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Walking the dogs

Lead Summary

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

I do not know if we are collecting animals, or if the animals are collecting around us. The rabbits number two bucks and seven breeding does, not counting what is bound for the freezer.

Then there are the worms, countless in number, but probably weighing in at 10 pounds worth of wriggling wigglers. The goats number four breeding females, one wether who is near and dear to our hearts, and another wether who is on his way to keep the freezer rabbits company.

I hear some folks lovingly talking about their flock of chickens. I talk about my marauding free range horde. The earth shakes as the 11 birds dash over for a snack of kitchen scraps. The rooster puffs his chest out at the dogs to keep them away. And the pigeons have somehow multiplied in number to eight.

And then of course, we have our two big black dogs. One is Greg's and one is mine. One is a rescue and one a purchased pure bred, but they are both by our sides all through the day.

They join us on walks by the creek, or if we are busy with outside chores, they lie nearby, keeping a watchful lookout for small critters to chase after. Every evening, they join us inside the cabin, never far from our feet. We really do not need slippers. It almost seems as though these sleek black creatures are a part of us, extensions of ourselves.

So it was with cautious trepidation that we even took the little horses home, and we were slow to introduce them to the dogs. At first, we kept the dogs in their pen when we worked with the horses, but little by little, we let the dogs closer to the horses.

The horses did not seem to mind the dogs' presence – at least as long as there was a fence in between them and some good hay for munching. Then, we let the dogs even closer still, so they could sniff the horses through the fence, nose to nose, and all seemed well.

After three weeks, we decided to let one dog at a time into the goat yard, where the horses have been staying at night. During the day, we walk them down to browse a small section of pasture that we have fenced off. Curiously, the dogs seemed more interested in the horse droppings than the horses themselves, and the horses did not seem to care about the dogs at all.

And then today, we figured it was time. We have been taking the horses for walks up and down the road on their leads, but we have been leaving the dogs behind. We thought it best to move slowly into our hopefully new routine of walking all six of us together.

The horses have been walking well, following our lead, and the dogs seemed well mannered around the horses, so today we put on the horses' halters, snapped on their leads, and set off on our walk, without putting the dogs in their run.

I could not have been more proud of all four creatures. The dogs ran ahead, stopping back by our sides to make sure that all was well, as they always do, occasionally sniffing at a seemingly oblivious horse. The horses walked to our right, on their leads, as we have trained them, and we all headed up the road.

I shuffled through the thick layer of fallen leaves. The dogs dashed off after this creature and that. The little horses pranced by our sides, their hooves clippity-clopping along on the paved road.

Toward the end of our walk, we decided to follow the dogs down a gentle grassy slope to one of their favorite creek swimming holes.

The dogs settled down in the water for a good long drink. The horses put their heads down to the long grass, grabbing tufts with their teeth and contentedly chewing away. The water ran clear. The sky overhead was a bright metallic gray and I could not have been more happy.

I smiled at Greg. Walking the dogs has a whole new meaning to me now, one that I could never have imagined back when we lived in the city.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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