Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dr. Fido and Mr. Wolf

Dogs will be dogs. It doesn't matter how pampered a pooch is, given the right incentive and the right opportunity, that ancient wolf-instinct bursts to the surface and reminds us that Fido has a side he doesn't show too often.

This morning's news featured a video recorded by someone who watched as a dog owned by the daughter of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, broke away from the young woman during a walk and killed a baby sea lion. It was very upsetting for everybody at the scene -- except, possibly, for the dog, who probably thought it was doing a bang-up job of exactly what it was supposed to be doing.

Levi and Gimpy get so excited when they see a squirrel that there's no doubt in my mind they'd kill one if they could catch it. There's a dried-up headless lizard on my patio right now that one of them must have left there. Toads are slow and easy to catch, too, but both dogs have learned not to mess with them. Toads secrete some kind of toxin through their skin that makes a dog's mouth foam up as if it's lathered and ready for a shave. (Don't worry; these are little garden toads, not the highly poisonous kind that live in some parts of the country.)

Actually, Levi has killed larger prey, and witnessing that was so upsetting that I felt almost as much sympathy for the people in today's video as I did for the baby seal. Not quite as much, but almost. Levi killed a coot.

It happened this past January, when I was posting every day for the One-a-Day Photo Challenge. Since the list of challenge themes didn't include any topics along the lines of "Oh, Dear God!" or "My Dog Is a Vicious Monster," I didn't write about it at the time it happened, and it isn't the kind of story one wants to just spring on unsuspecting readers out of the blue.

The weather then was terrible. It was a bitter-cold day in the middle of a long string of cold, rainy days. To keep the dogs from chasing one another through the mud, I was taking them outside one at a time, and that morning it was Levi's turn to go first. I opened the back door and saw a coot huddled against the privacy fence at the corner of the patio. Coots don't hang out in people's yards around here, so I don't know if this one fell out of the sky or what, but Levi saw it a split-second before I did, and before I could grab him, he gave chase. I think the coot must have been injured; it could only fly about a foot off the ground. Nevertheless, it took off on a low flight path with Levi right behind it. The coot hit the back fence, made a sharp right turn and flew behind the garden shed, where I couldn't see what was happening. By the time I caught up with them, the coot was already dead. I didn't see even a drop of blood, so I think Levi must have broken its neck.

It was raining softly at that point; I guess you'd call it a heavy mist. I was wearing my heavy, ankle-length winter coat, the one that's several sizes too large for me now, over my bathrobe and pajamas. My feet were sinking into the mud, which was oozing through the holes on top of the old pair of Crocs I had on and rapidly soaking my socks. (Yeah, I was wearing Crocs, with socks no less. Next time I try to rescue a chicken-sized bird, I'll try to be a little more fashion-conscious.) It was difficult to maintain my footing while I tried to pull Levi away from the coot. I'd been yelling at Levi the whole time: "Leave it! Leave it, leave it, leave it!" What a waste of breath. He was not about to leave a perfectly good dead bird.

I finally managed to get a good hold on Levi's collar, twist it to tighten it enough that he couldn't pull out of it, which he was trying with all his might to do, and drag all 75 pounds of him toward the house. He kept giving me a look that I interpreted to mean, "Woman! What are you thinking? Did you not see what I had back there?"

Back on the patio, I could see Gimpy through the glass storm door. He was doing a little four-legged tap dance because he hadn't been outside yet and needed to go, but I couldn't let him out until I'd disposed of the coot's body. Levi and I were both covered with mud. Still gripping Levi's collar, I peeled off my own shoes and socks outside, then marched his muddy hide straight through the den and out the other back door into the driveway, where I stood barefoot on the freezing cold concrete and hosed the mud off of both of us. 

Inside again, I dried my own feet and legs, dried off Levi, and mopped up the trail of muddy footprints. There was Gimpy, still waiting at the back door. I went to my bedroom, got dressed, put on the knee-high rain boots I'd bought but never worn, went back to the kitchen and got a big green trash bag, put the heavy coat on again, apologized to Gimpy and told him to stay, and went outside to get the coot. 

I didn't want to touch the body in case some kind of contagious illness had caused the bird to be there on my patio all by itself, unable to fly, so I turned the bag inside out, placed it on top of the body, then turned the bag right-side out again as I picked it up. The whole experience had been terrible, but when I felt the weight of that poor, lifeless, little body in my hands, I started to cry. At that very moment the sky opened up and the rain began to fall in sheets. "I know, God," I said out loud. "I feel the same way."

I put the deceased coot, wrapped in it's Hefty-bag shroud, in the garbage can. That didn't seem respectful enough, but I didn't know what else to do with it. Hoping like the dickens that Levi hadn't been in the house bragging to Gimpy in whatever kind of secret dog-language they use to communicate, I finally opened the door and let Gimpy out. He was beyond focused on taking care of his personal needs by that time, so he ran through the pouring rain into the opposite corner of the yard, never venturing even close to the crime scene, then hightailed it back to the house. Thank goodness!

Seeing my usually sweet dog kill a big bird was horrible. The memory of it still bothers me. I can't even imagine how upset I'd be if I had to watch him kill a baby sea lion. 


  1. I've seen Mabel kill a kitten, attack a cat and wrestle with a raccoon. All have scared me for life!

  2. Like you said, it is disturbing for us, but the dogs are just following their genetic code. That "Golden" part of Goldendoodle is a great retriever. I guess the coot was just too much for him to resist. Scott and I joke that Lucy won't kill anything bigger than her paw, so that restricts her to lizards, grasshoppers and baby mice. But Ruffles has killed all of the following: two raccoons, rabbit, two coral snakes and mice. She has attempted armadillos but can't bite through the armor. Twice she has brought a stunned possum in the house, so proud of her kill. Fortunately they were just "playin' possum" and survived. You can't beat Mother Nature.

  3. Holly, I remember when you wrote about Mabel fighting the raccoon. Scary, indeed!

    Annette, anyone who hasn't met your little Ruffles would read this and think she must weigh a hundred pounds or more. Of course, I once had a four-pound poodle that killed (and ate the tasty parts of) our parakeet. She also delivered mice to us on several occasions, presenting them as if they were prizes, their tails hanging out of her mouth. I guess size doesn't matter if the prey drive is strong enough.


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