THE STORY OF ALLEN’S EBONY JOE
by Lilian Allen
I first became interested in Australian Shepherds in the early 1970’s, watching them help with show cattle at the livestock shows. This was before the rule of “No Dogs Allowed”, and almost every show string had an Aussie. These wonderful little dogs would follow the show cattle to the wash racks, the night tie-outs, or wherever the handlers needed to take them. If the cattle became lazy and refused to go, the little dog would persuade them with a nip on their heels. When they weren’t helping with the cattle, they would lay quietly by the tack boxes. Most were not tied up, but would never offer to leave.
The more I watched them, the more convinced I became that they were a lot smarter than the average dog. We were showing our Polled Hereford cattle at the time, making fairs and livestock shows in several states. So I decided we had to have an Aussie, even if we already had two dogs at home.
My husband, Glen, liked the way the dogs worked, so he wasn’t too hard to convince. We bought our first Aussie at the Fort Worth Stock Show. She was three months old – black and white – and came with the name “Gabby”. I wish I could tell you that Gabby was smart and a super cow dog, but the opposite was true. She was scared to death of a cow and she didn’t have much more brains than she did courage. We tried everything we could think of to help her, but nothing worked. Needless to say, my husband wasn’t real happy with me and my bright idea. Then he came up with the solution.
We would breed Gabby to Ernie, a good working dog we had come to know at the stock shows. Hopefully we would get at least one pup that would work, then we would give Gabby and the rest away.
When Gabby came in season, we paid a visit to Ernie’s home. When we arrived, they were loading cattle on a semi truck. There was a little black tri puppy tailing every one of those cows up the ramp and into the truck. If the cows didn’t want to go, she would get a bite of heel and then lay down so low that if the cow kicked, it would kick over her head. She was fast as greased lightning. Boy, was I impressed.
After the cows were loaded, she came over to meet us. Her name was Joey and she was a daughter of Ernie. She immediately made friends with our youngest son, Kenny.
He was sitting on the ground, and she crawled into his lap. It was a case of love at first sight for both of them. I asked if she was for sale. After a few minutes hesitation, the answer was “Yes, I guess so.”
All the while he was watching Kenny and the pup, Glen was shaking his head, “No, No, No. No Way! We have all the #*#*#* dogs we need!” So we left without her. (Glen’s solution didn’t work either. Gabby wasn’t the least bit interested in Ernie.)
Kenny and I spent the next three or four days trying to convince Glen that we needed that puppy. But he wouldn’t budge. He said, “We don’t need another dog. We already have two worthless ones and, besides, that is the ugliest dog I have ever seen!” She was four months old – no coat, and in her “puppy uglies”, but for some reason she wasn’t ugly to me and I couldn’t get her off my mind.
One afternoon about a week later, it fell my job to get the show calves out of the barn and put them in their traps for the night. We had just started our show string that summer and we halter broke our calves by leading them into the show barn in the mornings and out again at night. Most of the time this took two people – one to lead, one to follow, but on this particular morning everybody was gone but me. So I had the job all by myself! I had an awful time trying to lead those balky calves. I don’t remember why Glen and both the boys had to be gone. It might have been fate, because I decided right then and there that I was going to buy that puppy. I didn’t care who liked it or who didn’t.
I was working two nights a week at the telephone office. I went to work an 11:00 p.m.. that night. The next morning I called home just before I left work. Glen answered the phone, and I asked to speak to Kenny. Our conversation went something like this:
“Kenny, do you still want that puppy?”
“OK how much money do you have?’
“I don’t know. Maybe fifty-five or sixty dollars.”
“If you will put in fifty dollars, so will I, and we will get her.”
“What’s Daddy gonna say?”
“We don’t care what Daddy says. Be ready when I get home, because we are going after her.”
From the minute she got in the car with us, she was our dog. There was no adjustment or getting acquainted. It was like she had always belonged to us.
