Monday, November 15, 2010

She Picked Me!

Every evening after work, Celeste and I traipse through 600-acres owned by the sanctuary where I work. Life is bigger here in the Sierra Foothills. Trees are 50-100' tall, not the tallest, but no small saplings. Coyotes weigh up to 50 lbs, highly unusual. Mountain lions are fat and healthy, and the black bear are too. Deer are big with a lot of healthy, older males. Even the turkeys are larger than the wild turkey I'm used to seeing.

Celeste believes this is paradise. Watching her on our walks and jogs reminds me she is a predator. She spends the entire time pouncing and leaping, trying her best to "hunt". Channeling her inner wolf or, as I call it, her inner dingo, Celeste lets loose completely off-leash and free. I love watching her. Love.

She has chased a couple deer. While I don't mind keeping the protective fear alive in the deer, I am cognizant of the very real threat Celeste poses to the deer and the deer to her. When she notices I'm not partaking of the cave-dog chase, Celeste pounds back to me, a deranged and happy grin on her face. It's as if she wants to ask why am I not helping her out?

But she doesn't listen. Not really. When she is in her predatory chase zone, the adrenaline is pumping and all excess noise is filtered out. I recognize my voice is excess noise, at that point. Yelling doesn't work, telling her to leave it doesn't work, so I've generally taken to leashing her when I see deer in open meadow. If the deer is on the other side of the fence, she can make her mad-dash all she wants, no harm.

Friday, Celeste and I came upon a 5 point mule deer buck, standing stock still in the middle of the path. Celeste skid to a halt and stared hard. The stand-off dragged on for five seconds. I knew the moment the buck moved, Celeste would too. To be honest, he scared me - I mean, he was really big. One swift kick from his hooves could seriously harm Celeste. And he was close enough that Celeste could possibly make contact before he got far enough away to be safe. I doubt Celeste would do much more than chase, but she's never had the chance to do any more than that. I don't want her to, except to learn quickly and painlessly one should steer clear of flying hooves and sharpened antlers. That doesn't seem like such an easy feat.

So I hearkened back to the days when I was training Celeste to come. I'd call to her and run away, boy did she think that was a fun game. Chase is her favorite, so "chase"= "come" or vice versa was such an easy way to teach Celeste to come (presence of deer excepted).

Breathing in deep, I plastered a smile on my face, called to Celeste in a chirpy voice and ran in the other the exact same time the buck decided to take off. I wouldn't have blamed her for picking the buck over me. Really, he was pretty darn cool. But she didn't, not at first. She ran after me, so very happy and pleased that we were BOTH running.

And then she realized we were clearly running the wrong way. Huffing her disappointment in my poor hunting skills, she did a 180 and plowed after the buck. By that point, he had disappeared, and my mission was accomplished - I gave the buck a good head start and, for Celeste, once a running animal is out of sight, he's worth a good air sniff but not a further chase. Even when they are in sight, Celeste is not a dedicated hunter. She comes back after a good 5-10 second chase.

More importantly, she picked me! My dingo, crazy-eyed predator picked me OVER A DEER. This is pretty epic, people.I don't expect her to choose me every time. I know her well enough to get that chasing is fun, doing anything else with an animal much larger than her? Not so fun. Even with smaller animals, she is super selective. For example, we have rescued roosters who sometimes fly out of their enclosure. They're safe outside their enclosure, and we keep our dogs leashed before we get to the "badlands". Celeste and I run through the roosters and she doesn't bat an eyelash. If they were a bunch of bunnies, all bets would be off. Such is the enigma of one domestic dingo-dog called Celeste.

But I now have something in my arsenal to get her to consider me more exciting than a deer. I won't encourage her to chase anyone, and if I felt she was a valid threat to the deer, I'd be more strict about leashing her. She takes such joy in being off-leash, in connecting to her wild ancestors, it would take a lot for me to leash her. Every dog deserves the chance to be free of our human constraints, free to roll in unmentionables, chase after wild animals (within reason!) and expand and contract to the rhythm of their little hearts.

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