Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Mutt Called Bimbo


From the moment he entered our house as a fat, roly-poly black bundle of supercharged energy, Bimbo started carving out a niche for himself within our hearts that was as deep and as permanent as the Grande Canyon itself.  He was one happy puppy.  If he missed his mother those first few days when he came to live with us in late May, you could not tell.  That little black stub that looked like a long pointed morel perched on the end of his thick haired, somewhat elongated round body would have quickly worn out a metal hinge had that been its tether.  It just never stopped wagging for a single second.  With eyes sparkling like huge diamonds from under that black mass of curls, looking at you with unconditional love, you couldn't help but adore him.  Even serious, sensible, Baba (as grandma was known by all), who took over for me around the house and with the kids while I worked out in the fields with my husband, was not immune to his charm.  Bimbo wooed her as fervently as he did everyone else.
"We'll call him Bingo", I had suggested when we first brought him home.
"Bimbo", echoed three-year old Carol.  Her tongue and her ears had not quite become synchronized yet so "Bimbo" was her version of "Bingo".  And so "Bimbo" joined our family.  
If his name were to have been taken literally, it would have been the biggest misnomer known to modern man, for Bimbo was as true as the world is round.  His devotion was unfailing, especially to the kids, for whom he would have gladly given his life had the need arisen.  He was our guard dog, our babysitter, our entertainer, our protector, our pet, our cattle dog, and whatever other responsibility we bestowed upon him.  He gladly accepted everything and all for the price of a little love. 
That first summer, the girls stayed close to the house, with directives from Baba, who found it easier to lay down iron clad rules than to chase rambunctious kids with orders and instructions.  Jim, being bigger was allowed to roam around the big yard with Bimbo waddling along at his side and Baba keeping a watchful eye on them through the window.  The two were inseparable.
Summer turned to fall and fall into winter and Bimbo grew much faster than the kids.  He converted his baby fat into surplus energy and spent countless hours playing with the kids in the deep soft snow.  By next spring, the kids were still kids, but Bimbo was fully grown.  Even though he was still a kid at heart, he was given more and more responsibility.  He welcomed the opportunity to be useful, and upon completion of a task would look up at us with those big bright eyes just sparkling with pride at his accomplishment. 
When it came to immunizing and branding the cattle that spring, he assisted us with penning the cattle and herding them into the chutes, but he got very upset if the cattle bellowed when the brand or a needle was applied.  He would stand there pleading with that whine that revealed his empathetic distress!  He seemed to have a natural instinct for herding duties or maybe he was just a fast learner.  Whatever it was, he was quickly becoming an asset to the farming operations. 
He particularly enjoyed the cattle drives to or from the far pasture, these coming during the spring and fall of the year.  He sensed the importance of the job and he raced around in circles, yelping excitedly, anxious to get on with it.  While we organized the details, Bimbo's eyes, glistened with anticipation and impatient to get going already.  Getting a hundred head of cattle out of the yard and on to the road was a wonderful and exciting game for Bimbo as he ran barking after each stray that kept getting behind a shed or a barn or some granary.  Mounted on Little Mite, I helped round them up and then rode behind the herd all the way to the pasture with Bimbo racing behind to keep the stragglers moving.  John went on ahead with the truck and a load of hay as enticement.  The older cattle had done this before and were easy to herd, but boisterous yearlings and older calves sometimes presented problems. 
After the drive, Bimbo would happily hop into the truck, and sit there panting proudly all the way home as if he had just done this very important job all by himself.  I think he loved the sense of accomplishment.  He loved riding in the truck and sometimes could be a real nuisance if his feet were muddy and he jumped in before he was invited (and wiped clean).
Each spring we bought a hundred chicks to be raised for meat for the following winter.  While the chicks were small, they were kept in a temporary pen near the house.  Jim was fascinated by the wee chicks.  He learned to open the gate and enter the pen.  Once inside the pen, he would try to catch the chicks, which would scatter in all directions, often resulting in some of them escaping from the pen through the gate that he had left open.  This not only upset the chicks inside but would necessitate rounding up the chicks that had escaped from the pen.
Time and again, Baba had instructed Jim.  "Stay away from the chicks.  Don't go near the pen"!  
Time and again Jim ignored the warnings.
With John and me out in the field, it was Baba who stayed home to take care of the kids and all the minor chores around the house.  She was not a young woman.  Chasing after small chicks was not only arduous work for her, it was also time consuming.  And it was definitely a chore that was NOT in her job description.
One day when Jim had sent the chicks scurrying all over the yard, again, Baba decided to chastise him with a couple of well placed slaps to his behind to add some punch to her orders.  As she held him to deliver the discipline, Jim's shrieks sent Bimbo into a frenzy.  He raced around barking and found it ineffective to stop the punishment.  In desperation, he gave a warning growl and grabbed Baba's long skirt with his teeth, tugging her back, growling menacingly until, taken off guard and alarmed by this suddenly savage attack from the angry dog, Baba let Jim go.  She never again dared to discipline Jim or the girls if Bimbo was nearby, no matter how much they deserved it.  
