OF THE SAN MATEO COUNTY JUNIOR SHERIFF'S POSSE &
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 horsesfor the grand
sum of $500because 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.
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.
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.
crazy dog never caught a thing, not in his whole life.
whippet is an elegant dog: You can't take a photo
that isn't beautiful.
This is Meg's son, Stanley.
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.
BOY & HIS DOG
make good family dogs. Here's Stanley curled up with
my son when he was a child. They're watching TV.
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
freeit'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."
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.
TUESDAY & ZOE NATHAN
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.
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.
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.
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.
passed; dogs came and went. Mostly they came, and
ended up dying with us.
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
OLDER ZOE WITH YUKI, THEO'S 100 POUND PUP
dad was reputed to be a Lab. This cross, Lab/Great
Dane, is terrific. Or at least it was for this litter.
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.
I maintained my elevated reserve.
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.
WORLD'S ONLY ROBERT'S HOUND
A middle aged Sumo lying near the haystack.
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.
We moved to the ranch, and ranch
dogs joined us.
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.
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."
she did, herding them out the gate without instruction.
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.
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:
CHICKS FLY THE COOP
The babies growing up and leaving is a normal part
of family life. But what is Mom to do then?