A ranch dog is a dog for working. That’s what I was taught growing up, along with adages like “the stock eat before you do” and “don’t turn the cows into pets.” But none of the old rules seemed to apply to Mouse.
The size of a loaf of bread, the Chihuahua-pug mix was an unlikely addition to our pack of stock dogs. But a cousin couldn’t keep her, and my normally stoic parents were besotted from the first time they picked Mouse up and she gave her customary grunt of greeting, wagging her thin tail and licking their fingers.
My brother and I were similarly entranced—if a little baffled by the way my parents fawned over her. Mouse had free reign, while the stock dogs were tied up at their kennels. She tip-tapped behind as Mom finished the morning chores. Sometimes the mud in the corrals was so high that Mom would have to pick Mouse up before she sank, but the dog always contributed to the daily work: barking at sheep, trembling as the horse snorted and bent to eat his alfalfa, chasing the barn cats. The only time she refused to do the rounds was when Mom put a little raincoat on her. Then, Mouse stayed on the porch as if ashamed to be seen by the working dogs.
Mouse was sneaky and possessed an iron stomach. We once returned from building a fence to find our lunches gone and the little dog sprawled out, snorting with the discomfort of being overfull. From then on, we always took her with us—even if it meant propping her up in one of our saddles while we were herding. To Mouse’s credit, she did bark at the cows, although her aggression seemed to confuse them more than anything else.
When Christmas Eve rolled around, more presents were under the tree for Mouse than for us kids. The poor stock dogs never got any presents—they weren’t even allowed in the house. And we wouldn’t be allowed to touch our stockings or presents until after chores.
On Christmas morning, we didn’t have to wait for Mom to wake us up—she was already busy shouting at Mouse. Although Santa had taken the stockings down from the fireplace, he hadn’t put them back on the mantel with care. In the night, Mouse had crawled up onto the counter and eaten every bit of our Christmas candy—and didn’t look the least bit unhappy about it. She bowed her head as Mom shouted, but went right on wagging her tail.
We couldn’t imagine finding a vet who’d be open to see her on Christmas Day, and she seemed fine—enjoying the attention as we unwrapped her many presents. Miraculously, the only side effect was some festive foil-wrapped poop.
Mouse came with us to the barn to do chores that morning, glad to escape the house. Amid the chaos, we still hadn’t opened our own gifts. After all, the stock eat before you do—unless your name is Mouse.