I don't love my dog

  • The author's dog, gnawing on a bone.

    Laura Pritchett
  • Mountain lion at a kill.

    Rose Brinks and Max Dean

There's a dead fawn outside my front door. The sweet young body is completely covered in tall grass, which means this is a mountain lion kill, which means that the mountain lion responsible is going to come back for the next few mornings and nights to finish eating. I must admit that, although I'm reflexively sorry about the fawn, I'm exceedingly impressed: The lion has done a fabulous job of piling grass all over the creature. I would never have noticed it, except that my dog was sniffing and whining and making an urgent noise that sounds exactly like something Chewbacca would say.

When I called Colorado Parks and Wildlife to report the dead fawn, braced with the sure knowledge that they would come out and remove it, the man told me to let it be. It was better for the mountain lion to eat the rest of the fawn, he explained, than kill someone's cow.

"Um," I said. "But it's right outside my door. I have young children. I have a dog." I paused and waited for him to change his mind.

Instead, he just sighed. Then he clarified his response: "Well, I'm sure you've warned your kids about mountain lions, and I assume you've trained and fenced your dog." Indeed, I had. Or at least, I thought so.

It is my belief that passion nearly always trumps rules. That is why people fall in love in ways that make no sense. That is why kids ditch school. That is why I end up hiking rather than working. And that is why dogs contort their bodies to scramble out of a well-fortified fence to go roll in dead deer carcasses whenever possible.

After the first good roll, I told my dog, "We're going to get through this together." I lathered her up with dish soap and sprayed her with the hose, all the while hanging on to her collar despite the ripping of tendons in my shoulder socket -- though she's still young, she already weighs about as much as I do. I murmured to her, as a dog-whisperer might, about cause and effect. Roll in dead deer, get a bath in cold water. See the connection?

She did not see the connection. Despite the fact that I fixed the fence, and despite the fact that she hates baths, she was out 10 minutes later, rolling in dead deer. Then she showed up at my door, smiling, wagging, oblivious, a fawn leg dangling from her mouth, wanting to be let in. And no wonder: It was starting to snow.

So out we went again, back outside to the hose, both of us freezing. Then I felt bad and brought her in, and while she was safely inside, I threw the fawn leg as far as I could into the willows lining the ditch bank. I gave her another towel dry, a bone, and another conversation about staying in the yard. In return, I got a sore back and frozen shoes.

These last few nights, the mountain lion has indeed returned to feast. In the morning, I check the progress: more deer gone, scattered in various directions. Hurry it up, I mutter. Eat your damn dinner. I make sure my kids and dog are inside before dusk and after dawn, and even in daylight, I watch them from the windows.

My dog has received 12 baths in the last four days -- one for every time she has callously pushed over my children, jumped very high fences, and clawed her way through wire for the distinct privilege of chewing on fawn stomach. My shoes are permanently wet and yet have simultaneously frozen into a strange and uncomfortable shape resembling prehistoric croissants. I have given her baths inside, I have given her baths outside, and I have truly and sincerely done everything I can to keep her in our yard. And yet, the dog's hide is scratched and bloody from wire; one nail is broken and bleeding from digging.

Until the 13th bath, which was today, I still loved my dog. I had the door propped open because it was unseasonably warm. The dog was happy about this, because she likes to sit on the threshold of the house. Every nook and cranny in the fence had been attended to, and I felt confident that my sweet-smelling dog would remain sweet-smelling and obedient. I got up from typing at my computer, and what did I see? The dog sitting in her spot, tail thumping happily, chewing on a rotting remnant of deer.

A noise -- yes, much like Chewbacca -- issued forth from somewhere deep inside me. I startled the dog, who dropped the fawn part, and jumped on me to check that I was OK. Unsurprisingly, she smelled like rotten deer flesh; she had bits of fascia in her teeth.

And that is when I discovered a very old fact, but one that is new to me: Temporary madness can allow for all kinds of normally impossible feats. I rushed out of the house, hollering. I threw every rotting half-chewed chunk of deer I could find, piece by disgusting piece, big and small, intestinal and bone, identifiable and not, over the ditch and over a fence and into a nearby horse pasture, which is not owned by me. Deer parts are heavy, and there are many of them. I was gasping at the end, my arm was sore, and I was literally speaking what sounded like Chewbaccan, although English words occasionally emerged -- something about stupid mountain lion, fish-and-game, fawn, nature, dog, me, universe, I hate you all.

Then I came inside, washed my hands, and made myself a nice cup of hot tea.

The dog, freshly bathed, is sleeping now at my feet, head resting on one foot so I cannot get up. It's possible that I still like my dog, now that I've had a breather. That doesn't mean I love her, not yet. I do like the fact that she believes that rules are meant to be acknowledged, and then ignored. Her tail wags in her sleep, she wakes, she rolls so that her tummy is facing me. She wants a tummy rub. I scowl at her, but I lean over and scratch.

