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May 21, 2009

What is your Pet's Vocabulary?

All creatures communicate in one form or another and dogs even deaf, are no exception. The thing to understand is, the ability of an animal to develop habits! There are good habits and there are of course bad ones. I spent my entire childhood after being removed from an Orphanage at the age of 3 with my brother Randy, working around horse's and dog's. cat's, and hog's. Mom had a yearning to breed and raise chocolate toy poodles and dad just had his horses as part of the Tarrant County Sheriffs Posse. One evening we were notified that 12 of dads 16 horses got out. We saddled what was left and went on a herding mission to retrieve the loose Equine. In the hunt we rode upon the perfect ranchette on 5 acres on the edge of town.
Dad sold enough horses to put up the down payment and we moved in by the time I was 6 and Randy was 7. Randy and I assisted dad in building stables as there was already a beautiful 2 story barn with built on chicken coup on the property. Mom's "dad"; (Pappy), had his third stroke and couldn't run his meat market downtown by the stockyards, so mom sold the store and moved Pappy into the room with Randy and I. Pappy added hogs to the already crowded ranch of 3 steers, 2 milk cows, 6 horses, mom's poodles (which I could never keep count of as they came and went so fast), 20 or so chickens, 2 homing Pigeons and a pet skunk. Eggs and milk paid for pet grooming and 2 gallons of milk w/dozen eggs paid for the Beauty shop on Thursdays.
Randy didn't make it too well in school and was sent back to the Orphanage by the time he was 9. Mom and dad pushed forward with my adoption completing it by the time I was 10. The chores and school were all I had as I attempted to hide the pain of missing my brother. I spent many, many hours hiding in the barn, sharing with, observing, and working with the animals. What evolved through this interaction with them is best described through a book. Un-fortunately I hadn't read it yet! Mom use to say "He's a natural." Dad would just smile. Besides playing baseball in the spring and football in the fall I participated in the Lone Star Riding club in Playdays and Parades all over the state of Texas and assisted my dad in the afore mentioned T.C.S.P. .
My older sister, the youngest of three, was featured on the front cover of Western Horseman Magazine in the Fall of 1969. That same year, I won the Presidential physical fitness award for Tarrant county Tx.
The repeated twice a day chores were a responsibility I took with little thought of what I was learning or how I was adapting with the animals. Until I read "the book"! "Beautiful Joe", by Marshall Saunders. Reading this book was an awakening. It made me realize that my ability to work with these horses and dogs, wasn't just a gift, but I had earned the respect of these creatures as they relied upon me twice a day for food and water, shelter and comfort. They relied upon me and could tell me from 50 yards away, through a window, to come outside and break the ice in the water trough, so that they could drink in the dead of winter. They would call me if I had overslept napping though feeding time.
These animals had there own unique way of communicating with each other, and ways of shareing there thoughts with me on a daily basis. These animals were giving me something for all my troubles and time spent for them. It became there way of paying it forward. Animals like people, have thier good days, and there bad days. They tell you when they are sick from eating too much, or that they are developing a cold. They tell you if they want to play, or simply want to be left alone. They communicate through body language that is unique to each species, and each species has its own individual characteristics. No two horses are the same, anymore than any two dogs are. There-in developed an the ability to communicate with these animals that no one person taught me, but rather these animals taught me.
We had a horse named "Sun" that was an enormous American Standard that was featured on the cover of the Western Horseman Magazine with a handful of "His" most prestigious Trophy's and ribbons he had won. And yes, I say "He" won. Not my sister won, because that horse won as many awards for me, and I didn't even ride him near the number of years that my sister did. This horse was ridden so many times, by so many family members, in so many events, in so many playdays, on so many weekends, that he needed no reigning, just hold on.
I would be loading the horse trailer each weekend with the necessary tack, prior to traveling to the next playday, while my sister and my dad were chasing the horses around the pasture to get ready. They would eventually get tired and send me after the horses with one rope and a small bucket. Rather than give chase, I would walk out a few yards, whistle, and within minutes Sun would allow me to swing up on his back, or he would kneel down so I could get on. The other horse's and one goat (Patches) would fall into an orderly line behind and all of the other horses would follow Son and I, all the way to the trailer. Son's intelligence led me to look deeper into the vocabulary he had by the time he was 12 years old. Talking and working with this horse was something I took for granted until reading the book "Beautiful Joe". it was then that I had an awakening. I began to look seriously into Sun's behavior as well as that of a pet pig (Tiny), my dog, Sparky (a deaf Dalmatian), and my mom's prize poodle, Tootsie. The vocabulary of the horse exceeded that of the dogs, but Tiny (because he was the runt of the litter), at 1 year old, was rapidly catching up. We ate him by the time he was 2. (that's just the way it is on the farm).
Tiny's vocabulary was well over 100 words and commands and his behavior was more like that of a puppy than a pig. Tiny followed me every where I went and he would squeel himself to sleep If I locked him up and left him alone for any period of time. Sparky, because he was deaf was kept in the backyard at all times. Even though he was deaf I would catch him howling as most dogs would when a siren went off in the neighborhood, only exception was is wasn't sirens he was howling at, but rather helicopters. He could feel the vibrations in the ground. I lquickly learned that by clapping my hands or stomping the ground I could get his attention and hand signals did the rest. The cows seemed to understand an exceptional amount of words but like cats tend to ignore you and walk away unless it benefits them. They like to play stupid. I like to think it helps them to avoid un-nessary work. Ask them if they want a brushing, feeding, or milking, and they will respond quickly! Ask them to get up and go out of their way, to come to the gate so friends can pet them? Forget about it. Only if you are bribing them with food. If I raised my voice one level they would jump, otherwise, its leave us alone and mind your own business!
I observed many people abusing their animals, on many different levels, over the next few years as a result of all of the activities we frequented, Horse's, cow's, and dog's. These abuse's were the result of human mistakes in handling, and no fault of the animals. Unfortunately as a child you dare not say a word to anyone. I actually witnessed a horse run away with a man beating him over the head repeatedly as though this would encourage the horse to stop. The horse didn't stop, but rather, ran harder and faster until he ran head on into a steel pipe fence breaking his own neck instantly. The man went through the second row of bull pens at the end of the arena, breaking a few fingers, a rib, and resulting in several cuts and bruises, as a result of his own ignorance. The horse? Lets just say, is in a better place.
Sun died at the age of 21 just before my 16Th birthday, making it the second sadest day in my life, second only to the day my brother Randy was sent away, and I was told that I would never see him again. I buried Sun under his favorite Tree where he always waited for me to come home from school and feed him. He waits there to this day.

