Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mystery unraveling and decision delayed

The call came from Animal Control. After the woman asked a lot of boring questions about my daughter and the dog (age of daughter, breed of dog, etc.), she asked, "Was the attack provoked in any way?" I said, "There's a rather long answer to that question," and I began to explain how Sovalye's behavior changed after he was treated for heartworms and how he didn't want to go into the pasture and how my daughter was trying to force him. She said the same thing that blog readers and people on my homesteading list have said -- it sounds like he was really scared to go out there, and she was trying to force him to do something that really scared him. It's hard to believe that anything could scare a dog that big, but I think that is what happened.

We were discussing this over lunch, and we've started piecing together a timeline of what has happened between the predators, the sheep, and Sovalye. We put him in the sheep pasture, and he stayed in there for three days, even though he could have easily gotten out. On the fourth morning, we found him in the barn. He's been refusing to stay in the pasture ever since then. In fact, he won't even go into the pasture by himself. He also had some scrapes and cuts on him back then, which we just attributed to him injuring himself trying to get out of the pasture.

"A couple weeks later," according to my blog on July 13, we discovered two ewes had been killed and eaten by coyotes. In my blog post on the attack we blamed the dog for not being in there when Princess was killed the night before and when Fee had been killed a few nights earlier. A coyote attacked our geese on May 23, and we saw a coyote trying to get through the fence to get our chickens on a Sunday in June, although I didn't blog about that, so we can't pin down the date. The point here is that we have what is considered a heavy predator load. Two nights ago, Mike saw a fox in front of the barn where a turkey was attacked about three weeks ago.

Now we are wondering if Sovalye was in the pasture when Fee was attacked or maybe he fought off coyotes before Fee was attacked but then decided we don't pay him enough to do such a dangerous job. When I asked for advice on an LGD list in July after the attack on the sheep, some people said that with a predator load this heavy, one dog was not enough, and it's possible that he is staying in the barn to save his own skin. The night after the attack, we put a horse halter on Sovalye's body (he can get himself out of a dog collar or harness) and tied him in the pasture with Katherine, who spent the night out there. As long as she was there, he stayed put, but when she left in the morning, he figured out how to wriggle himself out of the horse halter and went into the barn.

I just cannot view this dog as an aggressive animal. When we go out there, he comes up to us wagging his tail. After a bit of petting, he drops to the ground and rolls over for a belly rub. A dominant dog wouldn't do that, right? And I can't get it out of my head that he could have ripped Margaret apart. He didn't. He can crush a raccoon in one bite. When snapping at her didn't stop her from taking him into the pasture, he made contact, and instead of getting more aggressive with each bite, he gave up after four bites and rolled over on his back. He let her take him down, because there is no way my 5'2" daughter could have overcome him if he was really trying to hurt her.

Several people have mentioned the issue of trust, but one thing I've learned out here is that it's crazy to 100% trust an animal that is bigger than me or one that could conceivably injure me. I've heard it's always the friendliest rams that break the shepherd's legs, because the shepherd turns his back on him. I've had a huge amount of respect for Sovalye ever since I saw him kill his first raccoon at only eight months, and I remember saying that I'm glad he likes us.

I wish I knew what happened out in that pasture. I think that would explain a lot. I don't know if Sovalye's ultimate fate will be any different, but I want to understand what happened. If we made a mistake, I don't want to make the same mistake with another dog. However, we won't be doing anything for another eight days.

I was not happy with the vet's opinion yesterday, and even less happy that she had her vet tech tell me her recommendation for the dog without talking to me and knowing the circumstances behind the attack or why I wanted to have him checked out. Today, I learned that the vet tech had left out one little detail. When Animal Control called, I learned that if we have him euthanized before 10 days, they will cut off his head and send it to a state lab to be tested for rabies, which is "very expensive." (The fact that he has had his rabies shot is irrelevant in a bite case.) I didn't even ask the cost, because that is out of the question. We simply have to take him to a vet 10 days after the attack and have him certified free of rabies, and then the case will be closed. Of course, I will be looking for a new vet.

As for Margaret, she continues to heal. Instead of being solid purple, the skin around her eye is yellow and purple, and the swelling is almost gone. Her forearms are still quite sore. She tried penning a letter to her little sister at camp today, and her arm was quickly exhausted by writing, so I will be milking for a while still. In case you're wondering why a 5'2" person would try to take down a 115-pound dog, well, you have to know Margaret. She started college at age 13 and had her first associate degree with honors a month after her 16th birthday. She'd been accepted into five universities to finish her bachelor's degree, but since she couldn't pick a major, she decided to try some more classes at the junior college and completed two more associate degrees by age 18. Now at age 20, she owns a little shop where she sells yarn, roving, fabric, etc and teaches classes in knitting, crocheting, spinning, and felting. She is thinking she wants to finish a degree in biochemistry now, although not sure if she wants to do med school or vet school after that. In the ER Saturday night, she said she did not want to be a vet, but I'm not holding her to that statement. She has written one post on this blog -- back when she and her little sister swam across a flooded creek to save four goats from drowning.

I am thinking that I should never again stop milking completely. It has been quite an adventure these past few days, but through all the spilled milk and sore hands, I am remembering that special bond that you feel with the does when milking. This is one of the good things that has come out of this horrid situation. Another good thing is that my husband has learned to make jam, and I learned that I've been doing it wrong for the past six years.

Thanks to Susan and her boys for coming over this morning to help with milking the goats and snapping green beans.


Nancy K. said...


Thank you for sharing this horrible ordeal with us. I hope we all learn something from it and that it in some way helps you to share.

May God bless you and your family.

Susan said...

Well, we weren't much help, but I'm so glad we finally got out there.
I wish the vet had been more forthcoming about her opinion and information. You'd think....with all that you'd suffered through so far.
Our county's animal control person is great! A real animal person with a lot of common sense. Sounds like maybe you have one of those too.
Keep blogging, because it surely pays off sooner or later with historical records and research. That's why I do it.

You told me about the girls' adventure across the creek, but I didn't realize it was so eventful AND cold. Yikes! I think I would have done the same thing. After meeting both of them, it doesn't surprise me that they both got soaking, freezing wet to save their critters.

Btw, the goat cheese will be enjoyed tonite at the ISU Shakespeare Festival picnic before the play. It will be the centerpiece with hot pepper jelly and yummy strawberry/rhubard jam on top. Thanks so much for sharing your farm and goodies with us.

I know I've said this before, but you all will make the best decision you can, under these awful circumstances. It makes perfect sense, in a crazy way, that when the farm was turned upside down with predator overload, more than the sheep and goats were disturbed by unseen mother nature going ons.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I'm siding with Sovalye on this one. Since he had marks when you found him in the barn, I'm guessing he got in over his head, probably dealing with a whole pack or family group of coyotes, and is smart enough to know when the situation is hopeless. Sure, the idea of a noble friend laying down his life for his master's property is nice, but a dead LDG doesn't do you any more good than a scared one. If it's possible to introduce a second LGD, I really think if you'd have a formidable team that could deal with about anything that tried to get on your place.


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