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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) One of Butch Jensen's dogs takes a break during a cattle drive from the desert lowlands to the high mountain pastures of the Tavaputs Plateau, Saturday, June 14, 2014.
Kirby: A love affair with another man’s dog

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Jun 22 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jun 22 2014 04:48 pm

Tavaputs Ranch »

The first time I saw Midge it was love at first sight. Sleek, beautiful and intelligent, she was a creature any man would have been proud to have at his side.

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Fully aware of her beauty and grace. Midge was aloof at first. But one quiet evening long ago I managed to catch her eye by offering her a piece of ham. A tenuous relationship was born.

Periodically, when the need is great, I sneak off to meet with Midge in a secluded place. Although infrequent, these assignations are enormously fulfilling. Or at least they are for me.

Midge tolerates my overtures but her heart already belongs to another man. She is a 12-year-old border collie and the inseparable partner of Butch Jensen at Tavaputs Ranch.

Named for a character on "That ‘70s Show," Midge has been herding cows since she was born. She’ll probably do it until she dies.

Last week, I helped with the semi-annual Tavaputs Ranch cattle drive. "Helped" is a relative term. My assistance amounted to staying on my horse and not making things worse for the real cowboys.

Things were already bad enough. The night prior to the drive, two range bulls got into a drunken brawl and bashed down the fence in Horse Canyon leading to some of the roughest country in the world.

Hundreds of cows and calves went anywhere they were of a mind to go. And because cows have brains the size of grapes, anywhere consisted of ledges, mud holes, thickets, gullies, cliffs and every saloon within 15 miles.

It was up to a dozen cowboys, six dogs, and me to regather the herd and get them up a 10-mile road that switchbacks to 10,000 feet.


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Cow dogs are invaluable for this kind of herding. Some places are too small for a horse and rider. So if a cow — and this almost certainly happens a lot in Carbon County — manages to wander into a bar, it’s up to the dogs to go in there and get her out.

Cows don’t appreciate this help, particularly cows with calves. New mother cows are limited to two trains of thought. The first is "Moo!" The second is "How’d you like a horn up your @%$&, pal?"

A good dog will help you out with the second. When a furious cow turned and charged into the side of my horse, she did so with a dog attached to all four legs.

Midge and friends saved my dignity and maybe even my life. I thought about that a lot in the long, dusty and bawling climb up to the ranch. Midge has a passion for doing what comes naturally to her.

Gray has crept into our hair, our sight has dimmed and arthritis has seized us in its vicious grip, but we’re still young somewhere deep inside ourselves. Every spring and fall for six years I have helped trail cows for Tavaputs Ranch.

In that time it’s gotten harder on both Midge and me. We’re older and our bones don’t sit as well. But we keep doing it because the spirit is willing even when the flesh is weak.

And sometimes the flesh isn’t even there. Midge only has three legs. In the fall of 2009, a horse stepped on a leg and broke it. It was either amputate or put her to sleep.

"Putting her down wasn’t even an option," Butch said. "She has to go with me. She’s the first one at my truck every morning."

Midge "cowboyed" on three legs for another two years before stepping into a stake hole on a flatbed truck. She hung from her leg until someone could rescue her.

Today Midge spends most of the time in the truck. But even crippled up, there are those moments when she can’t hang back. She’ll howl until someone lets her out of the truck to do what she loves.

Life eventually breaks all of us up. Doing what you love until the day you die is the only answer. We should all be as lucky as a cow dog on the Tavaputs.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.



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