It was a hot, dusty day in Gopher Gulch, Texas. Every day was a hot, dusty day in Gopher Gulch, except during the winter, when it was cold and dusty. Rusty trotted down Main Street. When he put his nose down to check for scents, his spaniel ears dragged in the dust.
Rusty’s humans referred to him as a “maybe spaniel.” They couldn’t figure out whether he was a Cocker spaniel or perhaps a King Charles spaniel. Rusty had never met his dad and couldn’t remember his mom, but he didn’t really care what his breed was. Like most of us, he was a mix.
Rusty headed for the stable, where his friends would be hanging out in a patch of shade cast by the wall of the building.
“Hi, Rusty,” they greeted him.
The dogs sniffed rear ends.
“So, what’s new?” Rusty asked.
“About the same as yesterday,” replied Sam, a bloodhound. “Not much.”
“Say, did you hear about the new dog in town?” Anita, a golden retriever, chimed in.
Four heads swiveled toward her and four sets of ears perked up. “A big dog, Great Dane. Says he can out-bark you, Rusty. I told him you’re the champion, but he says he never met a dog who could beat him,” Anita told them.
Rusty shrugged. “If you see him, just tell him I’ll be around,” he said.
Rusty strolled over to the bucket below the horse trough for a drink of water, then joined the others in the shade. They weren’t there long before a tall, brown dog with a massive jaw strolled into the stable yard.
“Is one of you Rusty?” the dog rumbled in a deep baritone.
Rusty stretched himself up to his full 22-inch height.
“I’m Rusty. And who are you, stranger?”
The Great Dane made a noise like he was trying to stifle a laugh. “You’re Rusty? The barking champ? I was expecting someone, uh, taller.”
Rusty drew back his lips to expose his teeth. “I get the job done. Now, you want to tell us who you are and what brought you to Gopher Gulch?”
“The name’s King. Heard about you, and came to check out just how good you are. But I didn’t know you had such short legs. You’re a real little guy.”
Rusty stifled a growl. “I don’t bark with my legs.”
“Okay, you up for a barkdown?” King asked.
Rusty nodded. The dogs gathered around and quickly agreed on the rules. MacGruff, a watchdog, would time the barking. The winner would be determined by three criteria: longest barking, loudest barking and vote of the group. King, the challenger, would go first.
“Ready?” MacGruff asked.
King nodded. He stretched and yawned. At the signal, he opened his mouth and began to bark in a deep baritone. He turned, barking as he faced north, east, south and west. On the opposite side of the street, a window opened. A man stuck out his head and yelled, “Shut up!”
King continued barking. At last, he stopped.
“5 minutes and 42 seconds,” MacGruff announced.
Dogs murmured admiringly.
“He has a beautiful deep bark,” Anita said.
“I know. It sends shivers down my spine,” agreed Linda, a Shetland sheep dog.
“Nice turns while barking, and he got a human to yell at him” added Sam.
It wasn’t looking good for Rusty. Rusty sat down and scratched behind his ear, thinking.
“Ready, Rusty?” asked MacGruff.
Rusty stood up, stretched and yawned. “Ready,” he said.
At the signal, Rusty opened with a few “Rowr’s,” building them to a rapid-fire crescendo. Then he switched to “Rowf’s.” He barked as he ran in circles. He barked as he put his nose to the ground and picked up a scent. He barked riffs on “Rowruu,” as he trotted around the barn.
Then, as a finale, Rusty lifted his leg and barked while peeing.
The move was a crowd-pleaser. The assembled dogs cheered and howled.
“Five minutes and 45 seconds,” MacGruff announced.
Rusty had won longest barking. King’s voice earned him loudest bark honors. The tie would be broken by vote of the pack. King had a great voice, but Rusty’s barking performance was unmatched for showmanship. The dogs thought hard as they cast their ballots.
MacGruff counted the secret ballots and announced, “4-1 for Rusty. He’s our champ!!!”
The pack cheered.
“C’mon, everyone, let’s go down to the saloon. You too, King,” Rusty said. “Bowls of fresh water on me.”
They trotted down the dusty street.
(c) 2014 by Donna Engle