Gyps Adopted Pup
Gyps Adopted Pup

Gyp’s Adopted Pup

by Gary Oberbillig of Olympia, WA

When the stray pup bumbled out of the woods he was a tangled knot of frizzy-haired charm. To the human family on the farm, the hungry pup had a definite appeal, so they fed him all he wanted, and then let him stay around to see how he’d work out.

But Gyp, the trail-scarred coon hound on the farmhouse porch, opened a sleepy eye, sampled the breeze, thumped the floor boards twice with his tail, then adopted the pup with a whole heart.

Gyp was not a dog to invite overly familiar ear-scratches, and with strangers, the careful back of a hand offered for sniffing seemed to define the limits of his comfort zone. His name spoke about gypsy wandering while nosing down a hot scent, and of ‘gyppo’ loggers, the independent catch-as-catch-can lumberjacks of the Western states, who sometimes followed their hounds on midnight rambles.

I couldn’t help grinning to watch the hound soberly mentoring his adopted pup in dutiful canine behavior, and it was even better to witness the occasions when the hound was lured into puppy-time rough housing.

I got to know the two dogs well, because all that year, I had been photographing my friend John Davis, as he worked his small dairy farm with his teams of Belgian draft horses.

Gyps Adopted Pup

His farming strategy was to use the farm’s old barn as it was first intended, as a clever 19th century tool for putting up loose hay for his animals. The underside of the old barn’s ridge-beam carried a steel rail where a rope and pulley system rode. Attached to this were hay tongs ready to grapple big bunches of hay off a waiting wagon, and lift them up to the hayloft door. Once lifted by the team of horses, an ingenious piece of hardware caused a protruding pin at the top of the rising pulley to abruptly change the upward pull to horizontal, and whisk the hay into the barn loft.

John raised oats for his hay crop, and he would monitor the developing grain closely each day during the late summer. The oats would be ready to cut just as the young grain came into ‘the milk,’ a critical stage where the soft developing kernels could easily be crushed on a thumbnail. This test would tell just when the grain’s nourishing power had reached its peak as a hay crop, and it seemed a reliable sign, for John’s horses and milk cows were thriving.

Achieving this goal took a very heavy work load, for in addition to the never-ending work of tending and milking the dairy herd, he’d had to teach himself all the old skills of horse craft. The farm’s lean profit line provided no extras for specialists like blacksmiths for shoeing the horses, and seldom for veterinary surgeons. Out of necessity, John had become an expert blacksmith and practical doctor to his stock, and shortly all he’d learned would be needed.

The pup and the hound lazed and played through the late spring, as the pup learned proper dog behavior and the hound snored through foot-twitching dreams of old chases.

The farmyard’s year grew a sharp point when the pup heedlessly took a nap behind the rear wheel of a visiting pickup truck. When John’s friend backed up, the wheel passed directly over the puppy’s hindquarters, dislocating both his hips. With the pup’s staccato yelps of pain, Gyp went totally berserk. He raged and tore at the pickup tires, clawed at the doors and jumped for the windows, trying to get at the driver.

After the truck driver had retreated back down the lane, John was able to approach the pup, and with all the skill he had gained over the years of doctoring his animals, he gently, but with great strength, popped the small pup’s hip joints back into their sockets.

He carried the pup over to the front porch, where the puppy crawled into the dark space under the stairs. For a couple of weeks the puppy stayed there, coming out only for bites of food and water. All that time, faithful Gyp stood guard, critically sniffing over any strangers who ventured into the farmyard, and especially those passing anywhere near the porch. Gyp’s menacing, stiff legged walk spoke as clearly as any warning signpost, and I’m a careful reader of such canine signals.

Adam, John’s young son, was the only one on the farm that Gyp trusted to pick up his pup and casually sling him over his shoulder. Or maybe he simply regarded them both as young pups that needed to be looked after and protected.

Several times during the summer, John’s logger buddy made attempts to visit, but the guardian hound simply would not allow it. And while the farm’s other animals or their human counterparts never appeared to be aware of the enemy’s early approach, Gyp always knew.

