Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feral Dogs at the River

The sky over the river was overcast; one couldn’t see the tops of the mountains, but it was just another good day for my Ridgeback girls to run and chase rabbits. I expected Ginger (who will be 6 in May) to especially appreciate the coolness, but I couldn’t tell that she chased Sage (who will be 4 in May) any more or less than when it was warmer.

At one spot the girls discovered some poop they investigated enthusiastically, and I scolded, “don’t touch it,” and was answered by some darks barking from the brush. We all stopped what we were doing and looked in the direction of the barking. As we moved along, in a clearing about 50 yards away, we saw two dogs, one of which was a Boxer. From its docked tail and appearance I assumed it to be pure bred. It was much larger, nearly twice the size of the other dog who was a mixed-breed of some sort.

“Okay,” I said to the girls, “let’s go,” and we went on with our walk. The girls showed not the slightest inclination to charge into the clearing to check these dogs out. Sage wouldn’t anyway, but Ginger when she was younger wouldn’t pass up any opportunity to try and get these dogs to play. Perhaps she has matured.

So off we went, but as we did I thought over what had happened. The feral dogs, if that’s what they were, seemed to be guarding something. My imagination went to work: What if some off-roader had a heart-attack and his dogs were guarding him? So I made sure, on the way back we went by the same spot. The dogs were right where we last saw them.

I approached the clearing, and my girls went out in front of me. Earlier, when I wanted them to leave these dogs alone, they were content to go on with me, but now that I seemed bent upon confronting these feral dogs, they were more than willing. We moved slowly forward. The feral dogs ran a few steps toward us and barked threateningly. We kept moving forward. I yelled, “is anyone there? Are you okay?” No one answered.

I have to admit that my two girls did look a bit spooky as they approached these dogs. Their hackles were up and they looked menacing. The Boxer had enough and ran away. We never saw it again, but the mixed-breed dog stayed. It looked extremely old, at least much older than my girls, but it seemed healthy enough. I would guess its weight at somewhere around 40 pounds. Ginger sniffed it cautiously. Sage then decided she might need to go into her “guard-dog mode,” and started barking as though she were working her way up to go after it, but I told her “it’s okay Sage. Don’t worry.” And she quit barking.

But I still wondered what these dogs were guarding; so I walked toward the spot where I first saw these dogs. At this point the mixed-breed dog came after me. I pointed my Cesar-Milan finger at it and said “Hey!” and it stopped. What they had been guarding, or at least interested in, was a dead animal. It was a bit mauled so I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a dog, but I think it was a coyote. I didn’t want to provoke the mixed-breed dog further by turning the dead animal about to see exactly what it was. By this time Ginger sniffing the mixed-breed dog, and he seem content to let her. Sage kept her distance. I walked about looking for the Boxer but couldn’t see it.

Just to test and see that perhaps this dog was recently used to people and might want to come with us, I called it and invited it to follow us, but it didn’t want to leave its spot. Did these two dogs team up and kill the coyote? If so; what did they plan to do with it? Do feral dogs eat coyotes? I don’t know. I saw no evidence anyone had been eating this animal, but such evidence could have been on the underside; I don’t know.

I considered the possibility that this was a little buddy, a dog that had been killed by something else and the two “feral” dogs we saw were guarding its body. Its feet were small and seemed about the size of the coyotes I had seen. Its ears were erect. Its body was about the size of coyotes, but some domestic mixed-breed dogs could look like that as well. Perhaps someone had dumped his 3 dogs at the river and one of them had been killed. The other two might hang about, especially if they had lived together all their lives. But if they were that devoted, why did the Boxer run off?

I probably won’t learn the solution to that feral-dog mystery, but I was pleased by the behavior of my girls. When I wanted to go on, they did too. When I wanted to go where the feral dogs were, they didn’t argue but moved toward them. When Sage looked like she wanted to crank things up a notch, she backed down when I asked her to. Oh yes, when I had seen all I wanted to and said, “okay, girls, let’s go,” Sage was eager to move ahead and was out in front of me, but after a moment I looked back and saw that Ginger was trying to get that old feral dog to play with her.

“Dog-gone-it Ginger, let’s go!”

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