Hankie was hit at least three to four times and went down heavy. Heʼs old and tottery and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Milo was bitten multiple times, too, but heʼs young and strong and gave more than he took. Abbie joined in the fray and the chase, but was unhurt.
The grey fox was a beautiful animal but something was terribly wrong. When I ﬁrst heard Miloʼs high pitched excited bark, I was at the top of the yard cleaning around the small pond. I thought he had been hurt and ran down to where all three dogs were. Then the fox burst out of the evergreens and made a bee line for the woods with the dogs in pursuit. It all happened so fast that I wasnʼt sure it was a fox — we also have predatory coyotes in these hills of eastern West Virginia.
The chase was on and the dogs were becoming ever more agitated. You could almost smell the canine adrenaline as they raced about but stopped abruptly just this side of where the Invisible Fence warns them to beware. When I went inside to tell Jody what had just happened, I again heard the frantic barking of all three. I found it incomprehensible that the fox would have returned from the relative safety of the woods. Before I knew it, the dogs had chased it out of the yard again, down in the back where Jodyʼs clothes line is drawn. Just above that clothes line a few years earlier, it was a different scene, one of birth and renewal. It was a place where we watched a momma hummingbird raise two little ones in a nest that gives new meaning to the size of “a bump on a log.”
During all this ruckus, I found myself thinking of my childhood and being with my father with a gun in my young hands. But it was never a comfortable world and I didnʼt belong in it. Even at a young age, I ﬁgured he knew he had a mismatched son who would never follow in his footsteps. He shook his head when I told him I didnʼt like to see the animals die. All he said was that Iʼd never make a hunter. That was ﬁne with me, but I know he was disappointed in me. Earlier on, I had shot up a poor squirrel that had gotten hung up in some high grape vines. I was carrying an oversized Winchester 12-gauge pump and it seemed reasonable in my head that the only way that squirrel was coming down was if I tore the grapevines out with the pellets of the shotgun shell. Brooks was not amused, especially when he told me how much shells cost. The hunting trips were not over, though, for several more years as he continued to force me to go along as he hunted rabbits and pheasants and the occasional quail.
My childhood dog Timber, littermate to Sawdust who ran under a moving car while young and carefree as Timber ran behind it, was a great hunter. I spent a lot of capital in the mid 1950s wooing the little girl who lived behind us and who had the last say on who got a pup. She was the Margaret to my Dennis the Menace. I had to really hold my nose to play up to her to get those dogs. Reﬂecting back, I was a real cad,though, since I promptly dumped her once I had my prize. Their mother Blondie was a purebred Beagle who had had an illicit encounter with an equally handsome dashhound, albeit a street-wise one who had an eye for the ladies. He was a cad, too, who “trotted freely in the street,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti style. That was a different time when dogs played and wandered about on their own and there were no stinkinʼ leash laws.
My heart broke, though, with that terrible morning call from the vet who summoned my father to tell us that Sawdust had not made it through the night. I was devastated. How had this happened. My beloved dog was dead. My dad and I went together to get him and bury him in our little back yard.
Years later when Timber worked his little butt off ﬂushing a rabbit from a brush pile he looked at me with what can only be great disappointment, if not disgust, when I shot behind the rabbit who then hopped off to be a target another day. Timber lived to a very ripe old age and thumped his tale against the ﬂoor when I visited him late in his life when I was a young adult. He simply disappeared on my father a little later when they stopped to see a farmer where my father had hunted earlier. The old boy had simply wandered off to die and wasnʼt going to be ﬂushed out of any brush pile.
“The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog’s life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with…”
With these thoughts in my head, I again heard Milo, who was screaming at the other end of the yard as he closed in on the fox. It just wasnʼt natural, though, that the fox should be out in the daytime and would keep coming back to the yard where the three dogs had worked themselves into a lather and were waiting. It was their turf and they knew it. Something was very wrong.
Then the fox made a break for it and raced toward poor old Hank who didnʼt know what hit him. Milo charged ahead immediately to Hankʼs rescue and soon had the fox by the neck. Somehow or other, though, the fox managed to get away back into the woods. This all happened so fast and I found myself kneeling by Hank to see how badly he had been bitten.
I then went back into the house to get my Remington 22, an ancient automatic that I used to tote as a boy when I hunted squirrels with my father nearly 60 years ago. He liked to ﬁsh and hunt small game and birds. It was a way of putting meat on the table during the Depression in that part of Appalachian Ohio where he grew up on a poor hillside farm.
Hankie hobbled after Jody who put all the dogs in the garage along with the cats as I stalked the property. But the fox wasnʼt showing, so we turned Milo out again. He was a hunting machine, repeatedly covering the nearly one-acre grounds as he swept back and forth. I knew and he knew that the fox had returned.
“The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality…
and the things he smells
smell something like himself…”
I was standing on the concrete pad outside the garage door where Milo and Hank had gotten into a fairly serious snapping and name calling contest earlier in the week. They had fought over a scrap of carrot that they enjoy as a little bedtime snack. The ﬁght was quickly over, though, and they walked together for one last leg lifting before bunking down for the night. Now Milo was defending Hankie like a brother on the battleﬁeld.
All of a sudden Milo shot around the corner where my old Isuzu Amigo was parked. He just kept right on going past me, agitated and ready, a serious dog not in the mood for play. Quickly behind him in the cunning fashion of giving the hound the slip, the fox came around the same corner. I instantly shot it without even aiming. It immediately went down. I shot it twice more to end its hurt.
I didnʼt have Miloʼs desire to kill the fox, but I told myself I had no choice. I suspected it was rabid, due to its behavior. It had taken the ﬁght to the dogs rather than ﬂeeing, had bitten two of them and wouldnʼt go away. We had reason to fear this animal. Two of our cats were in the garage and two were in the house. They would all have been easy marks.
After the shots were ﬁred, I thought of my own war time days, now so long ago but still always edgy in my mind. I was a Willie and Joe kind of soldier way back then, taking every opportunity to pull my boots off in the jungle to rest my “dogs” and complain about the Army. Much to everyoneʼs surprise, I blossomed on the ﬁring range and my marksmanship was impeccable. But that was a lifetime ago when the world was younger and so was I.
As is typical in such places, we had camp dogs that hung around for bits of scraps. They all had curled tails and never let you get too up-close and personal with them,though. But they always made me smile. I looked after a few of them, but then had to say goodbye when it was time to go.
“ …what he hears is very discouraging
very absurd to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
In the early afternoon, I took Milo and Hank to the vet to get rabies booster shots. Abbie didnʼt need one, since she had just had her 3-year inoculation in April. Theyʼre also on antibiotics just in case the fox bites turn nasty.
Later, the three amigos would enjoy a hearty meal and then plop down close together for a late afternoon siesta. They were spent. What a day.
Brain tissue from the fox is on its way to Charleston to determine whether the poor creature was indeed rabid. This had been a handsome animal of the forest who rounded the corner
like a living question mark
into the great gramophone
of puzzling existence
with its wondrous hollow horn
which always seems
just about to spout forth
some Victorious answer