animals


This morning we made it two successful skunk meetups in a row. Emerging from yesterday’s way-too-close encounter while walking Ranger was a miracle. This morning’s jaw-dropper of a stand off was something even more glorious: proof that Ranger has perhaps finally learned after at least three previous backyard skunkings that those “funny looking cats” (and the subsequent unceremonious deskunking baths involving hydrogen peroxide, baking powder and dish soap that follow) are to be avoided at all costs.

Awake early but way too lazy to go for a walk, I instead let Ranger out in the backyard to do her thang — but not before first conducting the obligatory flashlight enhanced patrol of the area to make sure there were no critters out and about.

Once I’d cleared it, out went Ranger who promptly found a patch of dirt and laid down upon it, looking at me with a forlorn expression. This is not her normal behavior, which is to do her own urgent patrol, and then after much back-and-forthing in the way-back part of the yard find a spot to pee and then another to poop. This self-imposed “I’m just gonna lay down here until I die or Momma comes home” exile is how she acts in protest to Susan (who’s on a weekender to visit old friends and her mom) not being here.

Sigh.

I tried to encourage Ranger to “go peepee!” but she was having none of it so I adjourned inside to make coffee, freshen the water and kibble bowls and advise the imploring cats gathered in the kitchen that breakfast wouldn’t be for awhile yet.

Roughly five minutes later (and in hindsight pleeeeenty of time for any number of creature — rat, squirrel, opossum, raccoon or coyote — to breach the backyard while seated with my cuppa joe in the kitchen, I saw Ranger was no longer prone outside, but was instead upright and facing north with interest. Simultaneously, a couple cats hopped up into the backyard facing windows I’d opened and were staring intently in the direction of the tortoise hutch. So I went outside to see whatever the object of their collective attention was.

My eyes went wide. It was a skunk. About the same size as the one yesterday. Standing atop the short retaining wall beside the hutch, stock still, facing in Ranger’s direction about 20 feet away with tail straight up.

This would typically be when I would yell out a blood-curdling “Noooooo!” and Ranger would ignore that go all territorial and charge, forcing the skunk to execute a 180-degree turn of doom and release its appropriate and terribly effective counter measures. Past episodes Ranger’s been blasted in the chest and the side of the head. She even took a direct hit in the mouth and eyes on one occasion. That one was particularly horrible with her spastically rolling around on the ground, foaming at the mouth and eating dirt like she’d gone instantly Cujo-level rabid. Poor girl.

And after each of those times while scrubbing her down Susan and I would question when or if she’d ever learn.

That question was answered this morning. Not only did she just stand there showing completely no sign of charging, but when I called her, she headed to me immediately and followed along while I hustled us to the back door and back inside the safety of kitchen. Even when the skunk went frantically mobile and started to probe the north fence for an exit, Ranger didn’t waiver.

Inside I hugged her and praised her for five full minutes, before going back outside to ensure the skunk had gone. Then I came back and hugged her some more.

 

 

Miracles DO Happen: On this morning’s walk with Ranger I got an earlier and darker start than usual (owing to Susan being on a weekend trip to Reno to explore her punk rawk past). So we detoured on the back stretch of the walk and came up a block we normally don’t traverse. A few hundred feet in I heard a sharp and short hiss from the curb and I figured we’d passed a cat perturbed by our passing presence.

I couldn’t’ve been more wrong. Looking to my left I found myself realizing that Ranger — for the first time in her life — had chosen to ignore what was a mature skunk standing planted and unmoving less than four feet away from us. Our dog’s entirely uncharacteristic behavior and reaction (she’s been skunked in the backyard at least three times and has showed no signs that she wouldn’t get herself bombed a fourth time given the opportunity) was really valuable given the skunk had its tail in the fully locked-and-loaded position.

The miracle is that I was looking into its eyes and not upon its backside. For whatever reason, probably because Ranger elected not to lunge at it (another miracle — GOOD GIRL!!!), the skunk opted out of nailing us. Despite our arm’s length proximity it deemed us not a threat warranting what coulda/woulda/shoulda been a complete and direct and all enveloping hit. By all rights and laws of urban wildlife, Ranger and I should really be stinking up the place right now.

