Yesterday was a day I knew was coming. I had been preparing, but in the end I was not prepared.
Killer, the cow dog, passed away. He was 16 and had been in failing health for the past couple of months. We were at the point of having difficult discussions about making the most difficult decision. His passing was not a surprise. I knew the morning of that he was not good and started to prepare myself for the worst. It was expected but not easy.
Killer came to us on Christmas Eve 2004. He was Isaac’s Christmas present and one that every 6-year-old boy wants, a puppy. He was a Catahoula, Hanging Tree cross and destined to be a good cow dog out of two good, working parents.
Now you may be asking yourself what a 6 year old needs with a cow dog. We all know that not all Christmas presents are just for their intended recipients, and Killer was one of those. He was really a present to all of us in the family, and that became evident over the 16 years following that Christmas.
Killer was, in fact, a very good cow dog. His specialty was bringing cows out of the brush and out in the open. He was good when paired with a horse and had no desire to work cows in confined space like lots and loading allies.
Jennifer, her horse Ace, and Killer could round up any bunch of cows we had. Soon Isaac started riding, and Killer got to work training him on the fine art of gathering cows. Killer listened to any of us, but make no mistake, Isaac was his person.
To say the two of them grew up together probably would be a misnomer. Killer grew up first and did his best to bring Isaac along as he could. Killer went everywhere with Isaac and kept a watchful eye over him as he did little boy stuff and got into little boy predicaments.
We often said Isaac is part dog. Whether this is genetic or if it is because of Killer’s influence, I do not think we will ever know. Nearly every picture we have of Isaac on the ranch also has Killer in it. They went everywhere and did everything together.
They and Isaac’s horse Yeller got to be a pretty good team, too. I remember one time when the neighbor’s cows were mixed up with ours. We went over to sort them with the full arsenal of adults, dogs, horses, pickups and cubes. Nothing worked.
We were approaching the heat of midday and had nothing to show for it but frustration. It was hot and it was time to go home. The adults were strategizing around the pickup waiting on Isaac to come back in so we could call it a day and try again later.
About that time, around the corner came Isaac, Yeller and Killer herding the neighbor’s cattle down the road like it was no big deal. To this day I am not sure how they did it. I am not sure anyone but Yeller and Killer really know, but it worked.
That scenario played itself out many times over the next several years. It became apparent that Killer was much more than a cow dog. He was raising and training Isaac, too.
We have a history of dogs reaching ripe old ages with us. In the 25 years Jennifer and I have been married we have had exactly four cow dogs. Two of them are still living and the other two lived to be over 15.
A few years ago, we noticed that Killer was slowing down and often he chose to ride in the pickup when we moved cows. It was OK. He deserved a good retirement. Killer loved to ride in the pickup and would spend hours in the passenger’s seat looking out the window while I hauled hay and fed cows. If things got too exciting, he would curl up and go to sleep. He was the quietest dog I have ever hauled in a pickup. A good listener, and he rarely made a sound.
In the past couple of years, arthritis had taken its toll, but he refused help into the truck and would nip at you if you tried. He had lost most of his sight and hearing but he still enjoyed a good day in the truck. Getting him out was a challenge. He preferred to stay in the warm cab. We figured he had earned the right to be old and cantankerous. We also knew we did not have much time left with him, and he deserved to do what he wanted.
That is why when the end came it was tough. Killer was a fixture in our lives and his passing left a huge hole. It was hard to walk past the empty kennel this morning and it will be for a while. Killer was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs, and he will be forever missed.
RIP old buddy. You were one heck of a cow dog, but you were an even better kid trainer.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at email@example.com.