Dog teaches lasting life lessons

Wisconsin State Farmer
Colleen Kottke

Editor's note: Over the years, many dogs come and go during out lifetime. And there are some whose memory lingers on long after they're gone. Bandit was such a dog.

I knew he would be ours someday. What I didn’t know was how short our time together would be.

I first laid eyes on Bandit when I visited the Mark Navis farm in the town of Alto on June 2004 after the family’s large milking barn had been hit by a tornado. There in the midst of all the chaos and commotion of volunteers and news media was Bandit, nudging a ball with his nose to anyone game enough to play. I was so enchanted with this playful animal that I drove away thinking I would like to have a dog like that someday.

When I spied an ad in the paper a few months later for a border collie that could roll a ball I knew instinctively that it was him. But how could someone part with him? Apparently Bandit and his dog friends were ‘hired’ to round up Mark’s herd of Holstein cattle. But because of Bandit’s obsessive compulsive disorder (rolling and chasing a ball 24:7), he was ruining the work ethic of his four-legged co-workers and needed to find a new home.

I told the family I would be there. But the next day the Navis family called to say their young sons couldn’t part with Bandit. Still I had a feeling that it was only a matter of time and told them to call me if they changed their minds.

A few weeks later the phone rang and I set out to get our new dog. One problem; Bandit was totally opposed to riding in a vehicle. Donning heavy work gloves, Mark and I cajoled and coaxed him, blindfolded and muzzled him and finally got him into the travel crate. When I told Mark that Bandit was going to be an inside dog he just looked at me and laughed out loud.

Throughout the years, farm dogs pass in and out of our lives. And there are some whose memories linger on long after they're gone, like Bandit, joining my young son wearing his Halloween costume.

Seconds after we arrived home, Bandit was on the living room floor in his new home rolling his ball to my 7-year-old son, Sam. It was love at first sight for both of them. Right away I knew that Bandit had a heart for children and was exactly what we were looking for.

In the days to follow it was clear that this dog had his priorities in life: playing ball, children and fun. At the sound of children’s laughter, Bandit’s ears would perk up and he would be eager to join in the fray; nabbing a stray fly ball, catching a Frisbee or trying to break up a pass during a basketball game.

He also made the conversion from being a farm dog to a house dog in record time. By summer, my son was grooming him as his project for the Fond du Lac County Fair. While he easily won a blue ribbon, Bandit was more interested in trying to pry off one of the tennis balls jammed onto the tent stakes of the petting zoo tent just outside of the Recreation Building.

Bandit also delighted my son’s soccer teammates when he ran out onto the playing field during a tournament to intercept a nearby soccer ball. Although Bandit’s ball obsession was endearing, my son, at times, grew tired of finding chewed up baseballs and deflated soccer and basketballs lying around the yard. However, Sam could never hold a grudge against a pet who adored the ground he walked on or let him apply colorful tattoos on his doggie legs.

This animal radiated unbridled joy and could elicit a smile from even the most jaded person. So, that’s why it’s so hard to live without him. Bandit never saw the truck that hit him as he crossed the road searching for the source of laughter emanating from the neighbor’s yard.

Trying to console my heartbroken son, I reminded him that Bandit was a gift. He was spared from dying in the tornado and granted to us for three, short years. While his career as a cattle-herding farm dog never panned out, he was a wonderful pet that brought joy and laughter to our lives.

But as I walk across the yard and find yet another one of Bandit’s balls, I find myself still grappling with the loss. Once I get past the pain I know I will remember the lessons Bandit taught us while he was alive: Life is meant to be lived joyfully and there’s always time to play.

Kottke is the editor of the Wisconsin State Farmer and is the unabashed owner of yet another Border Collie named Jack.