One summer day, I wanted to get away from the house for awhile, so I saddled Sun. It was early in the morning shortly after the chores of feeding and milking the two cows. We set off on a ride several miles cross country. We swam together in a river along the way and discovered new trails and circled back home in time for a late lunch. I re-saddled Sun an hour later and we went back to the river for a few more hours until milking time. After dinner, things weren't much better around the house so I decided to escape the chaos with Sun once more. Only this time, Sun had different ideas. He refused to be ridden for a third time on that hot summer day, and I refused to acknowledge his discontent. I did manage to get the saddle and blanket on him and cinch it. All the while ignoring his repeated hints of not wanting a third trip out. He wouldn't stand still for me to mount him. Since he was so tall (and me so small) I couldn't get my leg up and into the stirup, so after several attempts I asked him to kneel or lye down (which at any other time he did willingly) , but this time he refused. I led him to the horse trailer and climbed up on the fender to gain a height advantage and just then Sun reached out and with his teeth, clinched my shuolder and slowly, gently lowered me to the ground. We came to an understanding that day as I removed the saddle and bridle and released him. It was a moment in time I shall never forget, and I have never achieved the level of respect for human nor animal since that day, as I realized that that animal could have torn me to shreds and done serious damage, but instead took gentle care and precision to get his point across, without leaving so much as a scratch on me. Son you are dearly missed.
With 2 words I could accomplish more with an animal, than most, with a rope, a whip, and a two hour argument. Those two words were "Good Boy", "Atta Boy" ,"Wayta go" and "Yea Baaaby." Praise can generate an excitement within an animal that encourages them to work for "free", just to hear more Praise.

