Sure, two of our whippets chase squirrels as if they’re prepared to live off the land. The third, Sesame, doesn’t seem to see squirrels but will always break ranks to snap his jaws on a fly.
Still, recent events leave me wondering if our dogs have any true, wolfy hunting instincts.
First, there are the snake encounters. Or rather, I encounter them. The dogs, apparently, do not see them, sense them, or smell them.
The first one we crossed was on a day hike this Spring in Harriman. Bob, Biski and Picchu hiked merrily ahead while I was suddenly confronted with a snake splayed across the trail. After I sent Bob back to investigate (and I’m skipping over my hysterics between the sighting and the investigating), he reported, “Well, I see why it wasn’t moving off the trail: It was busy eating a frog. Wow, I’m surprised the dogs missed that.”
Yeah, after all, why are we hiking with dogs, as a woodsy fashion accessory? No, to warn me of snakes! What kind of sighthounds are these? After all, the dogs love chasing tail, and what is a snake but all tail?
Hiking a half-mile with me perched on his back after the snake sighting should have taught Bob to look out for snakes himself if he had to. But I guess it didn’t. Because a couple weeks later, hiking around Lake Minnewaska, Bob decided we would take a short-cut. As we bush-whacked, again Bob, Biski and Picchu stepped right over what I was left to leap over announce as a “SNAKE!”
And I don’t mean a garter snake. This was the biggest snake I’ve seen since my fifth-grade class kept a 4-foot-long boa constrictor as a pet. (Alas, that did not desensitize me.)
“It’s HUGE!” I squirmed to Bob. “It’s a huge black snake! How could ALL of you miss that?!”
He backtracked to the scene of the snake, saying, “I’ve got to see this.” Clearly he was expecting to tell me it was only a root. He took a good look, then could only say, “It’s not black. It’s gray.”
So maybe I needed a greyhound to spot it?
But fine. Moving on to our latest camping trip. At the trail head, I caught Sesame jerking his head up and down – snout to dirt, snout in the air – repeatedly. “No!” I called to him, hoping he wouldn’t swallow whatever it was he was hunting. Then I saw what was going on: A little frog was hopping along, and Sesame was merely watching it, following along, up-down, up-down. That was fine with me, except aren’t dogs supposed to, you know, get it?
At the campsite we had another hunting scare. Sesame darted across the site, then I saw him pounce and grab something in his mouth. “Ohmygod, Sesame’s got something!” I yelled to Bob.
“DROP IT!” Bob told Sesame, while I went over to inspect the victim, which I thought might be one of those porcupines that John Burroughs writes about crawling all over the Catskills.
“Oh,” I told Bob before he arrived at the, shall we still call it, scene of the crime. “Never mind. It’s just, uh, a tennis ball.”
“A tennis ball? Where did he find that up here?”
If Bob wants to rough it, that’s fine. But why should the children suffer? “I brought it,” I told him.
It wasn’t until the next day that he saw Sesame attacking a miniature bull, its eyes wide and horns shaking as Sesame whipped it around. “I can’t believe you hauled that up the mountain,” Bob said. (“It doesn’t weigh anything,” I explained. “And Picchu was using it as a pillow.” So there.)
If the whippets aren’t going to scout and hunt for us, I figure we will have to do it for them.