View From Lodi, CA: Christmas for Joe's New Cattle Dog
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My new puppy, Sparkle Plenty, is a cow dog.

And that's bad news for her constant companion, Fido, an English Springer Spaniel.

But Fido is the closest thing that Sparkle has to a cow. So, as far as Sparkle is concerned, her job is to herd Fido up to make sure he does just what she wants him to do and goes just where she wants him to go.

That's what Australian Shepherds do.

But that is the least of it. Sparkle—only eighteen months old— likes to rough house.

As you can imagine, Fido isn't always keen on having his tail gnawed while he's eating his kibble. Nor does he take kindly to having his naps interrupted when Sparkle chomps on his paw.

And what Fido likes the least is when he is awakened from a long winter night's sleep on the down comforter by Sparkle pouncing on him.

When Sparkle thinks its time to rise and shine, everyone gets up. Why fight it? No one can sleep through the yapping and the ankle-biting.

Poor Fido. He must wonder what happened to his once tranquil life. Less than a year ago, Fido—who has mellowed since I introduced you to him last year—roomed with Lily, a black lab mix who was the perfect match for him.

They played hard, swam hard, ate hearty and after it was all over they crashed on the couch like a ton of bricks curled up next to each other.

But Lily is too soon gone. And now Fido has to cope with Sparkle—no small task.

For a while this summer, Fido had it figured out. As soon as we got to the irrigation canal, he dove in. And Sparkle, tentative about the water, could only run up and down along the embankment barking and demanding that he get back on land so she could dish out more punishment.

But Fido, seal-like in the water, wasn't having any of it. His blissful moments of swimming were his only time-out during a day full of harassment. Fido relished his time away from his tormenter. He knew that sooner or later he would have to get out of that water. And Fido knew too that when he emerged, he would have to pay.

Then one day, Fido's luck ran out. As Sparkle barked furiously at Fido from the water's edge, she slipped in.

After a moment's floundering, Sparkle realized that she could swim too. Fido turned on his after-burners but it wasn't enough. Before long, Sparkle was splayed over Fido, tugging at his ear.

Now, of course, there are times when Fido is in the mood. And when that happens, he holds his own. But Sparkle— who genetically is prepared to go toe to toe with animals ten times her size—cannot be worn down.

One lazy day this summer, I took Sparkle for her early morning romp at the Lodi dog park. I watched in amazement as Sparkle—over a period of an hour and a half— ran one dog after another into the ground.

Now that the winter months are upon us, the canal is drained and the dog park often closed because of inclement weather. Desperate for ways to exhaust Sparkle, I turned to Lodi's world champion trainers of Frisbee king Foster, Donna and Steve Malmlov.

We met at the Lakewood School for Sparkle's introduction to the art of Frisbee catching and retrieving. After a brief workout, Malmlov proclaimed that Sparkle has "potential" and recommended further sessions.

But Sparkle's real talent—instantly apparent to Malmlov— was chasing the dogs that were in mid-air flight soaring toward Frisbees. [Lodi Man and His Dog Win World Frisbee Championship, by Ross Farrow, December 5, 2005]

Sparkle is a handful…no doubt about it. But there's one part of her story I haven't told you yet. Even though Sparkle is only eighteen months old, I'm her fourth owner.

My friends at the San Joaquin Veterinary Clinic called me shortly after Lily was put to sleep. "We might have a great dog for you," said Dr. Richard Peckham.

When I went to pick her up, Dr. Peckham told me that different owners rejected her as too small, too skittish or too demanding.

Four owners in a year and a half is one new home every four months. And I don't suppose the care Sparkle got in any of them was much to brag about.

Then there is the very important issue of Sparkle's deep devotion and affection for Fido even though it is not entirely reciprocal. Life without Fido would be heartbreaking for Sparkle.

So in the spirit of Christmas, I'm letting Sparkle have her fun.

When you think about it, this is really Sparkle's first Christmas.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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