by Jim Bulls
When I was a child, my experience with dogs was somewhat limited. We did have a dog on the farm in Texas, but he wasn’t considered a pet. Shep was a shepherd-mix, just a farm dog. He had work to do. He was the protector, announcing the arrival of people coming down the driveway and clearing out the occasional rattlesnake so it would be safe to go outside to play in the yard. When we left the farm to move to Pantex, Shep stayed behind to continue his dog duties.
While I was at Pantex, I had my first lesson about dogs and it wasn’t very positive. A little white dog taught me that dogs have sharp teeth and they can bite. I did learn respect.
When we arrived in Reedley, we stayed with my aunt and uncle until my parents purchased a house on Hemlock Ave. My cousin Ralph had a dog named Tippy. She came from the Jadoon family, owners of a local watering hole on the corner of 13th and G streets: “Jadoon’s–Where drinks are best.” Another sign on their front door said “If you’re not 21 don’t go away mad, just go away.” Tippy was the family pet and loved everyone, even me. She would often sleep on the big, front porch. It was shady there and I liked to lay down with her, using her belly for a pillow, while reading comic books. It wasn’t long before we would both be napping.
When we moved to our new house, I soon met the neighborhood dogs. None of the houses had fences, so dogs pretty much had the run of all the backyards. Maldy was a bird dog that belonged to Bob McCain and frequent visitor to our backyard. Now, my friend Gerald Baker had given me a chicken, which was normally kept in a pen. One lunchtime, my Dad let the chicken out of the pen to grub around in the backyard. Unfortunately this coincided with one of Maldy’s visits to our yard. Bird dog met bird; bird dog proudly takes bird home for dinner. Mrs. McCain was heard to exclaim, “Oh, no! That’s Jimmy Bulls’ chicken!”
Another lesson, not so positive, learned about dogs.
The neighborhood grocery store, J.M. Cash Grocery, was owned by Joe Malwood. Joe had a coon hound that slept right beneath the cash register. (That was probably why Joe had never been robbed.) Slim, the coon hound, considered anyone who shopped at the store to be family and greeted them accordingly. The Malwood boys would take Slim on hunting or fishing trips to the nearby mountains, where they pretty much just let him run wherever he wanted. When it was time to go home, if Slim wasn’t there, they just left. About a week later, Slim would trot into the store and lay down in his customary place under the cash register.
There was also a German Shepherd who lived in our neighborhood. This dog’s owner had a somewhat questionable reputation. He also enjoyed tormenting the kids who walked by his house on the way to J.M. Cash Grocery, by “siccing” his dog on them and then calling it back at the last moment. He would laugh his head off and call the kids “chicken.”
One particular day I had had enough of this torment. I called Slim to follow me home from the store. Sure enough, the German Shepherd followed the command to “Sic ‘em” and Slim met him in a full on charge. Slim grabbed that shepherd around the neck and drug him to a large mud puddle, where he held him down to presumably drown him. The shepherd’s owner commenced beating Slim with a broom. I managed to drag Slim off by his collar and the other dog slunk away with its tail between its legs. I said “Don’t ever sic that dog on me again, or I’ll let Slim finish the job!”
I guess the first dog that was truly mine, was an adult Springer Spaniel Diana and I got shortly after we moved into Reedley. Hot Fudge Sundae (she was liver and white) had belonged to a co-worker at Kings View who could no longer keep her. She was lovable and loved everyone–a great family dog and she got along with cats. Being a spaniel, she loved water and family camping trips to the beach were her favorite thing. She also sounded like a ferocious Rottweiler if someone knocked on the door. Problem was, you would have to mop up the floor before letting the visitor in.
Not too long after Sundae went up to dog heaven, another dog came into our lives.
I had been working the early shift at Kings View Hospital, when this young dog showed up on the hospital grounds. He was unusual looking, to say the least. Short hair, docked tail with a speckled red coat, one red patch over an eye and red ears that stood up straight. I started feeding him every morning when I got to work and before long he was following me from building to building as I went about my job. Several other employees tried to catch him; one with a lasso and one by putting food in the back seat of his car. The dog just looked at them as if to say “Do you think I’m stupid?”
After several weeks, and a lot of patience, I was finally able to give him a couple of pats. A couple of days later, I gave him a snack, rubbed his head, scooped him up and put him in the car. It was a little hard to get him through the front door once we got home, since all four of his legs were pointed out stiff in four directions. Once he was inside, he was immediately greeted by…cats! Fortunately, for the dog, he decided to take a non-aggressive stance which also endeared him to Diana, who up until then merely tolerated dogs. That also began a fourteen-year love affair with, what I consider to be, the best dog in the world.
