red in tooth and claw

Friday, November 15:

   The dogs have been killing sheep.

   Some predator killed a ram lamb a month ago.  Since then the pony has shared the sheep’s paddock and there had, until two days ago, been no trouble.  But we are approaching the season when we feed hay out on the pasture, to spread fertility (noun concrete) more evenly and to spare ourselves the chore of moving fence all winter, and for the past two days the sheep have had the run of the home pasture, sometimes wandering far from bossy, cantankerous Bridget.

    Our six-year-old, who is small and moves softly, sees things which change or move away before we larger, heavier folk arrive.  He saw two coyotes and a skunk on the wooded edge of the back pasture Monday night while two of us were up there mending a water line.  He walked up on a hawk with one of our half-grown ducklings clutched in her talons, giving us later a description of the event which might have come from a naturalist on a field expedition, his prose lucid and untutored, guiltless of plagiarism since he cannot read.  Today he witnessed canine pack predation.

   Narrating events from the dogs’ hunting spree this afternoon he draws a animated picture before the mind’s eye:  the three dogs spread out, closing on the sheep flock, pressing it here and there; the lead ewe taking two steps out and stamping a warning foot; the dogs’ dart and bark; then the lead ewe steps too far and they cut her out, drive her down the hill.  They hound her up and down the creek bed, biting, pulling, the six-year-old shrieking and bringing down his stick on any dog within reach; the chase grows hotter and the ewe more exhausted until she collapses in the shallow water under the bridge.  The son beats away the dogs with his stick.

  When we arrived, summoned by his shrieks, the ewe, less hurt than terrified and exhausted, scrambled to her feet.  At once the dogs closed in again, chivying and biting like animals possessed, deaf to shouts and threats that would under normal circumstances have sent them into retirement under the front porch.  Even when by our combined efforts we beat them away and the ewe, limping and shivering, took refuge with the two June calves, who sniffed and licked her in stolid reassurance, the dogs still circled, half an eye on us and the greater part of their attention on their prey, looking for a chance to dodge in and cut her out once more.  Like the drive to reproduce which consumes the male dog in proximity to a female in oestrus and enables him to overcome any obstacle, the feral instinct overcomes domesticity.

   We know of no cure for the dog who hunts livestock.  We are in mourning.

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