I am technically a pre-veterinarian student, and I’ve been working at veterinary clinics for close to 3 years now. Needless to say, I have seen my fair share of house pets, and they’ve run the whole gamut of characters: happy, crochety, gross, fastidious, hyper, lazy, ditzy, dignified, and even some neurotics. I’ve loved it, on a whole, and can’t say I’d prefer to be doing anything else with my life.
However, one thing that I’ve noticed, be they grinning Golden Retrievers or rhine-stoned Lhasa Apsos, is that house pets in general are soft, watered-down versions of their more savage relatives or ancestors. This isn’t surprising, but it is repeatedly supported through my experiences. Labradors tend to eat rocks, just because they can. Chihuahuas sometimes piddle on the floor if you breathe too loud. Pekingese dogs have to focus so much energy on breathing through their squashed noses and keeping their eyes inside their heads that, were a predator to appear, their best bet would be to just give up.
My favorite example is of Henry, my coworker Jenny’s Shih Tzu. He’s a little special, above and beyond the regular Shih Tzu level, due to some trauma earlier in his life. However, he’s fully capable of functioning on a daily basis, until it snows. This last winter, we got a couple feet of snow, and he decided he wanted to romp with abandon just like his buddy, Jack the Golden Retriever. Due to the height difference, he had a bit more trouble doing this, but he had a good old time until he fell in so deep that he couldn’t see Jenny anymore.
He froze, cowering at the looming walls of snow around him. Shivering, he lifted first one paw, and then the other, realizing that ice is icky and cold and his delicate self was not conditioned to handle such discomfort. Jenny didn’t pick him up immediately, and after about 30 seconds, he decided that nobody was ever going to come for him. Slowly, inexorably, he laid down in his little hollow of loneliness, and gave up. He would have frozen and died there, 15 feet from the house, if Jenny hadn’t eventually come and saved his poor little self.
Though his is something of an extreme example, have you noticed that I’ve been focusing on dogs?
Don’t get me wrong, cats have gotten wimpy too. The thing is, they tend to be much, MUCH better at hiding it. When a dog runs full out into a window, they’re very obvioius about it, and tend to want some comfort. When a cat trips, their fearsome nonchalance in their recovery dares you to even mention the incident. Also, there’s the fact that about 90% of my NUMEROUS scars are cat-related. The little buggers haven’t lost all survival skills yet.
Then again, they keep letting people stuff them into stupid outfits. I’d like to see somebody try that on a mountain lion.
Either way, what I’m saying is, we’ve bred down our pets. If a disease came along that wiped out all humans, very few of our pets would survive long without us. They simply wouldn’t know how. That’s perhaps why it has come as such a shock to me to observe that my very own family pets, Dax, Copper, and Deuce, are somehow above the curve, in some weirdly limited respects.
Dax is my Mom’s polydactyl (extra-toed) black cat. With his stumpy little tail and high volume of fluff, he tends to resemble a grumpy sort of bunny, or maybe a tiny bear.
As an indoor cat, he hasn’t had to do much to assure himself of his next meal, or to defend himself from predators. Thus, you would naturally expect him to be pretty harmless.
However, out of this list of freaky house pets, he’s actually the one that surprised me the least. He has been practicing his skills in the hunt and the attack for a while, in small and sporadic ways.
One of his favorite games is to lay in the middle of your path, all cute and fuzzy. However, when you try to circumvent him, he snags whatever piece of you is closest. He has very little interest in distinguishing between pants and bare skin. I have a sneaking suspicious he just likes making people squeak.
Then, there’s his intense love of the art of ambush. Being so black and slinky, he blends in quite well with dark corners, and creeps about the perimeter, keeping close track of his prey. Suddenly, he dashes from his hiding place. You have no escape, for he is lightning. He attacks, and there’s nothing to do but come out of meditation, because it’s REALLY HARD to do yoga with a cat ferociously biting your ankle. Puts my Zen all out of whack.
