So there I was, sipping a beer, sitting in the warm Saturday afternoon Autumnal sun, strumming my guitar and watching my dog Akira joyously roam around the yard on her daily perimeter check. Convinced all was secure, she took the opportunity to roll on her back, pounce on freshly fallen acorns that bounced on the lawn and happily chase butterflies as they fluttered by. It was a beautifully peaceful day. All of nature was in harmony. Oh how quickly things change.
Akira is the most loveable dog you can possibly imagine, unless of course you were another animal. When she spots a fellow dog she gets ferocious. It takes all you can muster to keep her on the end of her leash. And forget it if she spots a cat or a squirrel, chipmunk, deer, mouse, frog, horsefly, large ant, etc. My wife and I forever wonder exactly what would happen if Akira did get away from us in the presence of another animal. Would she just sniff and walk away? Would she start a fight? Would she maul the animal to death? We did not know. But little did I know when I awoke on this first Saturday of October that by sundown we’d have our answer.
I believe I had reached the second stanza of False Prophet (copyright Rhythm and Bones) when way in the far corner of the yard I saw what appeared to be a flash of light. It looked as if a ray of the sun folded on itself. Upon closer inspection I saw it was a large piece of plastic that was blowing in wind. No wait, it was a large piece of plastic being carried by what looked like a large beaver, or a woodchuck, or a muskrat, or wombat or whatever the hell it was. I didn’t know. It was hobbling across the yard making its way slowly, calmly somewhere. Seeing this big, brown beaver nonchalantly moseying across Akira’s domain without a care in the world, seemed wrong somehow. And then the alarms went off in my head. I turned away from the hairy interloper and spotted Akira in the opposite corner of the yard. She did not see it yet.
I looked back at the intruding muskrat, stopped my strumming and stood up. It saw me. I got up and ran at it to scare it away, scare it down to the brook and to safety but the plan backfired. For not only did it not turn around in fear of this large human yelling at it for no good reason, but it did not appear afraid at all. Quite the contrary. It dropped the plastic and let out a whistle and ran right towards me. I was being attached by a belligerent ground hog! I stopped in my tracks and before I had a chance to turn to see if Akira saw it, she was past me in a flash. She had her sights set. Man could she fly.
The two creatures tore towards each other at high speed and collided hard. The wily wombat got tangled up in Akira’s legs and rolled several times as Akira high stepped to keep her balance and stay on her paws as her head and neck were tucked down beneath her torso. I heard her growl. A wonderful sound when I know she is playing as I try to take her chew toy away, but now it sounded something like the Grim Reaper would produce if the Grim Reaper were a dog.
“Akira!” I shouted, but it was no use. She latched on. A high pitched shriek from the unlucky river otter sent the crows in the trees above us flying to safety.
“Akira!” I yelled again as I ran towards the flurry of legs, paws and teeth glistening in the sun. I still had my guitar in hand and as I got within range I stabbed the business end of this beautiful instrument at the marauding marmot. But before I could make contact the animals twisted in their death match and I nailed Akira in the side of the head. Opps. This unexpected blow to her head from her master caused her jaw to open just enough for the grappling gopher to squirm free. Immediately I saw it’s black maw open and unsheathe two sets of long, sharp teeth which glistened in the sun. Before I could take another swing with my axe they clamped down on Akira’s snout. She yelped and continued to whine in a syncopated and pained rhythm as she lifted her head and started trotting around the yard away from me.
“Akira leave it! Drop it! Akira!” I yelled unheeded.
I chased after them. Akira held the furry attacker high and then as if she had her favorite toy began shaking her had violently back and forth as she ran. I could hear the sound of flesh and bone and teeth being jostled angrily. I was within range and again jabbed my guitar right between Akira’s mouth and where she had a firm grip on the vermin’s throat. I slammed it down pinning them both for a moment, but it did not last.
The river rat squirmed from under the guitar and Akira quickly shot around and grabbed it now on the back of the neck and took off running in the other direction. I saw blood. I dropped the guitar and was ready to dive into the fray with my bare hands. Not a smart move.
More yelping and shrieking, more violent shaking and ripping. I still could not catch her. And then, the shrieking stopped. And so did the shaking. Akira stopped and dropped the spent plaything on the ground. It lay unmoving. I was just about at her when she picked it up and ran away yet again. This time more slowly, almost prancing. She was proudly showing off her kill. I stopped and realized I should change my tactic.
“Good girl!”, I said, “Bring it here.”
Sure enough, she spun around and dropped the brown furry corpse at my feet. It lay on its back, arms and legs splayed. Its chest heaving up and down and its mouth open wide grasping for air. I grabbed Akira and threw her into the downstairs door. I shut it and walked towards the panting Russian hat on the lawn. Still gasping for breathe, but unmoving, it looked pained. I walked closer and it heaved one last breathe and then went still. It was dead.
I heard Akira’s nails across the deck over my head. The upstairs door of the kitchen was open. Akira knew this and still consumed with the thrill of the hunt she had run up from the basement, tore across the kitchen, bolted out the door and across the deck. Nails digging into wood she flew down the stairs and as soon as she hit the ground I turned, put my hand out and yelled
She stopped in her tracks, but her ears were up, her eyes were crazy, her tongue was hanging out her mouth and she could not stand still. It was then I saw the blood on her face. I pointed to the door and yelled “Inside” and after one last glance to her prey, she reluctantly listened. I then ran up the stairs and shut the kitchen door and went back to the scene of the crime.
The animal was dead. I was not gone fifteen seconds yet three flies were already walking on its black gums. I put on my gloves, grabbed it by the tail and walked it to the back of my yard and tossed it in the brook where it lay face down, partly submerged behind a rock. I then picked up my guitar and went inside to check on Akira. Except for a scratch just under her right eye that was still bleeding, she was fine. She was even acting a bit proud of herself. She didn’t do anything wrong, she acted on pure instinct, confronted her enemy without hesitation and took its life without remorse like any good dog would do.
Looking into her now calm black eyes, as she sat peacefully letting me scratch her behind the ears, already the imagine of her ghastly kill was nearly lost. But, I could not forget it. For we did now indeed have the answer to our question. We gots ourselves a killer and the name’s Akira’s. A hot-blooded, American junkyard dog. Unless you walk upright on two legs, best you Beware of Dog.
WOODCHUCK (Groundhog, Marmot) Marmota monax
Scientific Name: Marmota monax; CLASS: Mammalia; ORDER: Rodentia; FAMILY: Sciuridae
Head and body 16-20in. (40-51 cm); tail 4-7 in. (10-18 cm); wt. 5-10 lb. (2.2-4.5 kg). This heavy-bodied, short-legged, yellowish-brown to brown animal is best known in the eastern part of its range. Belly paler than the back- hairs on body have a slightly frosted appearance; feet dark brown or black; no white except around nose. Skull (Plate 28) has 22 teeth. There are 8 mammae. Similar species: (1) Hoary Marmot has black and white on head and shoulders. (2) Arctic Ground Squirrel (p. 100) is smaller; feet not black.