Gilbert Poggins had a dog on his dairy farm that made it necessary for him to tell every visitor, while he smiled, flashing over-sized white teeth, rubbing his big hairy arm, “Naah, that dog won’t bite.”
But the truth was, he was concerned that the half-wild dog named Willy might bite because Willy seemed to shiver nervously at times with visitors present, but somehow show no fear at all. Some people might half need biting, but what if the victim was an innocent, fragile old person, or worse yet, one of his own grandchildren. Poggins puzzled over what to do about Willy.
Willy was named Willy because one of Poggin’s grandchildren misspelled Wiley, for a wiley and crafty coyote he had read about in a book, to name the dog.
Willy was large enough at 60 pounds to make even the most even-tempered visitor nervous.
He was a yellow-brown dog with a broad white collie stripe around his neck with strange yellow-green eyes that seemed to glare out at a visitor.
Willy wasn’t a collie at all. He was half shepherd-collie crossbred and half coyote. Gilbert got him free from a rancher on the great open grass sections to the west, and he couldn’t tell you whether the cross of dog and native animal was purposeful or a chance encounter of nature.
Willy had ears that pointed straight up when he was interested in something, which was nearly every moment he was awake. He was interested in every visitor with those ears and those eyes turned toward them, and that helped make them nervous.
From the moment a visitor stepped from a car, Willy, after looking at them through the windows, would exhibit a combination of dog and coyote nature. He was quiet. He didn’t bark or growl. But he circled visitors, watching them with his nose alternately part-way to the ground or part-way in the air to catch scent, and his ears changing position to their every step.
As they walked from the car to the house, Willy continued going round and round them in a circle. He only stopped to stand a ways off, watching when a member of the Poggins family greeted a person.
“He’s just different,” said Gilbert,” Old Willy never tried to hurt anybody.”
But inside himself, Gilbert sometimes said, “Maybe I ought to find a way to get rid of that dog before he does hurt someone or causes them to panic. Naah, I’ve raised old Willy. He sits beside me in the front yard, and I pat his head. He sure was cute as a pup. Surely he wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
What Gilbert Poggins didn’t know was that Willy kind of wanted to bite somebody because people who didn’t belong to his home group were causing him anxiety. Just one quick bite that might cause them to run away, or establish his territoriality, seemed a natural thing to do.
Willy’s number one candidate for biting was Curley Red, the milk man who drove in daily to the dairy parlor barn, where he carried empty milk cans in for filling the next day, and carried full cans of milk from the water cooler to his big truck.
Curley Red made lots of clanging noises, and his nonchalant way of ignoring Willy while the dog circled seemed to make him a threat that should be driven from the territory before he hurt a member of the home group what with all his noise and exciting smell.
And Willy’s unerring nose and sensitivity were correct about the nervous smell. Curley Red, with his red hair shaved down to nothing on a strawberry pink scalp setting on a big square head held by a great bull neck, didn’t look like the kind of guy who could be frightened by a dog.
Curley was big, with a 65-inch chest, large shoulders and biceps built up from handling cans of milk. He exposed his build with a sleeveless shirt in warm weather. He had thick forearms and wore mud boots to the tops of his ankles.
When a person met Curley, he seemed like the type of man who ought to have many friends. He laughed easily and comfortably. But instead of lots of friends, Curley had only a couple of other bachelors who stopped to see him from time to time in his little three-room house on the edge of a prairie hay meadow. Curley seemed like he didn’t have a care in the world.
But the truth was, Curley Red was terrified of dogs. A little yapper had chased him round and round a house to start it all off when he was a 4-year-old. At every farm he watched for the dogs that might come down around the milk barn. He tried various behaviors, from being quiet, to saying, “hi, pup,” in a friendly way, to stomping his feet, and hollering at them to drive them away.
None of this worked very well with Willy. Curley Red was a visitor, although he came every day, so Willy wasn’t going to miss a chance to look him over.
As far as Willy was concerned, the only human being that came close to being a friend was Gilbert Poggins, so saying “hi, pup” nicely had no effect on him. And the stomping and hollering got him really interested, intensifying his more savage green gaze, so he made a wider circle around Curley Red while he kicked, watching him all the more intently.
Curley Red loved the days when Willy was off with Gilbert Poggins somewhere else on the farm, and came to trying to ignore him on the majority of days when Willy circled him as he carried cans. Curley was ready to swing a can at him should the dog make a wrong move.
Willly’s behavior as domestic and wild animal crossed held true in all his experiences on the farm. Like any dutiful dog, he followed Gilbert Poggins as he carried his milking machine to hook to the vacuum system at the milk parlor twice daily—once in early morning, once in the evening after field work was done for the day.
The tiger-striped orange and gray barn cats made way for Willy uneasily with the younger ones occasionally hissing as Gilbert stepped through the barn door. They could smell, and sense the wild in this dog.
