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The Smartest Dog I Ever Knew

The Journal of Prevarication
Here lies Jim Cook

My older brother, Big Jake, phoned last night from Fairbanks, Alaska. It was good to hear from him.

Jake said he’d spent the winter trapping for furs in the wildnerness, subsisting on caribou meat and dope. He had come into Fairbanks for supplies and a little R and R.

I said, “Jake, the last time you called, you were starring in Geico commercials. What happened to that career?”

“Aw, they said I’m too old to be a believable caveman. You know, your average caveman didn’t live much beyond thirty-five years.”

Jake has had dozens of careers in his 77 years, but he always returns to something he knows.

“How was the trapping?” I asked, remembering how he used to trap for skins when we were young.

“Just fair,” Jake said. “Hey, I got a new deal now. I’m importing Siberian mink snakes.”


“Siberian mink snakes. They have fur on them, instead of scales. They’re real popular up here. People keep ’em for pets. They eat rodents, and they help keep your feet warm at night.”

“Are they poisonous?”

“Not very. I’d send you one, but they wouldn’t do well in that Arizona heat. They do move kinda like a sidewinder, though.”

“Do they have rattles?”

“No, actually, they have little bells on their tails. They sound like a cell phone. Or that old wall phone we had in that line shack at Booger Springs. Remember? Three longs and two shorts?”

Booger Springs was in a remote part of the White Mountains, not far from the headwaters of Black River. We lived in a rambling log building that was both house and barn.

Jake and I reminisced about his dog, Old Blue, the smartest dog I ever met. Blue was actually a redbone coonhound, but Jake is colorblind. It runs in our family.

Blue was so smart that Jake didn’t even have to set traps. He had these little wooden forms that he’d tack the hides to while they cured.

Jake would set one of those boards outside the house. Blue would look at the board, and go find an animal to match. If he set out a little board, Blue would bring him a muskrat or a fox.

If he left a larger board, Blue would fetch a beaver or a badger, or maybe a bobcat.

One night, Mom set her ironing board outside, leaning it up against the wall. We traveled light in those days, and the ironing board didn’t have legs. It was just a padded board.

Mom would set it across the backs of two straight chairs, and iron our clothes with flat irons heated on top of the wood stove.

Old Blue studied that ironing board leaning against the wall, and he gave Big Jake a funny look. Then he trotted off into the forest.

Blue didn’t come back for a couple of days. Jake was plainly worried.

But on the third morning, Blue came back into the clearing, ten pounds lighter and his ribs showing through his hide.

He was proudly dragging the carcass of a full-grown game warden.

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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