I was driving to school each day during the next couple of Winter months when I spotted a horse standing under the same lone tree at the top of a hill in the distance. She was what seemed to be, at least a half mile away, and I couldn't see her very well, but she was there every day, morning and night. There was no grass on the property she shared with several hundred head of cattle. One evening I made a point of circling the pasture by turning up a side dirt road for a closer look, and discovered from a side view, that this mare was starving to death. Her head looked as though it was disproportional to the rest of her body because she was so thin. Her hip bones protruded profusly giving outline to a skeleton. I immediately turned around and drove up the drive past the home, directly towards the barns, spotting the rancher headed towards several long troughs designed to hold hay in the top and grain in the bottoms. He was filling them with hay and grain.

PART II The Negotiations
At this point in my life I am 16 years old and reflecting back on all of the animals I have raised is far from my mind, I see a starving animal that needs immediate care. Sun has been gone for about 3 months now, and while he is still on my mind I don't care that I still have more pets than any one man should be allowed, all I see is an Animal in need. The mare approached the troughs first as quickly as her frail frame could carry her as the Rancher poured the feed. He then proceeded to blast the horn on the pick-up truck which is a familliar dinner bell for cattle. Within minutes there were several hundred head of cattle filling the area fighting there way to the troughs. The mare barely got two of three bites of the cotton seed hull mix down before the cattle utilizing there horns started prying their way in closer and tighter to the trough. Within seconds the cattle had her backed away and were on the troughs like fly's on a dead carcass.
A dead carcass is what I thought of as I stood there in awe looking at the mare. Her eyes were glazed over and streaks stained her face from the discharges. Every bone in her body tried to protrude through her skin, she was scared and her coat was dull and she was coated in mud from the knees down. Her hoofs were dry and splitting with chunks chiped away leaving gaps. As the Rancher approached me I contained my self enough to give a proper introduction and inquire about the possibility of buying the mare. (He apparently had no use for her). He promptly replied that the mare "was of no use" because she had thrown his daughter the day he brought her home after being assured (by the horse's seller) that the mare was "green broke".
He went on to explain to me how he had found her at the local horse auction, how much he paid, and that the mare was papered; but, he saved several hundred dollars by not buying the papers. ( A common practice in horse trading at the time)
He replied that he returned to the horse auction barn where he had purchased the mare on the next Friday night, only to find that the seller wasn't there to give him his money back. The only reason he kept the mare was in the hopes that this daughter would change her attitude since her first riding attempt, and begin working with the mare again. I explained that by the looks of the mare, it didn't appear to be likely that anyone here was going to care for the animal. I moved the conversation forward and asked if he would sell the horse. His answer came as no surprise to me, when he asked for the $800.00 he had given for the mare at the auction. I responded that I could give him $800.00 for the mare if she were in the same condition as she was the day he bought her at auction, but in her persent condition, she wasn't worth a plug nickel. I offered $175.00 for the mare. After 10 or so minutes of haggling I finally got down to brass tactics and assured him that I would not pay more than $250.00 today since I knew I could surely buy her for $175.00 tomorrow from the Humane society. What he didn't know, was that I had spent many Friday evenings in that same auction barn, with my dad, riding and demonstrating the reighning and handling charasteristics of horses, for many sellers and buyers, both inside and outside of the "North Fort Worth Horse and Cattle Auction" where he had bought her, just a few months back. Probably around the same week-end as I was burying and mourning Sun's death.In the mean time, the rancher refused my generous offer, resented my suggestions of reporting him to the authorities, and I was promply dismissed from the property.
It was a hard thing to do, to leave there that day, without that horse, but I knew that while time was not on her side, it was on mine. I retreated to my uncles ranch a few miles away where by now I am assisting him with his daily milking chores each morning and evening to earn extra money and to pay for my room and board. Later that evening he could see that something was troubling me and I explained the mares deleima. Due to the small world of Ranchers and Dairymen, my uncle new the gentleman. We picked up the mare the next day. I named her Penny since for all practical obvious reasons she wasn't worth a cent. It took almost an hour to coax her into the trailer even with feed but it was well worth the wait. I drove her directly to the veterinarian and had her quarantined for two weeks to get her strength up before bring her home to the ranch.

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