Laura Pritchett's newest book, Great Colorado Bear Stories, is due out in April.

Laura Pritchett
Laura Pritchett
Feb 21, 2012 08:17 PM
And now she's eaten my batch of homemade granola . . . .
Lauri Spagna
Lauri Spagna
Feb 22, 2012 07:41 PM
Wonderful essay. Thanks.
Maria Hodkins
Maria Hodkins
Feb 23, 2012 09:46 AM
Great story. I was right there with you, frozen shoes and all.
Wendy Beye
Wendy Beye
Feb 23, 2012 03:55 PM
I can relate - reminds me of our dear departed Queensland heeler that repeatedly rolled in fresh, green, slimy moose poop one summer. She also got the (mutter, mutter..) cold water bath every time she came to the house with green stinky matter on her sides from jowls to tail. She did, however, get the message after the third cold water bath, and never again offended (at least in that manner!) Hang in there!
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Feb 23, 2012 05:05 PM
A great and illustrative story of modern life along the Front Range of Colorado. When confronted with a situation beyond your experience first call a public "servant" to deal with it, fail to adequately follow his informed advice, training/fence, then just surreptitiously heave the entire stinking mess onto your neighbor property ignoring any problems you might cause (horses/cat).
Jeff Martin
Jeff Martin Subscriber
Feb 25, 2012 11:18 AM
Laura, great story. I have 2 labs and their lust for a dead carcass is at least as great as your dog, but dogs need to be under control at all times when it comes to interactions with wildlife (dead or alive). Our cabin east of the mountains in Washington state is in prime cougar country, brought home by an incident a few years ago when I was knocked over by a cougar that stalked me while I was hiding at the base of a tree when turkey hunting. Recently our area has become the home of a wolf pack. I love the idea of having the pack in our area but it has added another reason to keep close watch over the dogs and to never let them outside alone. I hunt upland birds with my labs and have worked with a trainer towards that purpose. Our trainer is a great guy and well known throughout the NW for his gentle training methods but he emphasizes first and foremost that dogs have a good basic level of obedience training for their and our safety. If the dog does not obey instantly when in a dangerous situation he can put himself and his owner in a life threatening situation.
Sue Kusch
Sue Kusch Subscriber
Feb 28, 2012 05:21 PM
My dogs prefer to roll in bear sh**. An unforgettable odor that dishsoap and vinegar can only temporarily mask. My one dog can smell rotting flesh and bones from far away and leaps into the general direction, which is usually a forest, and comes out with his prize. The last gift was an entire freshly skinned deer leg, from hoof to hip, that was so heavy he had to sit and rest several times before I lured him away. My city friends gag at my stories!
Martin Hagen
Martin Hagen
Feb 29, 2012 01:07 PM
Nicely written, and reminds me of every dog I've ever known. Your reaction to this behavior suggests to me that you are relatively new to a more "rural" living environment as exemplified by your repulsion of a carcass and frustration at your dogs obvious glee in finding it. We can take the canine out of the wilderness, but, we will never completely take the wilderness out of the canine. There in lies your frustration.
William Petersen
William Petersen Subscriber
Feb 29, 2012 01:28 PM
Sounds much like my wife's puggle. Everytime we visit her parents' place in the sticks, Rosie takes off in search of dead things to roll it. Possum? Check. Squirrel? Check. Cow dung? Check. We once caught her rolling in some person's vomit in a yard right before we loaded her up for a road trip. Needless to say...that was the most disgusting thing ever to have to hose off the dog. What's more frustrating is that after a bath, she quickly goes to find the dirtiest place to roll in so she can get that dirty dog perfume back on herself.
Laura Pritchett
Laura Pritchett
Feb 29, 2012 02:47 PM
I'm a Colorado ranch kid, actually, so I've had plenty of experience with dogs and dead animals. But this is the first dog I've ever had that went to SUCH lengths to get to dead things/food items, and so I thought I'd write a little humor piece about it. My neighbors, btw, don't mind dead carcasses . . .. they are friends and we are a tight community. And dog obiedience: I agree, although, as I say, passion trumps rules in my book.
Martin Hagen
Martin Hagen
Mar 01, 2012 10:50 AM
Ms. Pritchett, I stand corrected on my assumption and please continue to write. You are quite good.
Kaye Molfe
Kaye Molfe
Mar 04, 2012 10:22 PM
Loved your story. Reminded me of my Boston Terrier, who leaves her dinner to go into the backyard to find a tastier snack. Then she comes back to burp in my face. And I always love my dog too.
Laura Pritchett
Laura Pritchett
Mar 05, 2012 03:18 PM
Thanks for writing in, everyone. Here's a toast to dogs, mountain lions, fawns, and perhaps even temporary loses of one's temper (as long as no one gets hurt), only to fall in love again. And here's to HCN - greatest paper in the West.