Farm Dog has a Doggone Good Life

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As much as I despised the clumps of dog hair that collected at the perimeter of the garage, I couldn’t bring myself to fully clean it up for a long time. Our yellow Labrador shed constantly and made the garage her bedroom in her elderly years. She had “graduated” from the doghouse (insulated and well-bedded), just a bone’s throw from the house.

Only the hair, the memories and a few dog supplies remain. Oskee, our beloved family dog, died three weeks shy of her 13th birthday.

My brother gifted us Oskee as a pre-kids puppy, which we named after the University of Illinois fight song. Oskee lived a farm dog’s life. She ran free outside with our two barn cats, took rides in the pickup truck and sometimes swam in the farm pond across the road. She chewed on apples that fell from the tree, played football with the kids in the yard and followed them to do chicken chores, sneaking bread scraps if they had them. In her younger years, she kept deer out of our garden, played fetch without tiring and tolerated a toddler who called her “aah-key.”

Oskee’s companionship never wavered. She watched us bring two babies home, helped raise our kids and always hung out with us, whether porch, shed, garden, timber or grillside. She consistently greeted me, tail wagging, at my van door when I returned home. And she displayed unconditional love worthy of a church sermon, which our pastor once gave.

Commonly, farm families throughout the state own farm dogs fully intertwined with their outdoor lives. These dogs frequently spend entire days with their self-employed owners, ride in tractors and trucks, and sometimes herd livestock. Farm dogs often receive obedience training through kids’ 4-H projects and routinely serve as guardians. They protect homes and farms, alerting owners to anything from strangers in the driveway to raccoons in the yard.

At the veterinarian’s office, I gave the “farm dog” disclaimer when I saw the well-groomed indoor dogs in the waiting room. Oskee received baths in the warmth of summertime with the help of a big cattle mineral tub. The day before Oskee passed, the veterinarian looked our ailing farm dog in the eyes, petted her head and said, “She’s lived the good life.”

We buried Oskee in the backyard near the lilac bush. Even the cats seemed to grieve and joined us at the site for a prayer. I couldn’t help but shed a tear again by nightfall when I learned that our daughter had kept some locks of Oskee’s hair in a baggie like a kid’s first haircut. “She always left it everywhere,” our daughter said. Just as she left paw prints on our hearts.

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