Daniel Menaker


Friday, September 02, 2016

Maxwell likes to take walks in unfamiliar places. (He also likes to take walks in familiar places.) We’ve been driving him around the corner to the Butternut Basin ski area on Route 23—only five minutes from the Farmhouse–this spring and summer, and he particularly likes that because it is both familiar and unfamiliar. I mean, he knows some interesting stops along the path to the slopes—for instance, a pond, now drained, where ducks used to paddle around as if waiting for Max to run down the shore and bark them airborne. Max still runs down to the edge, like a nostalgist. There’s a stream nearby where he likes to wallow, and some administrative buildings underneath which, given his intense inspection of their gappy foundations, fauna must be lurking. And the slopes, so big and open, offer him new territory to explore.

Max has regularly taken interest in a long pipe—plastic, I think, and about a foot in diameter, raised off the ground by things that, well, raise it off the ground. Little stanchions. Maybe it has another pipe inside it—something involved in snowmaking. It goes up the bunny slope, the westernmost and least-steep of the area. Something has been living in there this non-ski season, near the bottom of the hill, Max seemed to be telling me as he yipped and dodged around and under it. I thought I heard frightened squeals and scrabbling from within. Maxwell couldn’t find access.

So I thought. A few weeks ago, I parked outside the area’s gate, so as not to get gated in when the people who worked there closed it, usually around five o’clock. I let Maxwell off the leash and he dashed down to the pipe, about a hundred yards away. Barking, whining, etc. I jogged down after him. There was a loud scratching/scrambling noise, and the barking suddenly stopped. I saw that Maxwell had something brown and furry in his mouth. It was squealing. He shook his head violently from side to side—it went whupwhupwhupwhup. The squealing stopped. Whupwhupwhup. Pause. Whupwhupwhupwhupwhup.

I got closer. Whatever it was was very dead. I guessed it was a muskrat. Maxwell had it by the scruff of its neck. It hung from his jaws like a big furry “n.”
“Drop it.”
“Are you kidding,” he might as well have said.
“Drop it!” I approached him and he growled at me and moved away. He was panting—exhausted from his first Big Kill.
We did this standoff walkaround—“Drop it!”, approach, growl, evasive tactic– in the parking lot for ten minutes.
How was I going to get him into the car and us and the corpse back to the Farmhouse? I noticed that when I walked away from him he would follow me, at what he must have deemed a prey-safe distance. So I walked back toward the car, and Maxwell followed six or seven yards behind me. I began to think he might want to take this trophy home. I opened the back door for him, like a concierge, and he came right up and jumped onto the back seat, his catch still hanging from his jaws.

Five minutes later, he jumped back out of the car onto our front lawn and began wandering around with this corpse. He was still exhausted, panting like a bellows. When I walked ten or fifteen feet away from him, he dropped his catch. If I went closer, he would pick up the muskrat, if that’s what it was. If I went closer still, he would get up and go farther away and lie down again. How could I keep him from burying this thing or, worse, dining on it, if those were the plans he had in mind?

I got the long green leash—maybe twenty feet long—that we keep on the porch, attached to a rail, which we use for Maxwell in the evening when he wants to be outside but it’s getting dark. I put the latch end through the loop at the other end, making the whole thing into an improvised lasso. I snuck up behind Maxwell when he had dropped the animal and tried to toss the loop around his neck. Missed. But Max didn’t seem particularly upset by this maneuver. (Why not? Because he doesn’t really think—don’t you think?) He just got up, moved away, lay down again, with the critter still in his mouth. Good. The second time I tried the lasso, it went around his head, his jaw, his prey, and his neck, and I pulled it tighter but not too tight.

Maxwell got up and walked away. I followed, holding the lasso leash. Maxwell lay down, let go of the animal, and I pulled on the leash very quickly—quickly enough to keep Max from picking the thing up again. I tied him up to the porch rail, got a shovel, picked up the muskrat, walked down the driveway, crossed the road, and buried Maxwell’s trophy far away from the house. As I put it into the grave, I noticed that its belly was, like, fat. Nah, I said to myself—it’s not pregnant, just fat.
When I got back, I put Maxwell’s shock collar on him and unleashed him. (Please don’t tell me that electric fences are inhumane. What’s really inhumane is letting your dog get run over, in my opinion.) He wandered around the yard looking maybe a little mystified, especially at the spot where he lost his prize, but he was pretty much back to normal.

What do we learn from this microcosmic-nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw incident?

1. My wife and I would laugh to each other about how stymied Maxwell would be if he ever caught anything he chased—squirrel, mouse, mole. Well, whupwhupwhup to that. Maxwell knew exactly what he wanted to do but least did it with humane dispatch.

2. For a dog it’s more or less here this minute, gone the next. No notches on his collar, no victory laps, and, I assume, no regret, no remorse, no nostalgia.

3. People are smarter than dogs.

4. Snowmaking pipes are not dog proof.

5 It was a muskrat. I looked it up. See below.

6. Muskrats need orthodonture.

7. If you don’t wonder about What’s Going On Here and sometimes feel bad about it (without being a wussy Sensitive Plant, of course), try burying a plump muskrat whose neck your cutie dog just snapped.

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