By Leisa Boley Hellwarth, a dairy farmer and attorney near Celina
He was supposed to bond with me. That was the plan. Over nine years ago, Kent’s dog, Barney, passed and the house and farm were just too quiet. It was the sad time only people who lose beloved pets understand.
Kent left for Chopper School at K & L in Fort Recovery. I headed to the Auglaize County Humane Society. Just that morning, they had posted a new dog available for adoption, Buster, who looked to be part Australian cattle dog and part black labrador. He was a year old and had just been turned in by an older couple who could no longer care for him.
When I first met the dog, all I could think was that he was a black version of Mack, the brown Heeler X Border Collie mix that Kent had when we got married and one of the finest dogs ever. The shelter personnel let me take the dog out in front to walk. He was easy to work with and a quick learner. I filled out the adoption papers and took Buster (who needed a new name) with me.
Since he had been cared for by an older couple, I suspected his diet included a few Cheetos as he was unable to jump into my Explorer. I gently lifted him into my vehicle and off we went. I figured I had some quality time alone with the new dog before Kent met him. On the way home, we learned two new commands and the only ones that matter to me. Kiss. Cuddle.
When we arrived at our farm, the new dog sat quietly in my vehicle while I petted him. Then Kent returned from the forage harvesting workshop and pulled in the drive. He walked over to the passenger side of my Explorer. I lowered the window. The new dog planted a nice wet kiss on his face. Kent opened the door. The dog hopped out with him. And they have been inseparable ever since.
Within a few weeks, Chopper looked like the after picture for a weight loss product. No diet needed when the dog spent every waking moment following his new best friend. No need to assist the dog into vehicles, either. Chopper’s preferred method of entering Kent’s truck was to leap through the driver’s window.
Chopper lived life with the same gusto he jumped through pickup windows. His sole mission in life was to be with Kent. He especially enjoyed riding in any vehicle or tractor Kent operated. And if there was difficulty getting an engine started, Chopper would literally throw a fit.
Chopper spent endless seasons in the tractor. He never missed a trip to the stockyards in Burkettsville. He was along for untold parts runs. He owned the passenger seat in Kent’s truck. In fact, the times I joined them, it was clear I was intruding on Chopper’s territory. And the few times I drove Kent’s truck with Chopper as my wing man, it was clear that he was only tolerating my existence and driving skills. He was Kent’s dog. Period.
As much as Chopper loved to ride, he would only do so with Kent or me. One day Chopper accompanied Kent to the barn where we housed steers on another road. Kent left the dog there while he ran home to quickly grab some tools. The neighbors saw Chopper and tried to get him to jump in their truck so they could bring him home. Chopper knew these two men and even liked them, but he flat out refused to jump in their truck. Chopper sat and waited for Kent to return.
Kent loved to introduce Chopper as his therapy dog. He claimed that when no one else liked him, Chopper still loved him. Kent said Chopper taught him the value of companionship, which is invaluable when you are a dairy farmer dealing with stress from many factors you cannot control.
Chopper made my life easier. If you wanted to locate Kent (which can be a monumental task on this farm at times), just look for Chopper. He was also a backup alarm. If Kent was not up by 4:15 a.m, Chopper nudged him awake. At the end of the day, Chopper would not come in the house without Kent. They were a team.
Chopper was one of those dogs that everybody loved, and he returned the affection. The relief mail carrier for a time, Julie, brought him biscuits every time she stopped with a package. The FedEx driver brought him treats, too, as well as his food from Chewy. The UPS driver did not have treats when Chopper went to greet him, so Chopper looked unhappy and was flagged as a vicious dog.
Chopper was a tail-wagging canine example of the difference between happy and joy. Happy is all about yourself. Joy is the result of doing for others. Chopper was joy on four legs and a fur coat and actually more like a person in a dog suit than a dog.
What does any of this have to do with the practice of law? As my favorite law professor, the late Morgan Shipman used to explain, “nothing and everything.” Adopting a dog made me a better lawyer and a better person. As Mehmet Murat Ildan wrote, “Dogs are often happier than men simply because the simplest things are the greatest things for them.” Understanding that philosophy will prevent most legal issues from arising. Walking through life with a dog is a great reminder to embrace what really matters and seek joy.
One early May morning, Chopper just wasn’t acting like himself. Three days later he was gone from bleeding tumors in the spleen and the stomach. He died at home with Kent. We miss him terribly and probably always will.
Roger A Caras said it best when he opined that “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Kent figured it would take two dogs to even attempt to fill the emptiness left by Chopper’s passing. In late May, we brought home Ranger and Tonto, two red and white border collies from herding lines. I hope that with 2 pups, maybe one would bond with me this time.