My dog, Peanut, and I have a morning routine these days: When he hears me scoop up chicken feed and slip on my chore boots, he comes prancing to the back door. His job is to bounce in circles around me while I walk to the chicken yard. If it isn’t too cold to linger, I trade the feed pitcher for his rope toy, and he shows off how fast he can race across the yard for about five minutes. By the end of that performance, he’s ready to nap until lunchtime at least.
As many of you know, I live in town and have no real need for a working dog – the chickens are my only livestock, and they live in a fenced-in run. Something tells me a guardian dog for four hens whose greatest danger is the young red-tailed hawk that likes to lurk on the power line out back would be overkill. Neither do I have enough work to occupy a herding dog, unless it could be taught to round up the chipmunks that seem to have constructed an extensive series of condos in the garden.
So, unlike the working breeds I grew up with, which included a pair of collies that regarded my siblings and I as their charges, a foxhound that regularly chased opossums and raccoons up trees and under rose bushes, and a black Labrador that never did master the “retriever” part of his breed, the dog I chose to add to my household was a greyhound. I tell him he’s decorative, and in most ways, he truly is. If he were to have a job, it’d be to chase and, perhaps, dispatch the variety of rodents that make off with my produce all summer. Someone thought he’d be a racer once. Unfortunately, he’s terrible at chasing critters – a trait the chickens appreciate. Instead, Peanut comes outside to keep me company when it’s time to weed the garden or harvest. He likes to sniff every egg, tomato, and flower I pick, just in case they might be treats for very beautiful unemployed dogs. And he prances around every morning, showing off how fast he can be when he wants to.
Although I’ve heard it said that there isn’t much space to spare for creatures without jobs on a farm of any size, even one as small as four hens and a vegetable garden in town, I wonder how many of us have animals whose jobs are to make us laugh. A small farmer of my acquaintance keeps a donkey with her llamas, largely for his amusing commentary when she brings hay to the field. I’m also reminded of the Yorkshire farmer from James Herriot’s stories who kept his aging draft horses long past their working lives, carrying their hay to them every day down the steep slopes of his land. I’d love to hear about your animal companions, retired or simply jobless.