20080916

I Forgot Dogs are Predators

Many years ago I had a Sheltie mix named Moonshine.  Shelties were originally bred as herding dogs, and therefore tend to be high-strung and can have a fairly strong predatory instinct.  Unfortunately, the inclination to hunt was very strong in Moonshine, and from what I can remember, she killed several rats, two opossums, one bird, one skunk... and one cat.

It was a hot, sunny July afternoon and I had most the windows and doors open to let air circulate through the house.  I was inside and realized I hadn't heard Moonshine in awhile. Shelties are also notoriously yappy -- when my niece was very young, she thought the dog's name was "Shut Up Moonshine" -- so it was unusual not to hear her barking.  I walked out the the back porch, and looked into the yard.  Moonshine had a gray cat pinned down with one paw while fighting with another.

In my most authoritative voice, I yelled "Moonshine, off!" and took off down the stairs.  She completely ignored me, grabbed the cat she had pinned by the throat, and began shaking her head viciously back and forth.  The cat yowled as it was jerked off the ground, its cries mingling with the dog's low growl.  And then, in the few seconds it took me to run across the yard, it was suddenly silent.  The other cat took off across the yard and safely over the fence to my neighbor's yard.  My stomach turned as I scruffed the dog and yanked her up onto her hind legs.  The cat, still in her mouth, was horribly limp.

"Drop it!!!"  My voice was way too high pitched to sound anything resembling alpha, I was so grief stricken.  She clamped her mouth down tightly and growled.  I had to pry her jaws open to make her drop her prey, a skinny, unkempt, probably feral, young cat/old kitten, somewhere around a year old.  All I could do for several minutes was sit there, sobbing uncontrollably while the dog paced in front of me.  It was the first time I had ever witnessed one animal intentionally kill another in person, and while I could intellectualize the whole predator/prey relationship before that day, I was completely unprepared for the brutality of the act of killing itself.

I hadn't thought about that incident for several years until last night.  I was in my home officesitting at my desk.  Piglet was lying on the floor next to me, and my cat, Mini, was on her perch in the corner across the room.  Piglet is part Border Collie, another herding breed, and Mini is a nervous cat, deathly afraid of dogs.  The cat hisses at the dog, who barks at her, and if the dog comes too close for comfort, the cat bolts, the worst possible thing to do with a border collie, because it will always give chase.

Last night, for some reason, the back and forth was worse than usual, and the two constantly eyed each-other.  Three or four times, Piglet stood up, barking at Mini.  Three or four times, I turned to Piglet, yelled "Leave It!" in the lowest voice I could muster.  Three or four times, the dog lay back down at my feet, still staring at the cat.

Piglet jumped up one more time, but this time she growled low in her throat and her bark was lower and hoarser than previously.  She lunged across the room.  I pushed back from my desk and followed, again yelling "Leave It!"  And like Moonshine that July day, Piglet ignored me.  And again, in a very un-alpha way, I screamed "Piglet, no!!!"  

Mini panicked, and jumped down to a lower shelf on her perch in an attempt to make a run for it.  Piglet, attracted to the movement, reached out a paw, swiped Mini off her perch, and pinned her to the ground.  Just as Piglet lowered her head to pick up the cat, I scruffed her.  I managed to pull her head back several inches, but a 70 pound border collie is considerably stronger than a 30 pound sheltie.  Piglet dragged me forward a bit as she lowered her head again.  I reached out with my other arm, locking it under her neck, paying no heed to Mini's slashing claws.  I jerked my arm, pulling Piglet back, then rolled her onto her back and growled as deeply as I could and yelled "Leave It!!!"  I also threw in a "Bad Dog!" which I feel bad about, although I don't think Piglet understands English that well.  Steven locked Piglet in a room for about an hour, and we ignored her.  She seems to know what she did wrong.

As I type this entry, I am at my desk in my home office.  Piglet, who has been relatively subdued, and even apologetic, since I came home from work, is lying at my feet.  Mini is on her perch in the corner across the room.  So far tonight, there has been no stare-down, no barking or hissing, and no fight to break up.  I am grateful for this temporary reprieve, but am worried about this situation in the long-term.