So, he's racked up some practice at being a wild thing.
However, the most experience he's ever had in the wild is when he's out in his protected cage on the carport (His Cat-Mahal, if you will) or when he's outside on his leash (Yes, we have a cat who is leash-trained. He even sits on command, but don't tell the other cats. They will laugh at him.). Mom even has to keep an eye on him when he does get to experience fresh air, in case something, like a menacing squirrel, spooks him and he dies of a panic attack.
Basically, the point is that this cat is no Rambo. Which is why it comes as a creepy surprise to me every time he breaks that mold, and gets his hunt on.
Certain family members might say I'm blowing this out of proportion, because to date we've only found two of his conquests, a tiny dead snake and a live mouse. However, one really ought to let that sink in for a second, before one says that I am overreacting.
Take the snake. Now, Dax's cage is in a very protected corner of the carport, far from the grass and trees of the actual yard. What was that snake doing there? How did he kill it without us knowing? How ON EARTH did he lure the snake in there? It's a good thing he actually killed it, or I'd be concerned that we were harboring a Parselmouth.
Now, consider the mouse. This one, he didn't even bother to kill. What this says to me is, Dax is so talented a hunter that he can lure in a mouse, but the ease of this hunt lacks the passion required for an actual kill. He just lets the mouse hang out until its presence can be used to make a certain 6-foot brother of mine squeal like a little girl.
What kind of field mouse would be so stupid as to enter a cage reeking of male cat? I don't think it was stupid at all. I think it was hypnotized. Dax used his creepy hypno-eyes to lure in that mouse, just because he could. Where does it end? How far can his talents take him?
I'll be able to answer that question once Mom, living alone with the cat, starts waking up with long, suspicious blanks in her memory. The only clues to what happened will be her salmon-smelling fingers, her hair-covered clothing, and her vague, unsettling sense of furry oppression.
However, as I said before, the manifestation of Dax's talents was not that surprising, though it WAS decidedly disturbing. It's much more unnerving when my lovable, middle-aged dogs do it.
Copper is a 10 year old Vizsla.
Vizslas are often known as "velcro dogs," because they LOVE to be right up next to you, ALL THE TIME. They're often used as hunting dogs, and can be highly valuable and loyal pets.
Copper's a great dog. Truly, I love her to pieces. However, a hunter she is not. My Grandaddy liked to go quail-hunting, so after Copper had grown a little, they tried to take her out and see if she could flush out any coveys. Shortly after letting her loose, they lost her. They searched high and low for this darn dog, but she hadn't run away. On the contrary--she was hiding, because she was scared...
Of tall grass. She had apparently noticed that she was surrounded by it, and had hunkered down in her own little hollow, trying not breathe or move until the evil grass went away. They pretty much had to carry her gangly self back to the car.
And as if that wasn't enough to prove that she'd never be a hunting dog, she was also ridiculously gun-shy. We decided to just protect her from herself and love her as a town dog.
However, I don't think you can say she's stupid. I spent days and days digging a little trench around our couple of acres to lay down an electric fence for the dogs, hoping they could stretch their legs a little more often. The first time we put the electric collar on her, she immediately ran full on into the fence, yiped, and hid behind us, refusing to ever brave it again. So, she's not courageous, but it's not stupid to hide from something that zaps you.
Considering all these wimpy aspects of her, you wouldn't think it'd be a bad idea to keep her on the family farm during the winter, in a nice heated kennel run. What kind of harm could she do? The dog was afraid of GRASS. However, there's apparently something irresistible about the sight and smell of a bumbling, clueless chicken. She was decidedly NOT AFRAID of getting to know a chicken in a digestive sense. And she did, multiple times, so this last winter, her outdoor kennel was covered in a tarp to help keep the stupid chickens out.
