Monday Mischief 19: Moses Meets a Porcupine

After recounting a traumatizing tale at Nose Hill Park for you last week, I thought maybe Moses and I should revisit the scene of the crime. It is a super huge, nice park with a great off-leash area and lots of trails to follow, after all.

A photo of Calgary Commander Hadfield took when in command of the International Space Station (ISS). So cool. That massive dark spot in the NW is Nose Hill Park.

A photo of Calgary Commander Hadfield took when in command of the International Space Station (ISS). So cool. That massive dark spot in the NW is Nose Hill Park.

So off we went.

Moses at Nose Hill

Moses at Nose Hill

I really do like Nose Hill Park. It’s multi-use, which can be a recipe for conflict when you have runners, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, cyclists, families, and dog owners all sharing the same space. But the off-leash areas are well-marked (both for when you’re entering and leaving them), and there are several paths that guarantee running into others is a rarity.

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The thing about having 11km² of parkland in the city (1129 hectares; 4.2 mi²) is that it’s also a great place for wildlife. We’ve seen lots of birds, deer, and heard coyotes howling, and have heard tonnes of stories of porcupine encounters at the park.

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Until recently, however, neither Moses nor Alma had met a porcupine.

Now, before I go any further, there’s an acknowledgement and disclosure I must make as a fallible dog owner: I did not re-leash Moses the second I knew there was a porcupine in the area. I most certainly should have, and had even had the opportunity to, but the fact that I did not, I suppose, shows that my natural cynicism does give way to optimism from time to time.

But I did not, and thus mischief ensued.

Just a crappy iPhone pano shot, but it really displays the Chinook arches we're so fond of seeing in Calgary during the winter.

Just a crappy iPhone pano shot, but it really displays the Chinook arches we’re so fond of seeing in Calgary during the winter.

We were starting to turn back towards the parking lot when Moses and I came across another dog walker and her two dogs on the path. One of her dogs had noticed a porcupine in a small tree nearby, but the dogs were all busy greeting one another and the porcupine remained still and out of reach. Moses was oblivious.

Oblivious… right up until he wasn’t.

Unbeknownst to me, while we were socializing, the porcupine decided to abandon his perch and sought a new, higher one in a thick clump of trees nearby.

I did not notice this development, but Moses did.

So Moses immediately galloped off to make a new friend.

To the porcupine’s credit, he was fast and did not let the interest of a giant canine in pursuit distress him. He had a destination, and he just kept on truckin’.

And to the porcupine’s good fortune, the snow was incredibly deep.

I know this because as soon as Moses took off, I shouted profanities took off after him, and soon found myself wading through snow higher than my knees. Luckily, having half as many legs to navigate through the snow as Mo does means I was able to gain on him, even despite stumbling; snow down the back of my jeans was the least of my worries.

The trees were very thick and the porcupine had some good cover as the frantic parade approached.

By the time I caught up, Moses was struggling in the trees and deep slow to greet the fleeing porcupine.  The chance of dozens of quills in Mo’s muzzle seemed a near guarantee. Where Moses ended and porcupine began, I couldn’t immediately determine.

I could see the porcupine had a deficit of quills in its tail and backside (the result of another curious canine, perhaps?), and I could hear Moses sniffing and see him straining to keep up the retreating animal, who just stayed his course, refusing to acknowledge the chaos behind him.

Moses was persistent, so in order to prevent any further escalation of the situation, I grabbed the best handle I could find: poor Mo’s tail. Moses yelp-barked (yarked?) in protest and looked back at me, giving me the opportunity to grab his collar and guide him back through the deep snow, leaving the porcupine in peace to find safety in a new tree.

The porcupine on his perch

The porcupine on his perch

I leashed Moses back up and rejoined the amused spectator on the path with her two dogs, where my examination of Moses confirmed the porcupine kept all his quills on his own body.

Our audience’s laughter was constant in the background during the whole ordeal, and rightfully so. I’m sure the whole thing looked ridiculous. I relayed the story to the Husband who said it was a shame there was no video of it – we could put it in black and white, speed it up, and put it to circus music,  à la Charlie Chaplin.

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I always had a dangerous curiosity about what Moses might do in a situation like that, so at least now that has been sated. As expected (remind me to tell you a mouse story in the future), Moses just wants to meet the other animal. Be friends. Even if the animal doesn’t want to be friends; Moses just has an inquisitive and harmless nature.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t actively prevent any future Moses/porcupine greetings in the future. I got lucky this time.

Moses, pretty content with himself and his mischief at the park

Moses, pretty content with himself and his mischief at the park

When it comes to dog/porcupine interactions, I’m generally going to be more concerned about the porcupine. A few quills may have resulted in discomfort for Mo and a veterinary bill for me, but the consequences for the porcupine are greater.

And had things gone differently, I would’ve been making sure two animals got care: Moses to the vet, and the porcupine to the wildlife centre (related: see this quarter’s Blog the Change post on local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation).

So that’s what I’m going to leave you with: I know in the moment your own dog will be your concern, but don’t forget about the porcupine. They’re docile, adorable animals and it’s not their fault our dumb dogs are off-leash. If the porcupine is injured, keep an eye on it and call the local wildlife centre so they can get a volunteer out to help.

This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, click herehere, or here.

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Coyote Encounter: A True Story

It was Sunday evening.  The clock read 8:00.  Just as good a time as any to walk the dogs, I figured.

And then I looked over at Moses.   He sure was rocking the scruffy, homeless look.  Kind of like a canine hipster.  I debated adorning him with a keffiyeh from some place like American Apparel to finish off the look, but with a name like Moses, I doubted he’d appreciate it.

