Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ridgebacks, Sandpaper and Snakes

            Sometime ago my Ridgeback Ginger, who will be seven this month, had her teeth cleaned.  The vet's assistants made an erroneous report to me about what had been done.  I was alarmed when one told me Ginger had a diseased tooth extracted.  This vet's assistant called in a more knowledgeable assistant who told me the same thing.  But when I got home I discovered that none of Ginger's teeth were missing.  I made a fuss with the Vet's general manager who assured me that reprimands would be in the offing.   Part of the reporting -- by the same people who told me Ginger had a tooth extracted -- suggested that I return Ginger every year to have her teeth cleaned.  I am not looking forward to that.
            Some months later when I was sanding some pieces of deadwood I got from the river in order to hiking sticks, I noticed that Ginger had chewed up part of a sheet of 50-grit sandpaper.  And then two days ago she chewed up a sheet of 150-grit sandpaper.  I made a joke about her taking her teeth-cleaning into her own hands (paws).  But someone took my comment about her chewing the sandpaper to mean that she was actually eating it.  I could see no evidence that she had.  She shredded perhaps 1/3 of the sheet of the 150-grit sandpaper, but the pieces seemed to all be there.  I didn't actually put it back together like a puzzle; so she might have eaten a tiny piece, but my impression was that she hadn't. 
            After she chewed up part of the 50-grit sheet a few months ago, I purposely dropped used sheets of sandpaper on the ground near where I was working and when Ginger passed by pointed to the sandpaper and told her "don't touch."  After leaving the 50-grit pieces about for awhile, without any further evidence that she had chewed any of them, I assumed the problem was solved.  When she did it the other day to the sheet of 150-grit sandpaper I was more amused than alarmed.  She wasn't eating it, just tearing it up.  I made a fuss about it and chewed her out, but her activity struck me as being similar to her digging in the back yard.  She will do it about once every six months.  I'll find her working on a little hole back there and bawl her out.  If I see evidence that she has been at it subsequent to the bawling out, I will put some poop in it.  That ends the problem.  Interestingly, she will sometimes dig furiously in the sand down at the river -- often it is after we have been down there on a hot day.  She will do it in a shady area and I wondered if she weren't seeking cooler sand below the surface.  I might pause for a minute or so while she lies in the little hole she dug, but then it's off on the continuation of our hike and while she might give us a head start, she soon catches up.
            I know that some people, perhaps most, like to keep their dogs out of harm's way -- and keep anything harmful away from their dogs.  I can't take that approach.  I purposely retired near a large area where I could let my Ridgebacks run.  It is technically a river but it is usually dry.  Still there is a variety of vegetation down there -- bushes, oak trees, cottonwood trees, trees I can't identify, tall grass, vines, flowers and cactus.  As to wild life, there are rabbits, raccoons, lizards, squirrels, mice, coyotes, feral dogs and snakes. 
            I have been especially concerned about snakes because a rattle-snake could kill a dog -- or a person.  While I haven't taken to using a hiking stick because of snakes, it is comforting to know I can put my stick down into the tall grass ahead of my foot and give any rattle snake a chance to object. 
            My lifestyle, hiking with my dogs off-leash at the river, doesn't permit me to keep them out of "harm's way."  I resolved in advance that they were going to have to deal with the harm, whatever it might be.  I got into a number of interesting discussions when I started considering getting a smaller breed next time.  If I got a smaller breed, it was going to have to be able to deal with the same "harm" that my Ridgeback girls deal with.  I recall one very-alarmed lady on a Vizsla site who was appalled that I might one day subject a Vizsla to feral dogs and coyotes.  Furthermore, she didn't think I should subject my Ridgebacks to that threat either.  My exposure to the Vizsla people pretty-much caused me to rule that breed out; although a few nice breeders contacted me off-line and assured me a Vizsla would probably do just fine at the river.  I think they were probably right but I ruled the Vizsla out anyway.
            Now as to snakes, I have been taking Ridgebacks to this particular river since 1998 and until two days ago had never encountered a snake.  I have no way of knowing whether any of my Ridgebacks encountered them, but if they did they didn't suffer from the confrontation.  Then two days ago I encountered a snake curled up near some tall grass.  It's head was partially down a ground-squirrel hole.  I called the girls over so I could tell them "don't touch."  They readily came over, but they took turns mauling the snake -- a few seconds each and then they were off to check more interesting things.  This made me think that perhaps they had already encountered snakes in the brush and knew perfectly well how to deal with them.  It also made me wonder if they hadn't mauled this particular snake before I saw it -- it was either extremely lethargic or injured.  My previous snake-dog experience occurred when Heidi, my German Shorthaired Pointer was young.  We were on a hike some place and encountered a snake.  I told her "don't touch," but she wouldn't have even if she were on her own.  She showed a good deal of fear of it.  I somewhat expected the same reaction from my Ridgeback girls, but after what I saw I concluded they probably knew a whole lot more about snakes than I do. 
            If one of my Ridgebacks is ever injured at the river, I'm sure that people like the Vizsla lady will have a reproach in store for me, but I have to risk that.  I keep in shape and keep my girls in shape.  We are very familiar with the river and have dealt with whatever is down there for their entire lives.  As to my life, I was trained as a Marine in terrain not so very different from the river; and I find it enjoyable rather than alarming -- even though I try to prepare for all possible dangers: that too was part of my Marine Corps' training.  And my preparation included dogs that could (probably) handle themselves at the river.  Surely this Ridgeback breed, bred to confront the most dangerous animals on our planet, can handle the relatively minor dangers of our river.  And if I opt for a smaller breed after I lose one of my girls, it might very well be an Airedale which has a reputation comparable to that of the Ridgeback insofar as being able to deal with dangerous animals, and, in regard to snakes, a rattler would have a hard time getting its fangs through that coarse fur. 
            Which illustrates my trying to anticipate possible dangers.  I fully understand that in this modern world, the best way to avoid danger is to stay inside with the doors locked, but I had a different sort of training, and while I wouldn't try to talk anyone into doing what I do, I at the same time will object to anyone trying to talk me out of doing what I do -- not that anyone has tried that recently -- perhaps not since I left the Vizsla discussion group.

No comments: