They were brought to this farm to protect the cattle and the humans, to do a job
My memories of that summer revolve around Jamie Crowell’s dogs, Mort and Julie. Mort was some sort of mastiff-rottweiler cross, enormous black head, jowls and slobber and sagging skin, each paw bigger than my two skinny fists bunched together. Julie was a German shepherd, low-hanging hips and pricked ears and eyes that watched you with that true animal indifference, as minimally removed from a wolf as a dog can be. Dogs always seemed to me like some human-animal hybrid, not a synthesis but a chimera, capable of being both deeply humanly expressive in their affection and then driven toward impersonal, absolute violence. In that respect, Mort and Julie were archetypes.
I moved to Enniskillen when I was fifteen years old. It was a hamlet with a little cluster of aging houses surrounded by farmland, mostly corn and apples, but a few richer men kept cattle or horses out of some vestigial pride for their ancestry. There was no profit in the animals, in keeping a cow out in the grass when factory conditions were the standard, when animals could be penned and surgically attached to machines and given the barest minimum. But Jamie Crowell’s father was a proud Englishman who had done well since he immigrated to North America and so he kept a swath of his property dedicated to the livestock.
In those first weeks after we moved, an early dewy springtime, a few extra months off school to bribe me, I would radiate out from the subdivision and into those farmlands. There rural life revealed itself to me incrementally, lyrically, the clamour of frogs in the still-water ditches next to the road, the dry fuzzy nostrils of a horse that would push through the long grass and launch its head over the wire fence, insects of every shape and size flitting through the air or dangling off the branches of an old willow tree. Forcibly, my father had replaced the cold concrete regularity of the city with, what seemed to me, an anarchic wilderness. I had wanted no part of these primitive human conditions but then, upon being surrounded by it, my ears saturated by buzzing and croaking and chirping, my eyes blinded by golden light filtered through so much green, I felt like a biologist exploring an alien landscape.
And nothing was so foreign, so fascinating, as Mort and Julie. They wandered a corner plot of cattle at the junction of two unused country roads, and they slavered for my blood whenever I passed on foot. Mort’s eyelids drooped so severely that I imagined the two dogs as a composite, he the teeth and Julie the eyes, an efficient mechanism of death should I be foolish enough to cross the property line. They stood in the open driveway, ten feet from me, and bayed for my blood, Julie’s bark sharp and high like I’d heard in a documentary about hyenas, Mort’s deeper than my father’s voice at his angriest. I kept my eyes on their glistening white teeth and stepped backward and fell into the ditch.
What amazed me, what kept bringing me back to see them, was their self-restraint. They never put one paw onto