Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Misty's Incomprehensibly Stupid Owner

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Perhaps this story properly begins last Saturday (July 26).  That morning, I walked up to fill the bird feeders and noticed a very wobbly skunk along the path.  Though it appeared to "rally" while I watched, the animal soon toppled over on its side and lay still, bedeviled by flies and wasps.  Within an hour it was stiff, and I moved the carcass to the compost pile so that visitors wouldn't encounter a dead animal.  (Incidentally, on Sunday morning, the carcass had disappeared from the compost pile, but that's not important for this story.)
Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
Last evening (July 29), our organization hosted a perennially popular beekeeping program.  We expected about 40 participants to arrive around 6:30.  As I was bustling about in preparation for the program, a walker told me that there was a yearling groundhog in our parking lot behaving very strangely, and that some program participants were afraid to get out of their cars.  Sure enough, the groundhog clearly was seriously ill.  It would walk ten or fifteen steps, and then it would topple over as if it had lost control of its legs.  Then it would get up and repeat the behavior over and over.  In addition, instead of running away from people, it ran toward people - sometimes surprising rapidly.  With the large group expected I had to do something, so I called the police and asked them to put the animal down.

While I was waiting for the police to arrive, a visitor drove into the parking lot with his passenger side window open.  His Australian shepherd's head stuck out of the window.  The driver slowed  when he saw the groundhog and he closed the passenger side window.  The driver and I spoke briefly about the sick groundhog, and I mentioned that the police were en route to euthanize the animal.  The visitor and his dog drove out of the parking lot and left the preserve.

The police took a long time to arrive.  I know that a sick groundhog is not on par with a bank robbery, but our preserve is located less than 10 minutes from the police station, so I expected the officer's arrival at any minute.  Meanwhile, I followed the groundhog so that (1) I would know where it was when the officer arrived and (2) I could warn people to steer clear of the animal.  All the while, mosquitoes feasted on my bare legs.

About 30 minutes after I called the police, the driver with the dog drove back into the parking lot.  I reiterated to the driver that the police were on their way and that I expected them very shortly.  The driver then parked his car.

I should mention that, although we don't allow dogs in most parts of our preserve, there are places where dogs on leashes are permitted and it is possible to walk from our parking lot on lightly-traveled public roads to get to the portion of the preserve where dog walking is permissible.  Furthermore, there is a 30-acre open field across the street from our headquarters where people routinely walk and train their dogs, and dog owners often park in our lot and walk over to this field.

So, when the driver with the dog parked his car and opened the door to allow his dog out, I wasn't surprised.  However, instead of walking toward the parking lot exit or toward the open field across the street, the driver and his dog (which was not leashed) began walking toward me and the groundhog.  At first, I couldn't figure out what the guy was doing, then I was momentarily stunned as he and his dog continued to approach me.  After a few seconds, I said to him, "You know, sir, dogs are not allowed on this property, and dogs must be leashed when you walk where dogs are allowed."  He replied, "Oh, okay," as he continued to walk toward me.  Just at that moment, the dog spotted the groundhog and tore off, hell bent for leather.  Also at that very moment, the police arrived in the driveway.

As you might imagine, pandemonium ensued.  The hapless and utterly disoriented groundhog attempted to escape by running under a car, pursued by the dog.  The dog owner kept screaming, "Misty! Get away from there! Get away from there!" all to no avail whatsoever.  This dog had its quarry and it was not going to give it up.  Eventually, Misty grabbed the groundhog and shook it, but didn't kill it.  The owner finally got physical control over Misty, loaded her in the car and sped out of the parking lot.  The police officer, incredulous after watching the whole scene, shot the groundhog with his pistol.

As I expected (and hoped), the officer told me that he would have to take the groundhog in for testing to determine if it was rabid.  I asked the officer to let me know if the test came back positive.  (There was a confirmed rabid bat in our neighborhood two weeks ago.)

For Misty's sake, I certainly hope that she had been vaccinated for rabies.  If not, and if the groundhog was rabid, she almost certainly will contract the disease.  I had never seen this irresponsible dog owner before - he wasn't one of our "regulars" - so I can't contact him if the groundhog tests positive.  A thoroughly upsetting and all around unpleasant experience.


robin andrea said...

