Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Herding squirrels

Our dog, Ben, herds squirrels.

Not that this should be much of a surprise as he comes from herding dog stock -- probably Australian shepherd with a dash of this and that thrown in for good measure across the generations. He is not purebred but might as well be, given his personality and proclivity for most things herding dog-like.

In his mind, squirrels belong in trees. And it's his job (since herding dogs NEED jobs) to see that they arrive safely at their assigned destinations.

The operative word is "safely." Ben's a fast pup. Occasionally, he actually catches up with a squirrel he's herding. BUT, contrary to his canine counterparts at Comstock Park, Ben's not interested in snapping up the little critter and giving it a good neck-shattering shake.

He doesn't want to kill. He just wants to herd.

And so it goes. Ben herds. Squirrel scrambles up tree. Ben does a victory lap (sometimes a couple), and finally, with a stern glance over his shoulder (just to make sure no one is leaving his/her assigned tree), Ben is off in search of more errant squirrels.

It's always the same. Sighting a squirrel, he freezes, literally paralyzed by yet a new opportunity to serve humankind. His body vibrates as rapid-fire trigonometric calculations churn in his head, diagramming the squirrel's numerous escape routes.

Ben assumes The Stance -- a "strong eye" as they say in herding circles. That means, if the squirrel moves, Ben moves. If the squirrel doesn't, Ben doesn't.

And so the seige begins.

Squirrel munches.

Ben approaches, on tip toe. Tail unfurled like a flag in battle.
Squirrel munches.

Ben approaches, this time stiff-legged, tail drops for better aerodynamics.

Finally aware of the gray dog, squirrel cocks head.

Ben freezes. It's almost too much. The. Squirrel. Cocked. Its. Head.
More canine calculations, followed by a pointed "Why didn't you bring the slide rule? This would be so much easier if you had" glance at me.

Squirrel munches, but oviously now considering his options. Ben moves into launch position, and then. . . .

Charlie, the park goof-dog, lopes by in a slobbery, good-natured one-dog stampede -- the earth rumbles (Charlie's a BIG dog) and squirrels, candy wrappers, water bottles and small children scatter everywhere.

There is the equivalent of a sheep dog sigh. And our walk goes on.

Postscript: For the record, Ben WAS responsible for one Comstock squirrel fatality some six or seven years ago. The squirrel he was herding miscalculated his leap onto a tree and hit the sucker head on going about Mach 7. Broke his little neck on the spot. Ben and I felt really bad about that.

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