We live in a semi-rural area. Well, mostly rural. We have houses and running water, but no streetlights, fireplugs, police officers, or Britney Spears sightings. (One good ol’ boy at the local hardware store actually swears that “Britney Spears” is something a spaniel does during a duck hunt.)
Another thing we don’t have is zoning restrictions. So even though we may look like a residential neighborhood from some angles, other angles will reveal that various folks have stocked their back yards with chickens, geese, sheep, goats, and donkeys. And they’re perfectly welcome to do so – ‘cause here along the Travis-Hays county line, a man’s home is not only his castle, but his Little Reata. (Just hit Netflix and rent “Giant.”)
Here at Casa Ramrod, all we have in the back yard are dogs. Or at least, that’s all we intend to have. In practice, at one time or another, we’ve also had squirrels, opossums, and armadillos (visually confirmed) as well as raccoons, bobcats, and skunks (otherwise confirmed). The occasional family of deer hops the fence. Plus, our veterinarian’s bulletin board sports a few too-curious-for-their-own-good doggie photos that provide direct evidence of porcupines in the vicinity.
But all of that’s not enough animal life for one of our nearest neighbors, who has gone the aforementioned chickens-geese-sheep-goats-donkeys route. He has even expanded his own Little Reata by fencing off some of the utility-easement alley behind our properties. All of which is cool with us, by the way. The more fur and feathers, the merrier. (Or at least the furrier and featherier.)
Our dogs Lucy, Linus, and Tillie were cool with it too . . .
. . . until the day the emus showed up.
That’s right. Emus. (“Emu: A large, flightless Australian bird, related to and resembling the ostrich.”) Or, as Barb calls them, “Dinosaurs.”
I was first alerted to the presence of Something Different one afternoon because of furious, incessant barking of a quasi-berserk nature. When clapping and whistling from the back porch didn’t bring the dogs running up to the house, as it usually does, I trekked down past the trees to the fence to see what was wrong. (Our back yard covers about two-thirds of a shady acre, and you can’t see some of the back fence from the house.)
Once there, I found myself almost eyeball-to-eyeball with two dinosaurs, so I apologized to the dogs for the things I’d just been saying about them. Heck, I would have barked, too – and my first thought now was that the guy who had bought and installed these ginormous critters had never read my story “Bloody Bunnies.” If he had, he would have realized what a bad idea emus can be in the Texas Hill Country.
On the other hand, there were only two of these emus, as opposed to the vast, rampaging flocks described in my story. And once I got over my surprise at their sudden appearance, I realized that these two particular emus were docile and harmless. (Not to mention two fences away.)
But Lucy, Linus, and Tillie were unconvinced. Those big, weird things were MONSTERS, and the dogs were going to alert the world to the danger. Over and over and over and over and over again. And over and over and over again. Nonstop. Until the heat death of the universe.
So I came up with a plan. For the next several days, I would keep the dogs in the house most of the time, but take them down to the end of the back yard for short training sessions. During these sessions, I would make the dogs sit and stay, and I would casually lean against the corner of our fence with a dinosaur about four-and-a-half feet from my shoulder. If the dogs could stay quiet and calm in these circumstances for five minutes, they would be rewarded – but if they barked, jumped, or otherwise broke the stay, they would have to sit and stay for another five minutes.
This plan was a great success for three days running. In fact, by the end of the third day, the insane oh-my-God-it’s-a-MONSTER barking had subsided to almost zilch.
And yes, I was darn proud of myself for being such a brilliant Pet Dad and Pack Leader.
Ah, but pride goeth before a fall. Or before a . . . er, tumble.
On the fourth day, things were going so well during our usual training session that I had just about decided no more training would be necessary. All three dogs were not only sitting and staying, but were hardly noticing the dinosaurs at all. They were practically ignoring them.
Yes, everything was going fine.
Then the emus started #$&!ing.
Now, I don’t know whether any of y’all have ever seen emus #$&!. But without going into details, let me just say that it’s unmistakable. To say the least. Even a neutered dog would know what’s going on.
A neutered dog like, say, Linus.
The emus started #$&!ing.
Linus’s head snapped up.
His eyes widened. (Yes, they did.)
He looked at the #$&!ing emus. He looked at me. He looked back at the #$&!ing emus.
He looked at me again. And then I experienced one of those moments that other longtime dog owners will confirm as genuine and true. One of those moments when you can pretty much see the cartoon word-balloon appear over your dog’s head.
The word-balloon said:
“Dad, I’m sorry. I want to be a good dog. I really do. But this deal right here is just TOO GODDAMN MUCH!!!”
And at that, Linus went berserk. At which point Lucy and Tillie went berserk too. And then all three dogs were going berserk, spinning and leaping and bark bark bark barking, and the emus were #$&!ing, and I was standing in the middle thinking that, somehow, this situation had to be a metaphor for my entire life.
The emus did not #$&! for long. In fact, it was over so quickly, and the “girl” emu seemed so bored both during the event and afterward, that I felt compelled to shake my finger at the “boy” emu and tell him, “Dude, she is not satisfied.”
But that brief moment of avian carnality was enough to take my pack’s training back to square one. So we had to resume our lessons and continue them for another week.
And now, finally, I think – I think – that Lucy, Linus, and Tillie have completely recovered from the trauma of seeing the emus #$&!. I think that they will no longer go berserk at the sight of the giant birds doing what giant birds do. Whatever that may be.
Indeed, whenever I accompany the dogs down to the end of the yard now, they don’t so much ignore the emus as snub them. They often refuse to even look across the fence at the humongous freaks, and their word-balloons often just say: “Those things are disgusting.”
I’m not declaring victory just yet, though. In fact, I’ll soon be watching to see if more weird creatures appear in the utility easement. And I’ll try to be prepared for however Lucy, Linus, and Tillie might react.
Because, you see . . . from where I stood, I’m sorry to say . . .
It looked to me as if those dinosaurs didn’t take precautions.