July 1, 2012

Canine Houdini

Tally ho!
I grew up in a household where my dad, my sister, and for a while, even I, foxhunted.  I'm talking, dress up in fancy clothes, gussy up your horse, and head out to harvested corn fields in Iowa at the break of dawn, foxhunting.  I say I did it for a time because I frequently was awarded the groundtester achievement.  Meaning I was able to prove gravity was more than a theory on a very consistent basis.  The funny thing about that though is that I managed to hold on for dear life until the horse came to a complete stop.  Only then would I hit the dirt.

My sister continued hunting until a severe back injury put an end to her Sunday morning rides.  My dad, however, still gets up on winter mornings when you can see your breath and hear the turkeys in the fallen corn, scavenging for breakfast to go out and chase the elusive, furry scoundrel.

I tell you about the hunting because it was regular thing around the house.  When it wasn't hunting season, my sister and I would participate in dressage or jumping competitions at the stable where we kept our horses.  (Yes, I was that kid who asked for a pony as a kid and actually got one.)

It was at a horse show when  I was little that we first ran across Jack Russel Terriers.
  Probably the most famous of the breed is Eddie from Frasier, or Skip, from My Dog Skip.  If you've never met one in person, they are all of the energy in a nuclear reactor crammed into a 15 lb dog.  They are wicked smart, born hunters, diggers, and the absolute best bed warmer uppers in the winter.  They're also a pretty common dog for horse people to have since they were bred to "go to ground" and burrow in after a prey animal.  This is why they're fantastic jumpers.  Once the pack flushes out a fox, or other small animal, they jump from horseback to chase them.  If you ask me, a dog that will dig in after their prey is the ultimate retriever.

The flying nun herself
My parents have had two Jack Russel Terriers over the years; a male named Smudge, and a female named Daphne.  Both of them are amazing companions, but Daphne will leave a legacy second to no other dog my parents have ever had.  It's because, you see, Daphne looks like a cross between a rat terrier and the flying nun, and is the Houdini of dogs.  There is not a single cage, back yard, room, or car that can contain her, or keep her out.

Summertime chillin'
She's a swimmer.  I mean, you can not keep this dog out of the water.  My folks have a pool in their back yard.  You can close the gate, but this dog will find a way through the bars in the fence around the pool.   She will take a flying leap into the water and either join you on the floating chair, or paddle along with you as you do laps.  If you take her out of the water before she thinks she's done, she'll cannonball right back in.

TrueGreen lawncare will never have my parents as a customer as long as Daphne is alive.  There isn't a mole, rat, snake, mouse, bunny, and now, frog, that is safe from her hunting urges.  There was a time where my folks and I were standing in the back yard, talking about the damage the previous winter had done to the trees on their property.  Daphne was scooting around the grass, one ear to the ground.  It was like she was doing the doggy butt scrape, only with one ear in the dirt.  Dad and I thought that she'd gotten water in her ear when she'd been swimming earlier and she was doing her best to scratch it.  It wasn't until we heard the squeal that we realized what she was up to.  When we turned around, she had a mole in her mouth, and was shaking it to death.  The squeal we heard was its death rattle.  Behind her it looked like WWI trench warfare.  Daphne, that crafty dog, had heard the mole burrowing underground and dug it out on the fly.

My folks have lost track of the times she's been in a place they didn't expect.  My mom is an avid gardener.  In the summer, she'll spend days out in the yard weeding, mulching, and planting.  Often times, when the weather was nice enough, she'd leave the dogs out in the back yard while she was in the front gardening.  More than once, Daphne has come trotting up to her, holding the head of her latest conquest in her mouth as a trophy.  It's always an adventure to be sitting down to a meal in the kitchen and look up to see Daphne chasing an animal through the flower beds outside of the kitchen.  That meant abandoning dinner to track her down and coax her back in the house.  Sometimes that meant on foot, often times it meant driving through the neighborhood calling her name and hoping she'd had her fun.

Their back yard is fenced in, and over the years, has been reinforced by railroad ties, bricks, and even gardening fence to keep the burrowing wonder from getting out.  Usually, after she'd make an escape, my folks would walk the fenceline to find the hole and plug it with whatever they had in the yard.  Daphne had chosen her favorite weak point in the perimeter too, so it was generally easy to find.  Over the years, her go to spot had begun to look a little bit like a compost heap.  I think the pile of leaves, rocks, and sticks is close to 2 feet tall at the time. 

A few years ago, my mom was outside hollering for the dogs to come in since it was rather warm, and they'd been outside for a couple hours already.  Their two other dogs can racing in, content to be in AC, but Daphne never appeared.  Mom and dad walked the fenceline, but didn't see any new holes.  Just to be sure, they looked in the house for her, but she wasn't there either.  (Smudge once put the house on high alert when he crawled under the covers of the waterbed and promptly dissappeared from sight as the mattress hid his outline as he sank into the water.)  She had to still be outside, so they went to look again.

As their calling became nervous, they started to hear a weak whine from somewhere along the fence at the side of the yard.  After listening closely, they determined that Daphne had started to dig out again, but had gotten stuck in the roots of a felled tree.  She couldn't move forward, and she couldn't back up.  Who knows how long she'd been there, but she was obviously scared, and probably exhausted.  What were my folks to do?

The scene of the crime.
While mom started clearing the rocks and leaves from around where Daphne was lodged, dad ran to the garage to get a shovel.  As they dug around the roots, it became harder and harder to get the shovel close to her to move enough dirt to give her room to get out.  Through fears that they weren't going to be able to free her, they moved a little dirt at a time, cut roots, and cleared leaves.  Eventually, they were able to reach in and pull her to safety.  I'll admit, my mental image of this is like a farmer pulling a healthy potato plant out of the ground, only to have the plant give way to a dog's tail and thrashing body.  She may have been exhausted while in her tunnel, but was instantly rejuvenated upon breaking ground.  She squirmed and wiggled as soon as my mom's arms were around her and her eyes were above ground.  When her feet hit the ground, after flopping out of my mom's grasp, she tore directly to the back door and stayed in the rest of the night.

That was one of the last times we can remember she broke out of the back yard.  Maybe her adventure scared her enough to stop digging, and maybe old age has caught up with her.  Regardless, she's still a cherished member of the family with many more stories ahead of her.

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