Suffice it to say I wasted no time giving ground and moving me and Ranger out of range and then simultaneously thanked the skunk and congratulated Ranger for their combined restraint.

What a wonder-full way to start the day.

A lot has rightfully been made of the killing of “Cecil” the lion in Zimbabwe by that Minnesota dentist who paid what to me is an exorbitant amount of money, but to him seems like it might just be a drop in the bucket in his pursuit of something he’s so passionate in practitioning.

A lot has unrightfully been made, as well.

Whether Walter Palmer, as he says, hunted and destroyed the creature personally knowing what he was doing was illegal or not is not for me to decide without all the facts. I tend to want to believe him when he says he was not aware, but that benefit of the doubt is tempered heavily by my inherent disdain for the “sport” of big game hunting and those who go to such lengths to participate in it.

At the same time I have little support for those e-vigilantes who are raging so vehemently and maliciously against him, making him the vilified posterboy of All Things Evil, until the next object of their derision comes along.

Where I stand is simple. I believe in innocence until proven guilty. Period. And I refrain from judging accordingly. And I believe in the sanctity of ALL living things. Period. The only time I will kill any creature is when it violates my “Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you” standard.

Case in point: Tuesday morning I came back from my morning walk with Susan and dog Ranger, and after making coffee and sitting back down at my desk to do my morning surf I felt something crawling on my left ear that I must’ve picked up somehow somewhere in route. Instinctively I swatted at it, and succeeded in knocking it onto my desk.

It was an ant. One, single, solitary ant. When I saw this, I felt a twinge of guilt for my kneejerk reaction, but, in fact, it had bothered me. Fortunately, whatever blow it took from me proved not to have harmed it in any way, and I stopped what I was doing to shepherd it onto a piece of paper where I then walked it out the front door to the porch and deposited it on the railing to go about its way.

Could I have squashed it and gone on with my life? Ultimately, after a period of shame and guilt, sure. But was it infinitely more fulfilling to demonstrate respect? Absolutely, yes.

buster0828I thought we’d lost her yesterday: Buster, our Russian tortoise. Lately on weekends I’ve been taking her out of the self-contained hutch we built in 2007 and letting her have what we call the “pumpkin patch,” a roughly 10′ x 4′ section of the backyard normally reserved during this time of year for any would-be jack o’ lanterns I attempt to grow.

With its perimeter built up with river rocks and bricks, the patch has proven to contain Buster pretty well, thanks to me paying close attention to the weakest exit points that she inevitably and incessantly will exploit and then strengthening them in some manner… maybe with a repositioned river rock or some stakes driven into the dirt that she can’t defeat.

At dusk last night, when it came time to move her back from the patch into her hutch, she was gone. I asked Susan if she’d returned her, and she said no. I wondered if perhaps one of our kitchen renovation workers, not knowing the exploratory nature of tortoises had seen Buster trying to escape and helped her over the barrier figuring “How far can a tortoise go?” That’s a typical rhetorical people ask themselves and the answer is “Far enough that you may never see them again.”

I’m serious. They can get themselves under some foliage, dig down into the soft earth and even though they’re theoretically under your nose, they’re just as completely GONE as if they’d managed to crawl all the way to Kern County.

My first thought was one of relief because I was pretty sure she was at least somewhere in the backyard as there weren’t any readily accessible escape routes out of it. But compounding matters and fears, said workers had left the backyard gate nearest the patch open during their time here, meaning that if Buster either escaped on her own or was assisted, she was only about 15 feet and one low step away from getting beyond the backyard into the north side yard, with its thick growth offering plenty of places to hunker down over night before setting out for Kern County in the morning.

So time was pretty much of the essence, and with the daylight failing Susan and I got busy. I stuck to the backyard and north side of the house while Susan went all the way down to the street and down the block.

