The Animal Brain

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Actually, no – many years ago in a town not so far away my daughter who was then seven decided that she wanted a pet of her own. We had a dog and two cats but they belonged to the family and she wanted her own, her very own that belonged only to her and that she would not have to share. Her plan was to save her money and purchase said pet (something small and likely from the family rodentia) and it would be hers. Seemed like a jolly idea to me – it was going to teach her to save for a long term goal, she would have to do some research on pet needs and care, and then of course she would get to care for the animal herself as well. What could possibly go wrong?

Aside from the fact that she was seven and myriad issues could arrise (and did) what I failed to consider in her pet purchase was that we owned a Jack Russel Terrier – a dog bred to hunt rats and other small ground animals from the family rodentia. Rats of course are what was chosen, because really who doesn’t want to own a rat? And the Jack – Brownie was his name succumbed to baser instincts and sought to capture the rats. Chaos ensued.

Jack Russels, you may not know are not only great and energetic family dogs, if perhaps a bit self-willed, but they are also terrific hunters. They can “go to ground” for up to three days which practically means that they can quarry their prey and not move to eat, drink, or bathroom for up to three days giving you the leisurely hunter plenty of time to arrive and dispatch the animal. In a suburban home this looks likes a dog that is giving off an horrific smell pressed against the door of your child’s room doing everything possible to get in and destroy the rats that you have willingly brought into your home and are now not acting like the fun pet your child hoped for but the terrified hunted being stalked by a beast a mere hollow wooden door away.

The dog never did get good with the rats. One died shortly from respiratory issues (common in rats) and one went to live at the school where there was theoretically less stress. The lesson I took to heart was this: do not bring home an additional animal that is the natural prey of an animal you already own. I’m such a smarty pants!

Fast forward thirteen years. Apricot the dog is a boxer-lab-pit mix (Oakland Brown Dog per the rescue) and she is a most fabulous and wonderful dog. Sweet and cuddly and joyful, she loves to chase balls and go for walks and she wants the cats to love her so very much. All wonderful things from all the wonderful parts she is made of. One of which, again is lab, short for Labrador Retriever. And what, you may ask, do Labrador Retrievers retrieve? Ah – well birds of course, any dummy knows that.

So about four weeks ago the chickens were delivered and they are quite delightful. The Eskies give a little chase but mostly don’t care. Apricot stands at the backdoor drooling. Because of course that wonderful part of her Lab brain that so adores a tennis ball also seeks desperately to retrieve the chickens, perhaps not in the way that is most helpful to me or good for the long-term well being of the chicken.

She seems to be relaxing a little. She has been able to go out to the coop and not try to knock it over so we are making progress. And now when we open the back door she doesn’t try and bolt, she just stands there whimpering a little. I know she will get there eventually. She is smart and kind and incredibly gentle – I mean when the cat latches onto her face she just stands there wagging her tail. So I know she will learn. The question is, will I?

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