Yikes. Both the skunk and the groundhog sound like they were rabid. Very scary stuff to deal with, and on top of that STUPID HUMANS, who are seriously more trouble than any sick critter. What a jerk.

packrat said...

I knew while reading your account of these events that I wasn't going to like the way things turned out. Of course, the good news is that nobody was bitten or injured thanks to the way you handled the situation, Scott. The bad news is that Misty's owner is an idiot, an irresponsible dog owner whose canine may pay the price for his stupidity. I don't want to "go off" on this topic because I run into dog owners all the time who, in my opinion, have no right to own dogs. (These people certainly are not pet "guardians.")

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Yeah, it's a little scary (and sad) having all these sick animals around. Kali said that, if there's a god, he/she/its got a lot to answer for when it comes to animal (and human) misery.

I hope Misty's owner doesn't come back here (or, if he does, I hope he comes back soon so I can talk to him about the rabies potential).

Scott said...

Packrat: You know that I agree with you completely. If you ordered Becca to "sit" or "stay" even when presented with an irresistible temptation like an immature groundhog, would she obey?

packrat said...

It's taken years of training, Scott, but Becca definitely obeys. The command is either "Leave it!" or "No!" Imagine in those early days, though, when she could barely resist testing her speed against that of jackrabbits. She never got close enough to one to even snap at it.


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

It's not confined to your country, Scott. It's general knowledge here that signs saying "Keep your dog on a leash", "No dogs on the sports field" etc. only apply to other people's dogs. Every so often a child is mauled by an out-of-control dog and the owners say "Our dog doesn't usually do that".

Scott said...

Packrat: I certainly suspected that Becca was obedient, but just thought I'd confirm.

Scott said...

John: I had a somewhat similar incident quite a few years ago. Kali and I were walking on a trail where dogs are forbidden, and we were accompanied by one of the best birders in our region. A couple came by with their unleashed dog, and the birder made it clear to the couple that dogs were not permitted in this part of the preserve. Just as the couple was making their lame, "Our dog doesn't do that" speech, the dog lit out after a duck that was nesting on the edge of the nearby creek. The duck managed to escape; the couple put the dog on a leash.

Signs and admonitions just don't work in the face of selfishness and stupidity.

Our county is building a new rails-to-trails project that will run the length of our preserve. The old railroad right-of-way is not our property, and the county plans to allow dogs on the new trail. We're giving very serious consideration to banning dogs completely in our natural area--visitors with dogs can walk the new county trail and stay off our "nature trails."

Mark P said...

That was an unfortunate series of events. Back when I lived in Alabama I found a raccoon acting very strangely on a concrete patio at the back of the house. It eventually fell onto its side and seemed unable to move. I had no idea what was wrong, buy I was afraid it was rabies. I picked it up with a shovel, with which I dug a hole. I put the raccoon into the hole and shot it. I hated to do it, but I couldn't risk having a rabid animal running loose around the place.

I see people endangering their dogs lives all the time. I know I can't trust Zeke off the leash, so he never goes anywhere off the leash.

Scott said...

Mark: I think you absolutely did the right thing with regard to the sick raccoon. You put it out of its misery, and limited exposure to other animals and people.

Some dog owners can be very short-sighted with regard to their animals. I don't blame Misty for chasing the groundhog here--it's just her nature--so her human companion ought to look out for her well-being.

Bobo Uzala said...

Hi Scott - almost 2 years late in reply! Was there eventually a pathology report on the groundhog? I have seen animals act like this after they've been ingesting ethylene glycol and brake fluid, a (terminal) taste for car lines and hoses.

No stupid dogs, only stupid owners? I've observed a slow but steady influx of dogs in the preserve since the fabulous Pennypack "trail" has opened. Mostly along within the perimeter of the dog-allowed zones, yet sometimes I encounter hopeless dog owners in the Visitor Center parking lot and central trail system. You know the type, people who should be sterilized? This past Summer, I had a discussion at the Center's parking lot with a trail-biker who returned to his car following a brief ride on the Wood's Edge trail. Perhaps, I spooked him with the look that I gave him? He seemed genuinely uninformed that these trails are prohibited to bikes, yet smart enough to find his way to this parking area. Oh yes, and then there was the case of a couple riding Segway scooters, but I digress...

Scott said...

Bobo: The groundhog was not rabid. Now that I think back over the entire incident, I think that the groundhog had been hit by our field mower and was injured or even just dazed.