Willy kept his ears up, watching the cats’ every move. Here they were Gilbert Poggins’ cats, safe in domesticity. But let Willy find one of them out in the pastures, and they were his. Unbeknownst to Gilbrt Poggins, Willy had killed many a cat.
When Gilbert quietly herded the big black and white Holstein cows into the lot to take their turns in the parlor for milking, Willy trotted back and forth the width of the herd behind him. He never darted in to nip a heel like a shepherd or a collie might, but stayed back like a predator watching for the animal that might fall.
One fall morning, when the aromatic smell of sweet pungent sour-apple fermenting silage permeated the milk barn area, Curley Red drove up in his big truck to find nobody around except Willy the half-breed dog, laying quietly in the building shade with his ears already up, alertly anticipating Curley Red getting out.
“So, it’s you and me all alone again, is it Willy, my boy, dog or banshee or whatever you are,” Curley Red muttered while he patted one hand on the steering wheel. But there was no use delaying the inevitable, so Curley threw open the door, and stepped out to get empty cans from the back of the truck for the milkhouse as Willy began to move in a wide circle around him.
Curley Red banged the empty cans together in a loud, bonging noise hoping the sound would drive Willy away, but it only agitated the dog a little so that the circle became smaller, drawing closer to the man.
Curley Red made it through the milkhouse door amidst cats that had the sense to scatter in the wake of the dog’s circling. Curley opened the chest top to the cooler, and, putting his hands on the cold water-dripping handles of a chilled can full of milk, used his strong arm and chest muscles to heave it up and over the edge.
He peaked out the door first to see if Willy was there, and the dog was there with head half-lowered, ears forward, and glaring green eyes focused on the doorway. “Go ahead, get out of here, off with you,”
Curley Red shouted at the coyote-cross, but Willy only lowered his head a little more, and focused all the more intently.
Curley Red came out the door with the heavy can headed toward the back of his truck as nonchalantly as possible trying not to look at Willy with any look that might draw a reaction.
But it was too late. Every instinct Willy had was screaming “threat, intruder!” The fear smell from Curley Red was too related to the aggression scent. Willy’s ears went down, and he twisted his body sideways in a feinting maneuver to come in low and hard at Curley Red’s ankle.
In one quick slicing bite that also allowed him to make the turn to escape, Willy’s teeth cut through Curley’s jeans just above the boot to open two parallell red tracks.
“Aaah! Aaah, aah, aah!” hollered Curley Red in pain, fear and sudden anger. He hurled the can at Willy causing the lid to pop loose as it hit dirt spilling the white liquid everywhere.
Willy easily avoided the throw, and moved back and forth in a half circle as Curley propped himself against his truck to remove his boots and socks, and sponge away the blood with the clean sock.
“What’s all the hollering about?” asked Gilbert Poggins as Willy ran to his side. “What’s happening, Curley Red? I thought you’d been killed the way you yelled.
“It was Willy,” Curley explained, telling the whole story while Gilbert poured peroxide over his cuts, then stood there rubbing a finger against his weathered brown cheek as he listened.
“At least you’ll be OK, Curley,” Gilbert said, “Willy gets a rabies shot every year when the vet comes to work cattle. But I can’t have him anymore after this. I was afraid he’d bite somebody some day. Why don’t you get your boots on, and I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Oh, I’ll drive bare foot, let the air get to my ankle a little. I’m OK. Guess I’m really a little ashamed, Gilbert. I have to admit that I have a fear of dogs, probably half brought it on myself.”
“Yes, I could see that you were just a little leery of Willy, but that won’t happen again. We’ll fix that. You just sit here a minute.”
Curley Red was taking a few deep breaths with his hands on the steering wheel when Gilbert Poggins opened the passenger door. Gilbert had a paper 50-pound feed sack that had been cut apart at the seams enabling him to fold it over Curley’s truck seat, and tuck it in.
“There, that ought to keep your seat clean, Curley.”
“What are you doing?”
Gilbert looked Curley Red in the face for a moment, expressionless and determined looking as though he had just made a momentous decision.
“Why I’m doing something for both of you,” Gilbert said as he reached down with both hands to lift Willy, then push him down on the seat, rubbing his head between the ears to comfort him. “You live all alone, and you need a companion, help you get over your fear of dogs, and Willy doesn’t have anyplace else to go now. He’ll soon learn that you belong to him.”
Curley’s big square chin dropped below his open mouth, “Why, I don’t want a dog! And, I especially don’t want this spooky old dog. Look at those green eyes looking at me!”
“Give me your hand, Curley. Come on Curley Red, just let me take your hand. Don’t draw back. See we’re laying it right here on Willy’s head. See, rub his head, that’s right back and forth, let him know you’re OK.”
“No!” Curley said, “I can’t be putting my hand on that demon dog!”
“Now darn it, Curley Red, do as I say. Quit jerking like you’re so darned scared or you’ll scare Willy. Give me that hand, and quit acting like a big baby.”
“Hey, being a little afraid of dogs is a legitimate thing. Heck I can’t help it if….”