You think that’s silly? Then check out my account below of an escape she made back in 2004. The use of “Miracle” in the headline is NOT an exaggeration.

Long story cut short: There was much rejoicing and relief when I found Buster still in the backyard, instead of going out the open gate she made a left and crawled under the potting table among a half-dozen or so brown widow spiders, wedging herself against the outside of the kitchen wall.

Maybe she was interested in the renovation’s progress.

So there was this post recently to the EastsiderLA blog about a coyote trapping this past July in Silver Lake that went horribly wrong. A property owner, reportedly after some sort of  “coyote vs. dog” incident, had contracted with a trapper who set up a snare in hopes of catching the predator. Well, the snare, which was reportedly was supposed to catch the coyote by the leg wound up around the coyote’s neck for a prolonged period and there ended up being heartwrenching video made of the efforts by Animal Control personnel to free the exhausted and injured animal… which died about a week later.

What follows is the comment interchange in the thread from that post between myself and “skr,” another EastsiderLA blog reader, and it began after my response to another commenter, “slm,” who I disagreed with when he or she referred to the tragedy an “unfortunate accident.” After that “skr” asks me a question that I answer sincerely — and with a supporting graphic! I had the feeling that the question was posed not in search of knowledge but in search of an argument and soon we’re off to the debate between myself and what’s essentially a coyote demonizer, whose half-baked rebuttal to my call for property owners to put exclusionary methods into effect, is that there is apparently an epidemic of poor and old homeowners either completely without fences or with ones in terrific states of disrepair who just don’t have the money or ability to do proactive things proactive like reinforce their perimeters, keep their pets inside, and otherwise eliminate/minimize whatever is causing the coyotes to breach their yards.

His reactionary solution is basically for the city to contract a force of on-call riflemen to roam the city shooting any and all “problem” coyotes on sight (and to this guy a problem coyote is any coyote). Ironically, he proposes this expensive — nevermind horribly violent and potentially unsafe — solution after deriding the Animal Services Wildlife Officer in another separate comment for wasting taxpayer money making the valiant effort to free this coyote from its cruel capture.

So without further preambling, here ya go:

slm: This is quite saddening. However, a word for all those feeling outraged at the cruelty. I’m pretty sure the noose is supposed to trap the animal by the leg in this type of trap, and this outcome was an unfortunate accident.

Will Campbell: The hiring and compensating of an alleged professional trapper using methods that resulted in the horrific destruction of the coyote is “unfortunate” to put it mildly, but not an “accident” by any stretch of the imagination.

This would not have happened had sane and humane ways been employed to exclude coyotes from the property.

skr: How exactly are you supposed to exclude coyotes that can easily scale a six foot fence which is the maximum fence height allowed by code?

Will Campbell: Excellent question, skr: An effective device to aid in preventing coyotes from scaling fences are known as “Coyote Rollers,” which mount at the head of the barrier and prevent the coyote from being able to grab onto the top of it.

coyote9

skr: At $7/lnft uninstaled [sic], not many can afford those unfortunately.

Will Campbell: I got the sense you might either be asking rhetorically and you’d find a way to fault my response. You asked “How exactly how are you supposed to exclude coyotes that can easily scale a six-foot fence?” and I gave you the answer to it. Had you asked “How exactly how are you supposed to exclude coyotes that can easily scale a six-foot fence but not spend $7/lnft uninstalled?” I’d encourage you to DIY a similar and effective and far less costly system using brackets and PVC pipe as illustrated below.

i08Rolling_pins_side2

skr: I found fault with your suggestion because it increases the already high cost of fencing by about 50% and it was presented as such an obvious and easy solution even though it is out of reach of many people. Especially compared to trapping and killing predatory vermin. Plus there is also the even more common problem of coyotes going under fences, which necessitates trenching around the property and installing fencing below grade. That is extremly expensive. It’s a lot easier to tell people they should just humanely exclude coyotes than to actually exclude coyotes.

