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The Rancher

by Careese Habets

Bronx walked by his master’s side. To the other humans who came by his name was simply ‘Amos’, but to Bronx he was The Rancher. Today, they were doing a morning check to make sure everything was properly arranged for the chickens, pigs, cows, and various other animals on The Rancher’s farm. If any animal or human dared threaten the livestock, Bronx would personally see to it that he or she would never get out of that situation without a nasty bite. Bronx growled softly, and was so worked up he almost missed the scent of coyote, right next to the chickens coop. It was faint, as though it had been there since sundown without any dog noticing. And only one dog had patrolled last night…

Cassie leapt playfully at Bronx as he entered the barn with The Rancher. Cassie was what The Rancher called a ‘Greyhound’. Bronx was apparently a Black and Tan Coonhound. But Bronx was in no mood to playfight. Instead, he snapped at her ears, making sure not to bite them but being fierce and grumpy enough to make sure that the message got through. Cassie leapt back and ducked her head submissively. “Coyotes got into the chicken’s coop,” Bronx growled. “You were supposed to be on patrol. The Rancher is furious!” Cassie now looked alarmed. “But I thought that I checked all the coops very carefully. How did a coyote get past? Their stench could wake a sleeping dog from a mile away.” From his far-off corner in the barn, Rocky, a Border Collie sat up swiftly. “A coyote? Where there’s one, there’s always a pack!” At that moment, The Rancher came in with a grim look on his face. He muttered a few words that no dog understood, then barked a plain, simple order at the dogs. “Sheep. Come.” The three dogs trotted happily towards the barn door at this order, and Rocky was practically beside himself with joy as he ran to the barn door. Border Collies, according to The Rancher, were dogs who were ‘sheep dogs’, meaning they would really enjoy taking care of sheep.

As The Rancher opened the gates to let the sheep out, the dogs took their positions to guide the sheep to the pasture where they would graze with the goats and cows, Bronx on the left, Cassie on the right, and Rocky in the middle, as he always took the lead when it came to sheepherding. Not that Bronx was jealous, because, to be quite honest, the black and white dog was the best shepherd they had. Also, taking the lead meant barking out orders so that the others could properly and understand what to do. The sheep came out slowly, unsurely, but Rocky quickly took care if that, timing his barking perfectly, as he ran around in circles, herding the sheep towards the gate. “Straggler, Bronx!” came the bark. “On your left!” Bronx looked to his left and saw a sheep wandering towards the duck enclosure. Bronx raced after it, barking and overtaking the sheep in a matter of seconds, then herding it back to the rest of the flock. It gave a bleat of thanks, then rejoined the flock. After a few more moments, all the sheep were safely in the pasture, with the dogs close by in case trouble came. Bronx took a moment to look at the farm. On the right, there was the pig’s sty, occupied by five very grumpy pigs. On the left, there was a duck enclosure, consisting of eleven ducks, with a small pond that minnows and trout tended to live in. Sometimes The Rancher would get a stick with a line attached and put a worm on it. Then he would lower the line into the pond, and in a while, he’d yank it back up with a big, juicy trout on it. Also on the left, there were three chicken coops with a mesh fence around it, and in chicken coop two, The Rancher had gotten some cleaning supplies and was wiping the blood and feathers away. And then, directly in front of the pasture there were two things: the barn and the house. The barn had three gates and one door. The middle gate housed the cow’s sleeping quarters, the left housed the sheep’s, and the middle housed the goats. The door led to the tack room and the dog’s sleeping quarters. And the house was just The Rancher’s sleeping quarters. It was quite small, only eight dog-lengths in every direction. And then, beyond that was a blackpath, where cars would roar past occasionally.

At last, the day came to an end. The dogs herded the animals back to their pens, then Bronx took night patrol. But as he was just about to go inside, he caught a whiff of coyote. Bronx decided to follow the trail, telling himself he could always turn back, and that the others were in barking distance. And then he caught sight of some silverly fur in the moonlight. Bronx couldn’t stop the growl that rose in his throat. Then a whole pack of coyotes sprang forth out of the darkness. Bronx howled desperately, and then did a quick count of the coyotes in front of him. There were eight. Bronx felt like despairing. Even if The Rancher brought his gun, they might not win without losing a few chickens or sheep. Then he felt Cassie by his side, and heard Rocky not far behind. Cassie flew forward, using her great speed to her advantage. Bronx followed suit, and when Rocky got there a few seconds later, he was fighting as well. “Hold the line!” Bronx barked. “Don’t let them past.” However, a particularly smug coyote managed to break the line. But he didn’t get far before the dogs heard a loud bang! It was The Rancher! But despite one coyote being dead, there were still seven more. The dogs were forced back and two more coyotes broke their line. “Fall back!” Bronx howled, “Protect the animals!” Rocky obeyed, and Cassie set about chasing down the coyotes and driving them into the other dogs, or pouncing on them as though they were elk she was hunting. But Bronx noticed something strange. Yes, The Rancher had killed a coyote, but then why was there only five left…

A pungent smell entered Bronx’s nostrils and alerted him before anything else could have. Dirty gray fur was lurking in the shadows behind The Rancher. Bronx barked to alert him of danger, and his paws pounded desperately towards him. The Rancher shot the coyote easily, but Bronx knew it wasn’t over. There! As The Rancher bent down to check if the coyote was dead, a gray monster leapt at his throat, planning to kill The Rancher in one blow.

But Bronx was faster. He jumped and caught the coyote in the throat before she could sink her gleaming fangs into The Rancher. It fell, killed instantly, as all the coyotes howled in rage.

The next few minutes Bronx could not make sense of anything except the coyotes howling and telling one another to get the farm animals in their strange, snarling voices. “Gets pigs, coyotes will.” “Also, revenge, coyotes get.” “Sheepies too, coyotes will eat.” “Revenge for alpha coyote we’s will get.” This only lasted a minute or two before they all fled, with Cassie, Rocky, and Bronx chasing them all away, onto the blackpath.

It wasn’t as bad as Bronx expected. Only one pig and two sheep were killed. When the dogs were chasing the coyotes away, it was nearly dawn. And then a car came by.

The human in the car had been interested in the story of the coyotes, and took a picture of Bronx and The Rancher to put in a newspaper. The headline: Hero Dog Saves Owner from Coyotes.

And that is why The Rancher kept the picture.