Tom Ross: What happens when you cross a fox with a sightless poodle?
August 2, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Phyllis Latham was all but certain that Rosie the blind cowdoodle had gone to that great roundup in the sky last month when at last she heard a soft scratching at the door that sounded different from the noise the barn cats make when they want to be fed. It was Rosie, a miniature poodle and semiretired cattle dog, who had been missing for nine days in the ranch country of North Park across the Continental Divide from Steamboat Springs.
"I was screaming and carrying on when she got back," Latham said. "I posted on Facebook after three days, ‘RIP Rosie. I'm going to miss my little sidekick.’ I was 99.9 percent sure she'd been eaten by something. We have mountain lions, foxes, bears and badgers. Badgers are vicious."
Phyllis and Rosie live in a double-wide mobile home with million-dollar views on 70 acres of a family cattle ranch near Grizzly Creek. Cowdoodle is a word like schnoodle or a Labradoodle, but it’s not really a fancy mutt like the latter. Instead, a cowdoodle is a poodle in a nontraditional role.
Latham and her pup make a daily commute 55 miles each way to Latham's job at Wall Designers in Steamboat Springs. That's unless there's a big snowstorm, and they spend the night bunking with the owners of the business, Julie and Kris Hagenbuch.
If a ranch family in North Park relying on a poodle as its stock dog sounds atypical, it's not just you. Latham acknowledged they got strange looks from the neighbors when she and her late husband, Dick, replaced a German shepherd/wolf mix with a poodle named Snowy. You just don't go driving around North Park in a pickup truck with a poodle in the bed. A blue heeler would have been the go-to replacement dog. But the Lathams had been given the dog and learned not only are poodles really smart, but they know a cow's hind legs from its front legs.
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After Snowy passed on, the Lathams lit out on a road trip and found Rosie in Oklahoma. And she, too, knows a thing or two about bovine critters.
"Rosie definitely liked to think she could turn cows," Latham said.
Rosie has been blind for four years, so her cattle-herding days are over, but she doesn't seem to know it. To this day, even though she can't see cattle, Rosie lifts her head and gives a short howl and a quick series of yips when someone says, "Let's go get the cows!"
Now, Latham depends on Rosie more than ever for companionship. Dick died of bone cancer several years ago and the bond between Phyllis and Rosie is particularly strong.
Rosie had gone missing before, roaming to a neighboring ranch house two miles away, but knew to wait beside those folks' truck until they brought her home. So Phyllis didn't give it a second thought on the morning of July 12 when she put Rosie out to do her business. She expected Rosie to be on the porch when she returned. But after Rosie didn't reappear, Phyllis assumed she had chased an animal and become disoriented enough that she could not find her way home.
When Rosie finally scratched at the door July 21, there was a large bruise along her spine on top of her rump, and she had developed sores along her back that were indicative of a bad infection. And besides that, she reeked of cow manure. Phyllis said veterinarian Cindi Hillemeyer, of Pet Kare Clinic, proscribed antibiotics for Rosie, who was perky and playful Friday. Latham theorized the bruise was attributable to a kick from a cow that Rosie stumbled into. At least Rosie didn't turn into dinner for a predator.
But there's one more thing that's gnawing at Latham. She suspects the real reason Rosie ran off was that she was in heat at the time of her disappearance. Latham is suspicious that if Rosie ran into a fox about her size, it's possible that romantic activities ensued.
"If, in a few months, we have a litter of little foxydoodles, I'll know what happened," Latham said with a mischievous smile.
Is such a thing possible?
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com