Most of the dogs in my life were pretty normal. Well, normal in a Labrador sense, that is. We always go the rescue route when adopting our pets and when choosing one from the rescue kennel, there were always lots of Labs around. They are such lovely dogs, even tempered and family loving and easily adapting to their new households. But this time when we went looking for a replacement for our Stacey last May things took an unexpected turn. We found Chester, and that changed everything.
When we saw Chester in a picture on the shelter’s web site, the first thing we noticed about Chester was his grey, black and while mottled coat. He looked like he was in grey camouflage, full of odd shapes. He would blend in well in any grey forest. Instead of a cuddly furry body, his was all slick, sleek and built for speed, just like a greyhound. But we melted at the first glance of his big brown eyes. The site said that he was a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog. Catahoula dogs come from Catahoula County, Louisiana, hence their name. They are working dogs, used more for herding cattle than border collies are.
When we went to see him we discovered that Chester was painfully shy. The folks at the kennel told us that he did not accept strangers well, especially men. He was in a wire cage in the middle of the floor surrounded by other dogs and lots of people. It was obvious that he was terrified with all the activity around him. I sat on the floor and reached over the fence and tried to pet him. He was all curled up and shaking with his tail curled up under him. He seemed to relax a little when I touched him but he was not too sure.
To make a long story short, we adopted Chester and brought him home. His integration into the menagerie around here was unremarkable but his relationship with me was interesting. Chester bonded with my wife early on, but he did not want anything to do with me. He has a favorite chair in the living room; he sits in it all the time, unless I am in the room. When I come through the door, he jumps off the chair and barks and growls at me until I sit in my recliner, then he will pace around the house a while and settles on the couch at the far end of the room. Once settled, he keeps a wary eye on me and if I make any move that looks like I am about to get out of the chair, he bounds up and runs into the other room. We attributed his behavior to his distrust of men, and felt that he would eventually bond with me.
Being outside with Chester is a hoot. Unless it is dinner time, he will not come past me to get back into the house. Otherwise I must chase him around the Magnolia tree to get him to come inside, even if it is raining. After many long months of this it finally dawned on me that to him it is all a big game. I now see that he waits for me to come down the stairs with his tail wagging and his front paws spread in a classic doggie “play bow.” When I reach the ground, he takes off as fast as he can, circling the tree and racing me through the back door and into the mud room. The game never changes, day in and day out.
He does not think we belong outside at all. If I go out onto the yard for any reason and he is already out there, he barks and growls and challenges me until I have finished what I came outside to do and start moving towards the back door. Then he charges my feet, nudging them with his nose until I am safely back into the mud room. Then he lies in wait to make sure I stay indoors. He herds me and expects me to herd him in return.
I used to worry about him not accepting me until it struck me that he has accepted me, but on his terms. So that you don’t think I have lost my mind; here are his terms. Chester is a cowboy; he has the instincts of a herder. Have you ever watched a sheepdog work a flock of sheep, or a collie work a herd of cattle? For someone watching Chester and me in the back yard it looks exactly like that. He is doing his job; he is herding me back into the house where he thinks I belong. So, after all, life is good, everything is in its place. All I can say to that is “Moooooo!” Oh MY!