I first met Billy after driving up to the small community of Badger to see a Catahoula female dog that was for sale. For the time I spent on my foothill property, it was important to have a good watch dog. So I drove up to Badger, and the breeder took me past some kennels to where a black and tan female was, and also Billy. The breeder opened the kennel, and both puppies bounded out; the female acting skittish, Billy was bounding around totally uninhibited, overjoyed to be able to romp and run. While she was busy worrying about the uncertainty of the kennel door being opened and two humans standing there, Billy was having fun.
I admit I didn’t know how to choose a puppy, but I figured that the black and tan would do. Also, her price was half what a Catahoula goes for, since her colors made her less than desirable and she was the last of the Mohicans. Standing there deciding if I should or shouldn’t, the breeder told me that if I take the female, she’ll give me Billy.
“He’ deaf’, she said. ‘We’re supposed to put the deaf ones away, but we don’t have the heart to do it’, she continued. Then she told me that he was a ‘piebald’, a term used to describe the condition of certain dogs with the merle gene where there isn’t enough pigment on their head, affecting the filaments in their ears, leaving them deaf.
‘He’ll make a good companion for her’, she said. ‘Also, because he’s deaf, he tracks better. Many hunters use deaf dogs because their sense of smell is more acute’, she explained. Yeah right. Well, I figured, since he was free, if he didn’t work out, I could always give him away, no money lost. So I forked over the money, and took the black and tan female, and Billy.
We named her ‘Luzy Anna’; a Louisiana dog needed a Louisiana name. She didn’t trust a thing, so skittish she was. But we hoped that she would get accustomed to us and be a good watch dog, and Billy’s ears.
A little at a time I allowed the two dogs to wander outside of their kennel. Luzy Anna was staying right with me, and Billy was romping around, again, full of energy.
Three days later, I was talking to a friend of mine on my cell phone when I realized a load of decomposed granite that I had ordered was arriving much sooner than I expected. I sort of panicked; I forgot the dogs were out of their kennel, and I was afraid that the truck driver would open the gate and my steers and donkey grazing down near the gate would get out. So I ran down the road. I knew the dogs were running with me, but I thought all would be well. I got to the gate just in time, as the steers and donkey were right there at the gate. From here, things were sort of a blur. They all spooked and ran off as I opened the gate for the truck. I rode with him up the road and he dumped the load. Then I rode down with him again in order to open the gate and close it after him. When the truck driver was gone, my first thought was, ‘where are the dogs?’ I hiked up the road to the bluff where the kennel was, gazed hopefully into the dog house, and there was Billy, sound asleep. But Luzy Anna was nowhere to be found. I searched and searched, but to no avail. Luzy Anna was gone. All I can figure is a bobcat was lying in wait somewhere. A little 4 month pup was no doubt a tasty morsel. I take responsibility for her demise; but things do happen. it has made me wiser, I hope.
So I was stuck with a deaf dog.
Actually, at the time, I had named him Mugsie. But the more I spent time with him, the name Mugsie just never took. He was Billy.
It was interesting tom e to see Billy maneuver about and around my donkey and steers I had. I called them, ‘Don Key Hotie (as in Quixote) and the Bad Apple Boys. Even though Billy got blasted a few times from the sudden kick of a steer, for the most part Billy kept his distance. He seemed content to frolic a safe distance away, finding fresh cow pies to wallow in. He would get covered with ‘Cow-Ven Kline’, or ‘Eau du Poo’. I got so mad at him, and tried to teach him to do otherwise, but finally resigned myself to the fact that after all, Billy was a dog.
And then there was Don Key. If ever there was an animal with murder in his heart, that was Don Key Hotie. No, he wasn’t mean to me or any of the grandkids, but Don Key Hotie HATED dogs. I guess it’s in his nature. Donkey was not to be trusted. He had the ’art of the kick’ down pat. Even when Billy was just minding his own business, Don Key Hotie would charge him and if Billy wasn’t fast enough, would stomp him with his hoofs. This happened several times- you’d think that Billy would learn, but I wonder if he ever really did. Once in a while though, Billy would cower down on his back just so show Donkey his submission, and Donkey- as murderous as he is, would spare Billy.