Minutes ahead of a visual sighting, Gyp’s nose would go up, followed by the stiff ridge of hair along his back. He would cock an ear, and fire would flame up in his eye. Every sense he possessed would be sucking information from the taste of the breeze, and from the ground vibrations telegraphing news, and from the distant hum of the hated truck motor, different from any other. By the time the pickup’s sound could be heard by human ears, Gyp was in full alert. Rigidly he rose up, as if pulled by a puppeteer’s tightening strings, and his snarls revved up to match the approaching truck motor. When it appeared, he lunged wildly to the attack.

Once again he clawed at the paintwork, did his savage best to shred the tires, and jumped high up the door panel, snapping for the driver, who was very glad to be behind closed windows.

Then the truck window would roll down a careful inch, and a voice muttered “see ya later!” And just before the pickup turned around in full retreat, a voice, faint and hopeful said, “d’ya think I should try some kinda dog treat next time?” What the driver apparently never recognized was that this was a case of hard-core hatred, and the only dog treat Gyp the hound craved, was a good satisfying bite of logger.

As summer passed, the pup healed, but Gyp never relaxed his vigilance. As the pup got older, he seemed to be trying to puzzle out what his farm specialty might be. His small size and brindle-gray coat pointed to Australian stock dog ancestry, and sometimes it seemed as if he was sniffing the wind for traces of a distant flock of sheep to boss around. A sense of duty tugged at him as he got stronger, and he gamely followed John on farmyard chores, often underfoot, but utterly sincere in his offers of assistance.

Half a mile downhill and across the knee-deep Union river, John’s hay crop was getting ready to mow. One morning, John hitched the team to the wagon and splashed across the shallow stream in preparation for the day’s mowing.

In the past the pup had sometimes tried to follow, but he always got held up by the long stretch of the hill and the little river. An alert Gyp always accompanied him on these attempts, and Heaven pity any coyote, bobcat or even cougar that might try to take advantage of the pup’s weakened hindquarters.

A couple of days after the mowing started, the pup and Gyp somehow made it all the way down the hill and across the river. The pup found the energy to frisk around a little, following the mouse trails and trying to get Gyp to join in. Then, clearly exhausted, he decided to take a nap in the shade of the tall uncut oats, and the spot he chose was right in the dangerous path of the mowing machine.

Gyps Adopted Pup

I flagged John down just in time, and he stopped the team and walked up to where the pup was snoring away in shaded contentment. “What this farm surely does not need is a three-legged dog,” John grimaced, looking down. “Could you maybe carry him back across the river, and up the hill? I don’t believe he’d try to come back. Looks like he’s about had it for today.”

“We-e-ll– sure,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. There was no problem in fording the shallow river while carrying the pup, nor even in walking up the hill carrying him. The problem was Gyp’s hair-trigger protective nature, because in all this time, I’d barely had the nerve to pet the pup with Gyp in watchful attendance.

But Gyp the hound had grown to trust me just a little over the course of the summer. Still, I knew that if the pup objected to being carried away from this exciting mouse bonanza, and gave one tiny yip of pain or protest, there was no doubt what Gyp’s response would be.

I hung my camera bag on a corner fence post and carefully picked up the drowsy pup, and chose my footing through the newly cut oat stubble. And all the time I was trying to keep a very cautious eye on Gyp.

Gyp’s response was curious, for he never once lifted his lip to snarl, but instead the ridge of aggressive hair on his back silently rose up or settled back, tuned to each imagined threat to his pup. The silent dog, stalking stiff-legged behind me seemed even more menacing in his silence, for there would be no rumble of a growled warning to signal his intentions.

I waded across the shallow river, with the pup wiggling in protest, but thankfully not protesting out loud, even though he was clearly unwilling to leave the scene of the action. As I splashed out of the stream, and the hill steepened, and my footing grew even more uncertain, Gyp continued his soundless circling alongside and behind me, stiff hair going up, and hair going down.

I’ve been blessed with an excellent imagination, and a patch of skin on my hind end began to tingle, then burn, like the feel of a red hot iron pressed to my skin. It was right where I imagined Gyp’s punishing teeth would first make contact.

Luck certainly plays a part in all risky undertakings, and about this time the puppy decided he liked being carried uphill, and fell sound asleep. Gyp, dutiful old hound that he was, never stopped his watchful circling around me, and my gratitude for his understanding was considerable.

It always brings a grin to remember that hayfield summer and two good dogs. One, filled with protective courage to defend his pup for as long as it was needed, and the other always trusting, far more than the world allows, and earnestly looking for a job to do.