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Know the West

I don't love my dog


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.