There is no dog quite like a rodeo dog. And there’s never been a rodeo dog quite like Stein.
He was some random conglomeration of breeds, with the slick hair, long legs and squared-off head of a hunting hound, and the classic black and white markings of a Border Collie, which was where he got his name (Short for Holstein. Get it?). Technically, Stein belonged to John, but he considered himself a family dog, and was more than happy to jump in with Will or Jennifer if they invited him. Or left the pickup door open for a heartbeat.
Any mutt can be loaded in the rig, but true rodeo doggery is an art. No rodeo dog worth the name would be caught dead in a leash. They are quite capable of fending for themselves, thank you very much, and would never be so gauche as to wander off and require finding. Upon arrival at the fairgrounds, they immediately stake out their turf—otherwise known as the space beneath the truck and trailer. Our dog remains ensconced in that space for the duration of the rodeo, emerging only to vigorously defend said turf against canine interlopers via sneak attacks from behind the tires. Which can be a tad startling for any person who might be walking beside the interloper.
Did you know a steer wrestler can jump flat-footed from the ground to the hood of a pickup?
Stein was a more free-wheeling kind of dog. He would hop out of the truck, make careful note of where it was parked, then set off on his rounds. First a swing through the contestant parking lot to greet his favorite cowboys and cowgirls and collect the requisite ear scratchings. A leisurely examination of the underside of the bleachers, in search of half eaten hamburgers and stray popcorn dropped from above. Finally, a loop around the concession stand, always with one ear on the action in the arena so he could hightail it back to the truck as soon as the roping was done.
A good rodeo dog is always waiting at the truck when it’s time to leave.
Stein was a very polite dog, other than his penchant for rolling in foul-smelling substances, most of which were organic in nature. He didn’t pick fights or sniff crotches, and never set foot inside the arena (a major rodeo dog faux paw). He had only one real flaw—he considered any item of food held within his reach to be an offer to share.
The parents of the children whose ice cream and hot dogs he filched were of a different opinion.
One March, we went to an indoor rodeo in Lewiston, Idaho. The concession area was at the end of the bleachers, surrounded by a sizeable space that held a few picnic tables. I was seated at one, sipping a Pepsi and contemplating the half-finished cardboard carton of nachos someone had left on the next table. Can a human body really digest that glutenous yellow glob of cheese? My childhood affection for dog food seemed mild by comparison.
And speaking of dogs…
Stein ambled past, in full scavenger mode. He stopped dead, eyeing the leftover nachos. Looked right, then left, then right, wondering if perhaps the owner had only stepped away for a moment. No one in sight. Stein sidled up to the table, reeking of canine innocence, and propped both front feet on the picnic bench.
At this point, a normal dog would have started wolfing down nachos and been nabbed by the ladies manning the concession stand. Not Stein. He grabbed the edge of the paper tray in his teeth, slid it off the table, and trotted away with his prize, straight out the back door where he could savor them at his leisure.
I polished off my Pepsi and headed for the roping chutes. I met Will along the way, wallet in hand and a gloomy look on his face.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
“I assume I owe someone money,” he said. “Stein has cheese in his whiskers again.”