Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The killer among us

Pippi has killed more than one baby robin since moving in with us in March. There's a pair of nesting robins in our maple in the back yard who don't seem to get it that if they want offspring, they really should change address.

But today, for the first time, I had to pry a baby robin from Pippi's mouth. Ew.

Here's what happened: I heard Pippi whining down in the family room, and realized she hadn't been out in a while, so I let her out. She made a bee-line for something, but I couldn't see what. Then two adult robins started dive-bombing her. She retreated and at that point I couldn't see anything in her mouth, nor, after looking around, any sign of a baby in our yard. But I must have missed it, because after another dash to the particular part of the yard where the adult birds were chirping madly, Pippi came back triumphantly with the baby in her mouth. Then, like a good bird dog, she dropped it at my feet.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that we're correct in our theory that Pippi first belonged to irresponsible hunters who didn't tag her or look for her when she somehow got lost.

Anyway, this is where I screwed up. I praised her for dropping it, but then noticed that the poor thing was still moving. Shit, I thought, I've got to put it out of its misery. And since she dropped it at the back door and seemed to want to go inside (which might have also meant that she'd scoop it up on the way inside), I needed to figure out how to get her in without her bringing the bird in.

Pippi must have taken my dithering as a sign that the bird was hers -- or else she wanted to play "tug" and "fetch" with it -- because she scooped it up, pranced away, and them came back to me, pleased as punch, but without dropping it again. She kept nosing me with the bird in her mouth (ew!) and then sitting in her alert, waiting-for-a-command/treat/reward kind of way. Maybe she was waiting for me to say "OK," which means she can eat it. But instead I kept saying "Drop it! No, Pippi, drop it!" and dancing away from her. This confused her, so she started to gnaw gingerly on the thing, but still kept approaching me with it. And every time she did, she seemed to gulp the thing further into her mouth, so that now all that was showing was a leg and the little head.

So I did what I did when I need to get a broken beef bone out of her mouth: I tried to pry her mouth open while saying "drop it!" But I don't mind touching gnawed beef bones; half dead or, by now, dead baby birds are another thing. So I wasn't getting my fingers in the back of her mouth, where it's most effective. At any rate, after some wrestling with her over it, Pippi gave up and dropped it in the driveway, away from the back door. All of this was going on, by the way, while two screeching adult robins were dive-bombing us both. I praised her -- though probably, at this point, in a somewhat hysterical voice -- and commanded her inside.

I gave her a Greenie, which probably rewarded her for behavior I *don't* want, but I saw it as a) rewarding her for dropping it and coming inside on command, and b) cleaning her mouth, which was now full of bird guts and feathers -- ew!! This also calmed her down somewhat and gave me the opportunity to go clean up the slaughter while she stayed inside.

It was indeed a slaughter now. Having given up on my wanting the thing when I didn't scoop it up the first time, Pippi stopped being the soft-mouthed bird dog who's supposed to give you a whole and unmarred bird and really dug into the poor thing. Blood and guts were everywhere. Well, at least it was now dead and not half-alive and suffering.

I really hope the robins get a clue and move their nest!


K said...

Er, yuck. One of my Newfies brought me a dead grown robin once--I think it dropped dead out of the sky and she fetched it in to me. I had to do the same "drop it," dance with her. She also decided that my reluctance to pick it up right away meant she could play with it.

All I can say for you is, I hope the robins move.

The Pastry Pirate said...

It's the circle of life, dude... also, you can't fight instinct.

Your tale reminded me of the time Wiley dug up a rabbit warren before I realized what he was doing and happily flung newborn bunnies into the air and gnawed on them. By the time I reached them, they were all still alive but mortally wounded. There was no way to get them to a vet (they were already in shock) so I wound up breaking their necks, crying/screaming at Wiley to back off/praying (in a scream/cry) to St. Francis to end their suffering.


Bardiac said...

Oh, bummer. Hunting instincts are STRONG.

You know that leap in the air and catch something tiny with the front paws thing that coyotes do? My lab did that once when he found a baby bird on the ground. Ugh.

However, if the baby bird was on the ground and not able to fly, some predator was going to get it, either your dog, a raccoon, or something.

ps. We haven't had any cute Pippi pictures of late.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I'm nominating you for an award over at my place!

Karl Steel said...

DV, can I recommend a chapter in Donna Haraway's big animals book? I think you (and Pippi) will really dig it. I know it's not like you're swimming in spare time (but, post-tenure, maybe you can swim a little!), but when you get a moment, It's in When Species Meet, and it's "Training in the Contact Zone: Power, Play, and Invention in the Sport of Agility." Almost makes me want to live with a dog. If Pippi ever finds himself (herself?) in NYC, though, Pippi has a sitter....