Saturday, November 15, 2008
An Agrarian Dog
Last night my wife an I drove 20 miles north to an Amish Dairy farm, and brought home a Rat Terrier puppy. My wife and I considered the matter carefully following the death of our beloved German Shepherd. We both like having a watchdog-not an attack dog; just a dog that lets us know that someone is in the driveway. A watchdog gives us time to see whether putting on an extra supper plate, or grabbing a shotgun is in order. My cowdog is too old and set in her routine to live indoors. We decided a smaller dog would be a nice change for our small house. We were looking for a Feist or rat terrier, which are really two strains of the same dog.
I believe the pup is the 23rd dog I have owned in my life. When I was a little agrarian kid, we always had at least a couple of rat terriers around, often with a touch of beagle blood. Unlike Jack Russell Terriers, the Rat Terriers always seem to be more calm and biddable. Yet they still have courage to spare. My childhood dogs would flush the pheasants that were plentiful then and push rabbits from the brush piles. Unlike a beagle,they would come home when I was ready to quit hunting for the day. We seldom had cats, but the dogs would chase mice and rats with glee. Nobody pulled in the driveway without their yapping, and they were clean house dogs. These dogs were a multi generational part of life here. The oldest picture I have of my father shows him at about age five with a litter of terrier pups. I have an older picture of my grandfather and my oldest uncle, probably about 1915, with a little feist type dog in the picture.
In reading the history of these little dogs, I learned that my family was not exceptional in keeping them. They were an integral part of traditional American small farms across the country. Their heyday lasted until the 1940's and 1950's when chemical rat poisons began to replace terriers on farms.
So what to name an agrarian dog? there seemed to be one obvious choice---Wendell.