Monday, October 15, 2007

Of the State Fair, Skidboot and Godliness

I was born in Queens, New York, but from age twelve, lived in Florida. Within a few years of my college graduation, I moved to Texas where I've made my home ever since.

Texas embraced me and, in return, I love this place. I recognize it's not for everyone. Many of the people are conservative and deeply religious. They are also the kindest, most generous folk I've ever known.

Two things happened today that put me in mind of the Texas spirit and a very special animal I'd like to introduce to you. I think the video I found will give you an understanding of why I love this state and its residents so much. The video is unashamedly over-the-top, in much the way the state itself is. But it works for me.

My good friend, Marilyn, depairs of my dogless state. She truly believes dogliness is next to godliness and considers my cats a poor substitute. Since my dog died two years ago, she has tried again and again to get me to adopt another. The first incident that happened today was her trying to persuade me to take a three-year-old German Shepherd/Pit Bull mix.

I explained for at least the thirtieth time that it wouldn't be fair to bring a dog into the house with a twenty-plus-year-old cat. Besides, when Tribble finally goes toward the light, I'm determined to get another Australian Cattle Dog.

Following that conversation with Marilyn, I talked this evening to a friend about going to the State Fair of Texas before it closes in six days.

I LOVE the State Fair of Texas--the biggest in the nation. I love the gaudiness, the noisiness, the crowds, the midway, the smells, the rides, the exhibits and the foods. Everything about it is simply wonderful.

Even so, going to the Fair just hasn't been the same for me since Skidboot stopped performing there every year.

Watch this video first for an introduction to Skidboot who appeared on Oprah, Leno, Letterman and Animal Planet. David's ranch in Quinlan is less than fifty miles from my home.

Supposedly, the Australian Cattle Dog was the result of cross-breeding experiments with at least two other dog breeds. While you're watching the video, look at Skidboot and try to identify those breeds.

Like Skidboot, my Molly was an Australian Cattle Dog. The dogs are prized here in Texas because they are such great herders. They're called Heelers because they nip at the heels of the cattle. They are generally one of two colors: red or blue.

Molly came into my life when she ran up to me on the street one day and announced she was moving in. I tried to explain that I already had a border collie and one herding dog was enough for anyone, but she wouldn't take no for an answer.

Molly was so bright and willful that managing her was a full-time job. I did some investigation into the breed trying to get a handle on her. The stories were fascinating although I suspect there's some question as to their validity.

The breed was supposedly started by Australian rustlers who were trying to steal cattle and needed a good herder. Border collies had the herding instinct, but two major drawbacks: They'd been bred to herd sheep, not cattle. Their jaws weren't strong enough for the larger ruminants. Moreover, border collies bark--a lot. Not a helpful trait in a thief.

In an effort to get a better dog for their purposes, the rustlers bred the border collies to pit bulls to get stronger jaws. Then they bred the new animals to the Australian dingo, which hunts silently.

The resulting breed was indeed quiet and had stronger jaws. Unfortunately, they were so vicious, they took down the calves instead of herding them.

Trying to improve the dogs' disposition and agility (and to encourage the herding genes instead of the killing genes), the rustlers bred their dogs to another herding dog, the dalmatian. This gave the new breed an undercoat with odd spots. Molly was red with white spots while Skidboot was blue with white spots.

Yes, I said Skidboot "was." The dog with the big heart and willing spirit died this past March. He is buried under a sprawling tree on David's ranch.

I guess now you can see why thoughts of a dog and the State Fair brought me to Skidboot, the amazing cattle dog.

1 comment:

JulieR said...

I've done some research as well and have raised three heelers. I've never heard of a pit bull being part of the mix. Would you mnind sharing where you found that information?