Diana, the primary pet-namer in our family, dubbed the new arrival Zachary Tailess. After a trip to the vet, we found out Zach was a Queensland Heeler, also known as an Australian Cattle Dog, and that his red color, at that time, was considered fairly rare as most Queenslands in our part of the country were blue. The vet and I surmised that Zach might have fallen out of a pickup truck and ended up at the hospital. I never saw a lost dog ad, so he was a part of the family. The first time my mother-in-law saw him, she stated “I’ve never seen a dog like that except in National Geographic!”
Queenslands are extremely smart, as are most herding dogs. Zach watched us constantly and picked up all sorts of cues. It often seemed that he would enter into the conversation if only he could talk. Diana could make him do just about anything and before long he had a large repertoire of tricks. He was also known to go through his whole act if he thought someone might be induced to sharing a particularly tasty snack.
Zach did have a couple of odd quirks, one being that he didn’t particularly like his front paws being touched. I would often play tug-a-war with him by placing my thumb and forefinger around his front fangs. Sometimes I would tickle his nose with my thumb, while trying to catch his front paws with my other hand. Zach would bend his front legs to the sides of his body so I could catch his paws.
Diana decided she was going to teach him to shake hands. To do this, she conned her friend Suz into sitting on the floor next to Zach. With both the dog and friend sitting, she asked Suz to “Shake.” Then the two shook hands and Diana gave Suz a piece of hot dog as a treat. She did this three times with Suz. Then she turned to Zach and said “Shake.” He reluctantly put his paw in her hand, but took the treat with enthusiasm, and Diana made him repeat the process three times. From then on, Zach would always shake hands on command, but it was his least favorite trick to perform. In fact, whenever Diana gave him the command, he usually slapped his paw in her hand as hard as he could and gave her the equivalent of a doggy glare.
Another thing Zach loved to do was “tattle” on the cats. His natural instinct was to chase the cats, but he knew that was absolutely forbidden. Consequently, he paid particular attention to anything questionable they might do, like scratching the furniture for example. If he heard the tell tale sound of cat claws on fabric, he immediately ran to Diana and then back to the guilty feline, barking all the time. It wasn’t long before the cats just gave up clawing the living room furniture ? it was much quieter!
Zach also had issues with people leaving the house. Arrivals never seemed to bother him, but once someone took out their car keys or picked up a handbag, he commenced barking. I think because he had such a strong herding instinct, he saw departure as breaking up the herd. This is how he earned his nickname “The Evil Spotted Dog,” conned by some poor soul who was just trying to go home after a visit.
After several years Zach was joined, for a short while, by Lucy. I was taking Amanda up to her wrangler job at Dinkey Creek, when we saw two dogs lying by the side of the road near Minkler. As we passed, one of the dogs lifted its head and that’s all it took. We stopped, picked up the live dog and drove back to Dinuba to the vet. Since the vet needed a name for the records, I got to do the naming for once. After a week, Lucy was able to come home. I had told Diana that she was a Queensland mix, thinking this would soften her up so I could keep Lucy. Diana took one look at the short legs and long body, and suggested I get my eyes checked. Lucy was allowed to stay and was forever grateful to me for saving her. Unfortunately, Lucy was a master escape artist and one early winter morning when she had been let out to do her business, she squeezed under the gate and was hit by a car.
After Zachary passed away at age 14, I didn’t think we would ever have another dog, but my brother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and eventually had to move to an assisted living situation. His dog Jake needed a home. Jake was a blue Queensland, so I didn’t have to work too hard to convince Diana that we should take him. I was retired at the time, so Jake went with me on my daily appointed rounds. This was the first time he really got to ride a lot in the car. We were planning a trip back to Tennessee to visit Rebecca and decided to take Jake along.
This was Jake’s first really long road trip and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. He did figure out that as long as his dog bed and his dinner dish were available it was okay. The day we left Tennessee to start home, Jim packed the car early. When Jake saw his bed and dish go in the car, he hopped in and wouldn’t get out I guess he thought we might leave him in Tennessee. Along the way, Diana had sent her brother funny postcards from “Jake, the Dog” telling all about his big adventures.Jake was my constant companion for several years. We don’t really know how old he was, but it was probably close to 13 or 14. We don’t have a dog now, and I miss that. Sometimes we think about getting one, but then we worry what might happen if the dog outlives us. So for now, we babysit for our grand dog Kipling, a miniature Australian Shepherd. He’s not quite Zachary or Jake, but I am able to get my “dog fix” when I need one.
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.