Thursday, November 14, 2013

An Autumnal Paleo Tale

Here in the mid-Atlantic states, we are smack dab in the thick of autumn. A few windy days and nights have brought most, but not all, of the leaves down from the trees. This makes life interesting for those of us who regularly walk our dogs.

First, there are the "autumn surprises." Fall -- leaves everywhere -- means that the inconsiderate slackers who don't pick up after their dogs present a greater threat than they usually do to the continued poop-free nature of one's shoes. That Giant Dog Turd (band name?) that would have been obvious from many yards away in the summer is now camouflaged in a bed of autumnal beauty. Crunch. Squish. Fuck.

Secondly, apparently -- if my dogs are to be believed -- there is a hidden network of just-below-the-fallen-leaves superhighways for mice, moles, voles (I don't actually know what a vole is. A mole that can sing Rocky Top?) and other rodents. Either that or my two hound mixes are insane. Ruby, the more predatory of the two, spends large portions of our fall walks pouncing on hidden beasties in the leaves. Sometimes (but not often) she catches something. Some of those times (but much less often), she eats the fuzzy thing that she caught. And, almost 100% of *those* times, she throws up upon arriving home. Fortunately, she is a terrible hunter. Milo -- the dog that is afraid of everything human, fearful of many inanimate objects, adoring of all other dogs, and reasonably hellbent on chasing every other living creature on earth, especially our cat -- simply follows Ruby's "leadership" on these issues. This means that sometimes he joins in the pounce, and other times stands nearby, like a confused Flavor Flav to Ruby's Chuck D.

This brings us to the third problem of autumn: squirrels. They are currently scurrying about everywhere -- not underneath the leaves at all. Over, through, and around them. They are streaking across yards at high speed, leaping onto trees, and playing elaborate chase games with one another up and down tree trunks. They don't give a fuck about the dogs. The dogs, however, give many many fucks about them. Ruby and Milo are convinced that each walk these days is a journey into a virtual reality theme park called Squirrelworld.

And Squirrelworld opens its gates without notice. We can be cruising along just fine -- which, translated into these guys' behavior, means minimal pouncing by Ruby, and Milo feeling unthreatened by school buses, noisy trucks, pedestrians (there aren't many out here), and the greatest menace of all: motorcycles or the evil bicycle*** -- when, out of nowhere, I must engage full CrossFit-based resistance training to prevent both Milo and Ruby from charging at high speed after a bevy of squirrels.

It's... interesting. And adventurous.

And generally it works out fine. But if it always worked out fine, guess I wouldn't be wasting your time with this tale, hmmm? Recently, in a stunt that scared the daylights out of me, Milo did an out-of-nowhere horizontal Superman-ish leap over top of Ruby to get at a squirrel. This led to an epic tangling of leashes, and harnesses, which then led to Ruby popping completely out of her harness, getting loose right next to a road where cars were zooming by at 50 m.p.h. Somehow, she came back to me almost immediately, and I got her harness on with one hand while simultaneously beating Milo into submission to distract him from chasing his long-gone prey. It was much worse, and more frightening, than it sounds.

Today was a little more Three Stooges, and a little less, Oh Shit the Dog Almost Got Killed than that.

I mentioned that school buses scare the bejeezus out of Milo. Well, his first reaction when scared on a walk is to stop and pull a bit backwards. When that goes nowhere, fortunately he just sits down. Usually, I can pat him on the head, give a rousing, inspirational speech, and onwards we soldier. Sometimes the phrase "For fuck's sake..." is used by me in less-inspirational moments. Things become a little more chaotic if the school bus is headed our way and stopping every few houses to discharge passengers. In Miloworld, this presents a double extra threat. The bus is behaving erratically -- stopping and starting -- and each person (yes, children, but he doesn't care) is a potential assassin, sent from Mordor to cause young Milo a hasty shuffle off this mortal coil.

So there was a bus -- stopping often, letting kids out, starting up again -- slowly approaching us. There was also an Invisible Something Delicious that had both dogs pulling hard and doing a little leaping as well to find it. Usually, I can zero in on their object of desire in question and direct them away from it, but I couldn't find the damn thing. Milo's leaping was also tempered by simultaneous fear of the bus and the kids. Imagine, if you will, one very excited dog (Ruby) pulling like mad in hellbent pursuit of the Invisible Something Delicious, and one half-hungry/excited, half-terrified dog (Milo) following Ruby while looking up and around at the whole wide world while trying not to get killed like he always figured was going to happen.

Oh, and traffic was backing up both ways, because of the bus, which pushed us a bit further off the road into someone's yard, where, if it were only some other season, and there weren't a thick coating of leaves everywhere, I would have seen the dead squirrel.

Ruby sees it first. She pounces, and comes up with a giant, flattened, long-desiccated, no-longer-stinky-to humans-anyway former squirrel in her maw. At this very moment, the bus driver -- undoubtedly tired of stopping at nearly every house on the damn street, guns the engine. He's done. Milo is unamused at this display of arrogant buslike behavior, and.... Well, he kinda spazzes out briefly, getting tangled with Ruby for a moment in a scene that reminds me so much of the previous near-disaster that I go into no-way-is-that-happening-again mode. While getting tangled, Milo realizes the bus/student danger had passed and thinks, "Oh. Wow. Oh wow oh wow oh wow. Ruby. Has. A. Squirrel!"

Milo snatches the squirrel from Ruby. Ruby snarls and snatches it back. I am wrestling with both of them to prevent the Great Tangling and Harness Popping of '13 from repeating itself, while yelling, "Drop it!" at both of them -- a surprisingly effective command when almost anything except the squirrel that they always wanted is involved.

At this point, cars are driving past, but the last car stops. A well-meaning woman driving that car calls out to me -- and, really, I must have looked like I was in either a Bear Grylls-ish dog/squirrel/man adventure series or an animal-abuse video -- and we all (the two dogs and I) look toward her for a second. The dogs each have an end of the squirrel in their respective mouths. I manage to say, "No, we are fine. They just have a dead...."

At that moment, Milo and Ruby pull hard away from one another, tugging away, and the squirrel splits in two.

"...squirrel," I finish.

"Aaaaaugh!" she said before driving off. "Dogs are gross."

I really couldn't disagree.

***The boy is flat-out terrified of two-wheeled conveyances. Strangely, he is positively soothed by lawn mowers (push or tractor) and string trimmers. Why? I don't know. He's a dog. The only theory that I have is that he has seen me using those things in our yard, and, because I am one of five people on earth he trusts not to kill him on sight, good enough for me is good enough for him. Perhaps this means I need to buy a motorcycle.

An hour later, exhausted by the hoopla....


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