So instead I grabbed the grooming tools, cued up my backlog of The Colbert Report, and set to work.

When I finally determined I’d done enough to make him look respectable once again (or when I ran out of Colbert – the two occurrences were not unrelated), it was past 10:00.

We better hit the road; after all, it was a work night.

When Moses, Alma, and I left for our walk, it was still daylight, and the neighbourhood was busy.  But as over an hour passed and we neared the end of our loop through the neighbourhood, it was dark.

We were in the final leg of our walk, about five minutes from our front door in NW Calgary suburbs, when a coyote crossed the street ahead of us, onto our side of the road.

The stage for the encounter: we were on the right-hand side, near the houses, heading up the hill to where the photo was taken from. The coyote came from the untamed wilderness on the left.

This kind of sighting was not uncommon in our neighbourhood, and over the years I’ve frequently crossed paths with lone coyotes while I’m walking the dogs – especially so when walking at night.  In the normal course, they keep their distance and scurry off quickly.  There’s nothing remarkable about it.

Besides, when I’m accompanied by two Newfs, I’m never worried.  180 pounds of Moses vs. a 45 pound coyote?  Not likely to happen.

A local urban  coyote (Photo from The Calgary Herald)

Or is it?

Instead of ducking into suburbia to hunt rabbits, this particular coyote did not scurry away quickly at all.

In fact, he got closer.

It took me a second to realise it, but instead of crossing the road in front of us, he was actually doing circles around us, getting closer and closer each time.

I figured it out about the same time as Moses and Alma did.  And they took great exception to his presence.  Moses dashed to the end of available leash length, which I gripped for dear life, and directed a couple of his deep, looming barks at our visitor.  Alma more silently, but similarly, responded, pulling on her leash in the excitement of the escalating situation.

Yet, amid the commotion and clear contention to his presence, the coyote not only continued to circle, but tightened his circumference.

He stayed low to the ground and made direct eye contact the entire time, and as I reined in the dogs as close to me as I could, he continued to close in, approaching as close as just a few feet.

It was unlike anything we’d ever encountered in our neighbourhood; usually the local canine aggressors are barking maltese-crosses, straining in their harnesses on the end of a retractible leash.

Obviously the coyote’s brazen occupation of our route home continued to hold the attention of Moses and Alma.  I did what I could to move our travelling circus slowly up the sidewalk, but those efforts were largely futile, as most of my energy was concentrated on not letting go of the leashes.

Moses was held close, attached to a regular 6 foot leash, and Alma was connected to me on a hands-free leah, though I still kept a grip on her extension to maintain my own balance, lest we create a real emergency.  The last thing I wanted was to let go and watch Moses to chase the coyote across the street into the dark field, where another was waiting.

Coyote target?

The coyote continued to gain ground, orbiting our little pack; steps towards him and a couple of weak shouts of “Hey! Get out of here!” from me produced no results, other than to add volume to the chaos.

At one point, a car passed by on the road, which caused our antagonist to briefly retreat.  I was relieved and hoped to flag down the car to honk and perhaps scare him off more, but my efforts failed, and as soon as the car disappeared around a corner, he was back and just as brazen as before.

After what was likely just a couple of minutes – but felt much longer to all involved – I turned around to see a barefooted man wielding a golf club and coming to our rescue.

Our shoe-less friend had been relaxing at home and heard the furor; once he spotted the source of my struggles, he dashed into action.

The Good Samaritan hollered and swung the club, startling the canine provoker and causing him to retreat.

Or a certain extent, at least.  The coyote continued to follow and observe at an increased distance while our rescuer and his impromptu battle-ax escorted us towards home.

After lamenting over the bizarre and somewhat frightening encounter we just experienced, I then emphatically thanked our liberator and Alma, Moses, and I jogged the last block home, not looking back until the front door was bolted behind us.

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Personality assessments suggest I am high in compliance, so my natural next course of action was to proceed with reporting the dangerous wildlife to the proper authority.  I mean, what kind of ballsy coyote approaches a human and nearly 300lbs of dog?!

Not to mention, just an hour prior on that very same walk and only a couple of blocks away, I’d passed two separate other people out walking dogs – but theirs were small and on long, loathsome, flexi-leashes.  How differently would an encounter like that go for them?

Our city’s 3-1-1 service game me the number to Fish & Wildlife and I made my report.

Coyote pups – awwww. (Photo from ecobirder.blogspot.ca)

The next morning, the officer in charge of my region followed up for a conversation and to provide advice.

In June, coyotes have pups in the den that are becoming more active, so when dogs the size of mine go by, they are not prey like a small dog, cat, or rabbit would be; they are a threat.  And this coyote was doing his duty of protecting his family.  It’s all very Hatfields and McCoys.

The officer explained that the coyotes’s behaviour was entirely directed at Alma and Moses, and was his way of telling them to get out of the area or there would be trouble.  His female mate was waiting in the wings to add her support in protecting the litter should things escalate.

Of course, little did this coyote know that the chaos that ensued was actually the least effective way to get us on the road in a timely fashion, but I now see where the communication breakdown happened.

The officer’s parting words of advice were to carry a walking stick (a golf club also works), a noise maker (like an air horn), or bear spray if walking in that area at night again (if you can find any of these items in ACME brand, even better).  Most important is to ensure any attempted approach of people or pets by a coyote ends with them being scared off, so repeat offences are not encouraged.

And to that, of course, I add always ensure your cats are kept inside this time of year, and your dogs are on short leashes, giving you the best chance to keep them safe if something weird happens.

Trust me.  Weird stuff can happen.

Learning from our experiences and walking in the daylight.