Jim and Bimbo wandered freely about the yard.  We had trained Jim to always answer when we called him.  (Until Jim went to school, we always called him by his Ukrainian name “Evaso” meaning “Johnny”).  At hearing his name called, Jim's voice would always come back "Hah", and we'd know where to find him.  If Jim was too far to hear, or was too distracted, Bimbo always heard and would bark, his keen sense of hearing always a dependable way of tracking their whereabouts.
One late summer day, John and I had been busily working on the yard, cleaning out granaries and getting ready for the impending harvest.  It was evening and we were concentrating on finishing our task so we failed to notice that Jim, who had been playing nearby, was no longer in sight.
I called for him but there was no answering "Hah".  I called again, louder.  Still no answer.  Concern changed to alarm and then panic as I yelled for all I was worth, listening intently for Bimbo's bark if not Jim's answer.  Still nothing.  There was a creek nearby and my mind envisioned terrible possibilities.  John had joined me by now and we called loudly alternating between "Evasu" and "Bimbo" as we frantically searched beyond the large yard.  It was obvious they were not within its limits.
Then, we heard Bimbo's bark, coming from somewhere out in the middle of the field of tall wheat beyond the shelter belt.  Heading for that bark, my heart pounding with renewed hope, we met Bimbo, who was leaping high with each step to see beyond the tall wheat as he ran towards us. 
"Evaso!  Go find Evaso", I told Bimbo and he took off, back into that wheat with John and me in hot pursuit.  Almost a quarter of a mile we followed Bimbo through that tall wheat before we found Jim, sitting peacefully amid the rows of tall grain, quietly stacking a bunch of pebbles into some imaginary fort.  We would have never found him without Bimbo.
Jim was seven the year we had our first problem rooster.  We used to let our chickens roam free on the yard then.  This rooster was a real cocky fellow and he was irrevocably convinced that he ruled the roost.  Any trespassers across his territory were always dealt with severely.  That is, he'd pick a fight with anyone that he felt he had a good chance of beating.  Jim was a prime target for this territorial self-appointed dictator.  He was small enough to tackle and best of all, he couldn’t fight back.
That is, Jim didn't fight back.  If Bimbo wasn't around to save Jim, the rooster would fly at Jim's neck, scratching him with his claws, pummelling him with his wings and pecking at his head with his beak.  This would set Jim screaming at the top of his lungs, bringing Bimbo and me flying to his rescue.  I'd pick that rooster off; give him a few sound kicks that sent him flying while Bimbo raced around barking furiously at the nasty villain.  Again I would admonish Jim to stay out of that section of the yard, again Jim would promise, and again he would forget after a couple of days.
One evening I was busy milking Suzy, our Ayrshire milk cow, when I heard Jim's scream that told me that rooster was up to his old tricks again.  Jumping off the stool, I cleared that fence with one leap trying desperately to fly rather than run to reach Jim faster.  By the time I got there, Bimbo had already grabbed that rooster and was holding him by the neck while the vile bird flapped his wings helplessly in a vain attempt to get away.  I had had enough.  I took that rooster from Bimbo and carried him directly to the chopping block.  With one swing of the axe, our troubles were over and there was chicken soup for dinner the next day.
There was also Jessie, the cow that was a problem to Jim.  She wasn’t trying to be mean to Jim but Bimbo knew that her games were difficult for Jim to fend off so Bimbo sent Jessie into retreat many a time by his growl and sometimes even a nip at her heels.  Eventually Jessie learned that if Bimbo was around, it was just better not to tackle Jim at all.
Bimbo loved kids.  Actually, Bimbo loved people.  But more than anything, Bimbo loved kids.  They were worth any pain, any discomfort, any sacrifice.  There was one family that used to visit us who had four small boys, aged three to nine.  These boys were ruthless.  They were fast, furious and into everything at once, an unrelenting, merciless, demolition crew.  They played rough - not only with each other but with everything - toys, animals, people, anything they came across.  And they came across Bimbo, simple, loving, trusting, Bimbo, who was willing to endure anything for a sake of some attention from kids.  One of their favourite games was to grab Bimbo's tongue and drag him around the yard.  I used to doubt Bimbo's intellect when he let them get away with it, never once clamping his teeth into those callous and cruel hands that caused him such indignity and discomfort.
But I think that he found these kids easier to take than another family, with three kids who were afraid of dogs.  Poor Bimbo was beside himself because he could not approach these kids with whom he would have loved to play but who, for some unknown reason, were terrified of him.  He tried so hard to show them he was harmless and friendly, that all he wanted was to love them, but he could not break through their barrier of fear.  He was relegated to sitting at a distance, watching longingly and forlornly, while the kids all frolicked together on the yard.
