Whoa. We’re home, and Alexei is starting to be more comfortable with me. I’m happy about that, but there are consequences. Night before last we were at the motel. I put Alexei in his crate and went to bed myself. He did not make a sound until I woke about ten hours later.
This morning—our first morning at home—he woke me at 4:30 A.M. He needed to go out. NOW!
I quickly pulled on a robe, slid my feet into sandals, and headed out into a dark world. Alexei did need to pee, and he did as soon as he was off the patio. “Good guy,” I told him sleepily, and gave him a treat. I was ready to go back to bed; he wasn’t.
A couple of bugs were circling under the backyard light, and he had to chase them. Then a woodpecker began hammering at the big Mesquite tree, and Alexei had to check that out. He couldn’t begin to reach the woodpecker, but he tried—stretching himself as far up the tree as he could, and trying to dig his hind feet into the bark of the tree to get enough traction to climb the tree. I watched him and wondered. Did I have another tree climbing dog? If I did, could I handle it? My last tree climber, Allie, had been at the height of her climbing adventures in the mid-1990s. I was twenty plus years younger then. Can I still lift a fifty or sixty pound dog out of a tree?
Allie, my little girl Airedale Terrier, was a climber. We lived Lawrence, Kansas in eastern Kansas when she was young. There were squirrels everywhere, and she chased them every chance she got. There was one particular squirrel that loved to tease Allie. The squirrel knew, somehow, that the glass in the front window protected him from Allie. Just outside the window there was a flat-topped bush where he could perch. He could see into the living room, and if he caught sight of Allie he would let loose with a loud chattering sound that drove Allie nuts.
Over time, I became fond of the gutsy little squirrel. It was funny to watch him take delight in teasing Allie. His bright eyes sparkled, his little ears stood straight, and his big, bushy, red tail twitched with excitement. I could imagine how much fun it had to be for him to be able to taunt a big dog in perfect safely.
But it wasn’t perfect safety. He was safe when he was on the other side of the window. It was another matter when he encountered Allie outside. That squirrel came close to getting his comeuppance on three occasions, one of which cost me a mess of scrapes and bruises. The first time Allie almost caught the squirrel was happenstance. It just happened that when I opened the side door of the house to let Allie out into the backyard, the squirrel was sitting on the top rail of the six-foot-high wooden fence that surrounded the backyard. Before I could blink, Allie launched herself off the top step of the small porch and wrapped her front paws around the top of the fence.
I heard the squirrel hit the ground on the far side of the fence as Allie’s back paws were scrabbling furiously against the fence, and she was making good progress. By the time I grabbed her and lifted her down, she had her chest on the top rail. In a couple more seconds, she would have thrown herself over the fence, and the squirrel, chattering indignantly on the far side of the fence would have been singing a different song.
Allie did not appreciate my interference. She gave me an indignant bark as I sat her on the ground, but
it was too late. The squirrel had gathered his wits and scurried up a tree.
The second time Allie went after the squirrel she really surprised me. We were walking peacefully along the sidewalk a few doors down the street from our house when Allie spotted the squirrel. He was distinctive. He was redder than the other squirrels in the neighborhood, and he had the biggest, bushiest tail I have ever seen on a squirrel. At that moment he wasn’t paying attention to anything except the acorn he was busy burying in the neighbor’s lawn where it would almost certainly sprout.
There were several big beautiful oak trees in the neighborhood, and there would have been a dense oak grove if those of us who lived in the neighborhood hadn’t been vigilant about pulling the sprouts before they got a foothold.
Allie spotted the squirrel, and took off so fast she slid the leash out of my hand. The squirrel heard her coming, and with a flick of his bushy tail he took off. Allie was gaining on him, and I thought the poor ornery squirrel was about to meet a sticky end. But just before Allie nabbed him, he made a giant leap onto the trunk of a tree. He scurried upward with Allie right behind him. She threw herself at the tree, and managed to wrap her front paws around the trunk of the tree about five feet off the ground. With her back feet churning against the tree trunk and her front legs wrapped around the tree, she was making rapid upward progress. I caught her while I could still reach her hips, and pulled her down until I could get a grip around her rib cage and lift her to the ground.
I don’t know what she thought she was going to do when she got up the tree. I don’t know how she could have gotten herself down. Probably she had not thought that far. She was just single mindedly determined to get that squirrel.
The squirrel, triumphant again, leaned down from a high branch and chattered angrily at Allie. I had to drag Allie away from the tree and the squirrel. Allie wanted to have another go at climbing up to get the squirrel.
The third time was the most exciting. Allie and I were coming home from a nice long walk. We turned into our driveway, and the long leash sagged between us as I let my mind wonder to things like whether I should plant daffodils on the south side of the house for spring—and whether the squirrels would dig them up if I did. I was thinking of squirrels, but not of that one particular squirrel. He was on the ground, planting another oak tree, and he didn’t hear us coming. Allie launched herself so hard and fast that when she hit the end of the long, slack leash I was jerked off my feet. In a fraction of a second I went from upright and walking to being horizontal three or four feet above the ground. I landed with a skidding thump, and Allie turned from her squirrel chasing to see what I was doing. She came back quickly, sniffing me anxiously, and trying to lick the bloody scratches on my face, arms and hands.
Later, I found I had a bruise the size of a dessert plate on the front of one hip joint, and both knees and elbows were skinned and bruised. That was the last time Allie took off after a squirrel while on a leash. I think she realized that I had been really hurt, and as badly as she wanted to catch the squirrel, she did not want to hurt me.
I watch Alexei. He has given up on the woodpecker for now, and is stalking a dove that has landed in the yard. I don’t think he has a chance of catching it—yet, but just in case I called to him and threw the fake Frisbee I bought for him to play with. Quickly distracted, Alexei chases after the Frisbee as intently as he had been stalking the dove.
It is a beautiful morning. The air is cool—a blessing in summertime Tucson—and the sky above the Rincon and Santa Catalina mountains is a glory of pale pinks and blues. I haven’t seen a sunrise in a long time. No doubt just the beginning of the things Alexei will share with me.