It is hard to know where to start in eulogizing Smokey. Simply put, she was a dog’s dog. Whether fighting with a rattlesnake, herding cows through my campsite, falling in the Kern River, meeting alligators, climbing trees, canoeing 350 miles down the Missouri River, or any other number of things; that dog could create an adventure out of an otherwise boring day.
Getting Smokey was an impulse decision, it was early Summer 2007 and my life was in flux. I already had a dog, did I really need a puppy? I senselessly got one anyway. She was only 8 weeks old and already a lightning bolt.
She was a terror from day one. I started hiking Tilden Park every day before and after work in an effort to wear that dog down. There are about 30 miles of dog friendly trails in the park and Smokey had hiked them all within a week. We did puppy school together. Although she was intelligent she was also wild and head strong.
Within months I both loved and hated that dog, and for the very same traits; strong willed and brave. She would meet any perceived threat head on and she barked…a lot.
At about 8 months I sent her to boot camp, a 30 day board and train program. While most of the training did not stick, she was much more bearable after that. And since she was pinch collar trained she understood the word “no”.
Shadow was 4 when Smokey came to join us. When Smokey was about a year old her and Shadow had a six month period when every interaction had the potential to turn into a fight. Shadow managed to resist Smokey’s status seeking beta behavior until the end. The two ended being stalwart friends until Shadow’s death in 2019.
The three of us would road trip a few times a year. Like Shadow, Smokey hit all the great National Parks; from Glacier to Big Bend and from Yosemite to Everglades and most of them in between.
Smokey enjoyed the travel, making it to 32 states, camping in the national forests in most of them. In 2009, Smokey and I took a 350 mile canoe trip on the Missouri River. She was a great companion on the trip and I think it was one of the high points of her life (not to mention my own).
Smokey split her life almost evenly between Berkeley, CA and Columbia, MO; spending the first half of her life on the West coast and her latter years in the heartland.
If I thought about it, I am sure that there are nearly a hundred anecdotes that would illustrate Smokey’s intense ability to grapple with life. I am only going to share one here, this is one that I wrote about elsewhere. This happened back in 2014 when Smokey was 7.
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?) That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
And that look is what I am going to hold on to.
I don’t believe in an afterlife. Still, it would be nice to imagine The Smokester in a meadow somewhere with a bunch of cows to push around. Perhaps reuniting with Shadow for some grand adventure.
Smoke leaves an outsized hole in this world and it will take some time to heal. I am going to miss that dog.