Billy Piebald. Billy became my companion. All through spring and half of the summer. Sitting in the trailer one warm summer evening Billy started barking up a storm. I went to check out what the fuss was, and curled up next to the gate was a rattlesnake. Billy saved the day! And a few days later, sitting in the trailer, I heard a YELP to high heavens. Billy was running around like he’d been bit. I heard a faint rattle, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Then the rattle would stop. I started walking around the trailer, and would hear it again. I had my .22 pistol with snake shot in it, but just couldn’t locate the where the rattle was coming from. Or was it a rattle? It sounded more like propane leaking from a hose. Then I saw underneath the trailer next to the tandem wheels, what looked like a toad, but it wasn’t a toad, it was a curled up rattlesnake. A few shots and he was like George Washington (history!) A little critter he was, but deadly as any of ‘em. Again, Billy saved the day. I checked him out really well, and realized that he was starting to swell. I called the vet and arranged an emergency visit. As fast as a bat out of ‘H E Double Hockey Sticks’ I was there, and Billy was put on an IV. The next day the vet called and told me to come get Billy. He was good to go… I picked him up, and all though he was swollen up like a St. Bernard and groggy as can be, he was the same Billy, just my good buddy.
It was after that incident that I realized that Billy needed ears. Not just ears, but a canine companion. So we started looking around for breeders with Catahoula pups and decided on a leopard faced little girl. My wife surprised me by arranging the transporting of her on my birthday, July 20, 2007. That was the first time I laid eyes on her… every name I might have had for a female pup got tossed completely out as I declared that her name was to be ‘Baby’. Common, perhaps, but Baby she is. Well, with ‘Beignet’ attached to it on her pedigree papers, yeah, but for all practical purposes, she is Baby.
So Billy now had a Bud, a LADY friend. And the two of them did famously well together, although I admit I was leery of Billy mauling her to death at the beginning. Of course as a little pup we kept them apart, but later, I was afraid that Billy wasn’t aware of his strength. So I kept a watchful eye on them. I called it the Bone Capers or Chronicles; the little intrigues that occurred over a bone. Actually, Baby was the selfish one. Whatever Billy had, she wanted. It didn’t matter that the two of them had a bone. I had to scold her several times. Billy appeared to be agreeable on all accounts. But once, in the kennel there was a major altercation and I really feared for Baby’s safety. I ran out there, and no doubt I over reacted. I scolded Billy severely. So severely, I hate to admit, that it established Baby as the alpha dog. Perhaps in the long run that was what needed to happen, since with his deafness he really couldn’t be the dominant of the two. I don’t know. I really don’t even know if that incident really contributed to the leadership roles of the two dogs. Regardless, I never knew another incident where Billy threatened Baby. If anything, it was the other way around.
Strange how two dogs can be so different. Billy and Baby would run up and down the fence line with Don Key Hotie back and forth on the other side. All were getting tremendous exercise; Don Key Hotie showing aggravation at these two varmints, at the same time baiting them on in some animal game. Baby was all business with her deep growl that belies her size and her nature. But for Billy, it was all a game. He loved it. And he would bite the fence, and put his head through it to nip at Donkey. Donkey would stop once in a while to meet the nip with a friendly lick. But all the while that murderous look was just beneath the skin.
Every morning I would let the dogs out of their kennel, greeting them with a little treat. Baby would swallow hers whole like a seal swallows a fish. Billy, on the other hand would run off with his, and I would see him toss it up in the air, and tromp it with his feet, playing with it. I will never forget how he would prance with his treat.
Or for lack of treat, of which Billy never seemed to hold against me, he would accompany me all the way back to the trailer. Baby would run off to who knows where. But Billy would stay right with me, wanting to put my hand in his mouth. So I made a fist, and he would ‘hold my hand’ all the way back up the hill to the trailer. Or, if I was through letting Billy hold my hand, he would run circles around me the whole time, and then run to the trailer door, standing at the steps, waiting for me to open it. And of course then I would have a treat for Billy. Baby would miss out, she had run off to who knows where.
Don’t anyone tell me a dog doesn’t have emotions. Billy showed his joy with those little treats. There were times the dogs would romp so much that it was visible to see FACIAL expressions of joy on Billy’s face! No one will ever tell me otherwise.
And he showed his LACK of joy a few times too. Like the times I had to go fetch him after one of his adventurous escapades. More than once I had calls from the neighbors. Every time, Billy acted as if I rained on his parade. He certainly knew when I wasn’t happy, and I knew when he wasn’t happy. I remember on one of our walks. I would tie Billy and Baby on opposite ends of a 30’ rope and go down the road, giving each of them as much rope as I could for their sniffing and frolicking pleasure, reeling them in close to me when a car came by. On this particular occasion they were really enjoying themselves, but it was time for me to turn around… but it wasn’t time for Billy to turn around yet. He was having too good of a time. He argued with me. Yes, he did. I could tell his displeasure. He wasn’t going to TURN around. Oh yes he is, I determined. If the term ‘hangdog’ had not been coined, trust me, I would have coined it that day. All the way back, Billy hung his head like a galley slave.
