Have you ever had an animal in your life that left an indelible impression? Perhaps it was a wild one that crossed your path while on excursions in the outdoors. However, it’s more likely to have been a family pet of long standing. My family had such a one. His name was Waldo, and he has a permanent place in our memories.
I’ve always liked big dogs – especially big, friendly, shaggy ones like St. Bernard’s. This feeling was probably prompted by pictures and stories imprinted on me as a small boy. We never felt we had room for one until acquiring a cattle ranch in Montana. Magazines were studied, letters written, and plans laid to obtain one. All the way from Missouri to Idaho because Montana prohibited the shipping of pets.
The day finally arrived. Notice came that our pup had arrived and so I was off on a 80 mile jaunt to the train depot at Dubois. It was a happy station master that greeted me – glad to be rid of this thing that cried continually and begged for food. Besides, he was starting to form an attachment. Safely tucked in beside me as I drove off, his whimpering stopped. He was so glad to have an owner that he accepted me right away – licking my arm affectionately throughout the entire ride home. A great, big, wooly puppy with feet that looked four sizes too big -and was he hungry! He immediately drank over a quart of milk and his belly puffed out happily.
We were young, just fresh in the cattle business, and trying to economize. The first two years on our ranch we lived in a one room bunk house – renting the main dwelling in an effort to obtain living expenses. Well, Waldo was right at home, in fact the closeness of quarters was favored by him. He became such an intrical part of our routine that he could have been part of the family. We called him our anthropomorphic dog. The bunk house was crowded and so he slept close to our bed. Sometimes we would awaken to the feel of a wet tongue cleaning our ear, or a large face peering down into our own. My mother-in-law, upon visiting us once, was awakened in the same manner, much to her chagrin.
Waldo had a large area to roam and a mind of his own. St. Bernard’s are known for this. He was no exception. Maintaining discipline was sometimes difficult. We resorted to rolled-up newspaper spankings. He knew when he had broken the rules. A favorite ploy was to climb on top of the haystack. There he would be – sad eyes and drooling mouth looking down at us as if to say: “You won’t bother me up here”. Or he might be out mingling among the cattle -appearing as large as the calves he was interacting with.
Waldo loved people and especially kids. He was very satisfied to play with them, allowing them to climb on his back or to rough him up. Adults were not quite as receptive to him however. Two women, whose car had stalled one night, were walking across our front field to reach me to get some help. They were shocked into the present by a sudden, cold, wet nose appearing out of the darkness to press against their bare thighs. They then made rapid tracks to our house. Another neighbor, who daily regulated his water from the canal on our place, was afraid of big dogs. We never realized until years later the trauma he experienced each time he checked his water.
Once two missionaries drove into the yard in a small sports car. Noise permeated from the front of the house in the form of laughter. Rushing to the window, we were surprised to see Waldo with his front paws on the driver’s window ledge. His head was extended over the steering wheel in an attempt to lick a missionary’s face. I gave a mighty yell for him to stop but the results were most unexpected. The dog heaved his whole body through the window in a mighty leap into the back seat. A new experience, I’m sure, for the pair in that car that day. On another occasion a man in a truck with a small dog arrived in the yard. The little mutt proceeded to nip at Waldo’s feet. No problem – the cure? Totally encircling the other dog’s head in his mouth, he lifted him off the ground and shook him vigorously. When released, the poor wretch crawled up into the truck’s motor housing – not to appear until time to leave.
A degree of resiliency was exhibited by him at another time. Driving with a load of hay while he loped alongside, I made a sudden turn and caught him under the rear wheels. The total load moving over his hips. I was afraid that I had killed him but such was not the case. He disappeared for a week only to reappear, a little stiff, but recovering quite nicely.
Waldo was a dog of notoriety. People seemed to know him and to know him by name. My wife, on a shopping trip to town, left him in the truck while inside a store. Returning to the truck, she overheard two strangers who were passing by. Noticing the dog in the truck caused one to exclaim: “Hey, there’s Waldo”.
Several years later we sold our ranch and moved to Idaho. Waldo went with us. Living in a smaller more populated area just wasn’t the same and the dog suffered. In fact he didn’t last a year in his new home. Someone, who resented his presence, poisoned him.
We buried him below the garden under a big Weeping Willow tree. A sad day indeed! Since then we’ve had three other Saints: Brandy, Bengy, and Brutus. However, none were able to match the personality of our old original friend.