During my years of veterinary practice I have come in contact with individuals from several species of animals that, for one reason or another, were hell-bent on my destruction. Under these circumstances it is easy to picture the mean dog, the clawing and biting cat, the enraged herd bull, the wily old cow that is guarding her calf, a mare who is protecting her newborn foal and the horse who would bite you and strike you and stomp out your life. Let’s not forget in this group of animals; I have to add the vicious old boar and the newly farrowing sow. They can attack you in a flash and tear you to pieces if either of them should get a hold of any part of you.
My list is not complete without mentioning the 1,000 lb. western bred steer that has escaped from the feedlot and has been pursued, in hot weather, by men on horseback whom he has eluded. He has finally taken refuge in a large field of standing corn, where he reverts to the wild in just a few days.
These animals become extremely cunning. I have hunted them in the standing cornfields to kill them before they injure someone. I have had them wait and ambush me as well as circle around to attack me from behind. Hunting one of these, I imagine, is much like stalking the wild African Buffalo.
I have met and dealt with individuals from all of these classes and types of animals and I can truthfully say I have not been afraid of any of them. I had been either hired or asked to deal with the individual, so I prepared myself to handle the situation, however rough it might become.
Having said all of this, I have to admit that on one occasion, I made a horrible mistake and, as a result, I looked death in the eye and was so afraid that the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and I knew “I was had.”
The true story goes like this ...
It happened on a Thanksgiving Day afternoon back in the mid-'70s. Our kids were all home and my wife, Mary, was busy preparing a dinner for the occasion to be served around 6 or 7:00 in the evening. I had been doing calls all day trying to keep up so we could all have dinner together.
It was a cold day and it had snowed about four inches the previous evening, leaving the whole landscape covered with a sparkling blanket of white.
About mid-morning, while I was out, my wife took a call from a good client of ours. He, his wife and two twin boys lived on a farm southwest of Maurice, Iowa. It was a good, well-kept place and he was an excellent livestock caretaker. They fed cattle, raised Hampshire pigs and had a small flock of Suffolk sheep to keep the grove clean. He told Mary that he had a sick steer for me to treat. The family was going to his mother’s house for dinner and they would be home at 4:00.
Over the noon hour I received another call from a client who lived several miles away from the “4:00 people.” He had some steers to treat so I went to his farm. I finished working his cattle about 3:00, so I decided I would go over to the farm, with the 4:00 call, and wait for them to come home.
At that time we were equipped with two-way radios, so I told Mary where I was going and took off for the farm place.
I arrived at the farm about 3:30 and parked on the yard near the house. As soon as I shut off the vet truck engine, I heard a very loud noise of pigs squealing in fright. Now a pig will squeal if it is caught or picked on. The squeal is of a relatively low pitch and of short duration. These squeals were of a great number, very high-pitched and of long duration. The squealing was incessant and drowned out any other sounds on the yard. The noise was coming from an area west of the big barn and just east of the cattle yard.
I knew the farmer had a temporary hog house there and had made a yard for the pigs with some steel posts and three-foot high hog panels. I also knew that he had about eighty 45-pound Hampshire pigs which he had confined in the temporary yard.
It didn’t take an idiot to know that there was something radically wrong out there in the hog yard.
Out of the pickup I went, through the snow, along the north side of the barn, and upon reaching the corner, I stepped out by the pig-yard fence.
I have never seen a sight like I saw there in my life. There were three large white German Shepherd dogs in the pen with the pigs. They were “on the kill” and were absolutely crazy with the sport of it.
The pig yard was a mess. The ground was all torn up and soaked with blood. It was littered with dead and dying pigs. There were pieces of legs, hunks of meat and intestines, livers, lungs and other parts of pigs lying all over. Some of the victims were trying to drag themselves out of the way of the dogs. A number of them had their legs off, others their abdomens ripped open.
The pigs who had not been hurt were frantically racing around the yard trying to get away from the three killing machines. As they ran they continuously squealed in a very high-pitched sound. This squealing is what I heard when I drove in the yard.
The three white dogs were covered with blood and on a real killing spree. They did not see me as I stood by the corner of the barn, even though one of them was no more than 10 feet away. I did not think correctly. I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I threw both of my hands and arms up in the air and yelled, “Get out of here!”
