He stands on his commanding perch—a sandstone landscape boulder in the flower bed—and surveys the field of battle where enemies have tried to challenge his supremacy.
Twenty-one pounds of curly black fur, with a beard that would put a Scotsman to shame, stubby legs, deep chest and a feathery tail curving over his back, this ever-vigilant canine is always on guard.
His name is Moose, and he lives up to the wild animal’s reputation (although he sleeps in bed with my wife and I). In his mind’s eye, he is the defender of the garden, chaser of varmints, herder of cattle and bitter enemy of all squirrels and rabbits.
This spring, Moose ran off the wild turkeys trying to use my watermelon patch for a dusting bed. You can imagine the damage 25-lb. birds leave behind when they roll, flap wings and use their powerful feet to scratch at hills where seedlings have sprouted. Moose had never before seen a wild turkey, but the birds knew enough about little yapping dogs to not be afraid.
They ignored him and went about their dust-bathing. Moose doesn’t bark until he has something treed. He gets low to the ground when he spots a potential foe, coils like a spring and launches at amazing speed. He was amongst the turkeys, snapping and raising Cain, before they could do anything but take to the air. They haven’t been back.
When a possum started hanging around the patio door at night, Moose transformed into the phantom enforcer. How dare a strange-looking wild thing try to get in his house! The possum was confronted by a snarling, biting fury. Forced to retreat, the wild animal scrabbled in the wrong direction and actually crossed the threshold, entering our dog’s inviolable domain.
Moose and I finally ran the ugly interloper back outside with much growling, barking, feinting and shooing with a broom. No injuries occurred, but we both learned that possums will poop when cornered and frightened. Fortunately, my wife was out-of-town. We cleaned up the mess before she returned. Both of us swore a vow of secrecy.
The garden-invading deer didn’t stand a chance. Like the wild turkeys, they discounted the little mutt at first sight. The old doe, a regular radish-top raider, simply raised her head and blinked when he slinked close in imitation of a low-rider vehicle. Belly to the ground, floppy ears thrown back for more efficient air-streaming and jaws clamped in a vicious snarl, Moose was almost invisible in the stalks of young corn and vining pole beans.
Then, he slashed at the doe, a black saber cleaving the air. I heard his teeth snap-snap-snap at her ankles. For an instant, she didn’t seem to register the attack and simply stood dumb-struck. But when those sharp teeth nipped at her sensitive underside, the deer launched straight up like a rocket and fled.
He didn’t give chase. Moose immediately responds to my verbal orders to stay. We don’t want him chasing wild animals in the woods or pastures where coyotes lurk, or crossing roads where he might get hit by a car.
Having declared his domination over whitetail deer, he trotted back to his sandstone boulder and hopped on top to bask in the glory of victory.
Moose’s list of defeated foes has become lengthy and includes, in addition to the aforementioned possum, wild turkeys and deer, the cows and calves that graze too close to the fence, rat snakes, armadillos, toads, box turtle, buzzards, groundhogs, all types of birds, lizards, rats and rabbits.
However, his special ire is reserved for squirrels. As I’ve previously bemoaned, the local population of gray squirrels schedules a peach-eating convention each July. They descend on my small orchard like a swarm of Biblical locusts, gnawing green fruits to the pits and holing ripe peaches before casting the fruit to the ground as fragrant mush.
I’ve been losing the annual war for three years. The location of my peach trees makes it difficult to dispatch the robbers with a .410 shotgun or .22 rifle without pointing at houses. Even worse, a neighbor’s grandchildren once spied me potting bushytailed tree rats from the boughs of my Georgia Belles. The kids screamed and fled into the house, crying for their grandma.
Since then, I’ve had to be careful about squirrel control tactics. Until the arrival of Moose, that is. He is a natural-born hunter of arboreal rodents, can spot one in a treetop or trail it on the ground by scent.
This summer, he was the bayne of existence for plundering squirrels, keeping them fearful, nervous and unsure of when or where he would ambush them on the way to the orchard.
Praise the Lord, we’ve actually had a couple of peach cobblers.
My grandfather always had a pack of rat terriers around the farm. They performed mouse-and-rat control in and around the grain bins and smokehouse, putting the barn cats to shame.
The most prized dogs also possessed squirrel-hunting prowess. Leggy, smooth-haired tricolor terriers with tall pointed ears, they earned their keep by helping put meat on the table.
I’d rank Moose among the best of them. A stocky mongrel with floppy ears and ragamuffin fur, he’s a pet first but self-proclaimed Lord of the Lawn second.