Opie has yet to find niche

August 05, 2009|By TIM ROWLAND

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Beth likes to say that every animal on the farm needs a job, on the theory that they are happier when their minds are occupied.

So they all have their assignments, although sometimes it requires stretching the definition of the word "job" to the red line.

For example, the donkeys' job is to protect other animals from coyotes. They do this job very well, in the sense that they also -- based on results -- protect the other animals from wolves, jackals, hyenas, pirates and T-rexs.


We haven't had an elephant attack in years, and all the credit goes to Becky and Nelson.

Some of the critters' jobs are obvious -- milk goats, meat goats, cattle, horses and chickens. Others are less so, but still important: Magellan the pig is in charge of our surplus zucchini problem. The boy goats tackle the brush. Hannah the bulldog handles security and every so often a mouse will run into the jaws of the snoring cat Juliet.

This leaves the bouncing bouvier des Flandres named Opie, whose main contribution to society has yet to be identified. At 2 years old, he's still something of a puppy in search of a vocation. (Making the lives of everyone else miserable by way of irrational exuberance doesn't count.)

In fairness to the animal, he's been bred as a herding dog and it's not his fault that nothing on the farm really needs to be herded. But if the cast of "Red River" ever shows up on our place, we'll have it covered.

Opie also appears to be shooting for the Guinness record of longest continuous amount of time spent with head down a groundhog hole, but if pointless obsessions were jobs, the Birthers would be pulling in 40 grand a week.

It wasn't until I was out picking blackberries that an idea hit me. Beth bakes every berry I can find into fabulous cobblers that are key to my sugar-intensive diet. Forget what the government says, if hummingbirds can live off the stuff, so can I.

The berries are relatively easy to pick, but can be hard to find. I was clawing around the woods in search of another patch, and as usual, Opie was bounding alongside. I remembered hearing that the French use hogs to find truffles, so I reasoned that dogs could be used to find blackberries. What would it take to train Opie to become a berry dog, an hour tops?

I called him over and showed him a piece of fruit. "Opie, this is a blackberry," I said in a loud voice. I don't know why, but when we are imparting an important message to a dog we always talk louder. Forget that his hearing can already detect fire sirens in Winchester.

Opie looked at the blackberry. Then he ate it. I showed him another, holding it out of his reach this time.

OK, he'd seen the berry. Now what? I confess that I'm not the world's greatest animal trainer, so I was unsure what to do next. But I knew I had to show leadership and resolve. "Opie," I said firmly, "Uh -- go find more."

He raised his ears. Poor thing. He knew I wanted something, he just didn't know what. "Blackberries! Find blackberries!" And I started jumping up and down saying "blackberries" and he started jumping up and down, so we're both jumping up and down (in sight of the road, mind you) and finally he goes tearing off into the brush. When he came back he was wearing so many briars and twigs and leaves that he resembled one of those camouflaged Army snipers, but he had no blackberries.

Looking back, I don't know why I thought the project might work. I would have had better luck training the blackberries to run and then Opie could have herded them and everyone would have been happy.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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