Michael Rustad Memories

The Dogs of Humboldt

Decades after I left Humboldt, I still have vivid memoriesof the dogs. The first dog that I can remember was my Grandpa Rustad'sRex. Rex was a good sheep herder and overall farm dog. Rex lived from1945 to 1957. Rex was four when I was born. I have several pictures ofmy Grandfather wearing farmer's overalls with Rex at his feet.

One of my favorite dogs was Diamond's dog, Brownie. Brownieconsidered his master Dennis Diamond to be the top dog, but was a cherishedcompanion for all of the boys and girls in Humboldt. Brownie loved goingout in the pasture and playing ball with the boys. Brownie had a gentledisposition and always seemed to smile. She was never a dog that frightenedthe sheep.

Another dog that I remember well was Rodney Bockwitz'sGerman Shepherd. My brother Tony and I would ride our bikes into town almostevery day and have a face off with Rodney's dog. Rodney's dog was extremelyterritorial and thought that the gravel road past the Bockwitz farms washis territory. My brother Tony once ran over the dog's tail in an attemptto get past the dog. That dog could really stretch out almost like a pantherin Africa once he spotted a kid on a bicycle. I do not remember being bittenbut that dog left fear in my heart. Rodney loved his German Shepherd butthe kids of Humboldt kept their distance. I should mention that VirgilBockwitz once adopted a bear cub and built a bear cage. It was quite asight to see Rodney Bockwitz wrestle a bear. One of my friends told methat Rodney stopped wrestling the bear when it knocked him out one day.

The Quentin Tri family had a large black dog which wasfar more capricious and vicious than Rodney's dog. I remember this dogwell because the Tri family lived across the way from us when we lived intown my first seven years. My brother and I would play at the Tri houseand the dog would not bother us. However, we did not dare to cut acrossthe yard because the dog would ferociously charge us. I would carry a sticksometimes, but I think that the dog would have just laughed at that feebleattempt at self-defense.

Boston toy bull dogs were fashionable in Humboldt in early1960s thanks to Don and Marion Brown. Don Brown's dog had a litter of Bostontoy bulldog puppies. They were a beautiful litter and Don gave the puppiesaway to his friends. Harold and Phyllis Borg had a Boston toy bulldog namedJoker who became an incredible trouble-maker. Joker was not a big dog buthe had a personality that was quite unforgetable. Don gave my Dad a seconddog from the litter and we named her Dotty. Dotty was an outstanding dogand particularly adept at herding sheep. It was amazing to see a tiny Bostontoy bulldog herding the cows. Even Satan the bull could be herded by Dotty. I loved Dotty because she was so efficient. At milking time, I would tellher: "Dotty go get the cows." Dotty would herd the cows in single-fileinto the barn.

Dotty was a victim of anesthesia error for a routine operationand died at an early age. Needless to say, I did not sue the vet for negligence. However, I was heart broken to lose my beloved Dotty. My Mother triedto give me comfort by reminding me that my sister Jamie had survived a seriousillness and hospitalization at Emerson Hospital. I was filled with grief losing my closest friend. Harold Borg needed a new home for Joker and gavehim to my Dad because he knew we had lost our dog. To paraphrase a famousVice Presidential candidate, I knew Dotty and Joker was no Dotty. Jokerwas useless as a cow herder and roamed the countryside looking for a girlfriend. Worse yet, Joker was a sheep killer. Joker and my dog Dandy killedtwo of our sheep and I begged my Dad not to dispatch them. I remember theperpetual terror that I felt worried about the dogs striking our herd again. The dogs stopped attacking our herd after we kept them in at night.

Alfred Loer's dog was named Smokey. Smokey and my dogDandy fought incessantly. My dog Dandy was one of the toughest dogs inKittson County and fought Smokey to a draw. Their fights often last 15minutes or more. Our bus driver, Herman Loer, grew impatient with the dogfight one morning and ran over the fighting dogs. Smokey was unharmed butthe bus ran over Dandy The kids on the school bus felt the bump as my dogwas run over. I thought for certain that Dandy was killed, but somehowhe survived. Apparently, there was enough snow to cushion the impact. Dandy ran away to heal his wounds and returned with a small hole in hisside. Dandy was a legendary hunter. He fought a badger once. I remembercutting alfalfa one day and out popped a rabbit. Dandy tracked it down. I tried to stop him from killing the rabbit, but to no avail. I witnessedthe dog swallow the rabbit whole. By the time I tracked the dog down Isaw the hind legs of the rabbit being swallowed.

As English philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said, life forthe rabbit was short and brutish.

My brother was on close terms with Roy Clow's dog. Whenhe was in high school, he rode a motorcycle. One of our friends playeda trick on him. They placed marshmallows in his carburator. For some unknownreason, Tony tied a dead fox to a rope behind his motorcyle and then revvedup the engine to torment Roy's dog. This time the engine sputtered andthe dog caught the fox and Tony!

There were many sad stories about dogs. Today, I chuckleto myself when I see how pets are pampered. In our day, dogs did not evenstay in the house but slept in the barn. Dogs had a utilitarian value. I can never remember hitching a dog. Dogs roamed free. It was a SocialDarwinistic ethic of survivial of the fittest. Jay Hoglin had a cut littlepoodle that he called Ringo after Ringo Starr of the Beatles. Ringo methis waterloo when Clarence Iten backed over him outside of the Post Office. I was astonished to see that Ringo was squeezed out of his skin. Jay,Tony and I cried at the loss of this cute little dog. I lost a white dognamed Jeep on Highway 75 when he was hit by a semi-truck. Dogs that roamedthe countryside could be shot at will or poisoned. After I left for collegemy parents had a daschund mix named Oscar. Oscar lost a leg in a mowingaccident and was renamed Tripod. Despite these perils, it truly was a dog'slife in N.W. Minnesota, an area without leash laws or pooper scoopers. s a dog'slife in N.W. Minnesota, an area without leash laws or pooper scoopers.