Didn’t work. I don’t know exactly how many she’s eaten, but it’s far too many to be a coincidence. We watch her carefully when we let her out, and chase her off when she darts after a beaked meal. Doesn’t seem to help, though. There’s a very low probability of the chickens just stumbling/flying into her little indoor kennel, but they keep doing it. Makes me wonder if Dax is giving out lessons.
Or, hell, maybe the chickens are just suicidal. My next and last example definitely lends credence to that theory.
This is not actually a picture of Deuce, because I could not find one. However, it captures one of her favorite expressions perfectly.
Deuce is a tiny rat terrier with a huge head and an even bigger heart. In fact, her ability to love can become quite irritating, as adorable as it is. She takes the fact that you breathe as meaning you want your face licked. ALL THE TIME. She is an expert at slobbery, exuberant, smelly dog kisses, and she squirms with such joy that she’s just a little blur. Honestly, she’s the epitome of the sweet yappy dog, which we wouldn’t have gotten on purpose. My grandparents found her on the side of the road when she was a puppy, and though we hadn’t intended to keep her, she just sort of noodled her way into our lives.
Out of all our animals, she’s probably the least intelligent, though. When I tried HER with the electric fence, she ran straight over on top of it, and then just bounced there, yipping with pain and fear every time her feet touched the ground. I had to snatch her away from it to stop the horror, and that’s when I decided that my special dogs just weren’t cut out for an electric fence. They are quite happy today in their little fenced in yard, and I am happy not feeling like a horrible dog abuser.
With this mental Deuce picture I’ve painted, it’s obvious why I never suspected her of murderous inclinations. She’s just too cute, bouncing on her hind legs as she begs, to really be considered anything other than a ditzy little silly dog. Unfortunately, she must be hiding a much more intense brain under all that air-headedness, because when she learned to kill, she learned it permanently.
When we put her in her own heated kennel run out at Grandma’s, we didn’t bother putting a tarp over the top, because honestly, at approximately 5 pounds of weight, there’s not a whole lot she could harm even if she wanted to. And, that was fine, for a while.
However, one day Grandma went out to the kennel to find that Deuce had not only attacked a chicken in her kennel, she had killed and eaten it. A few days later, she was caught with another, which she hadn’t managed to actually kill. Instead, because it would be a CRAZY idea to just let it go, she’d plucked its back bare and bloody. Probably out of boredom.
Then, when I was home for a weekend, I found another motionless rooster out in her kennel, which she pranced happily around with such pride that you’d think she’d been saving it for me. Unfortunately, she hadn’t managed to kill this one either, she’d just plucked him and left him in the sun to broil slowly. With horror, I rescued her victim, and we doctored him up, hoping that he’d be plucky and recover. That evening, I found ANOTHER rooster in her indoor kennel, huddled in the corner and shivering. This one could still walk, as we’d found him faster than the previous one, but he too had just given up on life.
It’s funny, she hadn’t attacked their wings, so it’s entirely possible that they might have been able to fly away. I can only assume that this pint-sized frou-frou dog had them so intimidated that they’d just given up on life. Or, maybe we had some strange chicken cult going on, and they were throwing in offerings to the ferocious creatures in the cages, like Mayans pacifying their gods.
Oh, and did I mention, that all this mauling occurred in about a week? Deuce went from being a sweet, loving little dog who’d never had to worry about food, into a Killing Machine of DOOM for all poultry.
We took our dogs back home that night, to save the rest of Grandma’s flock from such terrorism, and though I loved them to death, I treated my dogs with an extra degree of caution. I had learned some important lessons that day, and they’re still sinking in now:
1) Dogs are descended from predators, and parts of that
legacy are still in them.
2) Chickens are ridiculously stupid/suicidal/cultish
3) My Grandma is a wonderfully patient person, because she
didn’t shoot my dogs.
And last, but so far from being least that I can’t even see it from here,
4) Don’t piss off Deuce. She’ll figure out how to end you, and
there will be shame in your death.