What It's Like to Live in the Country with Dogs

 

I live in a very rural area. There is a pasture of cows across from my house and acres of woods with old logging trails behind it. To the country dog, our place is a playground and a paradise. To the humans who take care of the dogs, it can be a great place to keep them..but also a death trap waiting to happen. Here are some things my family has had to contend with in raising and keeping dogs in southern Virginia.

 

Dogs can show up at your door at random.

Of my living memory, I can think of only two dogs--out of the ten I’ve grown up with or currently have--that we’ve brought home from somewhere else. One, my sister and mom found on a highway, and the other my mom brought home from the pound after inquiring about a different dog that we had found. The other eight showed up at our place in one way or another. No joke. Ruffie, a beagle mix, hung around our creek and followed me up to the house when I was five. Ginger, a bloodhound, hung around our house at night for a couple days and then one day she stuck around in the daytime; Honeybear, a pitbull-boxer mix, did the same thing (though different years). And then our two newest recruits-refugees-deserters (I don’t know what to call ‘em)--Max, great dane-black lab, and Poppy, black lab-hound--followed our current dog (the one from the pound, JoJoe, black lab-catahoula mix) home when I was visiting over Thanksgiving break. They have the best story, in my opinion. They appeared on our porch before JoJoe even got back from one of his “hunting trips” (more on that later). Through a local Facebook page for lost pets, we contacted their owners and they picked up the two large puppies the next morning. Fast forward two days, and they show up at our house again without JoJoe guiding them back. This time, their owner tells us if we want them, we can have them; otherwise, he’ll pick them up the following morning. Come that morning, the dogs are still there. They became ours. Fun fact: apparently, they were being raised to hunt bears (very Southern, I know) and weren’t getting all the TLC they are now getting with us. So, yeah, dogs can and will randomly show up at your house.

Top: Poppy, Bottom: Max. Photo Courtesy: Author.

They can get hurt.

Taking advantage of the woods behind our house, our dogs like to go on, what I coin, “hunting trips.” They run off for a day or two but eventually return home hungrier than ever. (Evidently, they’re not that good at hunting.) Even though we know dogs have an acute sense of smell and can find their way back to us, we still have heart-attacks whenever they do go on one of these “trips.” Every. Single. Time. And, more often than not, they do come home. However, it is not always guaranteed. There are other people who use the woods other than our dogs--hunters, for example. So during hunting season we have to be extra careful about when we let our dogs out. A hunter wears a neon orange vest to stand out in the woods but the dogs don’t have that advantage. Consequently, one worry arising from this is a hunter accidentally shooting one of our dogs. In fact, this happened to JoJoe once. He came home after being gone for three or four days; he couldn’t even make it to our front porch because he lost nearly all of his blood due to bullet wounds. Thankfully, the vet was able to patch him up, and he now only has some scar tissue--nothing was permanently damaged. For some people, you would think we wouldn’t let our dogs run around anymore, that we--and the dogs--have learned our lesson.

Both yes and no.

Know your limits and the dogs' limits.

From what I’ve learned with living with country dogs is this: dogs are dogs. If they want to run off, they are going to run off. And if they want to come home, they will come home. (Case in point: Max and Poppy.) You can worry about them each time they do it--trust me, we do it every single time--but that won’t affect the outcome. You either have to trust they’ll take care of themselves and an accident won’t happen, or find alternative means to give them some of that same freedom while outside. For example, a fence. This is our current method of dealing with our run-away dogs. And even this isn’t working! So far, they’ve managed to dig under it and even squeeze through it (don’t ask me how, they just do). We’re now looking at installing an invisible fence. Hopefully, this will deter them from running off into the woods or from harassing the cows across the street.

JoJoe. Photo Courtesy: Author.

They can make friends...and form gangs.

So, about harassing the cows. Apparently, our three current dogs have taken to chasing the cows--which do not belong to us--and causing some low-key mayhem. And the person who owns the cattle reports seeing another dog with them partaking in the “fun.” It seems our dogs have started a local dog gang or something. I dunno. Once they start wearing matching jackets (or in this case, collars), then I’ll really worry. But for now we just need to focus on getting them to not mess with the cows (which is actually high-key a very serious thing.) Other times, the dogs may just go to a neighboring house (and by that, I mean a handful of miles down the road), and hang out with someone else's dog. For a short spell, JoJoe kinda had a girlfriend. But then she bit him. And he went to the vet again. But other times it can be good! Again, Max and Poppy, case in point.

Living in the country is great. I love it. And so do my dogs. But if you want your dogs to be outdoor types, you need to be aware of what can happen and how to handle it when it does. Being on a first name basis with the vet is always a plus.