Something bit a chunk off Lexi\’s ear last night. My dowager German Shepherd, Lexi, is long of tooth, hard of ear and dim of eye, but she can still outrun me.
Around eight yesterday evening, the dogs began agitating to be let out. I normally make them wait until nine, but this time I relented. It wasn\’t until a while after I\’d let them back inside that I noticed Lexi\’s ear, which was missing a half-inch-long, u-shaped piece right next to the tip.
I checked her over, but she seemed fine, and was busy licking the drops of blood that spattered the floor and walls every time she moved. I cleaned the wound with a wet paper towel, set up one of the big dog crates and put her in it, to contain the bleeding. I did my best to ignore the hurt looks she was giving me (she had house-trained herself as a puppy, and after her first week with us, thirteen years ago, I never crated her again) while I tried to reconstruct what had happened.
True, the dogs had seemed eager to go out earlier than usual, but they often do this, since they know that I will give them a treat when they come back. Also, the weather had turned windy and brisk, which always makes them jumpy. They usually run barking out of the house and across the grass and disappear into the woods, until they hear the warning beep of the invisible fence. Had they barked longer or more furiously this time, I would have noticed. Even allowing for the ear being less sensitive than other parts of the anatomy, you\’d think Lexi would have yelped when whatever it was bit her, and I would have heard it. And so would Wolfie and Bisou.
And if they had, surely they would have gone over to investigate, and there would have been a confrontation with the critter. If there was a critter.
Other than rabbits in winter, turtles in spring, and the black bear who made a historic visit several years ago, nothing much comes out of the woods and into our yard. The deer, turkeys and foxes stick to the front field, where they know the dogs aren\’t likely to be.
We did once glimpse a fisher running parallel to the house, just inside the woods, and the fisher is my prime suspect. A coyote or a fox would have taken a bigger chunk. But even if Lexi had gone after the fisher, he could have outrun her. Perhaps she accidentally bumped into him. But you\’d think she would have smelled him–or does a dog\’s sense of smell also fade as she ages?
A friend thinks that maybe it was a shrew–a tiny but fierce animal with (depending on the species) a poisonous bite capable of killing a mouse and cause pain to a larger animal. Again, though, shrews are supposed to be quite musky, so you\’d think that might have warned Lexi off.
At bedtime, not wanting Wolfie and Bisou to encounter the mystery attacker, I went outside with them, kept them close, and quickly brought them inside. As for Lexi, I knew that if I let her out she would disappear into the woods and wouldn\’t hear me calling, so I didn\’t let her out. I trusted that her excellent sense of house hygiene would hold through the night, and it did.
Things get dicey when a dog who is still relatively fleet of foot goes almost blind and mostly deaf. Right now it\’s dark outside. I let the dogs out a few minutes ago, and Wolfie and Bisou came back when I called them. As for Lexi, she\’s still out there, staying away from shrews and fishers, I hope. Wolfie is keeping vigil by the back door, looking out for her.
Last winter, to keep her safe, I tried attaching Lexi to a light chain that ran on a line suspended above the yard. But she was miserable. One of her few remaining pleasures, aside from eating, consists of ambling around on her own outside, sniffing stuff and thinking old-dog thoughts.
A gerontologist told me recently that, in nursing homes, the policy has shifted from safety at all costs to one that tolerates a certain degree of risk in favor of allowing the very old to retain some feeling of self-determination. That is how I hope to be treated some day, and it\’s how I\’m treating my old dog right now.