping the farm dog clean
Despite my growing affection for our motley crew of barn cats, I've always been more of a dog person. But looking at our Australian shepherd, Cocoa, the past couple months, I gained a new appreciation for the cats' ability to groom themselves.
Cocoa, like any self-respecting farm dog, has a regular routine of rolling in manure and dead things, swimming in sloughs and traipsing through tick-covered grasses. In early summer, her winter coat begins to attract mud and bugs and who knows what else until it's just one big tangled, smelly mess.
A couple years ago, I loaded Cocoa — very much against her will — into the car and took her to be groomed. Last year, I brushed out the worst of the problem. But this year, even an old curry comb we found in the barn couldn't budge the snarled, rope-like strands.
My mom used to trim my golden retriever, Brandy, cutting her copper hair into a golden fuzz. But whereas Brandy loved nothing more than to lie beside her people in the grass while they lavished attention on her, Cocoa prefers to chase her people across the yard, along with cats, cows, her own tail and the apparently offensive tires on some farm vehicles.
Nevertheless, something needed to be done, so I bought a dog grooming kit and set out grimly determined to make my dog pettable again.
Cocoa knew something was up from the second I stepped outside, a battery-powered clipper in one hand and a cluster of brushes, combs and scissors in the other. She hunkered down in the grass, just out of my reach, and watched me with suspicion. I moved closer to her and pretended to be after nothing more than a snuggle, but she knew better, creeping away. A few repeated performances and her desire to play beat out her misgivings, and she rolled onto her back so I could scratch her belly.
Slowly, I started the clipper and tried to lob off the coils that had formed there. The clippers were no match for Cocoa's hair, but I could hack through them with the scissors. When she flipped back to her belly, I tried to run the clippers through her locks, tail to shoulder like I learned to do when I sheared my 4-H sheep years ago. I never got a clipper tangled in wool the way it lodged in Cocoa's hair, but I slowly made progress toward making her look more like a dog and less like a barking mop.
Cocoa made a few visits to sloughs near our house or into the tall grass beside the yard to escape me. I think we moved at least eight times before I quit for the day. By then, the sticky atmosphere combined with the flying dog hair left all of my exposed skin covered in a thin layer of black and brown fur.
Masses of hair remain behind each ear and under Cocoa's tail, and her chest still is a bit shaggy. The clipper wouldn't go through the hair on her legs because her intermittent swims left her damp, so she has the look of a show lamb that was slick-shorn but left with poofy legs. She won't stay clean for long anyway, but at least I know I can take care of the problem the next time.
Still, it would be easier if she'd just learn something from the cats and figure out how to do it herself.