Dog Songs

Tank_InstagramWe 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.

Rolo-Copyright Kim KishbaughI 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:

DogSongsNo use to tell him
that he

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.

2 thoughts on “Dog Songs

  1. We do have different takes on the rabbits we share. We too, have the incessant messages of how important it is for Max to go outside. He let’s us know there’s important business out there. He flies down the stairs to the brush pile where bunnies can safely hide – there’s no access for anything as large as Max. As he shoots out the door Max will often run right past a rabbit in the middle of the yard. When he realizes what happened the chase is on and the bunny takes off with Max flying after. The bunny, however, can fit through the opening in the gates and will dash through, then stop and sit and look at Max from the other side. Max is stymied.
    This is the most exercise Max gets in any day and the chase appears to be the important thing, not the catch. Based on years of experience I seriously doubt that bunnies are as careless as they appear. If our yard was larger Max might have a chance, but the bunny has lots of escape tactics. So you won’t see us out in the yard checking for “the all clear.” (Exception: in the spring when the babies are hopping around. We look first before letting Max out. It has to be a fair chase!)

    • I think I wouldn’t worry as much if we had just the one dog going outside. In fact, when one occasionally goes out without the other, we really don’t worry. But with two, and with one of them being a herd dog, we have the issue of triangulation–meaning, Rolo can do it. It’s obvious (and pretty amazing) watching her chase anything–bunny or dog–that she triangulates. Tank doesn’t seem to share this skill, but Rolo is perfectly capable of trying to chase the bunnies to Tank. And so we go out first.

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