Will Campbell: I didn’t present it as an “obvious and easy solution.” You asked for a remedy and I showed you a remedy. And then when you balked at that I propose a DIY alternative suggestion that would drastically reduce the costs involved. Yet from out of nowhere you opt instead to suddenly look to the bottom of this hypothetical fence and bemoan the dollars that would be involved in hypothetically reinforcing that.

Well, here’s a no-cost solution to prevent having to [do] that: Whatever is in your backyard that’s attracting the coyotes, whether it’s pets, garden veggies, fallen fruit, trash, chickens, raw hanging sides of beef, or any other sources of food or water or shelter: eliminate them. Then the coyotes will leave your neighbors’ swiss cheese fence alone and trouble people like you who’d rather just shoot the creatures while criticizing Officer Greg Randall for doing his job.

But you’re absolutely right in that it’s easy to offer solutions. As you’ve proven, easier still is it to shoot them down. Repeatedly.

skr: I don’t have coyotes in my property because I trenched around the lot and placed fencing below grade and filled the trench with broken concrete rubble. That plus some electric fencing works great. what I do have are elderly neighbors on fixed incomes that simply cannot afford the measures you suggest and are physically incapable of DIY solutions. I have neighbors that can’t afford fencing let alone the expensive solutions you suggested. They have small children like the one that was almost dragged into the bushes recently by a coyote in the cemetary [sic]. The solution in that case was to shoot three coyotes in the cemetary [sic]. You seem to not care about the most vulnerable in society. There is a solution for these vulnerable people available to city services, coyote population control. For those with the means your solutions are good ones, but they simply don’t comprehensively address the needs of all those living in high coyote danger areas.

Will Campbell: You’re quite the double-sided coin, skr. On one side you complained sarcastically in another comment about Officer Randall coming to the aid of this coyote and it being a waste of city services and taxes. But in a complete flip from that stance you, being this champion for the elderly, infirm, and poverty-stricken masses who are apparently terrorized by the creatures and who are unfortunately unable to either have a fence let alone make it predator resistant, want to devote those stretched-thin city services and tax dollars to what you call “coyote population control” — a “solution” that doesn’t “comprehensively address” the issue because it has NEVER worked.

For as long as humans and coyotes have been adversaries, humans have attempted to control coyote populations either by outright extermination attempts or by much smaller culls. Well guess what: The result has been the coyotes not only surviving those ill-conceived, short-sighted and reactionary efforts, but thriving.

So you go ahead and cite that rare “coyote attacks child” incident as reason enough for loading up the firearms, marching into battle in a cemetery and killing three of them. Felt good, didn’t it? Yeah, you really showed them who’s boss. Trouble is, you know what the surviving coyotes did after losing those three? They went and “comprehensively addressed” their needs by making five more that looked just like the ones you destroyed.

I have to chuckle at your accusation of me of not caring about the vulnerable in society because I have [the] audacity to promote effective precautionary measures that are sane and humane. It’s funny because to protect those vulnerable of which you speak, you’d rather use deadly force and send bullets flying through the city to cure the “coyote problem.” It’s not a coyote problem. It’s a people problem. People like you.

Bottom line: You’ve got your way of wanting to deal with coyotes, I’ve got mine. But here’s the reality check: the city of Los Angeles is a faaaar cry from that farm you grew up shooting everything that could potentially harm your assets. As such your way of dealing with coyotes is never going to happen. So you can sit behind your reinforced electrified fence and keep shaking your fist and yelling for the right to shoot the varmints on sight and get nowhere. OR, you can adapt toward a more productive way of thinking that in the end can be of benefit to those less fortunate than you. Your call.

