Thursday, June 18, 2015

Predator and Prey, Part I

Wednesday night I was sound asleep when I heard a goat scream, and I do mean SCREAM, from the pen in the side yard.  Before I was fully awake, I had flipped on the outside lights and grabbed my bathrobe, clogs and flashlight and was sprinting for the back door.  It was the pen with Little One (the Boer goat) and her two baby does, Cookie and Blaze.  By the time I got to the pen, it was only Little One and Blaze…. no Cookie.  Uh oh.

This was not the first baby goat we had lost, which is why I was moving at warp 10 to get outside.  About 4 weeks earlier, the weekend before Easter to be exact, my two older children were home “farm sitting” for me while Katherine and I attended a goat show.  Saturday evening, Charlie (age 19, aka child #1) called and said my Cattle Dog was acting kind of weird.  Charlie likes animals well enough, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say he loves them.  I was just pleased that he remembered the dog’s name and had some idea of what “normal” was for him.  The dog started having seizures while Charlie was on the phone with me, so he picked up the dog and loaded him into my brand new Subaru.

I like my dog well enough, but the idea of putting a seizing dog in my brand new, clean car with buttery soft tan leather was not particularly appealing.  Katherine and I had the Suburban with us to tow the trailer and Bella (child #2, age 17) had driven the kid-mobile Hyundai to the gym (as usual).  No choice. “Put a blanket down,” I recommended optimistically.

Charlie also does not know his way around our county because I moved up here around the time that he went off to boarding school five years ago.  And of course this veterinary emergency happens on a Saturday evening when the normal vet is CLOSED.  Thank god for cars with navigation systems.  Charlie got the dog to the vet in lickety-split time, before the dog could infuse my car with his special aroma.  Turns out the dog “got into something” and stayed at the vet overnight.  He was perfectly fine the next morning.  That’s a Cattle Dog for you.

Meanwhile, back at the goat show, I was sitting with a veterinarian friend of mine and asked him what could be wrong with my dog. Rattlesnake bite? I have seen rattlers in the yard (eek). Mushrooms? Haven’t seen any.  Would a citronella candle do that, I asked? No.  And then my friend put it out there: “Could he have gotten into marijuana?”  The light bulbs went off in my head like fireworks.  Oh my god.  I left two teenagers home alone to feed my menagerie and one of them left a stash of pot out where the dog could get it.  All the symptoms for “marijuana intoxication in cats and dogs” fit: anxiety, panting, agitation, impaired balance, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea.  Shazam!

Wait a minute, which teenager? Really?  Is something going on here I should know about? I put on my best Stern Mom voice and called Charlie right back and posed the question.  He answered calmly, “not me.”  Ok, what about your sister? “Hmm,” he pondered.  Since she was still at the gym, I texted her – no answer.  Whatev’.

The next morning Charlie got out of bed at 7 am (a miracle) to drive back over the hill to pick up the dog before the vet charged me another day.  That’s my boy.  The dog came home in the kid-mobile this time and was none the worse for the wear.  Just a little shaved patch on his leg where the IV had been.

I asked Charlie to look around outside and see if he could find anything (like a pot stash…) that would have sickened my dog.  He did not.  But he did find the back gate open.  We don’t use our back gate.  It’s just there for access to the creek behind our house, and it’s exceptionally hard to open and close.  So why was it open?  A few minutes later, Bella texted me: “Mom we are missing a goat.” What?!  I told her to look in all the usual place: inside the hay barn between the bales, inside the shed in the corner behind the grain can, back corner of the overhang.  Nothing. Nada. Gone.  This was not good. Then I remembered that the back gate had been open.  It was getting worse.

Katherine, being the Internet whiz that she is, got on her iPhone and started tapping away.  Her face turned paler than usual and she said, “Some people eat tender baby goats for Easter… which is next week.”  A picture flashed through her imagination and mine at precisely the same moment.  We lost a young goat last year, too, the week before Cinco de Mayo, but back then we decided to just not think about it. (Bubba was still around and that was his preferred course of action for all unpleasant topics.)  People eat goat at that holiday, too.  And maybe the dog’s sudden illness was connected to this as well –  poison??  sedatives??  It all made sense.

This revelation rattled me for so many reasons, including the idea that someone came onto my property in the middle of the night and stole from me – maybe twice even.  I am a single woman living alone with a pack of kids in the boonies.  This development was unsettling to say the least. 

As soon as I got home, I installed locks on all the gates and motion sensor lights around the property, and called the fence guy to come raise the fence ASAP.  In the meantime, I came down with poison oak from stomping around on the other side of the fence looking for tracks.  As you will soon see, the poison oak was pure Karma for saying mean things about people who steal goats.

