Friday, March 22, 2013

Natural Born Killer

Here is Sophie, chewing on her ferret. She took a systematic approach to dismantling the ferret, first removing the paws, then then the eyes.

I'm always surprised how I feel when I look at pictures of Sophie. I find her charming: the cutest thing in the world except for my kids. Even just looking at her picture is enough to make me feel this upwelling of love and affection. I love this dog so much. Except when she kills possums.

Writing about dogs and kids is difficult. It's so easy to stumble into a thicket of sentimentalities or predictable jokes--about how lovable or aggravating or mysterious or wise or stubborn or whatever else they are. Who doesn't love his dog? Who doesn't love his kids? Who doesn't find the whole pack of all living beings belonging to oneself wonderful beyond measure? I don't want to know that person.

Sometimes I wonder if we even need to write about dogs and kids, because it seems like everyone already knows what you're going to say. 

Last week, while I was preparing to embark on a desert road trip, I went outside to clean up the backyard for the house-sitter and found a dead possum on the patio.

Possums are big, way bigger than cats. They have big sharp teeth and long rat-like tails, and their little paws look disconcertingly like little baby hands. Looking at that big dead possum with its little baby hands made me hate Sophie a little, but I took care of it. I put on leather gardening gloves and then wrapped the gloves in layers of plastic bags, and slid the possum onto a flattened cardboard box. I tried to call Animal Control Services, but couldn't reach anyone, and time was ticking, I had a lot to do that day. I don't know what you're supposed to do with dead possums. I put ours in the trash, and then for the few days while I was away, worried that it wasn't really dead-dead, it was just playing dead, and that the possum would wake up and find itself at the bottom of the trash bin, but I took comfort in considering the possum's size and in its sharp teeth, both of which I thought would go a long way in helping the possum escape the predicament I'd put him in.

When I came back, there was no evidence of a possum resurrection. The house-sitter reported no carnage had taken place in my absence.

A few days after that, I went out in the morning to clean up the yard before taking Sophie for a walk, and then I saw the rest of the possum's family: his mate and all their children. Dead. The sight of the bodies of the mother possum and of all the babies, some still with their paws clinging to the mother, some lying a few inches away in the grass made me hate Sophie again. Baby possums are much darker than their parents. They look a bit like little rats. Some people find rats disgusting. I don't; I had a pet rat when I was in sixth grade. I'd taught my rat to play tag. But that was a pet. Not that I'd be inclined to play tag with the city vermin variety.

After I cried, I went inside. I called Animal Services this time. There are probably millions of people in the world who can cheerfully dispose of that many dead baby animals and their mother in a moment, but I'm not one of them.

The woman who answered the phone at Animal Control Services was very nice. She assured me that possums don't carry diseases, so I didn't have to worry about that, and directed  me to leave a note on my door.

When I returned home, the yard was cleared. Sophie sniffed the grass where the possums had been, and I looked at her and hated her a little more. It's not like she needed to eat the possums. Sometimes she won't eat her own food. I would say she killed the possums for sport, but she didn't; she killed them because they're prey and she's a predator, and that's just what predators do. I'm sure she had fun, but it was working kind of fun, not going to the beach kind of fun.

Before Sophie, we had Harriet, a long-haired tortoiseshell cat of distinctly foxy appearance. Harriet was a skilled hunter, and brought home all species of small animals. Sometimes they were dead and sometimes they were alive, and sometimes they were in-between. Mice, gophers, birds, a squirrel, once she carried home a bunny that was more than half her size. Then Harriet herself disappeared. We lived in the hills then, and it could have been the coyotes. Harriet's disappearance broke our hearts.

Before Harriet, we had Shaka, a glossy black short-haired manx. Shaka was such a goofball that I didn't believe he would be much of a hunter, so when dead mice started appearing on the deck, I assumed that they'd been poisoned and that somehow our deck had become the preferred final resting place for neighborhood rodents. Shaka put that belief to rest when he started bringing home live mice, too. Shaka was HBC, vetspeak for "hit by car." We'd put up fliers all over the neighborhood, so I had to endure at least a dozen calls from well-meaning folks who'd seen him before we got the fliers down. Shaka's death broke our hearts, too.

My goal is to keep Sophie alive by any means necessary, so far so good. I don't know what I can do to protect the possums. Maybe always assume Sophie is lying when she indicates she needs to go out in the middle of the night.

By now, I've forgiven her for being a dog and a predator and we're back to normal.

Today's Report Card
# of cats sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 1

NOTE: This is very impressive, considering the cat was the one we see on the way to the park. This cat is badder than bad. This cat comes TOWARD us when it sees Sophie. The cat puffs up and steps forward. I admire this cat so much.

Today the owner came out and I told her I'm a big fan of her cat. She looked at Sophie's perked ears and wagging tail, and then asked if Sophie likes cats. Her cat loves dogs that like cats, she said. At that moment, her cat looked like one of those cats on a Halloween card.

I told the cat's owner that Sophie would probably try to eat the cat if I let her go. The cat's owner smiled uncertainly. Sophie had issues, I said apologetically.

# of mail carriers sighted (on foot): 1
reactivity: 3
NOTE: Here I'm thinking we might need to indicate how much time it took for her to calm down, because even though there was an impressive reaction, she pulled herself together right quick.

# of FedEx trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 2

# of UPS trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 2

It was a busy walk.

No comments:

Post a Comment