And if you need a lesson on adapting, look no further than the coyote who’s a master at it.

skr: Yes, the coyotes survived the culls. They even thrived. But they were less likely to cause harm to those in urban environments because there was food to go around and they didn’t have to venture into people’s backyards to avoid starvation. Those that can afford to exclude coyotes should. But exclusion is not always effective and the excluded coyotes just end up in the yards of people that can’t afford exclusion. They don’t deserve to bear the burden disproportionately just because they can’t afford more extensive measures. That is where a cull comes into play. Now since this is an urban environment, it is obvious that simply letting everyone pick up rifle and start shooting is untenable. However, that is not the only way to cull a population. High caliber air rifles wielded by licensed and insured shooters can be effective in an urban area. Those shooters would know to only take shots when there is a sufficient backstop to insure safety. A cull can be done safely and with a minimum of expense. Just like we don’t have to eradicate the coyotes, we also don’t have to let them run wild and do nothing to control a dangerous population. Both of those solutions are at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

With regards to city expenditures, you can try to paint me as being hypocritical all you like. All I’m saying is that I think it is a waste of money to try to save an animal that belongs to a wildlife population that needs culling. If they want to spend money culling the population in order to protect life and property, I’m all for that. Spending money to endanger life and property, not so much.

Killing an animal never feels good. That is why we would always try to make it as clean as possible and didn’t use traps. However, regardless of how bad it sucks to kill an animal, sometimes it is necessary.

Will Campbell: TRY to paint you as a hypocrite? You’re the one holding the brushes; with the one in your left you derided and dismissed the job Officer Randall did as a waste of your taxes, and with the one in the right you’re calling for more of those taxes to go to fulfilling future city budgets that will include a contracted cadre of “licensed and insured shooters” roaming our streets with high-caliber air rifles taking out any coyote with impunity, providing it can be put down only if a sufficient backstop is present, of course.

You’re right that destroying an animal never feels good — and you’re right that it is sometimes necessary. But your idea of making it “clean” relates to reactive and ultimately ineffective killing, while my idea of making it clean relates to proactive measures that will reduce negative contacts with coyotes and certainly prevent the horrific results such as the incident central to this post.

Since we’re going around in circles now, let me just copy and paste a modified version of what I closed my previous reply, and then sit back and await whether you agree to disagree or feel compelled to submit another counterpunch:

Bottom line: You’ve got your way of wanting to deal with coyotes, I’ve got mine. But here’s the reality check: the city of Los Angeles is a faaaar cry from that farm you grew up shooting everything that could potentially harm your assets. As such your way of dealing with coyotes is never going to happen in so densely an urban environment, one in which the coyote is seen as an integral part of the urban wildlife foodchain, and not myopically as little more than a predatory threat. So you can sit behind your reinforced electrified fence and keep demanding the city start using deadly force against them, or, you can recognize the futility of that mindset and instead adapt toward a more productive way of thinking that in the end can be of benefit to those less fortunate than you. Your call.

More to come? There may be an update to this post if “skr” can’t
resist the compulsion to make some sort of deflective response.

This behavior is not something Ranger ever learned, nor was she taught it. It was discovered quite by accident after the kids next door hit a soccer ball over the fence into our yard. When I found the ball, for whatever reason, I arc’d it over in Ranger’s general direction and holy wowzers she proceeded to use her muzzle to line drive it directly back to me.

soccerdawg

One time… two times… could happen to any dog, right? Well, we all know Ranger isn’t any dog. As if to prove it, she tossed it back to me practically every time I tossed it to her. We’ve had streaks of 20 or more, from as far as 10 feet between us.

Now, “toss” isn’t really what she’s doing. She isn’t even doing what trained seals do and bouncing it back off her nose soccer-style. What she’s trying to do is catch the ball in her mouth, but since it’s too big to fit in her jaws what happens instead is an uncannily precise return to sender.

The trick is, it’s all on me. Pretty much her rebound shot is entirely dependent upon how nice a lob I send her way. If it’s near perfect, the ball will most often come back through the air either directly to me or at least within my reach. And by the time I catch it, Ranger’s already poised and ready for me to send the next one here way.

The following link takes you to a snippet of crappy video from a lousy camera, but you get the idea — and you can bet I’ll be setting up a better cam to capture it next time we: Play Ball!

While Ranger and Patchy look on in an attempt to ignore Pepper, I catch him doing this inexplicable goofy behavior he’s known for in which he tap dances/scratches with his front paws against a window pane and then vocalizes like the nut he is.

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