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Danny Mack is a rising rodeo star in rural Oregon. He lives on a ranch with his older brother, their dad, and his faithful border collie, Banjo.
Late one night, Danny is awakened by gunshots. Banjo has been wounded. The neighbors claim he was going after their livestock, which gives them the right to shoot the dog or have him put down. Dad reluctantly agrees. They must obey the law. Danny knows Banjo is innocent, and comes up with a desperate plan to save himbut something goes terribly wrong.
Days later, on a distant ranch, Meg Harris finds a frightened dog alone in the woods. Banjo. She takes him home and searches for the dog's owner, furious that he was abandoned. She's not going to give Banjo up easily.
Told by Danny and by Meg, this fast-paced, heartrending novel explores the deep connection between humans and animals, and reminds readers that you can't judge an animalor a personbefore you know their story.
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Danny Mack was pretty sure he’d just lost his thumb.
He’d caught the steer but lost control of his rope. He tried to wrap it around the saddle horn but wasn’t quick enough. When his horse, Pete, dug in and pulled back, the rope snapped into place and ripped his roping glove clean off his hand.
Danny grimaced and gaped at it. No blood. And his thumb was still there. He shook out the sting.
His best friend, Ricky, ran over from where he’d been manning the roping chute. “You all right?”
“I think so.”
Summer vacation had just begun, and Danny and his dad were in their home arena practicing team roping, getting ready to compete in the Jefferson County Fair and Rodeo in a couple of weeks. Ricky and Danny’s brother Tyrell were helping out. Tyrell was seventeen, four years older than Danny. As a team, Danny and his dad competed in community and open rodeos. Danny was the header, roping the horns. Dad, the heeler, roping the back feet. They were good at it, because they practiced.
Dad, who’d caught the steer’s two back legs, loosened his rope and loped over on Mandingo. “You hurt?”
“Stings,” Danny said, squeezing his hand. He had to focus on his dally—his wrap around the saddle horn.
Dad leaned in for a closer look. “You’ll live. But be more focused. Roping’s dangerous, which is why we’re out here getting it right.”
Tyrell drew up on his horse, Half-Asleep. “What happened?”
“Rope almost took my thumb off.”
“Looks like it’s still there.”
Danny turned in his saddle. His glove was lying in the dirt by the fence. He whistled. “Banjo! Get my glove.”
Banjo, his border collie, snapped up, got it, and ran it over.
Danny leaned down and took it. “Good boy.”
He pulled the glove back on.
Tyrell rode off to free the steer from the ropes and herd it back to Ricky at the chute.
“Let’s give it one more run and call it a day,” Dad said.
Danny nodded and coiled his rope. He loped Pete around the practice pen to calm himself down. This time, focus!
Tyrell and Ricky got the steer back into the chute.
Banjo trotted back to his place by the fence.
Danny backed Pete into the box on the left side of the chute, where he’d wait until the steer was released. Dad backed Mandingo in on the right.
When the steer was in place, Ricky glanced at Danny. “Ready when you are.”
The idea was to stay in the box as short a time as possible. Get in, get ready, and hope the steer got up to the gate with his head aimed forward. That was the unknown, the steer.
Dad nodded to Danny.
Danny nodded to Ricky.
Ricky slammed the gate open. “Haw!”
The steer burst out running.
A split second later, Danny spurred Pete ahead.
The hardest part wasn’t the roping but the riding, and Danny’s balance astonished anyone who watched him. Dad once told him that he was about as good a rider as it was possible to be.
Danny stayed to the left, with Pete’s nose even with the steer’s hip.
Dad on Mandingo flew out of the heeler’s box, staying about ten feet off to the right, keeping the steer on a straight path so Danny could get a good shot at its head.
Danny threw his loop—a clean catch over both horns. He made his dally around the saddle horn, doing it right this time. He slowed and pulled the steer to the left so the steer’s hind legs flayed out as it turned.
Dad threw his loop and caught both back feet. He hadn’t missed all day. He made his dally and turned Mandingo to face Danny and Pete, the horses pulling the ropes taut, the caught steer between them.
Dad nodded. “Do it like that two weeks from now and we’ll be all right.”
“Yep,” Danny said. “Just like that.”
“Not bad, little brother,” Tyrell called. “You too, old man.”
Ricky and Tyrell removed the head protector from the steer’s horns and released the steer into the pasture. Dad and Tyrell took their horses into the barn.
Danny sat his horse, looking down on Ricky. “What you doing after this?”
“Chores, I guess.”
“Want to do something later?”
Danny looked back at the barn and out toward the pasture. “Oh, I don’t know. Watch grass grow?”
Ricky grinned and walked over to his bike to head home. Danny rode Pete alongside him, while Banjo sniffed through the weeds.
“Thanks for helping out today,” Danny said.
“No problem. You’d do it for me.”
“Not with bulls, I wouldn’t.”
Ricky was a junior bull rider, and Danny was not a fan of bulls. One wild kick and they could kill you. Danny knew of a rodeo bull from Texas that weighed 1,900 pounds. That one could kick you from Oregon to South Carolina. As a junior rider, Ricky rode bulls that were between 500 and 1,000 pounds.
Danny said, “You have more guts than brains.”
Ricky laughed. “You’re just jealous.”
He whistled for Banjo, squatting as he trotted over. “You take care of that wimp on the horse, you hear? He needs help.”
Banjo nosed Ricky’s hand.
Ricky looked up. “Guess he sees my point.”
“Get outta here,” Danny said, smiling. “Wanna do some fishing? If not later today, then next week?”
“Sure. Call me.” Ricky gave him a thumbs-up and rode off.
Danny whistled and slapped his thigh. “Banjo! Come!”
Banjo raced over and leaped. Danny caught him by the skin on the back of his neck and lifted him into the saddle. Banjo licked his face.
“I think you’ve earned yourself a treat, don’t you?”
Together, they rode back to the barn.