Also, back at our house in Visalia, Billy sometimes didn’t do well. ‘Neurotic’, my wife said. She was certain he was a few bricks short of a full load. I never really held it against him; after all, I am only too aware of my own hang-ups. So we made a good team. So if you read this, and you are perfectly normal, I pity you. You’ll never know the joy of doing those peculiar things crazy people do when no one’s listening or watching. Like singing to your dogs. I did it all the time; mind you, when no one was listening. In the pickup, going up to the ranch.
‘I love my Billy’s Boy,
I love my Baby’s Girl
I love my Billy’s Boy,
I love my Baby’s Girl
I love my Billy’s boy,
And my Baby’s Girl’
And My Don Key Hotie too’
And then I would slur it into ‘I love my Billy’s Boy, and my Billy’s Girl… and when I sang ‘boy’, it degenerated into a shreek like the shreek of an owl…. More like, ‘boyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy’
What fun us crazies have when we’re with our loving animals, who needs human company?
Dealing with a deaf dog was quite different than your normal dog who responds to voice commands. I had to teach Billy some hand signals, like ‘no’, and ‘don’t run from me, you little scoundrel, or I’ll whip the tar out of you’. Yes, I did have to teach Billy that I meant business, and he learned it. I am happy to say that after he learned I never had to follow through with any if my threats. Although Billy had his own likes and dislikes, he WANTED to please me. And that ‘don’t run from me’ signal was one of them that showed my displeasure.
Just the night or so ago, Billy had been running with his nose in the air, sniffing the scents. Something was amiss. Then a few minutes later the dogs went bonkers, bolting into the dark night. I got the floodlight out and shined it on the hillside and saw the feral hog that was rooting around for the first time. Bravo, Billy, you did have a good sense of smell.
I felt a good assurance having the dogs close by. One morning just a few weeks ago they bayed a short but incredibly fat rattlesnake under the trailer. Both were barking to the beat the band, and I looked out the window and saw the critter, went out with my .22 and took care of him. I had heard the stories the neighbors told about their brushes with rattlers. So the last few nights Billy and Baby were close at hand. They slept in the trailer with me. Billy would never come in unless I forced him, but once he was in, he was so happy I had to force him out when it was time to go out! And they seemed content to be right there, waiting for me. A treat, a romp, a hug. Let’s go see donkey. Let’s go open the gate. And that warning look of NOT going past the gate. We were buds together.
The last night of his life, I came driving up the road and saw Baby and Billy anxiously hoping that I would stop and let them out. I just couldn’t resist. I said to myself, ‘well, these dogs need to live until they die. ‘They don’t need to be cooped up in a kennel.‘ So I stopped and opened the kennel door. As always, Baby would run off into the night to who knows what and where. Billy would run up to the trailer steps, and wait for me to open it. I would again have to gently move him off to the side to get by, and give Billy a good chest rub and a bear hug. Then I’d have a treat for him, more recently one I call a ‘salmon nasty’. They are nasty smelling, but the dogs love ‘em. Then I’d say, ‘go play’. But more often than not, Billy would stay right there at the steps, just watching me. He was my guy. He loved me, I know he did. And I loved him so.
That particular night they were full of spunk, so I let them out of the trailer to let off their energy. I could tell they were back, as I heard them approach the trailer steps, that familiar sound that the dogs were close by.
But then an early morning call again. This time, Charlotte told me that if Billy wasn’t with me, that she was sure she knew where he was. I looked, and there was Baby, but no Billy. Then she said he was lying off the side of the road, and he was dead. That rascal, I thought, why could he not be content to just stay close by the trailer? After all the hundreds of feet of fencing I bought and put up, the times I scolded him for running off, and still he would go where he could get through, and on to the road.
So once more I went after him. I opened the gate and drove down the road past Charlotte’s gate. Somehow, I must have passed him, I thought. But no, down the road a few houses down, I saw him. Billy is buried up near Poo Hill. That may be Poo, as in Winnie the Poo to some of you, but Billy and I know otherwise.
I will have some adjusting to do. No more will I be able to sing my song about My Billy’s Boy’. And I don’t know how I can ever tell the grandkids any more stories about ‘How Billy saved the day’. At the present, I am a bit hesitant about even driving back up there. The days I spent blissfully without human company will somehow seem forlorn.
My wife brought up the subject of a ‘dog heaven’. I told her that I certainly am not going to get that carried away. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘the bible says that ‘he sees every sparrow fall’, in other words, He cares about each creature, so if He does, they can’t just cease to exist when they die.’ I don’t know, so I am not going to get all teary eyed with some warm and fuzzy feeling that Billy is in heaven. But on the other hand, the memory of those facial expression of joy that Billy would have on his face as he frolicked with Baby is just enough to leave me in doubt.