Instantly, the two dogs “nearest” to me turned to face me. They immediately dropped into an aggressive attack mode with their ears laid back and hideous snarls on their faces. I will never forget looking directly into the eyes of the “nearest” dog as it got ready to spring over the fence and get to me. The eyes were wild and fire red.
In that split second I knew I was in big trouble. I should have quietly stepped back around the barn corner and got out of there. I could see they were going to attack me and I was no match for even one of them, let alone all three. I knew they would pull me down and tear me apart. My only hope was to back along the side of the barn and try to stay on my feet. Just maybe I could find an open door and have a chance to get away from them.
In that split second that I stood there facing the two dogs, about a dozen terrified pigs saved my life. They came tearing out of somewhere and in their fright, they almost bowled the two dogs over. Immediately the dogs tore into the pigs. I stepped back, out of sight, around the corner of the barn and beat a hasty retreat to my pickup. Once inside the cab I contemplated what to do next.
The dogs did not follow me, but I could hear them having their fun with the pigs.
I did not have a firearm in the truck. The nearest neighbor was a mile-and-a-half away. I could call Mary on the radio and she could call them. But they might not be home. What to do? I wanted to kill these dogs before they finished off the pigs and went for the cattle in the feed yard.
Then it dawned on me! The twin boys were pheasant hunters. Sometime back I had been on the place when they were cleaning some pheasants which they had shot. It was like turning on a light! There has got be some shotguns in the house!
Out of the truck I went and to the porch at the front of the house. The porch was enclosed and the entry door was locked. I peered through a window and sure enough in a corner I could make out a couple of hunting coats, some boxes of shotgun shells and two old double-barreled shotguns.
It was like a present from Heaven! One good kick on the old lock opened the door. I grabbed a double-barrel 12 that had seen a lot of service and helped myself to a couple of handfuls of 12 gauge shells from a box on the table. I loaded both barrels, snapped her shut and headed for the pig pen.
I stepped around the barn corner and the dog “nearest” to me never knew what hit it. The right barrel sent a load of shot through its chest taking out its heart and lungs in pieces. The other two dogs knew what a gunshot was as they both took off over the pig pen fence. One of the dogs ran for the grove. I swung on him and the left barrel did its job sending its load of lead through the belly of the killer. The dying dog dragged itself around the house leaving a bloody trail, in the new snow, as it went.
I reloaded as fast as I could and ran to the cattle yard fence. The third dog had just made it to the far fence and as he went over it I gave him both barrels in the rear end. It dropped on the opposite side of the fence and I could see the shots had paralyzed its rear legs. The dog started to drag itself across the picked cornfield to the mile road.
I made my way back to the vet truck and drove off the yard down to the corner where I could watch the progress of the wounded dog. When it finally reached the road I drove down to it and the old 12 put it out of its misery.
I placed the dead dog on the vet box and went back to the house. The family had just arrived home and was dumbfounded by seeing blood in the yard around the house, from the second dog I had shot. They had also discovered the broken lock and found one of the shotguns was missing. I had some explaining to do.
The culprits were three male white German Shepherd dogs. They didn’t have collars or any other markings. The dogs had been well-cared for and were large, weighing about 110 lbs. each. The owner or owners were never found.
The dogs apparently came on the yard and attacked the four 4-H Club calves in their pen. They were bit up and had bled some but I could suture most of the wounds and topically treat the open wounds. All of the calves recovered.
Next, the dogs had entered the sheep quarters. There were about a dozen ewes and a ram. Some individuals were already dead and most of the others I had to put down.
From the sheep they went to the pigs. By the time the dogs reached the swine pen, they were all fired up to kill. The farmer lost almost all of his fine Hampshire pigs. About 10 or 12 head were untouched. The rest, that were alive, were so torn up they had to be destroyed.
As for me, a number of things changed. From that day on I have always carried a gun in my vet truck. My wife and I would walk every morning into the country from the edge of town. We would go from 4:30 to 5:30 a.m. while it was still dark. When on these walks I always carried a grizzly bear pepper spray. I’ve never had to use it on a dog, but I think it would serve one well if the occasion should arise.
I will never forget facing those dogs. I made a mistake and they had me “cold.” The hair stood straight up on the back of my neck. I knew they would get me down and rip me apart and I was scared!
So the Lord smiled on me that day and let me live to die at another time in some other place. I have to truthfully say that those three dogs SCARED THE LIVING HELL OUT OF ME!!