A few weeks ago the owners of Coco’s parents asked if we’d like to join them for a two-hour session of herding lessons up in Huntsville, Utah, about an hour north of here. We’d been thinking of looking into something like this for Coco, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out and see if this was something all of us could handle. All of us, that is, except Chuck because we left him home. For a couple of reasons. One, he’s not a herding breed and would be as lost among those sheep as I would have been at sixteen inside a sex shop, all, um, what is that long stick there with two balls on either side? Is that some sort of fancy back-scratcher? Two, he’s terribly unpredictable when confronted with animals not of his own species and has been known to suddenly discover his anal glands when in the presence of horses or cows.
So one gorgeous Sunday morning we packed up a lunch, hooked both Leta and Coco into the backseat and headed north. But not before stuffing a bag full of books for Leta to read and flip through. Because when we told her we were going to see sheep she asked, “Will those sheep have books I can read?” Granted, that’s the first question she asks when we get in the car to go anywhere. Do they have books there? Can I read their books? Which I will admit is sort of cute in the sense that it’s obvious we’re raising a nerd, but it’s sometimes frustrating. Because even though there are books at the grocery store, Leta, I don’t want to spend twenty minutes over there in that aisle, not when the only reason I made this trip was to pick up a gallon of milk and a package of earplugs. Because today Apple is announcing new products and Daddy is going to be doing A LOT OF TALKING.
Hunstville is a quaint, scenic town just up from Ogden Canyon, and when we pulled up to the ranch for lessons we immediately met Coco’s parents, Lucy and Willie. I’ve said this before, but it was such a strange experience to meet a dog related to my dog, let alone her parents, because we have no idea where or under what sort of circumstances Chuck was born. And because we haven’t had any of his DNA checked out we have no idea what sort of breeds could be swirling around in there, and for all we know a cat got freaky with a deer and out popped a creature who can balance a beer bottle on his head.
And it occurred to me that meeting Coco’s mother was probably a lot like what Jon experienced the first time he met my mother and was all, oh. Now I get it. The Crazy is hereditary.
Since all of the dogs in attendance were beginners the trainer talked to us all about what would happen, how one of us would accompany her and the dog into a pen about 1/10 of an acre big, and then when inside she’d show us techniques as to how to encourage the dog to chase the sheep. At this point Leta was sitting on a grassy spot and reading books about twenty feet from the group of us, and Coco was interested in nothing but her whereabouts. WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE? Coco, Leta is fine. She’s right there reading books. Chill out. BUT SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! Nothing is going to happen, calm down. DOES. NOT. COMPUTE. MUST. CRY. WILDLY. Is that not totally heartbreaking, though? That Coco is so interested in the well-being of someone who, if gifted with only a slightly more advanced vocabulary, would tell her to fucking suck it.
I volunteered to go into the pen with Coco while Jon and Leta had snacks on the grass, and I’ll tell you what. Sheep are scary. First of all, they’re way bigger in person than on television. And then one of them had this crazed look in its eyes, like it was going to charge me at any second, and I don’t know enough about sheep to know if it could cause any real damage if it went ahead with that plan. But I had faith that this trainer knew what she was doing and had not put me in contact with a homicidal farm animal. Although I think that’s a great idea for a horror movie: vindictive sheep. Or at least an episode of Dr. Phil where he tries to convince them to be more forgiving.
Coco eyed the sheep suspiciously, but other than that she had no interest and ran to the side of the pen to make sure Leta was still alive. So the trainer asked me to start chasing the sheep myself. And then she tacked on to that request an addendum that I would like to use as a warning to every single person out there who ever plans to marry. You might want to make sure that when you take your vows that somewhere in there is a clause that says, “If I am ever asked to run around a pen in pursuit of a sheep so that I might slap its ass, you are not allowed to recount what that looks like to any of your friends.”
Internet, I chased sheep and slapped their asses. And after a few seconds I totally forgot what it ever felt like to have any dignity. Coco watched me for several minutes, dumbfounded, and when the trainer pointed out that her attention had shifted from Leta to me she asked me to start yelling Coco’s name in a high-pitched voice. Because the whole situation wasn’t already ridiculous enough. This was exactly what my nightmares look like, except in those I’m usually wearing nothing but a Disney Princess diaper and have just been told that tomorrow I have an exam in a French class that I forgot I had signed up for.
But that’s when something magical happened, and I will never forget this. I swear to God, suddenly Coco gave me this look, and I promise the look was in perfect English. It said: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME. YOU ARE ACTUALLY ENCOURAGING ME TO CHASE THOSE ANIMALS?
And that was it. All it took was a nod of my head, and her DNA kicked in. All of a sudden we had a sheep herder. An honest-to-God herding dog. She showed glee and exhilaration and skill that I did not know she had in her. For the next hour and a half as she took turns with the other dogs, she would sit outside the pen with both eyes fixed like lasers on the sheep inside, letting out a tiny moan when one of them would move. Jon and I would exchange knowing glances, like here was our dog doing what it was born to do, and isn’t it magnificent? And that’s when I suggested we adopt a herd of sheep, our backyard could fit maybe six or seven, we could harvest the wool and sell handmade clothes on Etsy. He said he would consider it when he’s dead.