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SANDY NATHAN & THE DOGS OF RANCHO VILASA
Left to right: Sumo, a thirteen year old shepherd mix, Panda, a ten year old Australian shepherd &
Raj, a four year old Cocker Spaniel mix.
Sammy, a dacshund/Cocker, was busy chasing squirrels and missed the photo op.

Oh, yeah. I'm in there, too. I'm the human in the photo. I'm an old dog, but a good one.

MY HISTORY WITH DOGS: In the beginning . . .


MEMBERS OF THE SAN MATEO COUNTY JUNIOR SHERIFF'S POSSE & MASCOT, SHEP
Barely visible in front of the kids in this photo from 1960, Sheppie went everywhere with me.
I'm standing next to the three girls on the far right.

We had others before him, but Shep was the first dog to stake a claim on my heart. One Saturday in 1958 or '59, my dad took me out to the green California coast, to a place that would be called Pacifica when it became a town. We pulled up to a ranch with a huge wooden barn. A man took us inside. The puppies were in a stall. Furry black and white and gray teddy bears, they wiggled in greeting, ready to go to new homes. I got to pick a puppy as a birthday surprise! I chose the wildest one.

We named him Shep, in the way people did then. No Kali or Raj, Chauncy or Ciao: We used plain language a half century ago. He was utilitarian as the ranch where he was born. My father was a working man; he would only have a working dog. The pup was an Australian shepherd, so Shep would be his name.

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SHEP

My little brother learned to walk trailing behind Sheppie. He pulled himself up holding on to the fluffy tufts on the dog's hind end, then walked behind the animal like an extra pair of legs. If the toddler yanked too hard or kept himself falling by a mighty pull, Shep paid no mind. They shuffled all over the patio in those long-ago years, a tiny boy and a good dog.

Little did I know what Shep and I would become. When I was thirteen, my prayers and dreams were answered: My parents got me a horse. Two of them, Sugar and Spice. An equine odd couple. Spice was a pretty good horse; he had a good stop, and you could rope off of him. Sugar's main virtue was the fact he loved Spice with a devotion Hollywood has yet to portray. My parents got me two horses––for the grand sum of $500––because my mother was afraid I'd kill myself riding alone. If two girls were out on the trails, my friend could ride for help after I fell off.

All two horses meant was double trouble, with a canine side order. Back in those days, you could take your dog on the trails safely. Not too much traffic in Woodside, California, back in the 1950s & 60s, and the old estates were wide open and welcoming. Yes, they allowed people to ride across them, even with their dogs. I never heard a thing about lawsuits or liability, and I never heard of a problem, either.

Sheppie went out on the trails with me every day. He became the most aerobically fit dog in the universe, with more miles on him than my old car. Just as I can still I can still feel the movement of my horse as he walked the dusty paths, so I can hear the jingle of Shep's tags as he trotted behind. We were bonded, the three of us, Shep, my horse and I. We traveled from the tame flat lands into the wild redwoods of the Coastal Range, riding through beauty that took by breath then, and makes me cry to think about now.

Those rides are impossible today: a loose dog would be killed by traffic, and the estates are fenced in.

My dear friend, Shep, lived sixteen or seventeen years. I can see still see him running across the hills in the days we were both hard boned and raw. I can hear him crashing through the brush baying, which he did when he scented game.

That crazy dog never caught a thing, not in his whole life.


STANLEY
The whippet is an elegant dog: You can't take a photo that isn't beautiful.
This is Meg's son, Stanley.

Others dogs followed as I grew up and made my own home : a whippet named Meg, whose son Stanley lived with my mother until he died. Whippets are elegant, gentle dogs. My father would have been appalled. The beautiful whippet is a sight hound, not a working dog. But the truth is, sometimes breed specifications don't hold: Old Shep was more of a terror to the wildlife than a herder of anything. He acted like a hound. And a whippet is a joy to own. Plus, my father was gone, killed in his prime. He never knew his family had sold out for pretty dogs.


A BOY & HIS DOG
Whippets make good family dogs. Here's Stanley curled up with my son when he was a child. They're watching TV.

More dogs came and went. Ruby. A red Doberman/Lab cross my husband picked up at the pound when he went there on a terrible errand. He let his dog out of the yard to run, just to run free for a few minutes. It was stuck by a car and killed. You can't let dogs run free––it's not safe. My husband went to the pound to claim the body, the body of his dear friend. He came home sobbing, with a pretty red pup. "The whole litter was there," he said between tears. "I couldn't decide which one."

We've made mistakes, as dog owners and as people. Today, our dogs are kept behind five foot horse mesh fences that circle our property: live and learn. Die and learn. Hard lessons, painful for all involved.


RUBY TUESDAY & ZOE NATHAN
Ruby was dog aggressive: Put any other dog in the picture and she'd attack it instantly.
I've never seen a dog aggressive animal that was mean to people. Ruby was loyal to us for seventeen years.

