It was 12:30 in the afternoon. Time to walk the furballs.
We went outside into the front yard, where the dogs did roughly half their doggie business, and spend a little time whining at a cat at the other end of the clearing.
We walked a few yards down the sidewalk and then stepped into the grass between our condos and the neighbor’s house. There’s a large bush that separates the property. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t flower and it’s about eight feet tall. Plenty of cover for whatever wants to hide underneath it, which is why I generally keep the dogs away from it. (I don’t feel like untangling two terriers from a mess of branches when they spot a squirrel, which I’d spend every day doing if I gave them free reign over that bush.)
Chance was doing his usual sniffing thing, trying to find a spot that satisfies his exacting standards for what to poop on. Kaylee was rolling in the grass and I was doing my ridiculous “Come on Chance, focus” cheerleading routine for all the neighbors to see.
Chance turned toward the bush.
A full grown whitetail doe – easily 5 foot tall – bounded out of the bush, ran down the grass between condo buildings, and helped any drivers in our parking lot soil their pants.
All three of us stood there dumbfounded.
Now, terriers are a working breed, even if you get the shorties, which are a few generations into “lap dog” breeding. Hundreds of years of farmers have turned them into creatures whose brains are wired to find and kill vermin. I’ve never explicitly trained any of my 3 Jack Russells to hunt, but I’ve picked up dead and maimed toads, mice, and birds for nigh-on 10 years now. Whatever the creature, if they determine it’s not a human or a dog, when moves, they bite, spit it out, see if it moves again, bite, spit, etc.
You may think a deer isn’t vermin, but my friend, according to a Jack Russell’s definition, you would be wrong.
JessieDog’s reaction to deer back in the apartment was to immediately bay like a beagle and try to find a way off the balcony that didn’t involve falling to her death. But Chance and Kaylee have never seen a deer up close before, so I’m not particularly surprised that they had no idea how to react.
And then the smell of that deer blew back to us and small dog cogs and gears in small dog brains started turning. Just before the doe disappeared fully from view, my dogs’ little brains produced a spark that fired off some neurons announcing “OMG THAT’S THE BIGGEST RAT EVER!”
They started barking their fool heads off. Chance did leaps and twists and somersaults at the end of his leash in an attempt to chase the giant rat. I hauled them around the building forcibly, with both dogs pulling every direction, until we crossed the scent of that deer again. Then, suddenly, every blade of grass in the yard needed to be inspected and reinspected and re-reinspected for traces of deer.
It was only once we returned back to the bush that we could get back to the business at hand, and even then, it was a challenge to get everyone back to the house.
Now, my training of my three dogs has never been 100% stellar. And I’m sure if I worked with them every day around deer I could eventually train these two to come when I call even if we’re surrounded by a herd of the World’s Biggest Rat.
But I’m also sure that, if my dogs had been off-leash today, they’d be lost or dead right now. You don’t train the hunt out of a terrier.
Today was a reminder that those signs that say to leash your dogs at all times aren’t just for your neighbors’ protection, or for your protection from litigious neighbors, or for your protection when the police show up to enforce the laws that say your dogs should be leashed. They’re also protection from that rare fall day that a deer decides to jump out of the bushes at noon, and they’re a damn good idea.
I remember hearing a story of some dog owners walking out on a wilderness trail who saw a “No Dogs Beyond This Point” sign and ignored it. And complained afterwards that the trail was so rocky that they had to carry their dogs half the time to get them through.
Fortunately, I heard the story secondhand, because my poker face isn’t up to handle that level of willful stupidity.