I can't tell you exactly when the squirrels moved in, but it was some time after we put up five bird feeders and a birdbath. One day I suddenly realized that our yard had become a squirrel Club Med--dozens of squirrels hanging upside down, hands grubbing away at sunflower seeds, mouths working furiously as they spit out the shells. Squirrels knee-deep in the birdbath, splashing, drinking, doing the back stroke. I like wildlife, but squirrels look a little too much like rats, and they eat pretty much all the time. We started going through 25 pounds of sunflower seeds every week.
So Doug and I taught the dogs the word "squirrel." Say that, even in a whisper, and Toby and Boscoe were on their feet, flinging themselves at the door, eager to get loose and do some damage. They burst into the yard barking and racing around in circles. The squirrels, by then, were up a tree or over the fence. Toby usually ran at Boscoe and barked ("YOU FOOL! YOU MISSED THEM AGAIN!") and Boscoe cringed.
And then they caught one.
The squirrel must have been clumsy, because it fell off the house right in front of both dogs; they barely had to move to catch it. Toby lunged and the squirrel panicked and dashed at Boscoe, who chomped onto its leg. I screamed. The squirrel screamed, louder. Doug yelled. Boscoe dropped the squirrel, which leaped onto the side of our house. It scrambled up the stucco, dragging one leg, and crawled under the awning. We threw the dogs into the garage and slammed the door. The peaceful morning suddenly felt grim. I was horrified at what we had done and filled with guilt by the sight of the damaged, trembling squirrel.
And then, high above us, we heard a call, a melancholy cross between a cry and a whimper, a sound of fear and loneliness. At the top of our roof, at the very peak, a small face appeared. A small triangular squirrel face, with pointed ears. A small squirrel face calling to its wounded mate, who clung to the wall above our door and didn't move. The second squirrel scrambled to where its mate had fallen and sniffed all around. Then it sat straight up, like a gopher, and called. Slowly, it retraced the path of the tragedy--here's where Toby lunged, here's where Boscoe bit, here's where the squirrel staggered off--and every few feet it sat up, looked around, and called.
This was worse than an episode of "Nature," because on "Nature" it's not your fault that the baby wildebeest gets taken down by the ravenous lions. Here in our yard, we had only ourselves to blame. By now, the second squirrel had made its way to the stoop. Its mate was hanging above, spread-eagled like a drying pelt, but the second squirrel never looked up. It sniffed, and then it stopped and called. Doug tried encouraging them. He made comforting little squirrel-like chuckles and spoke softly--"It's OK, buddy, you can come down now"--but you can't blame the squirrels for not trusting us.
The second squirrel fussed away, down the steps and over the fence, still calling that haunting cry. In the garage, the dogs whimpered. The wounded squirrel didn't move. We considered our options: We could knock it down with a broom, we could wait it out, we could leave. I wanted to stay and watch the drama unfold, but I knew things would go more smoothly if we weren't there.
So we tossed the dogs into the Jeep and headed out to the dog park. (Nothing like rewarding their bad behavior. But it was really our fault.) When we got back, we wondered, would we find a search party in the yard? Dozens of squirrels, a half-foot apart, trudging through the grass in a row? Would there be a vigil tonight--squirrels with farmer's matches ablaze, singing? I had had no idea, up until now, that squirrels had any kind of private life. I guess I knew they mated, but I never knew they cared.
But when we got home, the yard was deserted. There were no squirrels--none in the trees, none on the feeders, none clinging to the stucco above the door. I worried that the wounded squirrel had crawled away to die. I put the dogs inside, just in case. That evening, rounding the front of the house with the watering can, I happened to glance up. There were the squirrels, lounging in the eaves trough, chewing on twigs, paws hanging over the side as though they were drunk.
Our beady little eyes met. I felt a rush of relief. Languidly, they pushed themselves out of the gutter and headed up the slant of the roof, one of them limping. As I watched, my relief changed to horror: They were headed toward a hole that I had never noticed before, under the eaves--a hole that clearly had been chewed into the side of our house. A hole littered, no doubt, with peanut shells and little beer cans and straw and, almost certainly, baby squirrels, who will emerge in a few weeks and be introduced to the wonders of our Club Med back yard. A hole that I knew, even as I stared at it in dismay, I was too burdened with guilt and remorse to do anything about.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
from the beginning, boscoe was frantic about food. he'd inhale his puppy chow, often not even chewing it.
this would leave him bloated, gassy, and still very hungry. he was always hungry. poor little guy. he was plump enough, but he ate so fast he never felt full; he always thought he was starving.
after eating, he'd go in the living room, lie down on the rug, and fart and fart and fart.
the vet said, "you need to slow down his eating." he told us to put a tennis ball into his food bowl. boscoe would have to nudge around it to get at the kibble underneath.
so that night we poured a cup of kibble into his bowl and set a clean yellow tennis ball on top--maybe one of toby's. we put the bowl on the kitchen floor. Boscoe looked at his bowl, looked at us, looked at the bowl--and then i swear he rolled his eyes. he picked up the tennis ball in his mouth and set it on the floor. then he proceeded to inhale his kibble. three seconds later, bowl empty, he staggered off, bloated, gassy, and still ravenously hungry.
it's pretty hard to trick a border collie.