How a dog’s life measures time…

How a dog’s life measu
res time
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

The first year my husband and I got married, we lived in the little house in the barnyard where my dad was raised, unloading all the earthly possessions a pair of 23-year-olds can acquire in the short and broke spans of our adult lives — hand-me-down lamps and quesadilla makers. By the time we emptied our car and unwrapped our presents there was barely any room left for walking.

And so I did what any responsible 20-something newlywed with an uncertain future would do: I got my husband a puppy for his 24th birthday.

Dog in the stock tank

It’s been more than 10 years since I chose him from the swarm of his wiggly brothers and sisters. I picked him up and he melted in my arms the way kind creatures often do.

And then the woman warned me.

“Big dog, more poop to clean up. That’s what I always say,” she declared.

And she was right. He is big. His paws make tracks like a wolf in the mud and his tail clears a coffee table with one sweep while he runs to the door enthusiastically to welcome guests, sometimes with an accidental and oblivious swat to the groin.

And while he spends most of his time outside these days, grunting while he rolls around scratching his back on the lawn before picking up the giant stick I swear he’s saved for five years, when he does come inside, he still wonders why he can’t sit on the couch with me.

Me and the dog in the grass

Because in his mind he is fluff, weightless and wishing to fit in the palm of a hand all the while working to squeeze his body between the small nooks of this house, taking up the limited space available for walking.

But what he is in cumbersome, he’s always made up for in manners, polite and happy to move out of the way when prompted, not recognizing that perhaps he may indeed be fluff after all … and the rest of his 110 pounds is taken up by his heart.

But 10 years weighs heavy on a dog. White hair has appeared around his snout and his eyes droop a bit. His winter fur is slower to shed. Tonight we’ll go for a walk and he’ll hang by me instead of running ahead to kick up pheasants. If I have to take him in the pickup these days, I have to hoist him, heave-ho style, all 110 pounds.

I hoped our babies might grow up with him, but it all took too long and he’s beat them to the growing thing. I didn’t know when I made him part of our lives how those big paws would track time. I hope we have him around for many more years, but I didn’t know when I chose him, when we were so young, how fast a dog’s life goes…

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“Where the deer and the mis-guided pug with an identity crises play…”

If I had to estimate the miles I have trudged around the hills of this ranch since moving back a year and a half ago I will go out on a limb and shout out loud with my hands in the air (because I talk with my hands) “Hundreds!”

I know this is probably not accurate. I know it’s likely exaggerated a bit, but it sounds good. It sounds like a number I am content with considering that whenever I have a moment to spare to clear my head, find my breath, get my blood pumping or look for inspiration, I find myself bundling up, grabbing my camera and climbing to the top of the nearest butte, crouching down in the creek beds, or trudging in the fields above our house searching for the horses.

It’s a ritual that can’t be beat. One that never fails to put me right with the world actually.

Have you ever finished a giant meal full of more carbohydrates than a woman should consume in a week while watching the latest episode of “The Biggest Loser?”


Me neither.

But if I were to engage in such unhealthy behavior that left me with a feeling that resembles a mix of “no self-control” and a very present tinge of “self loathing”, a walk in those hills with the wind blowing through my hair and flushing my cheeks would clean the ick right out of me. Not to mention put a very necessary dent in the calories consumed and a much-needed burn in my calf muscles.

And all of the huffing and puffing in the prairie wind also happens to be a nice quick fix for writer’s block as well as those unavoidable gloomy moods where you are certain the universe planted that slipper in the middle of the floor just to trip you.

The universe or your husband.

And if I were ever to have a fight with said husband over said slipper that starts with a joke only one of us thinks is funny and ends with none of us laughing, I am comforted knowing that the cure lies in the entryway where at least one-pair of boots is waiting for me to save them from the depressing depths of the closet and get them out into a world full of dirt and sunshine and cool breezes and snow and maybe an adventure…

And you know who else is waiting out there for me to overdose on carbs, get stuck on the last line of a new song, pick a fight with the hubby, or, you know, avoid the laundry?

Yup, you guessed it.

