Finding Sparky the dog while combining corn

Operating a combine is something that lots of farm wives do, day in and day out, all throughout the fall.  Not me.  Taking really good care of our kids, our home, and our heifers is enough to keep me busy.  However, this fall, I have spent 2 mornings combining corn, and this story begins on one of those mornings last week.

I am watching my sister-in-law’s 3-year-old son for the morning.  I jokingly offer my help running the combine, and Joe decides that it really would be a fantastic idea for us to go out to the field as they are short-handed.  So, at about 8:30, Ava (my 2-year-old) and Lincoln are buckled into their carseats and we set off.

The way that combining typically works is that a farmer keeps going at night until the elevator (which is where you dump your corn unless you have your own bins on your farm) says they are no longer accepting loads.  It could be 5:00, could be 7:00.  Their dryers can only  handle so much corn in 24 hours, so that is how they make the call.  After bringing that last load in for the night, combining continues until you have your semis, your grain cart and your combine full.  That way you are ready to bring corn in as soon as the elevator opens again in the morning.  That is typical.  Also, even if you have your own bins and your own dryers, there is still a volume limit that can be handled daily.


Combine with corn head (left) and tractor with grain cart

So, back to that morning last week.  I meet Joe on the way to the field as he was driving a semi away from it.  He takes Ava and gives me a few instructions.  He says that (for some reason I can’t remember) the combine was empty of corn.  He says that I am to cut across the field deadheading (which is the term used for driving a combine to the other side of the field without actually harvesting) and then start everything up and harvest my way back to the other end of the field.  All the other people on our farm are still busy taking care of cows at this point in the morning, so it is just Lincoln and me.  We hop in and my blood pressure goes through the roof.  I know some people think combining is relaxing and easy but I just fret and worry the whole time that I am somehow going to have a major accident that will cost thousands of dollars and days in lost productivity.  I’m just not a natural when it comes to machinery.

We start driving across the field at a diagonal and after about a minute of two, I spot something white and fluffy.  I am so focused on not breaking anything or running into a tile flag that I don’t think about it as much as I should.  I remember the thought going through my head, “Was that a goose?  A coyote?  A dog?  Weird.”.   Then, I make a mistake.  I keep going.  (Making mistakes is kind my specialty….I accidentally put my kids to bed at 6:30 one night this week because I hadn’t adjusted to Daylight Savings Time…ugh, sorry kids.  They were well rested in the morning.)  I really should have stopped and checked it out but I didn’t want my 3-year-old nephew to be scared of me hopping out to check it out and I thought I had better get some corn combined.

The morning continues on and soon it is 1:00.  I have miraculously managed not to break anything.  Two tired kiddos and I head home.  My nephew gets picked up and Ava goes down for a nap.  I pop on Facebook and this is the photo that I see:


I ‘liked’ the Lost Pets of SW MN facebook page a while ago in hopes of finding a run-away dog that needed a home.

It hits me in an instant.  This is the white fluffiness I saw in the field.  My heart aches.  I read the location of the owners and it is just 2 miles from the field.  That seals the deal.  I call the number listed and leave a message for Peggy.  “Um, hi, this is Rita….I saw your lost dog on Facebook and I think I’ve found her.”  Then, I realize I don’t want her to get her hopes up that her dog is fine and he’s sitting on my lap waiting for her to pick him up and add, “I need to say that if it is your dog, he has…he is no longer alive.”  So hard to say.  “Please call me back.”

At about 5:30, she calls me and asks for the story.  I tell her, and then add that I think we should go find him yet tonight.  She pauses for a bit, then asks, “You mean you’ll go look for him with me?” .  Of course I would.  It seems sorta of strange to write, but I told her that I really like animals a lot, it is part of my job and part of my every day.  She is completely caught off guard and says she doesn’t want to me too much trouble.  I tell her that tonight is probably our only chance as the field will have tillage done soon.  I give her directions on where to meet me, and bring my kids over to the neighbors.

As we drive through the field in my Expedition, it is really quiet.  I keep looking to the left, she keeps looking to the right.  She breaks the silence with, “5 years.  I’ve had Sparky and he’s never left me.  5 years.”  We reach the end of the field, I take another guess at the direction to travel and we drive back.  No Sparky.  So strange.  I run across the field to tell Paul, who is running the tillage equipment, to keep his eyes out for white fluff and call me.  I run back, apologize to Peggy that I couldn’t help her more, and bring her back to her van.  She thanks me anyway and we part ways.

The next night, after putting the kids to bed, I have a voicemail.  It’s Peggy.  She has found Sparky!  I call her back.  She explains to me that she went back out looking for him the next day and found him in the field just south of where we were.  What?  I am 100% sure of the field I had seen him.  I slowly ask, “Alive?”.  She says no, not alive, and that his back side is pretty beat up.  I am truly puzzled and unsure of what to say.  She goes on, “I just wanted to say thank you again.  Even though he is dead, he is at least home with me now, and I never have to wonder if somebody took him.  I’ll always remember how kind you were to me and how you took so much time to help me out.  I really appreciate all you have done for me.”  I reply, “Well, you’re welcome, I’m just sorry for your loss.”  Click.

I sit there puzzling for 5 minutes how it is possible that a dead dog was found in a different field.  I am also amazed at how thankful she is.  Never once accused me of harming her dog.  Never once told me it was ridiculous that I didn’t stop right away.  Took the time to call me and let me know she was satisfied.  Thanked me.

I’ve since deduced that Sparky must have been picked up by a hawk or a coyote or something and was carried to the next field.  Had to have been.  That would explain why his back side was beat up.  I’m still not sure how he died.  If he would have met his fate with a piece of machinery, it would have been much more severe than just his back side.  I think he may have just starved and given up.  It had been 4 days since he had been missing.

The take-away message for me in this whole ordeal is that I shouldn’t assume people are going to be mean and accusing.  I hesitated a minute before calling her because of that assumption — “you nasty farmer killed my dog”.  In the end, the opposite was true.  She was kind, understanding, and thankful.  To her, for teaching me this lesson, I will always be thankful.  RIP, Sparky.


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