Ahhh. It sure smelled good to be home. I took several quick sniffs of the old half-blue, half-yellow fire hydrant and stopped for a moment to remember. Ah, yes. Spot, Wolfie, Rex, Brownie, and – oh, my – could it be? I sniffed one spot again. Yes it was. Coco! It felt like I’d been gone forever, but Coco, my dear little Coco, was still here. I wouldn’t wait to sniff her shaggy little butt once again.
Bub tugged at my leash and I almost growled at him. How dare he take me away from my home and my friends and my daily route for so long and then deny me the chance to enjoy it when finally we came back? I was determined to sniff every last inch of that hydrant before we moved on.
Suddenly the leash went slack. I looked up. Was it a trick? A short, thin man stood next to Bob and attached to a leash on his wrist was – Scruffy! My oldest, greatest friend ever!
Pure jubilation! Scruffy and I sniffed and nipped and rolled and practically danced with glee to see each other again. After a couple minutes, Scruffy stepped back and looked me over.
“Hey, dude, what are you doin’ here? I thought I’d never see you again!”
“I thought I was gone for good, too, Scruff. Bob was so excited about inheriting his grandpa’s ranch. He kept saying how relaxing it would be to live in the country and how much I’d enjoy running free and all. It seemed like a done deal.”
“So how come you’re back?”
I sighed. “Because living in the country isn’t as relaxing as Bob thought it would be. In fact, it’s a downright pain.”
“Yeah? So what happened?”
“Well, let me tell you.” I sat down and started the story. Scruffy remembered how we’d pack up our things and said our goodbyes, so I skipped that part. I went right to the part where we drove and drove and drove. I’ll admit we had some great times at the rest stops, but that’s a story for another day.
“When we got to the ranch, it turned out to be a real nice place. Bob didn’t know much about ranching, except for visiting his grandpa when he was a kid, but with the help of Grandpa’s cowboys, I thought he was doing pretty good. However, the cows didn’t agree. We got up one morning about a month later, and Bob opened the door to let me out, but here were cows all around the ranch house and I couldn’t move more than three feet.”
“This one big bull stepped up, straight off. ‘Mornin’, Bob,’ he said.
“Bob scowled. ‘What are you doing here? You guys are supposed to be grazing in the south field.’
“The bull moved closer. ‘Well, sir, we had a meetin’ last night, and we came to a decision. We’re going’ on strike.’”
I shook my head. “Poor Bob, he couldn’t believe it. He looked as upset as he did that time I chewed up his favorite loafers. But the bull wouldn’t back down. He said Bob had been working them too hard. They wanted Sundays off, retirement accounts, and longer maternity leave.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Scruffy said.
“Bob thought they were joking, but they wouldn’t budge. The cows went on strike. And thanks to the cows’ picket lines, Bob and I couldn’t get out of the house. Bob asked his cowboys for some advice, but none of them had ever seen a union before. Bob didn’t know what else to do, so he gave in. And it him him pretty hard. He wasn’t making much money in the first place. He even had to switch me to some cheap dog food, so greasy it soaked right through the bag.”
“I hate that greasy stuff,” Scruffy said. “It makes me burp.”
“That was just the beginning. Not long after the cows settled down, Bob hired a new horse. Shew, was that ever a mistake. Though Bob didn’t know it when he hired him, that horse had a blue mane, a leather jacket, and he wore an earring, believe it or not. At night in the barn he watched MTV till all hours.”
“MTV’s not that bad,” Scruffy said.
“Maybe not, but he kept it loud, and the rest of us couldn’t sleep. And pretty soon, the other horses joined him. They all started feeling their oats and quit showing up for work on time.
“Bob got mad. It was bad enough, having sleepy cowboys, but when they didn’t even have their horses to ride… And you know, I swear, they told Bob that new horse carried a Colt in his saddlebags. Bob sure wasn’t going to put up with his horses bringing guns to work. So he rounded up his horses one night and lectured them. It didn’t do any good. Afterward, those horses acted worse than ever. I guess Bob just didn’t have the right kind of education to talk to horses.”
Scruffy scratched his ear. “Yep, I’ve heard horses can be pretty hard-headed.”
“Well, lucky for Bob, that trouble took care of itself,” I went on. “Like the old saying goes, they’ll hang themselves if you give them enough rope.
“Saturday was payday on Bob’s ranch, and often the horses would go into town for a beer and a poker game. Bob didn’t object to them having a little fun, as long as they got home by midnight. But one night the horses went into town and they didn’t come back and didn’t come back and it got later and later and later. Bob started to worry. He was pacing the floor and stepped on my tail twice without even noticing.
“Just as he was getting dressed to go look for them, the phone rang. Two a.m. It was the sheriff. Those deranged horses had gotten drunk and started a fight. The sheriff had to arrest them all.
“Bob might have paid their bail but it wasn’t hay so he left them there. He decided it would be cheaper to hire new horses. He put an ad in the local paper and found some good horses right away. They went straight to work and never even complained. Bob thought his luck had changed. We all thought his luck had changed.”
“Had it?” Scruffy asked.
I shook my head. “Not one bit. See, there was a young calf on Bob’s place who worshipped those punked-up horses. Wanted to be just like them. He took it pretty hard when Bob fired them. Those horses had steered the little calf wrong, though of course the calf didn’t know it. He really went to pot – you know, started smoking grass. Showed up for work stoned half the time. To support his habit, he started selling the stuff. Got some of the other cows and one of the new horses hooked on it, too. That bronc got busted but the cows didn’t care. The horse went into town where folks could see him staggering around. But the cows figured as long as they stayed on the ranch, the law wouldn’t have any beef with them. What they did on their own time was their own business. Until the day they started a fire in the pasture.”
“Started a fire?” Scruffy echoed. “Merciful heavens.”
“If I’d been there, I’d have done my best to put it out, but by then I was afraid to be around the cows.” I shook my head sadly, remembering.
“That fire spread like wildfire. It was windy that day, and Bob’s whole ranch was at at stake. He and his cowboys tried to save his ranch but Bob got conked on the head with a bucket. Knocked him out cold and scared me silly. I thought he was a goner. While the cowboys tried to revive him, the ranch burned to the ground. The firemen got there just in time to stomp out the last sparks in the barn. Bob was alright except for a bruise but his ranch was destroyed.”
Scruffy sat down. “Aw, man, that’s tough.”
“After that, Bob sold his land and moved back to the city. Back to the comfort of traffic and paved streets. City life might be hard but at least he figured we’d be safe. Bob knew we wouldn’t run into any doped-up cows in a high-rise apartment. And since he was working for somebody else, he didn’t have to deal with unions or strikes or unhappy employees. Right away, Bob’s luck changed. He got a job as a night cashier at a convenience store right next door to where those cute Poodle sisters live. I could hardly believe the luck.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re back, even though life in the country turned out so bad,” Scruffy said. Then he jerked to one side. “Oops, there’s the leash. Gotta go, man, but it sure is good to see you back. Sniff you later.”
“Sure, Scruffy, thanks.” Bob started tugging at my leash, too, and I knew it was time to go. I’d sniffed enough of the fire hydrant for one day, and there were plenty of other smells to catch up on. But first I scooted right up to the hydrant, lifted one leg, and made sure the whole neighborhood knew me and Bob were back. In the nice, safe city. Where we belonged.