We got a bunch of good fer nothing dogs that run loose all around the county island, such as our friend Lisa the Bad Beagle who I already told you about, who’s what you’d call a regular. Over the years, there’s been other dogs come and gone, like the entirely too happy giant rottie and pit bull who’d bounce and slobber all over our gal, right inside our own corral, while she was telling ‘em in a sing-song voice to git on home now good dogs (I think she was convincin herself of the good dogs part), and the furry yellow lab/chow concoction that’s always breakin loose and runnin down his driveway, cuttin through our corral on his way out (he never slows down long enough for me to get a name, and Lisa says she don’t know), but none was ever so dang dogged and in dire need of havin some discipline drilled into ‘em by a ranch horse as the dog named Rusty.
It was barely dawn on the day I want to tell you about, during the hot time of the flies. Rusty had set to showin up right as the sun came up each mornin, to go ridin with us. Rusty told us he belonged to no one – said he was a wild and free-roamin dog. But in truth, he was kinda kept by some folks down the road, whose horses said they’d found him one day in the desert when he persisted in tailin after ‘em on a trail ride and followin ‘em back to their horsebox to come home with ‘em. Rusty said he liked the folks alright ‘cause they fed him, but said he had too many places to go that he just couldn’t stay tied down. Literally. Nobody could keep Rusty tied. Or fenced in. And so he’d wander over to hang out with us in the early mornins, then make the rounds to the other little ranches on the island to get up in their business all mornin, too, and see and do whatever a dog wants to see and do until he got a hankerin to go on home for lunch when it was finally too dog-gone hot.
Daily I had to re-explain the dog rules to him because they would not stick properly in his head: Dogs can come ridin with me if they stay outside the circle I draw around myself by swingin my head from side to side and pinnin my ears to iullustrate the circumference, as its called, of the no-dog zone. Stay outa the no-dog zone when I say so, and dog, you and me, we got no problems. Set your paw inside the no-dog zone, and it may get stomped on. It’s likely. If dogs on the county island had jobs to focus on while we was ridin, instead of too much idle time to act like overgrown puppies, the island would be a better-run place.
So there was Rusty the free soul bouncin along beside us on that mornin as we set out ridin through the wash, and scootin in and outa the no-dog zone because he could, and generally barkin and waggin and bein a imbecile in order to try to get a rise out of me. A wash, by the way, ain’t got nothing to do with washin except when the big water comes and washes everythin away, like it did this time <https://countyisland.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/dumpster-diving/> . Mostly a wash has just got sand, and sometimes it’s as deep as it is dusty and dry. And some washes have got rattlesnakes livin along the edges of ‘em in the hot times, and rattlesnakes is among the grumpiest animals there is anywhere, on any island, and the most humorless.
What does have a sense of humor, and it ain’t a good thing, is a coyote. Coyotes is smart dogs. Wild dogs. Dogs whose entire jobs is survival. And when they ambushed Rusty that mornin, practically under my nose, he thought they was a bunch of new friends come to play with him, cause a county island dog ain’t got no sense of survival for the real world.
The first one appeared outa the creosote bushes and hopped in front of Rusty. “Wanna play?” it wagged at him, and winked, a long, skinny coyote with matted fur and desperate eyes. Right then, two more wiry ones came at him from behind, snappin at his back legs. Rusty bounced even more and started waggin his whole body and yappin all excited: “Hooray, let’s all play!” My gal took hold of my reins but I could tell she wasn’t gonna take charge fast enough, nor did she have the authority in this situation, so I flattened my ears against my head so hard they was likely to stick there and right-quick I slammed myself in between them coyotes and Rusty.
A coyote ain’t gonna take on a full-growed, pissed-off ranch horse, ‘specially not when I fix ‘em with the “no-dog zone look.” They like to pick on someone their own size if they got a pack to back ‘em up, or preferably someone smaller. By then I was in full-blown dog-stompin mode, I tell you what. I was cuttin this way and that way while my gal was waving her arms and makin noises to try to scare them coyotes and call Rusty back, who was still bouncin in circles without a clue. But the pack wasn’t gonna give up on him so easy.
I was surely a force to be reckoned with that mornin. A blur of golden guts n glory, packin a mean palomino punch, drillin down those wild dogs like Rusty’s life depended on it, which, in fact, it sorta did. When the dust finally settled, I’d got Rusty turned back toward home, still carryin on like a damned fool, and them coyotes was sulkin in the shadows in the palo verdes, lickin their lips. From the saddle, my gal reached down and stroked my mane, praisin me for my extreme bravery.
Rusty never did thank me for it. I still don’t think he even entirely knows what went down in the wash that mornin. But that’s alright. I mean, I’m used to it. Bein in charge, and bein right all the time, is a mostly thankless job, but a ranch horse has always got to do his job.