Living a Good Life

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Photo courtesy Hank Will.
Oscar "Hank" Will III currently pastures Mulefoot hogs and Highland cattle, keeps a flock of chickens and turkeys, and grows a large food garden on his Osage County, Kansas, farm.

I’ve had dogs on the farm for more years than I can remember. Most have had some combination of working and companionship duties. Some slept in the house, some slept in the barn, and some had their own houses with enclosed runs to “protect” them while I was out and about. But at the end of the day, my dogs and I broke just about every rule imposed on dog owners. Some people want to keep their dogs fully restrained, but my approach is to celebrate their genetics and skills and simply let my canine companions live the lives they were bred to live within a framework of sufficient order, which lowers all of our anxiety levels.

Our 10-year-old Cairn Terrier, George, is a loyal companion. He lives to run the farm when we walk it, and no matter what manner of prey he flushes, he’s never out of voice range and never refuses to come when called. He loves to swim the ponds and the creek and to chase frogs, and he’ll happily stand back while our Border Terrier, Molly, works the rock piles and pack rat nests for vermin to dispatch, which she does with beautiful efficiency. Both of these dogs were bred to be farm workers, vermin killers, and companions. And they spend evenings on the couch or in front of the woodstove dreaming happily about their day’s romp.

Clover, my runt-of-the-litter Border Collie, spends her days and nights outdoors — she sleeps in the nest she creates every year in the hay barn. Clover isn’t very good at herding — she has the heading and healing thing confused — but we don’t need her for that work anyway. She’s done a wonderful job keeping the raccoons and possums off the farmyard for the past 10-plus years, and hawks leave the laying flock alone when she’s out and about. She’s a great friend, even if her mother trying to abandon her several times made her a little quirky. We love quirky.

Like me, all three of these old friends are stubborn yet obedient, have stiff joints, have had a few too many tick bites, and enjoy a little more shade on summer days. We now rely on Rupert, our 110-pound Great Pyrenees youngster with a fairly constant desire to play and work, to keep us all from getting too lazy. He too lives outdoors, and his low barking at night helps us sleep a little better. Rupert, like Clover before him, ignores the doghouse — I suspect because he works all night. Rupert is also not a friend of the local coyote pack, and he has significantly expanded our coyote-free zone.

I know that living an active life with higher-than-average exposure to danger could cut all of our lives a little short. But together, we’ve simply enjoyed our surroundings to the fullest. It’s been a good life.

If you’ve got any favorite dog stories to share, I’d love to know how you couldn’t imagine a world without your canine companions. Please send me an email at — send photos too, if you can — and we might be able to get some of your tales into a future issue.

See you in October,