Flash forward four weeks, to a Wednesday night, and there I was sprinting out of my bed determined to catch the thieves RED HANDED! Ah hah!  I got outside and it was unnaturally still and quiet.  The thief could not have gotten away that fast.  He would have had to stumble along carrying 40 pounds of goat through the dry and rocky creek that borders my property.  I checked all the places Cookie could be.  Little One (aka mama) looked confused and distraught, staring at me as if to say “Fix it, woman.”  Blaze, the last surviving triplet, was agitated because of her distraught mama.  Well, damn.

I went inside and woke up Katherine.  It was 1:20 am and only 10 minutes had passed since the initial scream.  She got her flashlight and boots and did all the same things I had just done.  Also, to no avail.  We stood at the fence, which is way too low – 4 feet; I really should’ve nagged the fence guy harder those last few weeks.  Coulda shoulda woulda.  We were looking for tracks or hair or something.  I shone my light across the creek onto the woody hillside that backs up to my property and there they were: beady little eye shining red in my flashlight beam.  They were staring right back at me.

Oh, please dear god, let that be a raccoon.  I kept the light on it steadily and it glanced away, flashing its kitty cat ears at me.  Then I saw the black and white lump of what used to be my goat, Cookie, between its front legs.  The beast looked back at me.  I saw a nose this time and some tan fur.  “Um, Katherine, do you see this? What do you think it is?”  Please say raccoon.  “Mom, that’s a mountain lion and it’s eating Cookie.” Yup. That’s what I didn’t want to hear.

I was still shining my flashlight on it trying to scare it away.  I was irritated that it was eating my baby goat.  Very irritated.  I was quite sure it would be scared of ME and run off.  So I stood my ground – with my flashlight.  Come here kitty and I’ll… whack you with my big flashlight.  Take that!  “Mom, you are provoking it. Stop it!” Katherine hissed at me.  “Back away slowly right now and come inside.”  She’s such an old soul and so wise, and I really do appreciate her.  But I wanted to scare off that monster.  Grr.  After a few long seconds, I realized that she was absolutely right.

At 8:00 am, I was driving carpool and leaving a message for the “Predatory Animal Control Office” to get someone to fix this problem.  Then I drove to San Francisco to meet with my top-tier attorney to sign my trust modification and estate planning documents.  Of course the trapper called me just as I was about to go in to my meeting.  I took the call even though my attorney charges by the minute, because, damn it, I wanted that mountain lion dead.  The cell phone coverage was miserable in the high-rise lobby, so I paced around trying to find a good spot and yelled at the phone, “A mountain lion ate my goat. I saw it with my own eyes. Can you come kill it??...No, don’t relocate it, kill it!”  Well-dressed people glanced up from their smart phones to stare at the crazy lady.

The Lobby

The trapper came to the house and, with the help of my detail-oriented child (Katherine), located the mangled carcass of the goat formerly known as Cookie.  The mountain lion had covered it up with some leaves and stuff, which, the trapper told me, meant the cougar was coming back to finish eating it.  We made a plan for the trapper to return at dusk and stake out the evil feline to kill it.  He arrived at the appointed hour and set up his lawn chair on the bank of the creek, and I locked up my dogs and children.

All night long, I tossed and turned waiting to hear the POP of his gun.  No luck.  He left quietly in the morning and when I checked in with him later in the day he said the mountain lion didn’t come back after all.  We could move the carcass to the pen and try to lure the mountain lion back but he wasn’t optimistic about that approach. 

So we talked about what I should do: raise the fence another 2-3 feet and run a “hot wire” across the top.  I should also get some ammo for my guns and some “Livestock Guardian Dogs.”  This brings me to a salient point: how effective did I really think I was going to be with only a flashlight?  I would’ve died with an incorrect will (since I wouldn’t have gotten to my meeting the next day to sign my revised will) and my obit would read, “Mother of 7 Mauled To Death by Mountain Lion.” 

Before Bubba moved out, we had amassed a stockpile of ammo – all kinds of ammo.  He had read somewhere that the government was going to make it impossible to buy any ammo in the future, so we had better buy it every time we saw it for sale.  In fact, I believe we even had some ammo that didn’t fit any guns either of us owned.  When he moved out, he took ever last box of it – just in case the government really did make it illegal to buy ammo.  Right.  Anyway, I now have an arsenal of useless machinery locked in a safe in my garage – with my will.  Note to self: buy ammo.

Katherine was on a mission to solve this predator problem.  She logged on to “Goat Forum” (one of her personal favorites - and queried the population of goat herders.  She received a wide range of advice from “hire a trapper,” to what kind of dog would be best.  My favorite advice was “Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up.”  Note to self: buy ammo.  Katherine determined that we needed a pair of "Livestock Guardian Dogs."

…to be continued

Little One and Blaze

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