When we got home, our oldest son, Mike, was out in the yard: As Joey jumped out of the car, he said, “You gave a hundred dollars for THAT!” I guess he didn’t think she was good-looking either. Glen wouldn’t even look at her. He was so mad, and only speaking to me when he had to. His bottom lip was hanging pretty low. None of this bothered me. I had a feeling about that puppy. I figured we just might show them. Well, show them we did!
In about three days Joey had every one of Glen’s show calves leading like little puppy dogs. His pout turned into a big smile. What a joy she was to live with – no accidents in the house, never bothered or tore up a thing. A perfect lady in every respect. When you took her somewhere you didn’t have to keep up with Joey, she kept up with you. She would stick to my left knee like glue. I could have walked through downtown Dallas without a leash.
Guess what! In about two months the ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan. Glen made this remark one day, “The biggest bargain we will ever get in this life is that one hundred dollars we spent for Joey!” Of course, I reminded him that he didn’t spend it.
I called her former owners after about three months just to let them know how she was getting along. I told them we were all very happy with each other, and that I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but she had never missed them. He asked if she was affectionate with us. I said, “Oh my,YES!”,
“Well,” he said, “that’s the reason I sold her to you. We had picked her out to keep, but she never seemed to care much about us. When you all came that day, she had a bigger fit over that boy of yours than she ever did over any of us.” Talk about fate, that was one of those things that was just meant to be.
Out daughter Barbara was married and living about sixty miles from us when we got Joey. I couldn’t wait for her to see Joey. Somehow Joey knew who Barbara was the first minute they saw each other. We thought it was odd that she accepted Barbara so fast — I believe now it was because she loved what I loved. She proved this later in life
when she surprised the whole family by being completely crazy over our first grandchild, Brian Glen Allen. She would lay beside him and let him pull hers ears, crawl over her — just anything he wanted to do was fine.
Joey was strictly a one-family dog. If your last name wasn’t “Allen”, you had better keep your hands off her. When someone else attempted to put their hands on her, she would let out a little low growl and show them her pretty teeth. She never bit anybody but she sure let them know she didn’t want to be handled by strangers. She became quite famous with all the people making the stock shows because of her cow savvy and unusual intelligence. People would come up to her at a stock show and say something to her. By then, they had learned they couldn’t pet her. She would turn her head in the opposite direction and let on as if she didn’t see or hear them. It was really funny to watch. She couldn’t even be tempted with food. If it didn’t come from one of us, she wouldn’t eat it. Barbara made the remark to me one day that if Joey was a person, she didn’t think she would like her. When I asked why, she said, “Just look at her — she acts stuck up.”
I could take Joey to the pasture, put every cow in the lot, and the only time I got out of the pickup was to close the gate. We never trained her, she trained us. She just knew we were going to the lot, and the cows were scared to death of that little black dog. It got to be where it was no fun, just drive to the pasture with Joey in the back of the truck. The cows would see her and take out for the lot. This came in handy in her later years. She really had those cows dog broke. She could work a chute better than a man.
Kenny was a calf roper on his college rodeo team. It was Joey’s favorite thing in the world to put the calves in the chute for him to practice. Then she would sit still as a statue, peeping through the chute until he nodded his head, signaling he was ready for his calf. The she would give that calf a send-off with a bite, run over to watch, I guess, to see if he caught the calf or not, then back to the chute to bring up the next calf. Nobody taught her this either. She just did it.
Besides her cow work, she did many other wonderful things. She woke me up one night when there was a small fire in our kitchen. She took her night watchman duties very seriously. She slept in my bedroom, but would get up and make regular patrols through the house. She would check on the boys by putting her front feet on the side of their bed and looking at each one until she was convinced they were all right. Mike said he had the daylights scared out of him more than once when he awoke and this dark form was staring him in the face. When he moved, she went and did the same thing to Kenny.
My mother stayed with us while recovering from an illness. She couldn’t hear very well, so Joey took it upon herself to become a hearing dog. If they were home alone and the phone rang, Joey would go to Mother, bark, then run to the telephone. They train dogs to do that sort of thing today. Joey didn’t need to be trained – she saw the need of one of her family and took care of it.
