Some Snowballs Don’t Melt

Some Snowballs Don’t Melt

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Some Snowballs Don’t Melt

Snowball came into our lives during the winter of 1974. I was four years old. From the moment my daddy brought the plump puppy home, he and the dog formed a close bond. Though snow is scarce in Central Texas, Daddy looked at the bumbling white German shepherd puppy and dubbed him Snowball. Picking him up, my father gazed into his soulful brown eyes. “This dog is going to make something of himself,” Daddy said as he stroked the pup’s soft, fluffy head. Soon the two were inseparable.

While Snowball was still very young, my father began training him to prove that the dog could earn his keep. A good herding dog is essential for a working cattle ranch, so Daddy began preparing him for his role as a cow dog. Snowball’s determination to please my father was amazing. To watch Daddy and Snowball herd cattle together was to watch poetry in motion. Daddy would point at a cow and Snowball would become a white blur as he zigzagged through the herd and chased the selected cow into the corral.

During the day, Daddy worked for the highway department. Every morning Snowball would mournfully watch as my father left for work in the truck. Even though it was apparent that the dog wished to go, he made no move toward the truck. Snowball knew that a pat on the head and a raised tailgate meant that he was not to go; however, a smile, a lowered tailgate and the command to “get in” were an invitation to go with my father. In that case, Snowball bounded toward the truck as if there were no limits to his joy.

At the same time every weekday afternoon, Snowball would casually stroll to the end of the driveway, lie down under a redbud tree and patiently gaze down the long gravel road, looking for my daddy’s truck. Mama and I did not have to look at the clock to know that it was time for Daddy to come home: Snowball’s body language clearly announced my father’s imminent arrival. First, the dog would raise his head, his ears erect, and every muscle in his body would become tense. Then, slowly, Snowball would stand, his gaze never wavering from the direction of the gravel road. At that point, we could see a cloud of dust in the distance and hear the familiar whine of my daddy’s diesel truck coming down the road. As my father got out of the truck, Snowball would run to him, voicing his joyful delight. Despite the dog’s great bulk, he danced around my father with the grace of a ballerina.

One Saturday morning when Snowball was six, Daddy took him and Tiger—our other cow dog, an Australian shepherd—to work cattle atmy granddaddy’s house, while my mother and I went to visit my mother’s mother, Nana, who also lived nearby. While we were there, the phone rang. From my perch on a stool near the phone, I could hear the panic-stricken voice of my father’s mother on the other end of the line. The blood drained from Nana’s face as she motioned to Mama to take the phone receiver. Granny told Mama that, while Daddy was working Granddaddy’s cattle, a Hereford bull had trampled him. Although the extent of his injuries was unknown, it was obvious that Daddy needed medical attention. It was decided that I was to remain at Nana’s house while Mama took Daddy to the emergency room. Tearfully, I sat huddled in a corner of an ancient sofa while Nana tried, unsuccessfully, to console me.

A short time later Granddaddy called Nana’s house and asked her to bring me over to see if I could do something with that “darn dog.” As Nana and I drove to Granddaddy’s, I sat on the edge of the seat and pushed against the dashboard, willing the car to go faster. As Nana drove her wheezing Nova up the sand driveway, I could see my daddy’s battered blue truck parked underneath a lone pine tree close to my grandparents’ house. When I got out of the car, I heard a mournful wail. It pierced the stillness of the afternoon, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. In the back of the truck stood Snowball, howling his heartbreak and misery to the world. Granddaddy had hoped that the sight of me would calm Snowball, but Snowball and I had never been that close. I did everything I could to comfort him, but nothingworked.

As I tried in vain to soothe the dog, Granddaddy pointed a gnarled finger at Snowball and said, “That dog is a wonder. He probably saved your daddy’s life.”

Granddaddy told us that all the cattle, except a Hereford bull, were herded into the corral. The stubborn beast refused to go in, despite Snowball and the rest of the dogs doing their best to herd him. Granddaddy guessed that the extreme heat of the day had enraged the bull. His patience tested to the limit, the bull turned and charged at my father, who was standing nearby. Catching Daddy off guard, the bull knocked him to the ground and ran over him. As the bull pawed the ground in preparation to charge again, a blur of white streaked between the bull and my father. Snarling at the enraged bull, Snowball stood firmly planted in front of my father. Then, with a heart-stopping growl, Snowball hurled himself at the bull, and began to drive the Hereford away. According to Granddaddy, Snowball’s action gave my father enough time to crawl under a nearby truck. Trotting to the truck that my daddy lay underneath, Snowball took a wolflike stance and bravely turned away each one of the determined bull’s attacks. Working as a team, Snowball, Tiger and my uncle’s dog Bear, kept the bull away from the truck until my granddaddy and uncle could reach Daddy.

Later that afternoon Mama returned home with my father, and everyone in the family was greatly relieved to learn that Daddy had no life-threatening injuries. Snowball, on the other hand, remained inconsolable until Mama let him into the house to see my father. On silent feet, Snowball padded into the bedroom and quietly placed his head on my parents’ bed. Daddy petted him and thanked Snowball for saving his life. Satisfied, the shepherd padded outside, a “doggy grin” on his face.

Unfortunately, Snowballwasn’t able to savemy father six years later when Daddy was killed on the job. On that terrible day, the faithful dog went to his place at the end of the driveway to wait for hismaster. There was confusion on his old face as he watched car after car turn into our driveway. I could read his thoughts: So many cars, so many people, but where is my master? Undeterred, Snowball kept his vigil far into the night, his gaze never leaving the road. Something happened to Snowball after Daddy died—he grew old. It appeared that it was his love and devotion for my father that had kept himyoung and had given himthe will to live. Day after day, for two years followingmy father’s death, the dog staggered to his spot at the end of the driveway to wait for a master who would never return. No amount of coaxing or pleading could convince Snowball to quit his vigil, even when the weather turned rough.

It soon became very obvious to Mama and me that it was getting harder for Snowball to get around. The weight that he gained over the years was hard on his hip joints. Just the effort of lying down or getting up was a chore, and his once-powerful strides were now limited to a halting limp. Still, every day he returned to his spot at the end of the driveway. The day finally came when Snowball was unable to stand by himself. He whined his frustration and pain as Mama and I helped him to stand. After getting his balance, the old dog, his gaze never wavering from his destination, made his way out to his daily lookout post.

After two months of helping Snowball to stand, my mother and I tearfully agreed that it was time to do the humane thing for the fourteen-year-old cow dog. Our neighbor’s son was a vet, and we arranged for him to come to the house and give Snowball the injection. Snowball lay down on the ground and placed his head in my mother’s lap, his eyes filled with love and understanding. We all felt he knew what was about to happen.

After the vet gave him the injection, Snowball smiled his “doggy grin” for the first time since my father died, then slipped away quietly in my mother’s arms.

Our throats choked with tears, we wrapped the body of the gallant dog in an old blanket and buried him beneath the spot at the end of the drive that he had occupied for so many years. The group huddled around the dog’s grave all agreed that Snowball had “smiled” because he knew that, once again, he would be with the person he loved the most. If there is a heaven for animals, which I hope and believe there is, I can picture Daddy and his beloved dog together there, once again sharing the joy of each other’s company—this time for eternity.

Debbie Roppolo

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