Monday, January 4, 2010

Humble Pie for Breakfast

I was woken up by a certain very happy Silky Terrier. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of owning a terrier, you may not be aware of how they share their happiness.

Barking. High pitched, two-toned, ear-piercing barking.

The behavior was a desirable trait in the past 600 years of terrier breeding. Often used to hunt rats and other varmints living in grain silos, barns, factories, and farms, terriers were bred to have a loud bark. Rodents move fast and the barking allowed for owners to locate the dog, even if it had followed it's prey into burrows or warrens underground. This is one reason why Yorkies, Jack Russells, Silkies, Westies, and Schnauzers have earned the reputation of 'yippy dogs'.

Gus is no different.

Gus has made great strides in his development since he came home in December. He socializes well, meets new dog friends regularly, is interested in play and people. The first toy he played with was a tennis ball. He would pick it up by the fuzz and toss it in the air, run, and pounce. His aim was exacting. Two years of being cooped in a puppy mill pen had not re-wired his prey drive.

Over the next few weeks, Gus began to bring home more evidence of his ancestry. The summer body count has risen to five chimpunks, eight field mice, two voles, and a cardinal. (Though I suspect Orange Cat had some role in the bird catching itself...)

I am rather accepting of predatory instincts, 'circle of life', animal nature stuff. I'm not a fan of watching scenes on nature programs where animals get killed and eaten, but I understand how the animal kingdom works. My dogs and cat, however, get fed twice a day. They are not starving. They are not even hungry. They are merely acting on instinct, but that instinct could cause an infestation of parasites, fleas, and viruses. It is not safe.

Each time I scooped up a teensy carcass, I wished peace to the little energy that once resided there. I tried not to be angry at Gus for doing something natural for him. I have learned the difference between 'cheerleading from the sidelines as Ollie and Marshall wrestle' barking from "YAY! CHASE THE RODENT! GET 'EM!" barking. I finally broke down and got Orange Cat a quick-release collar with a bell and affixed a bell to Gus's collar as well.

I didn't realize how angry I was getting until this morning when I was jolted out of a fairly sound sleep by "Get 'em! Get 'em!" barks. I cussed loudly as I came down the stairs. The thoughts that went through my head were,

"He is so selfish! He doesn't even eat the damn things."

"He is a serial killer. He is cruel and unmerciful."

"The damn barking! He's doing this on purpose! Just to piss me off!"

I stomped through the kitchen and opened the sliding glass door with a little too much force as I yelled, "Gus, get your ass over here!"

And there he was, standing in the middle of the yard, looking at me quizzically.

In the moment that followed, I immediately felt ashamed. I had just broken so many of my own rules. I called a dog to come in anger. I had given Gus human motivations and expectations. I had let my grief over senseless death and secret expectations of rehabilitating generations of instinct overwhelm me.

Gus trotted over to me, tipped his head to the side, then sniffed my toe. I bent down to pick him up and he playfully hopped backward and play bowed. Then in a fantastic burst of energy, he began running circles in giant graceful leaps, barking his happiness for the world to hear. The bark I had assumed was foreshadowing another rodent's demise was actually a celebration of life and body and movement.

Gus was dancing in the rain.

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