Thursday, March 20, 2008

Zoe: The Silent Killer

We have two dogs, both of which we adopted as puppies from the Denver Dumb Friends League. We got Zoe, a black Lab-Chow mix, in 2001, and Pickle, a black lab/Heinz 57 mix, a year later after learning that most dogs are happier with a playmate. Zoe quickly assumed the alpha position, while Pickle gladly took the sidekick role, shadowing Zoe’s every move. They grew to be very sweet and loyal dogs, but sometimes could not be more tempermentally opposite. Pickle behaves more like a human, while Zoe clings to traits decidedly common to her ancestors: rolling in fresh animal poop or dead carcasses to mask her scent from other predators; preparing a bedding spot for herself if we stop on a hike for longer than 5 minutes; and chasing, catching, and maiming small animals. I once had to kill both a wounded rabbit and a ground squirrel on a single hike. Last night it was a fox. As the sun was setting, the two dogs took off after the creature, which barely eluded capture as it attempted to cross the snowy meadow near our property to the safety of the forest beyond. Our neighbor was able to call Pickle back to us before she reached a barbed-wire fence, while Zoe continued pursuit unfettered. About this time, my parents, my uncle Kevin, and his girlfriend Cindy arrived at our house. An hour went by, then two - no Zoe. My concern for her welfare grew, and then the morbid ‘worse-case scenario’ thoughts became all-consuming as my desire to be a good host deteriorated. I imagined Zoe slicing her stomach on the barbed wire fence, bleeding out in the forest, then being attacked and eaten by a mountain lion. I envisioned myself strapping on snowshoes the next morning, crossing that same meadow and stumbling upon her half-eaten remains in the woods. Something must have happened to her, I convinced myself. Finally, I slipped out of the house and drove along my usual running routes, hoping she would recognize a road and take it back to our home. I crept along with the brights on, whistling the same note that usually stops our dogs in their tracks. No sign of Zoe. Finally, after about an hour of patrolling the area, I received a call on my cell from Aspen. Zoe had just appeared on the porch, wagging her tail and ready to come inside. When I arrived home, Aspen was giving her a bath while checking for any injuries. No blood. She also checked her teeth and noticed fragments of light-colored fur in between a few of them, indicating that Zoe had made a successful catch. Aspen dried her off with a towel and released her into the living room, where she promptly lay down in front of us, oblivious to our frustration over her primal ways.

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