Braveheart

I was trying to fix dinner and had to keep stepping over the prone, EXTRAORDINARILY stretched out form of my 65 lb. dog.  She was bored.  Nothing worse than a bored dog in the kitchen while you’re actually trying to DO kitchen-y type things.  So naturally, with a saucepan in one hand, I tripped over the dog getting to the sliding door to the back yard; opened said sliding door which previously prone dog rocketed out of; and I immediately regretted the decision to let her out.  Because it was there, hanging in the air.  Unmistakably present.  Skunk.  

Yes, we are in the ‘burbs.  Suburbs that have been continuously “developed” since they were formed.  It’s really a wonder there’s any green left around here. Fortunately, there’s a wonderful conservation coalition that buys up land as part of a conservancy initiative, so we actually do have acres within our county that won’t have to bear the developers’ scythe.  Anyway, despite the very bustling suburbanites traipsing about their previously held territory, the wildlife here is still very much in residence.  We regularly have possums, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, ducks, geese, an occasional deer, and more than our share of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and the afore-mentioned skunks. 

I am convinced the coyotes and foxes have a non-aggression pact to leave the smaller, annoying, animal populations intact to harass the humans.  The 8-point buck that charged down the hill toward our backyard, jumped our fence, and led Gracie to chase him all around the yard before he leapt over the front gate and out of our yard this morning is, obviously, outside the realm of the treaty.

img_3019Typically I don’t have a problem with the wild things descending into my yard.  We only lost two boards with the buck jumping the fence, and we have extras for just such occasions (Ok, I’m not entirely certain the reason we have extras is for “when deer charge through…”). I actually get a thrill out of seeing them in and around my yard.  And, because Gracie has given up chasing all but the squirrels (they drive her insane), she generally doesn’t give a hoot about sharing her backyard with wildlife.  Even the bunnies.  There have been plenty of evenings I’ve called Gracie in, only to notice a fat, fluffy rabbit not six feet from her, hanging out, eating our grass, pooping pellets in the yard for Gracie to find the next day.  I know she sees them; she certainly smells them.  She just doesn’t give a damn.  She doesn’t even look embarrassed anymore when she comes in: “Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s a bunny in the yard. Really, Mama, get over it.”  Whether it’s the wisdom of age, or arthritis, or some sort of mammalian detente, she doesn’t chase rabbits anymore.

We have had our share of close encounters with wildlife, the buck just being the most recent.  The scariest was a late fall night, several years ago. Just after having let her outside, I heard Gracie suddenly losing her mind, barking like I’ve never heard her before: she was growling a feral, wild growl which was alarming in and of itself.  But it was the big, bristling-furry, scary thing with knife-like claws and flashing sharp teeth she had cornered that had me scared-stiff for a few moments.  Gracie had backed this monster up against the backyard fence, just to the left of the back door.  When I finally started breathing again, I tried calling Gracie off, but she didn’t even pause, and she never took her eyes off the monster.  I knew that if I tried to pull her off, both of us were in danger of being raked with claws or bitten with those razor teeth I saw.  She was holding it back by sheer, wild dog ferocity.  I raced back inside to get the big push broom, and tore back outside to try and scare the monster over the fence.  Only then did I realize we were fighting a raccoon.

Did you know they can sound like a bear when they’re cornered?  I mean, really, REALLY, REALLY like a growling bear (yes, I’ve heard a bear growling.  It sounded like the raccoon.)

He or she was probably foraging around the bird feeder and berry-filled shrubs when I let Gracie out for her night-time fence patrol and potty time.

raccoon-baring-teethBoth animals had puffed themselves up to their fullest extent: the raccoon virtually unrecognizable in it’s defensive posture; Gracie had not only her hackles up, but the entire ridge of short, rough fur running the length of her back from neck to tail was standing straight up.  Ears partway back, she, like the raccoon, was baring every tooth in her mouth, snapping and biting at the air, daring the other to get close enough for the other to get a chunk off the other.  Claws and paws were waving and swiping, Gracie almost looked like she was dancing.  Almost.

Between the two of us harrassing it — Gracie continuing her dance, me yelling and lunging the giant broom at him/her — the raccoon finally decided maybe the odds had tipped in the mad dog’s favor, and made a break for it over the fence.  Even then, Gracie didn’t let up her mad barking or put her fur down.  I ended up half-dragging, half-carrying the dog as she barked around me and between my legs, back where she had last seen her foe.  “That’s right! Don’t you dare show your face in my yard again! Run, you stinky furry thing, run!”

It took her a long time to calm down.  Hell, it took ME a long time to calm down!  First things first, I checked Gracie over from ears to tail to be sure she hadn’t been scratched or bitten.  Thankfully, I didn’t find a scratch on her.  But it was then I realized she had something in her mouth: after convincing her she should “drop it,” she spit out a big mouthful of raccoon fur.

Oh boy.

A call to the nighttime emergency vet; a trip over to double check she wasn’t bitten or scratched; a worming pill to be sure she hadn’t picked up any img_2124intestinal nasties by biting the raccoon; a trip back home; “cookies” for our brave girl; and THEN she collapsed into her bed, completely worn out.  I checked on her through the night, and in the morning, made her a bath appointment where they checked her over again (and got the wild animal funk out of her fur), and told her what a brave girl she was, followed by more treats and pets.  Gracie was liking the hero treatment (it brought “cookies” and tummy rubs, what’s not to like?).  Later I watched her patrol the yard a little more intently, carefully, but with such a sense of purpose: MY yard, MY people, MY job to keep everyone safe.

Yes, she’s a sucker for a tummy rub, and if you tell her she’s a pretty girl, she’ll gladly show you where Mama keeps the silver and jewelry.  But when it comes down to it, she’s not going to let anyone or anything hurt us — her people — if it’s at all in her power.

img_1682So even when she’s barking her head off for no apparent reason other than she’s bored and trying to get some neighborhood dogs to join in the chorus, I stop myself from being too stern when I stick my head out the door and say “Gracie! Leave it!”  She is a good girl, a brave girl, and knows what battles to fight in order to protect us, and those to leave.  Like this morning, she didn’t attack the buck, just chased it out of her yard.

I just hope that wisdom extends to skunks.  So far, so good.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

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