Mary Lou and I know a man who is amazingly attractive to animals. A cattleman by profession, it’s unsurprising that when he goes into a field with his anguses, they immediately come to greet him and be greeted back in return. And when he leaves, he’s kind of like the Pied Piper being followed by cattle.
In talking with him, we learned that his mutual affection with animals has a long history. For example, he once knew of a mustang captured as a colt in the Dakota Badlands and sold to two people who mistreated it badly. When he realized what was happening, he offered to buy the horse and, happily, they agreed. And so he came to own a horse that was frightened whenever a human even looked at it.
“How did you manage to ride it?” we asked, and he explaining he never did since that would be too traumatic for the horse. He could tell we were perplexed, and so he went on to say he bought it to get it out of its situation and that, indeed, he understood the horse’s anxiety and so never even looked directly at the horse because that unsettled it. He could tell we were still confused, and so he continued.
“Well,” he said, “I took lots of time even approaching it and letting it get used to me.
“And when it did, it happily followed me everywhere…kind of like a devoted dog. Just as long as when I turned around, or brushed it out or fed it treats, I didn’t look it in the eye.”
And what happened to it, we wondered? He said it lived a long, long time and he never once looked directly at it. And, of course, the horse continued displaying its affection by following him closely whenever the two of them were together.
So, we were not surprised to learn he developed a relationship with a Canada goose. It seems a flock of them visited his farm briefly one year on their migration north. Our friend enjoyed watching the birds and if I recall, shared corn with them.
Then one morning, they all took off heading north. Except for one.
He felt badly for the remaining bird, and so he continued feeding it, and introduced it to the small river that ran through his property. It wasn’t long before the goose attached itself to him following him everywhere just like the horse. Except where the horse talked little, the goose gobbled on, and on, and on. Our friend didn’t say how he responded to this running monologue.
Then one day, the goose noticed our friend getting into his truck and driving off. What did the goose do? It took off, first following the pickup, then pulling up to the driver’s side window, looking in, and honking incessantly. Our friend had no idea what the bird was saying because his ability to understand quacking was never very good and especially not while he was concentrating on driving.
This happened until our friend realized that since he drove mostly on two-lane roads, and vehicles often passed from the opposite direction, every time the goose accompanied him it put itself in mortal danger because it didn’t pay attention to oncoming traffic.
And so our friend locked the goose up whenever he had to go somewhere. Maybe if the goose got a drivers license, he’d know to watch the traffic instead of maintaining a conversation. But this wouldn’t happen, we expect, because it was unlikely the animal was old enough, and besides, our friend spent so much time attending to his farm he didn’t have time to run the bird into town to get a learner’s permit never mind taking time accompanying the bird as it practiced for its drivers exam.
In any event, the summer was almost gone by now and geese were soon coming through as they headed south. And somewhere in the middle of the fall migration, the goose disappeared. Maybe, our friend opined, the goose’s relatives and friends came by, asked how its summer went, and invited it to head south with them.
Our friend was neither surprised nor disappointed by this development. He did, however, look forward to seeing the bird the following spring as it migrated north. But he did not, possibly because it met a goose of the opposite gender and that was more promising than visiting the farm for a second year.
That’s when our friend found an abandoned puppy and began housebreaking it.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.