Ruby taught us about dog aggression. We brought her home as a pup; I already had my whippet, Stanley, in the house. Ruby grew and Stanley didn't. She ended up weighing close to ninety pounds. Stanley stayed in the twenty five pound range. As she grew, the friendly relationship between the dogs became strained. Sometimes Ruby growled ferociously at Stanley. "She wouldn't hurt him, do you think, Barry?" I said. No. We couldn't imagine that.

When we came home and found her swinging him by the neck in the back yard, we discovered what dog aggression was. Stanley survived, a lucky dog, and ended up living with my mother the rest of his life.

Ruby was ferocious with dogs, and wonderful with people. She was the best family dog anyone could want. When other dogs were even potentially around, we kept her on a leash or locked in the yard. Ruby didn't get in fights; she annihilated her opponent, grabbing them by the throat and locking her jaws. That was the end of the fight. We learned how to break up such a fight from our neighbor, search and rescue and Doberman expert, Shirley Hammond.

Years passed; dogs came and went. Mostly they came, and ended up dying with us.


THEO––ONE GREAT DANE

Theo belonged to a young couple in our neighborhood. I'd see her wandering around and thought she was the most beautiful dog I'd ever seen. When her owners needed a home for her, I jumped at the chance. We had Theo and one of her pups, Yuki. Both lived out their lives with us.


AN OLDER ZOE WITH YUKI, THEO'S 100 POUND PUP
Yuki's dad was reputed to be a Lab. This cross, Lab/Great Dane, is terrific. Or at least it was for this litter.

I'm a sucker for dogs, so when I passed a truck with a litter of pups in the back, I ended up taking one. We named him "Sumo", as in Sumo wrestler, thinking he'd be very large. He isn't: just 65 pounds. People used to ask me what breed Sumo was. I'd reply in my most elevated tones, nose tilted snootily, "He's a 'Robert's hound'."

They back off in awe. "A Robert's hound? Oh. Wow."

"Yes." I maintained my elevated reserve.

The grocery store the truck was parked next to is Robert's Market, hence Robert's hound. Packaging matters: Some people are still impressed by my fancy dog. People will go for anything if it's delivered with style.


THE WORLD'S ONLY ROBERT'S HOUND
A middle aged Sumo lying near the haystack.

Sumo's a great dog, a German Shepherd type. I have a confession to make: I didn't just pluck him from the truck. I asked if I could go to his owner's home and see the mother before taking a pup. She was a doll, and her son has been, too. This is a good practice when buying or adopting any animal: The appled doesn't fall far from the tree.

 


RANCHO VILASA
We moved to the ranch, and ranch dogs joined us.

At last, we had something resembling a real ranch. Yuki and Sumo were joined by an Austrailian shepherd puppy from a neighboring ranch. Ever heard of Bernie Taupin? Writes music for someone named Elton John. He also has major horses at his Roundup Valley Ranch, and some lovely dogs. Panda came from a good home.


WHO'S HERDING WHO?

Panda, the Australian shepherd, or Gus, the Peruvian Paso? The herding dog's instincts are built in: Our rural subdivision runs cattle in the street easements in the spring. They eat the grass and keep down the fire hazard. The steers can jump our cattle guard just fine. The first morning we woke up and found ten steers grazing on our front lawn, we yelled, "Get 'em, Panda! Do your job."

And she did, herding them out the gate without instruction.

Just as the herding instinct is built into herding dogs, so do some horses have what's called "cow". They'll cut anything that moves. This baby horse has lots of cow, and he's showing it here. They're playing.

So there it is, not the whole story of my life with dogs, but lots of it. Dogs are part of our lives. My story with dogs took a dramatic turn two yeas ago. Read about it in:

THE CHICKS FLY THE COOP

The babies growing up and leaving is a normal part of family life. But what is Mom to do then?

BUY SANDY NATHAN'S BOOKS THROUGH AMAZON:

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STEPPING OFF THE EDGE: LEARNING & LIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

 

A MODERN SPIRITUAL COMPANION

 

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NUMENON
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ALE OF MYSTICIAM & MONEY MENON

 

"BILL GATES MEETS DON JUAN."

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TECOLOTE: THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULD

BORN PREMATURELY ON A FREEZING NIGHT, THE COLT HAD TO FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE.

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THE ANGEL & THE BROWN-EYED BOY

 

A FUTURE WORLD ONLY HEARTBEATS FROM OUR OWN

Click the covers above to go Sandy Nathan's books on the Amazon Kindle store.
All Kindle books are 99 cents.
They are also available as print books at Amazon..The Angel and Numenon are also at the Nook store. The Angel is an iBook, as well.

AUTHOR SANDY NATHAN IS THE WINNER OF SEVENTEEN NATIONAL AWARDS!
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SANDY NATHAN
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