Dog Walkin’ Wellington
Horse barns and dogs just seem to go together
By Barbara Phillippi
How many of our local residents have actually visited an area horse barn? (Don’t call them stables!) There are hundreds in the area – from huge palatial structures that could engulf several ordinary homes to small backyard facilities that house just a few steeds. You’ll find lots of barns at the horse show grounds. One thing that they all seem to have in common, no matter the prestige, size, or location, is a “pack” of resident dogs. Some breeds are recognizable, but plenty are rescued dogs – animal discards, which are as valued by their owners as the purebreds. And, it seems, there always seems to be room for one more!
At Kris Kampsen’s polo barn on 120th Ave. in Wellington, there’s an abundance of canines, only four of which belong to Kris. Panda, 13, is a sweet Border Collie, “pretty much on his last legs” from a heart attack, says Kris. But this gentle dog follows, and bumps against me for ear scratches, and seems pretty happy. Kris says that Lola, a Pit Bull adopted as a pup, appears to share top dog status with Linus, a rough coat Jack Russell Terrier, but Kris isn’t sure which is the pack leader. Both put up with the antics of puppy Lottie, a six-month-old Jack Russell and Linus look-alike. “I bought her on the internet, and now know that she’s definitely a South Carolina puppy mill pup. I’d never buy a dog on the internet again,” says Kris.
Ziggy and three-month-old Kino, both adorable rescue “mutts,” belong to grooms Hillary and Laila, respectively. Black, an ancient Alsatian, is the pet of groom Martin. Groom Jo Tyrell has a pen in the yard for her two Jack Russell Terriers, Sophie and Amy, the latter a Peggy Adams rescue.
So, who decides the “pecking order,” or order of dominance, in these unlikely barn packs? It’s hard to believe that these happy, easy going, diverse dogs, mutt or purebred, puppy or veteran, are governed by rules. We often forget that there is status in every relationship (whether it’s human or animal) – from leader down to the most lowly follower.
A dog pack, patterning its wolf ancestry, works by forming a structured hierarchy. Every dog, regardless of its temperament or personality, is governed by rules and guidelines established and enforced by the “Alpha” or leader, who’s responsible for actual establishment of the hierarchy, pack rules, and maintaining order. In the dog world, the remaining pack members, the strongest natured dogs, the meekest, and all in between, have defined positions within the hierarchy, but the role of the Alpha is essential to the ultimate “survival” of the pack.
The leader ultimately ensures the safety, and security of the group. Generally, this will be settled easily, as the most aggressive/dominant dog will assume the leader role, the more submissive dogs will accept lesser positions, and most humans never notice it. It’s only when two dogs want the same spot in the hierarchy that there can be problems. And the status can change with time, as older dogs often submit their position to younger, more dominant ones, members leave the pack, and new ones join. This usually happens quietly, again without fuss, unnoticed by the humans. Females are very often dominant over the males, and females tend to be more aggressive toward members of their own sex. But in each pack, one makes decisions, one bravely goes ahead in scary situations, etc.
The sign at the entrance to DMD Farm, Inc., a small equine care facility in Loxahatchee, reads, “OLD DOG, YOUNG DOG, SEVERAL STUPID DOGS. PLEASE DRIVE SLOWLY.” In addition to custom horse rehab, owner Donna Ulrich has a small canine boarding/grooming kennel. As you exit your vehicle at the end of the long, sandy driveway, the greeting is always the same; at least one dog, tail wagging, checks you out, and escorts you to the barn entry, where several others pad down the aisle of the barn to greet you. Donna explains that most are unintentional residents. She and sister Jean, who lives next door, just can’t pass up a hard luck story, or big brown eyes that beg for a way out of a bad situation. Asked about a “pecking order” in her pack, she believes that because most of the dogs are older that there isn’t much interest in status in her barn. “The younger ones just more or less leave the older ones alone,” she said.
Pokey, 14, adopted as a crippled puppy, lies happily on the pavement in the sunshine, a large benign tumor noticeable on his hip. Nearby is Princess, 12, who Donna attempted to place in a new home when her owner died, but who ended up staying. So did Deia, 12, whose owner also passed away. Eleven-year-old Luca the Corgi didn’t want to be a house dog, so, somehow he found his way here, and is probably the top barn dog. Flyer is a spry 12-year-old Dachshund who loves attention, and scratching his back upside down on the driveway gravel. There are even a few canines who didn’t make an appearance, including Donna’s house dogs, all Dachshunds. The pack is peaceful, and they know their way around the feet of the horses.
Sometimes a dog does move on to a new “forever” home; Moose did – a huge, black Great Dane, who had been number one greeter for ages. But if an adoption doesn’t work out, the dogs are always welcome back at DMD. Donna says that no matter how each animal was acquired, “it will always have a safe haven here.” She also noted that an Oklahoma breeder is retiring, and that nine registered Dachshunds will be coming to DMD the week of January 16 to be placed for outside adoption. Yes, there’s always room for at least one more!
Our unique equestrian community has so much to offer – different types of events, at several venues. “Horse people” are usually “dog people” too. Why not check out one of our world class facilities, watch the performance of the equine athletes and their riders, and, if you’re a dog lover, be sure to look for the canines on the sidelines at the horse show, or at a polo match. See our recent story about Wellington polo by Lois Spatz. Many horse owners welcome visits to their barns, if you ask. And, while you’re there, check out the resident dogs. Most likely, each of them came to their “pack” with a very interesting history.
“In a perfect world, every dog would have a home, and every home would have a dog.”