“Sure you can help it. Don’t give me that garbage. See you’re patting Willy. Good dog, good dog. That’s right, let him smell your hand. See, Willy, good dog. You’re going to like old Curley Red . Easy, put your hand back on the wheel, Curley. I’m shutting the door here on old Willy, see, and you just drive on out of here. Don’t look back. You’re Willy’s only chance, and if you want to open that door at a pound, or far out in the country, it’s your choice. Just don’t ever bring Willy back here.”
Curley Red was stunned to find himself driving out the driveway with a dog in his front seat, especially one that had always been as threatening as Willy. But Willy never offered to make a move. He laid on the sack with his ears down, his head motionless cradled on his legs.
Curley Red was relieved that no dogs were in sight at the next farm. Hard telling how Willy might react if another dog came out to challenge. When he had loaded the last can at that stop, he sliced a piece of cheddar from a big cheese among others in the truck cooler that sometimes were on order for farmers on the route. Now he’d have to buy it. Willy didn’t move when he climbed back in the cab, tore the piece of cheese in two, and ate his half while he gingerly pushed the other chunk across the seat by Willy’s nose. The dog made no move.
Curley nearly hyperventilated going toward the next stop at Jackie’s Jersey Farm. These people had a Doberman that they kept penned. They kept it for a relative in the city who couldn’t provide enough room for it. What if it was loose? What if it came at him? What would Willy do, try to jump from the truck to help rip him to shreds? Or, if he got away from the Doberman, would Willy be there to get him?
But the Doberman never appeared, and when he got back to the truck cab, Willy’s half of the cheese was gone. But Willy never moved while Curley drove
. There was one more stop. Curley Red summoned all of the calm he possessed, reached over, and patted the top of Willy’s head like Gilbert Poggins had showed him. Willy didn’t move.
Yes, there was one more stop. Please God, don’t let Mattie Harris turn her little mutt out of the house today. The strange little Pekinese, Pomeranian, Beagle and something else cross knew he was afraid. Please don’t have it out there to yap.
But there the little dog was, running, barking, all happiness alongside the truck knowing that a very large man had to get out, and be timid of it.
Curley Red watched for a reaction from Willy, but the coyote-dog just laid there quietly with his head still down.
The Harris family didn’t have many cows. He could probably just get their couple of full cans of milk, and shorten the visit by not leaving empty cans today.
Curley Red opened his door to step out slowly. Maybe he should have put his boots back on for this stop. The little hair-ball of a dog was bouncing up and down excitedly right in front of him. Curley bravely slid to the ground shivering a little. Probably even bare footed, he could deal with this little dog.
But then there was a burst of hair and muscle pushing past him from the truck, Willy gone wild again.
The coyote-dog ran behind the panicking, yelping little dog for a hundred feet snapping at his rear end before turning to run back just as fast toward a very surprised Curley Red still standing in front of the open truck door which had flopped open. Willy charged straight past him, straight up the truck step to jump back on his feed sack.
Curley Red had his very own dog. And it stayed that way for nearly a year. Many evenings Curley Red sat in the lawn chair in front of his little house with Willy’s head in his lap while he rubbed the dog’s head, and scratched his ears. Curley Red got a job feeding and caring for cattle where two Border Collies knew him very well, and he seldom ever had to meet new dogs. Even his bachelor friend, Jeremy Haggins, the one with the combed back mane of brown hair, could pat Willy while the dog raised his ears to the calls of coyotes over the night wind. Curley very seldom had other visitors, so there was little circling for Willy to do.
One night Jeremy called to tell Curley Red that he had gotten a coyote-cross dog too, great big wolf hound female cross. “How about I bring her over for you and Willy to meet her, Curley? If we like, maybe we could have some puppies out of them some day.”
Curley Red said, “Sure.” He always did have trouble turning other people down when they asked him to do something.
So Jeremy Haggins brought his wolfhound-coyote cross dog over to meet Curley Red and Willy. The two dogs met head to head, ears up, green eyes looking into yellow eyes, sniffing. They sniffed each other over entirely. For awhile they laid in the front yard grass while Jeremy and Curley visited through the dark evening from adjoining lawn chairs.
Then the two dogs began romping and playing as the southern breeze came up, and fireflies blinked from the night darkness. They ran to the prairie meadow fence together, the female quickly ducking under the fence to run on out into the night.
Willy paused for a moment before he went under too. Curley Red could envision the familiar green eyes staring back at him although they glinted bright white-yellow in animal night glare in flashes of moonlight now. Then Willy ran out into the night too.
The two men never saw either one of the dogs again although there were rumors that for several years coyote hunters occasionally would take an animal with a white collie belt, probably the offspring of some coyote-dog cross.
Jeremy Haggins never owned a dog again.
But Curley Red made sure he got one when the Border Collies at the ranch had pups.
Wild Willy had answered the question of his origin. The cross had been a chance encounter of nature, just like this one.