Sunday, August 22, 2010

Second Chances

Look at that sweet face. Isn't she an angel? Admit it. In fact, her name is Angel. And a more ruthless killer you've never met.

Okay, maybe that last is a bit of an exaggeration. But mice, rabbits, squirrels ... if she can catch them, she kills them. And eats them. What very nearly got her sent to doggy prison, though, was chickens. My chickens.

Let me back up. Angel was one of those strays that saw the flashing neon sign I must have at the end of my drive that reads SUCKER Lives Here Homeless Animals Welcome Here. I found her by my porch 4 years ago patiently waiting for a handout. I obliged. She stayed.

I did my due diligence trying to find her owner. While we waited, I introduced her to the dogs, the cat, the guineas and the chickens. She was calm and fairly disinterested. I wanted to make sure she stayed that way so I kept her bowl filled with tasty food and treats.

A couple of days after she arrived, I found a half-eaten chicken. With coyotes and other dogs in the area, I had no real proof as to what had killed it. A few days later, I caught her red-snouted, with her muzzle buried in one of the birds. I gave her the benefit of the doubt -- after all, she'd been on her own for awhile, having to forage for herself. How else had she survived? But I also gave her the what-for and laid down the rules of the house. She seemed to be an intelligent dog; I was sure she understood.

Oh she understood all right, which led to me discovering another trait of hers: sneak thievery. When she thought I wasn't looking, she went after another chicken. I was watching from a window, though, and gave her an immediate correction. When she tried it a second time, I knew we had a real problem.

How do you teach an adult animal (Angel was about a year old) not to kill? I was pretty good at teaching dogs to sit and come and shake hands, but this was not anything I'd tackled before. One neighbor, a dog breeder, suggested the albatross cure -- tie a dead chicken to Angel's collar and let her live with it for a couple of weeks. Maybe the old Mariner learned something by it, but I felt it was a bit extreme and not a little barbaric.

What I came up with was to keep her inside and only take her out on a leash for a couple of weeks. I made sure she saw the other dogs coming and going without a leash. I'd walk her by the chickens a couple of times a day and tell her what pretty birds they were. If she made a move, no matter how innocent, toward them, I corrected her with a tug on the leash and a stern "No."

I wasn't sure she would make the association -- it really was pretty tenuous -- but she did. Perfectly. The fact it didn't stop her from killing other small prey or prevent her other thieving ways convinced me she had gotten the message exactly as intended. So much so that it wasn't long before I trusted her implicitly around the chickens. In fact, if I want to leave a dog outside to protect them when I go into town, I generally choose Angel. It always amazes me what a little patience and understanding can accomplish.

Angel is sweet yet very independent. She has a calm, easy-going personality and a Southern-lady sensibility. Very litttle ruffles her fur unless it's Loki insisting she play when she doesn't want to. One thing, though, can always excite her: A pack of howling coyotes. She pricks her ears and whines and paces toward them, clearly torn as to where she belongs. Remember how the howl of the wolves affected Buck in The Call of the Wild? It's those glimpses in Angel that I see when she's chowing down on a rabbit or mouse she's caught or when she's listening to the coyotes that I remember tame is only a breath away from wild.

She may not kill chickens any longer and she may love to be brushed, choose to lie on a soft blanket under a fan getting regular tummy rubs, and wait expectantly for her nightly dessert coffee, but that doesn't mean she isn't still a wild lady at heart. I would not be surprised to one day discover she's run off to join the coyotes just like Buck followed his Call. And you know what? I might just join her.

Angel's song, I think, has to be "The Cry of the Wild Goose:"
My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
And I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin' fool or a heart at rest?

11 comments:

Karen said...

Loved loved loved this post! What a great story!

lexcade said...

fantastic post! and what a beautiful little lady she is! those eyes kill me. a little patience really does go a long way with pups.

lexcade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Massaro said...

beautiful!

Phoenix said...

Karen, you just love Angel ;o)

Thanks, Michelle!

Lexcade, I really hate that so many people give up so easily on "bad" animals -- most animals just don't they're being bad in our eyes. It's not up to them to figure out what we want but for us to figure out how to convey that to them. We're supposed to be smarter than them, right?

BTW, I visited your blog. You're querying now, eh? Congratulations! And best of luck!

lexcade said...

*blush* thanks, phoenix! much appreciated :)

and i totally agree. my little bundle of slobbery love was a shelter dog i found on petfinder.com. she'd been in there for so long, she wasn't really sure what to do with other dogs, though she was great around women. sometimes she'd pick fights with my parents' dogs, but we were patient with her, worked with her, gave her lots of love and attention, and now she's the best dog ever. animals need time, like people. you can't just get one and never spend any time with it at all. i'm glad angel has a great home with you.

Anonymous said...

The albatross cure? Yikes. She'd skinny that bird off her neck, eat it and think what a good girl am I. Then go back and get FRESH seconds. Kidding aside, yes, she likely ran with the coyotes and learned how to survive. Was that a bit of the old Devil I saw in her eye? And dessert coffee? Wow Chez Phoenix sounds like a spa. Yes, once the "Buck" factor kicks in, well they are civilized on the surface. She's smart, and if she knows which side her Purina sandwiches are buttered on, I'm hoping she'll stick with a sure thing (Divine Miss Phoenix) and enjoy a life of ease and good care. Has to beat the coyote thing, even if it is tempting to run with them. She looks like she has some Golden in her along with u-know-whu.
Best, great photos and a better story,
Bibi

Phoenix said...

Thanks, Bibi! And that's a LOT of devil in her eyes ;o)

Golden probably and maybe a touch of Cocker and who knows what else?

Ah, dessert coffee - I fix a cup of coffee in the morning loaded with sugary flavoring, whole milk and a dollop of whipped cream. I drink half of it, then, in the evening, I fill the rest of the cup with water and split it three ways. Diluted down like that it's not enough sweetener or coffee to hurt them, and the dogs look forward to the ritual almost as much as I do! And it keeps ME from drinking it all. Win-win!

Robin S. said...

I love this story, and I think Angel and I would be good buds. Cool personality - you dun good, mama!

Phoenix said...

Yep, Robin, you two would be a great fit: All sweet Southern charm on the outside and absolute devil on the inside!

sylvia said...

Oh how very clever! Like you, I feel confident about teaching a (clever) dog the basics, but I wouldn't know how to start with something as complicated as that. You got the message across clearly - I'm really impressed.

And those eyes. Argh. Let's be honest. I'd hand her the chickens if she looked at me like that.

*sigh*