Since we have a lot of woods up here in Sonoma, we have a lot of wood rats. Specifically Dusky Footed Wood Rats which are native to California oak forests and scrubland. I’ve never actually seen one, but their “houses” are everywhere. Apparently, they haul in sticks, leaves and twigs and build pretty complex houses. With bedrooms with separate bathrooms and a series of larders where they bring in fresh nuts, then move them to another larder when they are aged properly. I’ve also read that they keep their nests clean smelling and flea-free by lining them with the leaves of California Bay Trees. While I’m not much of a rodent fan, you’ve got to like these industrious little guys. They seem to keep to themselves in the forest and don’t get in buildings where they don’t belong. They aren’t bothering anyone — especially not the coyotes, owls and foxes — who use them as a good part of their diets! As I say, I’ve never actually seen one. Which is why the picture above, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, is a stuffed one from the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Again, they aren’t bothering anyone — just building their nests and providing food for various carnivorous predators.
Oscie does have something against Wood Rats — against all rodents in general. In fact, Oscie has declared war on all such varmints. No sooner does he smell them and he’s on the hunt. The other day, in my garden, he dispatched, with one snap of his jaws, two mice who made the mistake of holing up in my garden shed. The good news is that, once he has killed them, he loses interest. So it’s possible to remove the carcasses shortly after the kill. If you leave them lying around, he’ll rediscover them when they are really ripe and decide to play with them then roll all over them. The key is waiting until he loses interest, then snatching up the offending cadaver. Because Oscie is very, very bad about relinquishing something once he’s got it. We’ve done all the training, we’ve walked around with juicy treats in our pockets to try to do trades. “Leave it” is simply not going to happen with him. And the more he gets himself worked up and into “The Red Zone”, the worse it will be. Our policy is prevention and intervention which includes cleaning up bodies when they are dropped and not taking him near known rodent areas. Of course, that doesn’t work on a walk in the woods where Wood Rat nests are everywhere. But usually, if we walk quickly up the trail calling to him, he stops digging at the nests and follows us. The only thing Oscie likes more than destroying a Wood Rat nest is being with his pack on a hike.
Unfortunately, we lingered too near this particular nest and he was able to work up a good head of adrenaline.
We continued on our hike and headed back to the barn. No Oscar. We went back to the Wood Rat’s nest and there he was. Of course, by now he was completely worked up after spending hours digging into the nest. As we’ve learned from bad experience, if you try to grab him in this state, he may lash out and bite. Fortunately, his bites don’t break the skin — so I’m assuming they are a warning — but they do cause bruising. And whenever you have dog teeth on human skin — not good news for all concerned parties. Best to avoid a confrontation that will not end well.
As I mentioned, the wise policy would have been to let Oscar come back in his own time. But this particular Wood Rat’s nest had a particularly nasty strand of barbed wire coiled around it — apparently a vestige of the days back when the lower part of our property — the only part that was ever vaguely “developed” — was someone’s pasture.
Red Zone Terrier Extraction is a complicated process. It was a two man mission and involved Andy hooking a crowbar through Oscar’s collar. Sure he tried to bite, but once his teeth closed on cold steel, he knew the jig was up. Then the second person, me, moved forward with a thick towel and threw it over his body — and especially his snapping jaws — like a San Quentin Blanket Party. Luckily, the blanket over the head always returns him to his senses and he calms right down. But hours of adrenaline spikes digging in a Wood Rat nest is not exactly good for him. Once in the barn, he did a few barfs, then put himself to bed.
Note: Ten days into NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month — when bloggers commit to posting every day for the month of November. So I’m a third of the way through.