Bimbo was a friend not only to the kids.  He also stood guard over our calves, our cats, our rabbits and other animals as well as us adults.  Mitzy, our mother cat, never had to sleep on cold winter ground.  She curled up on a nice warm shaggy black cushion with built-in heat as she napped during cold winter nights.  There was never any dog/cat animosity there.  They were fast and loyal friends. 
As Jim grew older, his interests changed and he turned to books for his entertainment.  Bimbo seemed to accept this transition naturally and turned to the girls for company.  He was older now and more mature with a lot more responsibility with farm chores and he watched over his charges dutifully.  He also especially liked the fact that there were now almost always a lot of other kids around, neighbours’ kids, friends of our kids who came to play at our place.  He revelled in their company and in their games.  And the kids in turn all adored him.  It was a natural mutual admiration society.
Bimbo did have one bad habit though.  No matter how much we scolded him for it, he seemed to derive some fiendish pleasure out of chasing the cars that sped along the road by the yard.  He would race along barking and nipping at the spinning tires until the car was way past the yard.  Then he'd come back panting, his ears perky, his eyes bright and sparkling with pleasure as if he had just run some great marathon and had won.  He knew he'd get scolded and he didn't care.  He had chased that car away and he was proud of it!  There never was a hint of remorse in those dancing eyes after those chases.  We just could not convince him this was a dangerous game he was playing.
One day this game almost cost him his life.  John and I had gone to town for something and the kids, now seven, eight and eleven, were alone at home.  As a car sped along the road, Bimbo gave chase.  But the people who were inside that vehicle were malicious and cruel.  As Bimbo got along side the speeding automobile, they yanked the door open.  The impact caught Bimbo off guard, hitting him in the head and knocking him out.  The kids heard their raucous laughter as the car sped away from the dog that lay in a lifeless heap along the road.  
We came home a few minutes later to find the three kids weeping heartbrokenly over Bimbo's limp body which they had brought into the yard on a crudely fashioned hammock.
"They killed him," Jim sobbed brokenly.  "They did it on purpose.  I saw them.  And then I heard them laughing!  They killed him on purpose and then they laughed about it, honest Mom, I heard them," he emphasized through heart wrenching sobs.  The girls couldn't even talk.  They were crying too hard. 
John knelt down and inspected the still body.
"He's not dead", he pronounced and three sets of tear filled, bloodshot eyes turned to him with a glimmer of hope. 
"He's not?" they asked in unison, in disbelief, their sobbing arrested, their faces begging for affirmation.
"No, he's knocked out, but I think he'll be alright.  Animals can be strong that way.  Give him time." 
Three kids knelt down, hugging the shaggy still form gently, lovingly, willing the body to life.  They didn't leave his side and about half an hour later, Bimbo stirred and slowly, dazedly got up.  The kids were ecstatic. 
Bimbo was pretty lethargic for a while but he got back to be his normal self in a few days but he never again chased cars after that experience.  He had learned his lesson the hard way. 
That blow on the head from that car did affect him though.  It set a pattern of convulsions for Bimbo that plagued him from that day on.  The episodes were not frequent, but once or twice a year after that, Bimbo would go into spasms where he would fall, his feet kicking convulsively, his mouth frothing and his eyes rolled back till only the white was visible under the still open lids.  These episodes would last for about five minutes subsiding gradually until Bimbo would get up groggily and then go slowly to his dog house to rest.  He'd be listless for a couple of days but he always became himself again.  Until the next time.  This always worried the kids.
The fits came more frequently with each passing year.  It was just before Easter and Bimbo was ten when he had a particularly bad seizure.  His lethargy did not go away.  Within a week after the episode, Bimbo had lost his sight, then his hearing.  He could feel our touch but did not know how to find us.  So the kids and I would come to him.  We'd stroke him, pat him, love him, and our tears ran down our cheeks in rivers.  He strained to maintain that touch, to hold on to the contact.  We missed meals.  We forgot about Easter preparations.  We waded into puddles to lead Bimbo out onto whatever dry patches of the yard were left from the spring thaw.
We spent three days outside with Bimbo.  We walked with him, we talked to him, we kept our arms around him.  We maintained constant contact with him.  And we cried, all of us, constantly, uncontrollably.  He was so pathetic.  He so wanted our presence.  That was all we could give him now for all the love he had given us over the years. 
Then on the morning of the fourth day, we got up and Bimbo was nowhere to be found.  We searched.  It was no use calling.  He couldn't hear us.  We never did find his body.  Somebody later told us that a loving animal never dies at home.  It always goes away to die.  Bimbo must have known he was going to die.  He went away.  He spared us that final awful sight - the sight of his dead body. 
But in our hearts, Bimbo still lives.  He is still happy.  His tail is still wagging, and those sparkling eyes are still shining with that mischievous glint that he got when he'd done something great!

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