…I do not recommend Jim Pavlec’s method of behavior modification for an aggressive dog. But I do admit that in this particular case it was effective.
Lester Haugland, a dairyman whose farm was eight or nine miles east of Creighton, Nebraska, was not an excitable type, so when he came into Ray’s Tavern all flustered and red-faced one evening after milking he attracted a lot of attention. He had that consternated look on his face – the look a guy has when he needs someone to buy him a beer and hear him out.
Our recreational league softball team, Potter’s Pirates, was sitting around the two round tables in the middle of place, celebrating winning our second straight league championship – not a particularly notable accomplishment in a town of 1,500 people, but reason enough to drink several beers on a hot Saturday night in July. Dave was the first to notice Lester’s agitated state, and he called for him to join us.
Ron, Dean, Bob, Steve, Roger, Dave and I scooted chairs around to make room for Lester at our table, and Dave called for another round of draws. Lester sat down, pushed his Surge Milking Machines cap back on his head, and drank half his glass of beer straight down. Well, it was a hot night.
Dave expressed our concern. “Lester,” he said, “you look like you got a corncob wedged up the crack of your ass.” Dave was a sensitive guy that way.
“So, would you, if you had the day I’ve had,” Lester said. And he launched into his story.
Lester milked a Holstein herd of 88 cows, not a big operation by today’s standards but big enough to require a full-time hired man, who was Jim Pavlec, a Bohemian from up Verdigre way. Jim was a good solid Czech who never caused any trouble, had a wife and two kids, went to Mass every Sunday, and seldom missed a day of work, except during deer season. So we were surprised to hear that Jim had got Lester in a snit and was maybe going to quit working for him.
It all had to do with Butch.
Butch was a worthless egg-sucker of a hound that Lester picked from a litter out of Weldon Sanderson’s Australian heeler bitch, Scooter, a good cow dog. But the sire of those pups must have been a mongrel cur mix of redbone, pit bull, basset hound and maybe coyote, because that is what Butch looked like.
Lester said he got Butch to help him chase heifers in from his big, rough country, north pasture when they got to market weight. But over the next three years Butch never did one lick of herding work on the farm, unless you count nipping cows on their hocks when they were already coming in to the milking barn on their own.
By the time Butch was a year old he was causing problems on a daily basis, chewing up the seat of Lester’s new John Deere 4020 tractor, killing four or five of the barn cats, spraying every piece of equipment in the farm yard, and pulling the laundry down off the clothesline, which made Lester’s wife Evelyn so mad she laid into Butch with a tire iron with serious intent to beat his brains out, but Lester wouldn’t let her kill him. Which was a mistake.
The biggest problem with Butch was that he decided one day he was a guard dog and started barking and growling and snapping at anybody who came into the farm yard. Before the trouble with Jim Pavlec, Butch had already nipped the UPS delivery man, the service man from Surge Dairy Supply, and the milk truck driver. You’d think Lester would have had Butch put down but he kept telling people, “Oh, he’s just bein’ a puppy, and one of these days he’ll grow out of it.”
Now, I had a lot of years experience training bird dogs, even back then, and I’ll tell you for a fact that Butch was an outlaw from day one and more than a little bit crazy and was not ever going to grow out of it. He was going to seriously bite someone some day. That said, I do not recommend Jim Pavlec’s method of behavior modification for an aggressive dog. But I do admit that in this particular case it was effective.
It happened after Butch laid into Jim’s leg that July afternoon. Lester said it was maybe the worst day of his life. Dave asked him, “What the hell happened?”
Lester said, “You know that old tool shed on my place that got knocked down by the windstorm in ’75? Well, I finally decided to push it all into the foundation and burn it, so I told Jim to use my Allis tractor with the bucket, and he said he thought he could get it all done before milking time. Now I’m out a couple hundred dollars for emergency room charges, and Jim will probably quit working for me, and he’s the best hired man I ever had.”
All because of Butch.
Butch never could tolerate Jim for some reason, and would bark and lay his ears back and bare teeth at him all the time. That afternoon he had actually lit into Jim while he was fueling up the Allis tractor and bit him bad enough that he had to be stitched up at the emergency room and get a tetanus shot.
Lester sucked down the rest of his beer and moaned, “Damn! Just Damn! What a day!” Dave asked him if Jim got mad and kicked the crap out of Butch, but Lester said no, that was the strangest thing about it all, because Jim was real calm and collected. After he gave Butch a good whack with the fuel hose nozzle that sent him running off squalling and squealing, he sat on the front tire of the tractor, cut open his pants leg with his pocket knife, and tied up the bite on his calf with a dish towel that Evelyn brought out from the kitchen. Then he limped across the farm yard and got into the pickup with Lester, and he didn’t swear or holler or say hardly anything on the ride to the hospital.
They were in the emergency room more than two hours because it took a while to get a doctor to come from the clinic in Neligh to clean and sew up Jim’s leg with 30 or 40 stitches. The nurses had to call the vet’s office to get confirmation that Butch had had rabies shots, and then fill out a dog bite offense report to file with the county sheriff’s office.
Lester told Jim he would cover all the emergency room expenses and pay him while he took a few days off work to heal up, and he was really sorry that Butch bit him so bad. But Jim told him not to worry about it and things like this happen every now and then and you just have to deal with it.
When they got back to the farm Butch came out from under the porch, barking and growling at Jim again, and Lester said he expected Jim to take to Butch with a stick or throw a rock at him, but instead he turned to Lester and said, “If it’s okay with you I’d like to buy that dog.” Lester said he was so shocked you could have knocked him over with a feather, and he asked Jim, “You want to buy Butch?” and Jim told him, “Yeah, you probably ain’t going to want him around the farm anymore, and he might be a good guard dog for my place, and I think I can teach him not to bite. So what would you take for him?”
Lester said he didn’t think the dog was worth a nickel but Jim said, “How about $20? Would you take $20 for him?” and Lester said yes, he guessed he would, so Jim pulled out his wallet, handed him a $20 bill, and said, “Would you get a length of rope and tie him into the box of my pickup?” Then Jim told Lester he was going home, and they shook hands, and Lester headed for the milking barn.
As he switched on the milker he looked out and saw Jim get his old Winchester Model 12 pump shotgun from behind the seat of his pickup, shuck a shell into the chamber, limp to the side of the pickup box, stick the muzzle in Butch’s face, and pull the trigger. Jim leaned over the box, took a long look at Butch, and said, “Yep, that should teach you not to bite.” Then he got into his pickup and drove away.
“That’s pretty much the whole story,” Lester told us. “Except Evelyn come running out of the house and yelled, ‘What was that gunshot?’ and I told her, ‘Jim shot Butch!’ and she asked ‘Did he kill him?’ and I said, ‘Blew his head off with a 12 gauge!’ and ‘Evelyn said, ‘Good for him!’ and went back in the house to fix supper.”
Dave shook his head three or four times and said, “Damn, Lester, how did that make you feel when you saw Jim shoot Butch like that?” Lester said, “Well, I was a little upset for a minute, but then I figured, hell, Butch was his dog, so it wasn’t none of my concern.”
Lester fished around in his shirt pocket and pulled out Jim’s $20 bill. “You guys ready for another round?” he asked.
More stories about hunting and life in the North Country are published in my collection of essays, Crazy Old Coot, and my novel, Hunting Birds. Both are available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon.com.