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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tale of a lost dog

This morning was full of surprises. K and I snowbiked together, moving mellowly through the forest. I finally felt like I'd broken out of the doldrums, a tired and empty feeling that I'd had in my legs for days. My muscles had refound their zing, and my energetic pedaling matched the sparkle in K's eyes.When I dropped K off at home, a neighbor walked up the driveway in tears. Her 14 year old female yellow lab, L, had vanished in the dark of the night during a potty break. They'd been criss-crossing the land near their home since dawn. L can't walk far so they reasoned that she'd still be close to home.

They found tracks leading down to the fringes of a meadow and a spot where it looked like L had curled up in the snow. But, beyond that point, the snow had melted so they couldn't track her. As I stood by myself in that spot, my first thought was that a confused and physically challenged dog would probably keep moving downhill - simply because it's physically easier than the alternatives. I also noticed a bunch of ravens downhill and across the meadow - but they weren't super concentrated on one spot, giving me hope that they weren't focused on a dead body. So, I rode my bike around the meadow to check out the area where the raven flock was cawing.

When I got there, my neighbors were already at that spot, and they'd found L alive. She was lying in about 6" of frigid snow-melt. She initially looked unscathed but cold and shocky. But, a closer examination showed bite marks on L's haunches. Fresh and large coyote tracks in the snow on the meadow's edge made us guess that the bites were inflicted by coyotes. The size of the tracks led me to wonder if the coyote who visited my land yesterday left them.

L is resting in the hospital, getting patched up, warmed up, and pumped full of fluids. She'll be coming home tonight. That's a much better outcome than I initially visualized when I learned of the elderly L's disappearance. L is in a similar stage of life as our S, where her days left on this Earth seem too finite. But, I'm grateful that she didn't die by herself in the cold water of the meadow with scary predators watching her.

Based on tracks and conjecture, our best guess is that L got disoriented and wandered around, initially lying down next to the meadow in the snowy spot close to her house. Then, she wandered downhill into the meadow and met up with one or more coyotes. The coyotes half-heartedly attacked her from behind but didn't truly try to kill her. L is so slow and wobbly that they certainly could've killed her if they'd chosen to. Then, the coyotes might have lurked at the meadow's edge waiting and watching for her to die but their plans were thwarted by L being rescued.

The good news is that my neighbors philosophically, and without anger, said something like, "That's just coyotes being coyotes". Then, they made a vow not to let L outside by herself anymore. I think that's how all of us who live in wild country need to think - we need to adapt our habits to the wild animals rather than trying to exterminate those animals to make a perfectly safe and sanitized world.

I've read that coyotes generally don't kill large prey, like a disabled 75 lb dog who poses no territorial threat. Rather, if they notice that a large animal is wobbly and weak, they wait for the animal to die before moving in for a meal. Of course, the observations that I'm referring to involved prey like deer or elk, not a dog, but I'm guessing that the strategy would be similar. I wonder if the large group of ravens who initially caught my attention were also watching L, waiting for her to die. I'm so glad that she lived!

After all that drama, I'd burned a lot of the energy that I usually use for bike riding. But, I did a quick loop on a ridge that was almost completely melted out since our huge snow storm. Our snowy weather has slowed the emergence of wildflowers - but dandelions were a new bloomer today. They're actually quite beautiful when you closely examine them. They require bees to pollinate them, and I haven't seen any bees yet. I always wonder how nature gets the intricate timing of flowers and pollinators, and of predators and prey, just right. Global warming is likely a huge threat to that timing since the emergence of flowers and of bees might be affected differently by changing temperatures.We have more snow in the forecast so the flower blossoming progress may be halted once more. At least, the snowpack on the mountains, our reservoir for summer water, looks thick and plentiful.


  1. How frightening to lose an elderly dog when you know there are predators out there. And what a relief to find them still alive and hopefully, mending well now. Interesting about the size making a difference, even if the animal is weakened. I'm going to start feeding Java a lot more dog food! Really enjoyed your video from Monday too.

  2. Whew - I'm so glad that they found their dog before it was too late! that would have been horrible!

    A few years back, when our elderly cat went missing, I asked Z (who has been trained in tracking but isn't great at it) to track her. He appeared to be following a track that ended where our neighbors were starting construction on their house. I searched all around, but no cat, so I figured it had been wishful thinking on my part, and Z had been following something else, or just making it all up. I found out later that she had gone to visit the construction workers, and one of them had taken her home, thinking that she was a stray. They returned her when they saw our flyers posted.

  3. Oh my gosh, that is such a sad sad sad situation...thank goodness it has a happy ending.

    I can't imagine letting any of my dogs out for a potty break here in the mountains, especially an older one, without a fenced in yard. But I know that's pretty normal up here...I'm just way too nervous about the "what ifs" in those situations.

    I'm so happy the pup will be okay. How worried his poor people must have been :(

    Thank goodness for a happy ending!!

  4. What a story -- we have to keep an area around the house fenced in to stop the wild boar and wolves from coming up to the house -- how I'd love to let the boyz roam free. Dog owners will know just how relieved the owners will be tonight.

  5. The post title made my heart sink. I was so afraid something happened to S.

    That said, I'm glad everything seems all right with the neighbor's dog. And it is indeed a good attitude...we certainly cannot change the behavior of the wild things, we must adapt to them and live with them.

  6. I'm so sorry if I made anyone think that it was my S who was lost. It was a thoughtless title. Thanks to all of you for your comments.

    I think that one message that is loud and clear is that elderly dogs need supervision because they can get disoriented. The other one is that simply opening the door and letting the dogs roam isn't a good idea in a place where wild animals live.

    But, lots of people near me still do it. My dogs and I have found the bodies of several dogs who were killed by predators while roaming on their own near our trails. When I try to change dog owners' attitudes about it, they tell me that part of why they moved to the 'mountains' was so that their dogs could roam, never mind the hazards or laws against it.

    But, enough ranting, the biggest thing is that L is OK!


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