It was, as old-timers tend to say, the worst of a winter with belly deep snow and sub-zero cold. When the temperature climbed, snow fell, and thus we were caught in a vice.
Something unusual happened that winter — a pack of dogs ran wild through the creek-bottom land, chasing and killing weakened deer.
The neighborhood had come to expect a few isolated cases involving chicken-killing and sheep-mauling canines. The offending canines were most often dispatched with shotgun blasts.
Reform efforts — especially when it involved our family dogs — were attempted. Mother tried to break egg-eating dogs with an egg loaded with hot pepper. A chicken killer was encouraged to mend its ways with a dead bird tied around its neck. None of the cures were effective, but hope remained that somehow a good dog would mature out of its bad habit.
Raccoon hunters and their dogs were welcome on full-moon fall nights because it was good sport and involved ridding the area of great nuisances. The Johnson boys were among the hunters and once rewarded us with a skinned raccoon ready for the oven.
They insisted that raccoon tasted pretty much like beef, which proved incorrect. It tasted instead like shoe leather ladled with grease. The Johnson brothers had earned a reputation as rascals, in part because they had enticed me into trying cigarettes out of plain sight behind the chicken coop. Not good at keeping secrets, I informed Mother that the reason my head spun, and stomach churned was because I had puffed on a cigarette. She did not take the news particularly well even after she was assured nothing like that would ever be tried again.
Crow hunters, who brought with them a small box that played crow calls, also hunted in the pasture. A great crow flock lived in the pasture’s hardwoods. No one ever said they were worthy of being served on a supper plate.
We learned more about the wild dogs when an officer from the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Department stopped at the farm. He said that his agency, working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, planned to hunt down the pack.
My brother, who was there when they arrived, said they had enough guns to outfit the entire Army Reserve unit in town. Guns roared and the dog pack was destroyed.
We had two farm dogs at the time – a Collie who was well-trained, and Jippy, a much older and less social mutt that ruled the canine den. She was 12 years old when she was run over by a milk truck. We vowed to nurse her, but her back legs were useless.
I did not shed a tear when Jip died mostly because she was standoffish, and she was old while I was young. However, tears fell when Spot, a rat terrier, died. Spot was a companion on the hay rack, in the pickup and during milking and other chores. He earned a special place on the couch and at the foot of the bed.
True to his heritage, Spot was a master rat killer. The talent came in handy in spring when the steer lot was cleaned, and the feed bunks moved. The rodents, which appeared as big as muskrats, fled helter-skelter from beneath the bunks. The rats weren’t a match for the dog and the men armed with scoop shovels.
When Spot died, he was buried next to the garden behind the barn. A large field stone marked the site. I was down in the dumps for a long time afterward.
Leon — a sibling who was hard to get along with — got out of his pickup holding a rat terrier puppy that was the spitting image of Spot. He stayed with me for more than a decade until he was buried next to his namesake.
Good farm dogs remain in memory long after their passing.