Alec gave him the nickname when we were hiking out of Chicago Basin in the Needles range, Colorado. His real name is Wonka. He and Granite Chief aka Chiefy, hiked with us from Purgatory Ski Resort just outside of Durango back into the range. We were headed back up to climb Mount Eolus and Sunlight Peak, one 14’er we climbed a couple of years earlier, one we hadn’t.

To understand how Wonka earned the nickname, it’s important to learn his personality. We adopted Wonka from Watermelon Mountain Ranch in Albuquerque. First he was a res dog. In New Mexico there are a lot of Native American reservations and on those reservations, there are dogs neither spayed nor neutered. The litters are large. Many of them are killed on the highways, some make it out to the shelters. Wonka was lucky. He was adopted by a family living in an apartment, where he then proceeded to bite one of the children and went back out for adoption. Then he joined our pack. 

He’s deaf. It’s common in Australian Cattle Dogs. He has a gunsight notch at the tip of his right ear that Chief gave to him when they were competing for daddy lap time. His tail was cropped as a puppy, too short. He’s sensitive where his tail is cropped and would prefer not to have anyone pet or scratch that area. Wonka will always choose a hard floor to a dog bed, he eats every meal as if it will be his last, he takes pleasure in the simple things.

Living with a deaf dog, you grow to understand their needs – staying in visual proximity, waving them over – making sure they know you’re nearby by stomping the floor to send a vibration they can feel. As a deaf herding dog, Wonka has adapted the ways he keeps track of us. He’ll lay across all entries/exits in order to ensure we have to move through him to leave a room. He’ll then get up and reposition himself to achieve the best vantage point.

Wonka is my wing man. We spend a lot of time together, in the evenings. I read with one hand and scratch his head with the other. He’s always got eyes on me. And I’ve always got his back. 

Low-4. Hiking out through the blowdowns and across scree slopes Wonka had one speed. On that trip he didn’t stop, 19 miles we powered on. Toward the end of the hike I relieved he and Chief of the packs holding their dog food and treats they were carrying. At my heels Wonka will follow me anywhere. 

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