I took Joey to work with me for several years. I worked the night shift, alone in a building with about a dozen outside doors, some of which would be accidentally left unlocked. I would have been afraid without her, but I knew that if anybody came in, they were going to want out a whole lot worse than they wanted in. I felt completely safe as long as she was with me. She knew exactly what she was doing, and it made her feel important that she was looking after me. Glen said he will always remember her sitting in the seat beside me as we drove in from work. She sat straight and precise, looking like she thought she was worth a million. I agree! I think she was, too!
Mike married in December of 1976. Joey accepted his wife, Sharon, right away. When Joey needed to go to the vet and we were all busy, Sharon volunteered to take her. After all, Joey was so well-behaved, it wouldn’t be much trouble. She didn’t get a collar or leash because she had seen us take Joey everywhere without one. She drove up to the vet’s office, opened the car door and said, “Come on, Joey.” She did — right down the middle of the highway, headed for home. It must have been a sight, Sharon running right behind screaming for her to stop. Sharon and Mike had only been married a short time, and Sharon knew how we all loved that dog. So she said she thought, “If she gets run over, they will have to hit me too. If something happens to this dog, I might as well be dead. I sure could never go home again.”
Well, she did finally get her stopped, and they made it to the vet’s office. Joey never like to go to the vet, but a few years later when she was gravely ill, I was surprised to see her walk in his office very willingly. She was smart enough to know she needed his help.
Joey loved to play as much as she loved to work. Hide-and-go seek and playing with the ball were her favorite games. I remember one time when my son-in-law thought he would play a trick on me. He dressed up in a Halloween gorilla suit, complete with hands and claws, and slipped into the house to scare me. But Joey saw him before I did, and the joke was on him as he ran from the house screaming, “Joey, it’s me!” She was biting the seat of his britches at every stop. I’m sure she knew who he was after the first few seconds, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to get in a few bites. With the sense of humor that dog had, I bet she enjoyed that little prank more than any of us.
After Mike married, we could ask Joey if she wanted to go see him. She would wiggle all over and whine like she was trying to talk. I would say, “Well, OK. Go ask Daddy if we can go.” She would run over to Glen and whine. If he said no, she would go lay down and pout. If yes, she would head for the door.
In the summer of 1980, she got very sick. This was during the time of Texas’ big heat wave of 42 days of over 100 degrees. The vets (three of them) were never sure exactly what she had, except liver failure, maybe caused by a Parvo shot. For three weeks we fought a terrible battle. I would not leave her at the vet clinic because I knew if she was away from us, she would give up. Some member of the family sat with her 24 hours a day. We kept her alive with IVs because she couldn’t keep anything on her stomach. But still true to form, she wouldn’t make a mess in the house. We would hold a bucket and she would throw up in it. Sharon, a registered nurse, spent her two weeks vacation helping nurse Joey. The vet joked that he had never had never had a patient before with its own RN.
After one particularly bad night, I thought the end was near. We called the kids, and the whole family went with her to the vet hospital. Tears were flowing freely. I bet that veterinarian never saw anything like that before or since. The vet also thought it was about all over. Her veins collapsed, so we couldn’t get an IV started. As a last resort, he decided to try a different medicine. The medicine either worked or the good Lord just took pity on us, because she started to get better. After many a sleepless night, and an almost $1,000 veterinary bill, we won our battle, and she was to be with us for eight more years.
We bought Joey for a cow dog, and she was a great one! But she turned out to be so much more – guardian, companion, playmate – but most of all, a cherished member of our family.
We lost her on April 9,1988. We all still miss her, and I’m sure we always will. She was a once-in-a-lifetime dog.
We have one of her great-granddaughters that looks and acts more like her every day. I forget sometimes and call her Joey — she gives me a look that makes me think she understands. They say you can’t buy love, but I have to disagree. Kenny and I sure bought it that day in June of 1973.
this article was originally published in the January/February 1993 issue of Aussie Times