The Home Team: The Centennial Beach Massacre (and other dog stories)
Published 7:28 am, Saturday, May 2, 2015
Allow me to set the scene for you. It's the final week of my monthlong cross-country-road-trip-with-dog. I arrive at our friend Laura's beautiful house in the well-manicured Chicago suburb of Winnetka, and, for awhile, Amazing Grace, her adorable puppy, and Kemba, my adorable puppy, play an adorable game of you-can't-catch-me in Laura's picture-perfect backyard.
Now Grace is a small Terrier/Beagle/Bernese Mountain Dog/Dalmatian/Border Collie/Harrier Hound mix. With an emphasis on the Harrier Hound. Trust me on this. The two young dogs sniff and gambol and prance and frolic. Then Laura said she'll drive us all to the Centennial dog beach on Lake Michigan, the attraction she'd promised me via email.
Kemba immediately upon arrival induces me to start firing the usual endless volley of tennis balls into the lake/ocean, while Grace stays off by herself along the sea wall. She seems very involved with sniffing. Very involved. Next thing we see is the adorable, innocent Amazing Grace racing along the beach, thrashing her head back and forth, with a small animal -- we assume it's a rat -- dangling from her jaws. The small animal is still alive, and screeching. Laura and I are both horrified. I grab Kemba's leash so he won't join the mayhem, but he has no interest; he's only annoyed that his human ball machine has stopped operating. Grace devours whatever it is she's killed -- or almost killed -- and then goes back for more! When she grabs her second victim, Laura realizes what's going on: Her dog had discovered a rabbit hole! As I said earlier, Grace is part Harrier Hound. Harrier Hounds hunt hares. And, apparently, swallow them whole. While they're still alive. And still screaming.
It was a bloodbath. Grace caught and devoured four bunnies (maybe five; we were so stunned we lost count) before I had Laura hold onto Kemba so I could catch Grace by jumping around like a cheerleader, which slowed Grace long enough for me to grab her collar. Or maybe she stopped because there was nothing else down that rabbit hole but Alice. As we drove back to the house, we waited for the deluge of vomit, but even as of 24 hours later, according to a text from Laura, Grace was still fine. I guess the little Harrier was just doing what she was bred to do -- and doing it pretty well.
Now I'm not judging Grace, or Laura, but if I examine my true feelings as we left the scene, there was some relief -- that Kemba seemed to prefer retrieving tennis balls to killing bunnies, and maybe a little self-satisfaction -- that I was able to keep my head and track down her dog while Laura threw her hands up and watched the carnage.
Two days later, on the final day of our April adventure, Kemba and I found ourselves in Port Clinton, Ohio, again on a sandy beach, this time on the shores of another Great Lake -- Lake Erie. I was doing what I do: flinging a tennis ball into the lake. He was doing what he does: fetching it.
Until he found a dead fish on his way back to me. Which, of course, he picked up in his jaws. I immediately had visions of what that dead fish was going to smell like in the car for the 571 miles we were about to drive back home to Connecticut after Kemba regurgitated it -- which he undoubtedly would.
So did I jump around like a cheerleader, to draw my dog to me, so I could grab his collar? Did I calmly offer one of the treats I always have in my pocket, to induce him to give up the dead fish? No, I screamed at him, "Drop it!" and then chased him around like a mad man -- which, as every dog owner knows, only makes him want to play keep-away even more. When that didn't work, I continued my manic pursuit, only this time brandishing a large stick I'd found on the beach. Very effective, of course. When I finally caught up with him, there was only a fish head left. (And no, miraculously he didn't vomit.)
We made it to Westport late that night. The next morning, we were back on his home turf -- Winslow Park. A Red Coonhound had mounted a brown-and-white Springer Spaniel, and was going at it. Kemba decided to join the fun, as the caboose, in what can only be described -- even in this family column -- as a three-way.
Reminding me for the third time in less than a week that dogs will be dogs.
"The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website at http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman. To reach Hank, email him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.