My P.ICs, my M.V.Ps…

My D.O.G.s

Yup. They never miss a chance to escort me on old cow trails, rocky hilltops and slushy creek beds. Because they too think slushy creek beds are the best. And it doesn’t much matter if they are a few miles over the hill visiting their girlfriends at mom and pop’s, or rolling in poop below the barn, or catching a really good nap in a sunny spot by the garage, as soon as they hear the door knob turn they are at the door wagging their butts at the idea that we are going somewhere.

In rain, or snow, or, well, you know, a blinding blizzard, my loyal companions are ready for me to go anywhere…at anytime.

Oh, to have that much trust mixed in with an even greater amount of passion for things like sniffing and running and munching on dead things. What a life!

And I love it. I do. They are my constant, fluffy, four-legged, slobbery, poop sniffing, leg lifting, floppy eared, droopy faced, smooshy faced, out-of-place companions.

But let us take a moment to note that nowhere in my description of my furry friends is there an adjective that is synonymous with the following terms: regal, photogenic, award-winning, gorgeous, nobel, handsome, agile, graceful, rustic, poetic, inspiring or the quality some living things posses that make those witnessing them actually slow the object’s motion down in their imaginations in order to fully absorb the grandeur of their presence…you know, like when the hot chick enters the library and lets her hair down in your favorite tween movie.

No, my pups have never been anyone’s love interest, nor will they be appearing in any major motion pictures anytime soon.

Unless there is a sequel to “Homeward Bound.” If they make that I’ll be putting together some audition tapes of my cats following the dogs following the horses following the cows in the home pasture.

Now that’s a sight for the big screen.

A comical sight, but this is my life. 

And a comedy is the only category these hounds fit into really. Which, in turn, makes it challenging to really focus on the contemplative, inspiring, whimsical, natural, meditative, stunning and magical photographs I am shooting to capture on these jaunts out on the countryside when Tweedle Dee and his BFF Tweedle Dumb are high tailing it for the nearest stock dam…

Or, you know, doing things like this…

Dog in the stock tank

Needless to say I spend a majority of my time on these walks shouting at the dogs to get the hell out of the frame and a few extra editing moments at the computer weeding out the unwanted dog tail, snout, foot and always present butt that might have snuck its way into one of my beloved sunset/landscape/horse/babbling creek/rainbow/wildflower photos.

Case in point:

Without dogs:

With dogs:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Somehow a photograph of a North Dakota sunset says something a bit different with a profile of a flat nosed pug and a droopy faced lab silhouetted in the forefront.

But what, exactly, does it say?

“Home, home on the range, where the deer, the mis-guided pug with an identity crises and a prematurely aging labrador play …”

And as much as I’ve tried to make the lab look nobel and stoic sitting strong against the backdrop of the rolling prairie, the orders aren’t rushing in for a 20X30 framed and matted photograph of a 105 pound chocolate hunting dog with drool flinging off of his droopy lips due to the relentless wind of the day…no matter how big his heart

For some reason nobody is in desperate need of that work of art to hang over their fireplaces to complete the warm and sexy look of their home.

It’s the same reason that this shot here:

is just a bit more appealing than, say, this shot:

No, we’re just not ready to appreciate and celebrate the spirit that these types of life-loving creatures can bring to a beautiful landscape.

Take a look at this shot for instance. Here we have a handsome group of long horn steers, a symbol of the rugged west, a story waiting to be told of cowboys and wide open range and a lifestyle that is adventurous and brave.

Now throw a pug in the mix and, well, that beautiful poem is instantly replaced with that childhood song “one of these things is not like the other/one of these things just doesn’t belong…”

Now that’s what I call contemplative.

Ah, yes. There are a hundred pictures like this. Hundreds of photos of the hundreds of miles these to yahoos have spent running the trails in front of me, sniffing in the brush, licking my face when I lean in close to the ground to get a close shot of a flower, or coming to my rescue when I lay down in the grass to look up.

And I am aware that when I crop out the wandering tail, the meandering paw and the occasional out of control floppy ear, this landscape looks the way it was meant…authentic, natural and pure…

But sometimes I like to keep in a squishy nose or a blur in the grass to remind me that , well, sometimes when you’re looking for inspiration, relaxation, and escape from the stresses of the world, the best medicine is to remember your sense of humor…

And that life is nothing without good company. And  I would walk a million miles in those hills with these two clowns.


and ever…