Chapter 24 — Digression for Death

This chapter was supposed to be about meeting Mike, but that story will await another day and another posting.  We digress because, on a recent sun-suffused, quiet Sunday afternoon, Greta fought and killed a groundhog.

If I needed a reminder that death sits at life’s table, and that this is true for groundhogs and geckos as it is for humans,  there was the reminder.

The groundhog was one of three that were out grazing on grass or plants that grew along a trail where Greta and I often walk.  The dog  spotted them, shifted  her ears forward and went into stalk mode.  Carefully, she lifted a front and rear paw and set them down an inch or two closer to the groundhogs.  Pause.  She edged the other two paws forward.  Pause.  The groundhogs continued eating.  The dog continued her inching progress.

The largest groundhog, which looked to be an adult, raised its head, stared at the near motionless dog, took another mouthful, raised its head again and  decided this was not the right time or place to continue snacking.  It bounded for the burrow, diving in with Greta’s jaws inches from its tail.  A second groundhog,  probably an adolescent,  dashed for its burrow at the same time.  Greta couldn’t chase both, and she had to sniff the first groundhog’s tunnel entrance to make sure the animal was in there and she couldn’t get it.  The second groundhog made it home free of interference.

The third groundhog, probably also an adolescent, was far enough from the other two that she didn’t see any point in racing off to her burrow.   Bad decision.   Greta stopped to sniff and conclude that the first two groundhogs were (a) inside their  burrows and (b) not planning to come out.  But as she turned away from the burrows, the flash of movement caught her eye.  Groundhog  No. 3 was racing  home.

Greta caught up to the groundhog, which turned to face her, claws ready.  She feinted.  The groundhog turned and raised its claws.  Greta flashed past them and got a grip on the soft belly.  She crunched down.  The groundhog cried out.

The groundhog turned again, trying to hold her ground and keep the dog facing her teeth and claws.  But she was weakened.  The dog dodged her claws and clenched teeth on the belly again.  The groundhog lay on her back, and died.

Greta stood, panting.  She tossed the dead animal into the air a few times, and watched it fall.  She sniffed it, crunched the stomach again.  She licked the tail, but did not bother trying to eat any part of the animal.  She wasn’t hungry.

Dogs don’t stop to think about the consequences  or wisdom of their actions.  They are not known to agonize over questions of good and evil or whether killing is necessary and, if so, under what circumstances.  Greta probably gave the subject no more thought than:  small animal running—chase it.   If she thought that much about it.

Angel, one of Greta’s predecessors,  had about eight or 10 notches in her collar for groundhog kills.  Angel was a Lab/German short-haired pointer mix, a sweet and gentle lady.  But not  when a groundhog had carelessly strayed too far from its burrow.  After the first time she killed one,  I mentioned it to the veterinarian at her next checkup.

“Once they get a taste of that, they never quit,” the veterinarian said.

He was right.  Until an inoperable tumor cut her life short, wherever a groundhog could be found,  Angel chased it, killed it and occasionally munched a little of her trophy.

I don’t believe the moral issues ever interrupted her naptime.

(c) 2011 by Donna R. Engle

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