Saturday, January 28, 2006

Billy Goat Gruff

Leann went to San Antonio today to visit Cousin Jill and it almost got a goat eaten.

No sooner was she out the gate than I thought "What a nice afternoon, I think I'll take the dogs for a walk." I should know better than to think, nothing but trouble comes from it. But we'd just found a home for Major, our latest foster dog, and I thought a reward for the four permanent canine members of the household might be in order.

I fed the horses so they wouldn't bother us, rounded up the dogs, and headed out the gate. I got a bit of a late start, so the walk would be short but the dogs just love to get out and run so it was well worth it.

One of the highlights of any sortie out to the "back 40" from the dogs' point of view is Goat Visitation. Our neighbor with whom we share a fence on the south side has a gigantic barn that they keep a big goat herd in. There are a lot of goat babies (or kids as they're called) at this time of year that are pretty cute, and the border collies like to race up and down the fenceline, pretending that they're herding the nannies and kids. Good doggie fun and it gives me a chance to rest, so I usually try to make the stop even on a short walk.

As I huffed and puffed over the last rise, I noticed the dogs racing a bit more than usual. There were four kids also racing the fenceline, which was odd because usually the goats look at us like we're some sort of fungus, vaguely wondering what the heck we're doing walking around on two legs and all.

It dawned on me slowly -- too slowly -- that the kids were actually on OUR side of the fence instead of being safely ensconced with their moms and the big protective dog that shepherded them. My heart started pounding, because nothing sets off the prey drive of a dog like a small, rapidly racing little critter making loud noises.

The borders were thrilled, chasing the small four-member pack along the fence, but not biting at them or anything. Before I could get close enough, though, Flash (our big Shiloh Shepherd) raced up and got his jaws around a little white kid's back. "FLASH!" I yelled out as I raced towards them, stomach dropping down to my feet. "Drop it Flash, FLASH!!" He seemed to have gotten his teeth in, though I couldn't see any blood. Flash is not violent at all, but he does like to get a blanket or pillow and shake it all around. I think he thought that's what the kid was, a particularly loud piece of linen or something, because he was shaking it the same way.

Finally I got close enough for my voice to register and he dropped it, slinking down to the ground with a guilty look on his face. The borders were still standing over it, and my hands were shaking as I grabbed Flash's collar. The kid wasn't moving, and laid there at an odd angle, eyes staring open, but completely vacant. "Please please please just be in shock," I was thinking. I dragged Flash away by the coller, hollering for the borders to come.

It seemed like the walk back to the house took an hour, but it couldn't have been more than five minutes. I was breathing heavily, cursing my lack of conditioning. I needed to get back to the kid, but I had to make sure the dogs were up -- there were still three more little goats running around out there.

I got back as quickly as I could, searching for the tiny body, but it was nowhere to be found. Was I in the right place? Or had it gotten up after all? My eyes combed the fenceline for the break, wondering how they'd gotten through and why they'd left the protection of the herd.

The big shepherd on the other side of the fence paced worriedly, his anxiety plain to see. What must it have been like for him, knowing his job was to protect those babies and unable to do anything as one of them was possibly ripped apart right in front of him?

I still couldn't find the fallen goat, and as I got closer to the fence I saw the most amazing thing. The big 50 pound shepherd squeezed himself through one of the squares in the goat fence! The square opening, formed by the wires of the fence as they cross each other, can't be more than 12 inches by 6 inches, but he shoved his way right through. I'd have sworn it was physically impossible for a dog that big to get through an opening that small, and even though I've seen it I still can barely believe it

Then I got worried -- was he pissed? Was he going to exact revenge on the only culprit in jaw-reach? And here I was, fresh out of firepower and emergency back-up dogs. I braced myself, but he just ran over and flopped down, panting, a plea plain to see in his face. "Get them back over the fence!" he seemed to be saying. "Do something, you're a two-legs, get off your ass!"

Either that, or "Look how cute I am before I chew your nuts off", it was hard to tell for sure ...

I searched the fenceline some more but couldn't find a break. Suddenly I heard some bleating in the distance, and trotting up came four little baby goats, including the white one I thought had died!

The neighbor who owns these goats has a lot of guns and owns a construction company, so not only would I be dead but no one would ever find the body. Plus I hate to think of our dogs as killers, so I was relieved that the little guy was all right. The guard dog seemed happy, but he had no more idea how to get them over the fence than I did.

The goats wouldn't let me get very close, and I didn't really trust what the dog would do if I tried picking one of his charges up. So I decided they would be safe enough on our side of the fence with our dogs put up in the house, and went back to call our neighbor. Hopefully he'll be over soon to get his livestock back.

It was a weird experience. We think of dogs as docile little furry people, but there is always a spark of the wolf in them, just below the surface. No matter their size, they're killers at heart, predators built for the chase and the hunt. I wonder if maybe that's part of why we love them so much, if there isn't some part of us that wishes to control our own inner killers, to keep our murderous hearts on a leash.

Regardless, I am glad the little goat lived, and I am glad that we can go back to pretending that our dogs are harmless. It's fun chasing and shooting things in a video game, but seeing it happen in front of you in real life is something else entirely.


Denise said...

You're absolutely right, Jeff. We forget there's a wild, primitive streak in these domesticated dogs. They might sleep peacefully at our feet every night, but the "call of the wild" is inside each and every one of them. I've read that animals will go into a self-inflicted "shock" and make themselves look dead in hopes of making the predator move on. That's what must've happened to that little kid. How scary and how real. I was reminded of humans' wild ancestors when a teacher said we have incisors for a very good reason -- to rip apart meat.

We have to check the fence lines on our property now on a regular basis after some cows got into our property. They're just cows, but animals will find a way to push the boundaries. All of us.

Jimmy said...

My heart's pumping just from reading your post!
I suspect that after all that excitement, the DOGS may need a little time to rest before you take them on another "walk."
Let's see, that reminds me of .... NOTHING - I live in the city. Thanks for letting us live vicariously through you.

Jeff Hebert said...

Thanks guys, and you're right Denise -- animals do indeed find a way to push our boundaries.

You know, I was thinking this morning that even though in some ways dogs represent our killer side that we try to leash, there was also the guard dog to think about in this situation. His instincts were to protect and guide the herd of goats, and he was clearly very worried about the little kids.

I guess like anything else, that ferocious wolf in us can be harnessed to help or to harm. It's all in how it's used.

Jill Phenix Avila said...

Avalon has wolf in him.. I saw it!
If you had not shown up when you did, those kids would be dead from a real life wild predator. Just think, you let the GP (dog) know that some kids were out of the fence and you called the owners to let them know. If you hadn't walked up there (excluding Flash's wolf gang instinct) they would be lost to everyone...

TexasAnnie said...

This event also shows how calm Jeff is and that he does not, thankfully, have the same bad temper Annie does. I am sure my horror at seeing a wolf dog munch a baby goat would have raised the devil inside me....I beat Flash over the head with an empty bag the one time he bit a cat nearly in half in front of me on a walk....but had I had something to hit him harder with I would have instinctively reacted to protect the cat. It's not Flash's fault, he's just being a dog.A big dog with big teeth. But still, it's hard to watch and not respond. I am glad Jeff was there and not me b/c I would have been very mad and very mean to Flash and it seems like he didn't actually bite the goat. Just gave it a good toss!! Thank you Jeff, my country boy hero!