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Tales from the Bark Side column: Boots, the dog that crossed over the river

OTTERTAIL -- Welcome back to the bark side of life here in Ottertail, where the temperatures have plummeted like a boulder from a precipice high above the frozen plain.

A crimson sun climbs slowly from the eastern horizon and fills a cranberry sky with a pallet of oranges and grays... a pastel on a winter canvas. August has its dog days and in kind, January has its polar bear nights. A fire crackles in the standing wood stove, the house snuggles into a snow-banked hill, and life at Rosswood slows down to a comfortable pace that endures the wicked ways of winter.

With the weather being so miserable (for some... a great many Minnesotans are a hearty people) I happen to have a warmer tale that harkens back to a time where life was much simpler... and relatively warmer. Keith Bellefeuille of Detroit Lakes phoned me the other day and shared this tale with me. Please feel free to call in a tale if you don't want to write it yourself. I've done this many times and I believe I've done my contributors well. With that being said, here is Keith's story -- the other Keith, that is -- about a dog that needed to cross a river.

In 1946, World War Two was finally over and life was slowly falling back into a state of normalcy and for two teenage brothers in rural Minnesota, it was grand. Keith was 14 and his older brother was 17. The spring air was filled with anticipation and their half-husky/German shepherd male was sprinting back in forth in front of the duo; enjoying the magical moment with them. The only problem vexing a perfectly good afternoon was how they were going to get across the river that stood before them without backtracking for miles.

The Buffalo River meandered through that country with no seeming sense of direction or purpose. When the three trekkers came to a tree that traversed the clear cold stream, they stood transfixed. It was a young tree, approximately 10 inches in diameter, and had the full compliment of branches jutting out at all angles. What to do? Could they make it across without falling into the water?

The older brother being the wiser of the two -- his opinion being the most important -- teenagers, decided that they should cross the Buffalo at this point. After all, they were young and courageous and fear had no hold of their psyches. One member of the trio did not have a vote, however, and Boots was not fond of their choice of routes across the river. He barked his disappointment emphatically; throwing in several well placed volleys of yelps and whines as well.

Keith tried to coax Boots across, but the tree limbs presented more of a challenge to him than they did to the teenage adventurers. The river at this point was over eight feet across and while not being that far in normal circumstances, it was the Grand Canyon to a dog who wanted to be by his master's side. The part of the brain that exacts logic -- the cerebral cortex -- at moments like these went into overdrive in the dog's brain. He'd find a way over the river no matter what!

First of all, he went down river south about 50 feet; sniffing and searching the ground as he went. He turned back toward the two youngsters who had made it across the bushy hardwood bridge, and followed his nose north past the tree another 40-50 feet. He stood there surveying the situation as of he was making a decision based upon his discoveries. Then he dashed away to the south again to a spot he previously passed and stopped... his head held high like he was gauging the wind. The river was the narrowest at this point.

Boots turned around in a circle, generating some speed, and taking a good run at the river, launched himself into the air; his wispy hair flying in the soft spring breeze. He cleared the water easily and came barking to his master... wearing his pride across his canine muzzle with a doggy grin that still remains in Keith's memory to this day.

Keith feels that Boots reasoned out where to cross the Buffalo River at its narrowest spot and took time to survey all the possible places first. He certainly achieved his goal. That tree would have been very difficult for a dog trained in obstacle competition. Bigger dogs are captive to their size, but not to their intelligence. Thanks to Keith Bellefeuille for such a good example of logic in our "Logic vs. Instinct" contest.

If you, likewise, have a tale that proves your pet has exhibited either "logic" or "instinct," write to me at Keith Alan Ross, Richville MN 56576, e-mail me at or call me at 218-495-2195. Your pet does not have to be a cat or a dog... they can be any animal. Until next time...