He was a good boy. Friendly, if not outgoing. A bit shy, but polite.
You know, the types of things neighbors say about a serial killer after a freezerful of body parts is discovered. It’s always whom you least expect.
In the wake of one of those heartwarming dog-reunited-with-its-owner-after-being-lost-in-the-wilderness-for-months-and-surviving-on-bird-carcasses-and-rabbit-poop stories, my better half and I discussed which of our three dogs would be best suited for lengthy backcountry survival. The obvious answer was a pre-blind Miles. And maybe still a blind Miles. Though he has never managed a kill, he was once willing to abandon his family on a hike to wait out a rabbit he chased into a hole (he had to be leashed and literally dragged away), and on another occasion—in later, plumper years—he became stuck in a boulder pile while pursuing a chipmunk (it took over 30 minutes to extricate him). Miles is a patient and single-minded hunter, and he is fiercely motivated by food. In fact, if left to his own devices in the wild, he may gorge himself to death.
Reese was second. Easily the dog who most enjoys the creature comforts of home, Reese often attempts to sleep in the car on camping trips (and always steals the sleeping bag when forced into the tent). A coddled cuddler and (attempted) friend of cats, Reese nonetheless retains a laser-focused chase instinct; even at the advanced age of 13 and with a gimpy, arthritic hip, he has come close to ending the industrious careers of a few squirrels and rabbits.
Wyatt, we agreed, would be lucky to last a day. This is a dog who attempts to befriend the rodent trespassers in our yard.
The weekend following the recent blood moon, as the leaves fell and the curtain dropped on summer, so dropped the false shroud of innocence that had cloaked our little buddy. We were returning to our car after enjoying the autumnal tones in Pike National Forest. Though we brought snacks for the dogs, Wyatt, finicky ingrate that he is, skipped breakfast; after a day of dashing through the woods, perhaps a couple biscuits were simply not enough.
On hikes, Wyatt will give brief, half-hearted chase to chipmunks and rabbits, though he lacks Miles’s dedication. On this particular trek, much of which stretched through a broad meadow, he seemed particularly attuned to goings-on deep in the tall grass.
It happened so fast, we only heard it. A sharp, short squeak.
We turned to see Wyatt lick his chops. The humans shared a look that asked, Did he just do what we think he did?
We pressed onward. Minutes later, that sound again; this time, I turned fast enough to see Wyatt chomp and do a hard swallow.
Again, we moved on. I was repulsed at what I knew just happened, but I was also in denial. Surely gentle, sweet-tempered Wyatt, the baby of the pack and the only one of our dogs to occasionally listen to commands like sit and stay and get the f*@# off the counter, had not just consumed a tiny field vermin.
As if he detected my disbelief and desired to demonstrate an execution for the record, he pounced and snatched another one. I watched the backside and tail go down his gullet. Bile rose in my own esophagus.
I avoided Wyatt licks like the plague—which mice, incidentally, can carry—for a week. I convinced myself that he stalked the perimeter of our yard in constant bloodlust. I sensed a sudden feral edge in his play attacks on Miles.
And then one night he curled up beside me on the couch, rested his head in my lap, looked up at me with his bi-colored eyes and swished his tail.
Such a good boy.