We have a bunny in our back yard. Or it might be a parade of several bunnies passing through on a regular basis. We have a pond, which attracts birds, bunnies and assorted other wildlife, and of course they attract other wildlife, including at least one hawk.
All of this gives our dogs fits. And they, in turn, give us fits.
For one thing, there’s the eternal asking to go outside to chase squirrels. There’s no shortage of squirrels in the yard, on the back deck, on the patio, in the tree visible from the kitchen. If we humored the dogs, we’d be opening and closing the door constantly. Nothing else would get done. Don’t worry; we don’t, and they’ve never caught a squirrel.
But it’s not the squirrels that worry me. The squirrels are plenty smart and plenty wary; they always have one eye looking or one ear listening for predators.
The bunnies, on the other hand…
Here’s the thing: People are people, and dogs are dogs, and my dogs will never understand why I don’t want them to chase rabbits. I have a nature lover’s approach to wildlife; I love all of it, want to protect it, want us all to live in harmony. The dogs, on the other hand, have an entirely instinctive approach: They are predators; rabbits are prey. Their harmony isn’t one in which all creatures live together peacefully; it’s the harmony of nature. When they see a rabbit, the chase is on.
I holler at them to come to me, to go inside; they listen to me only after the rabbit has escaped the yard. So my husband and I have taken on the job of scouting the yard before we let the dogs out. We go out by ourselves, check the rabbit hidey-places, make sure as best we can that the coast is clear. Only then do we let the dogs out. Sometimes we do this with a flashlight in the dark. It’s worth it to us, to protect “our” bunnies.
I think of this because I just finished reading Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs, a lovely if not necessarily weighty celebration of the dogs who have been part of Oliver’s life. She celebrates their “honest eyes,” their “beautiful barking,” their hunger, their cunning, their steadfastness. She celebrates the dog who wandered into her life by visiting her yard every day, then was given to her by the person who couldn’t keep him at home, and who continued to spend the rest of his life wandering away to visit people and dogs all over town. And in “Holding On to Benjamin,” she celebrates dogs’ instinctive wildness:
No use to tell him
and the raccoon are brothers.
You have your soft ideas about nature
he has others
The book is a lovely tribute to all things canine and to the bonds we have with our canine companions. If you’re a dog person, pick up a copy. If you’re not, pick it up anyway, and give it a try. Not weighty; but sweet, very sweet.
Here’s Mary Oliver reading another poem from the book. Enjoy.