The first day my son Wyatt and I met our husky/shepherd dog Dexter at the Houlton Humane Society, the shelter manager told us that he was infamous for running away from home for miles, venturing into people’s yards, and killing small animals.
I knew Dexter’s prey drive was extremely strong, for he was always on the lookout to pounce on anything that moved, including blowing leaves and butterflies. We’d had him for months, and I hadn’t seen him kill anything yet.
Then springtime bloomed, and the critters began to roam the countryside. The first animal Dexter killed on our farm was a partridge. Not only did he kill the bird, I watched him devour the entire animal, feathers and all! Whenever I tried to intervene, he would look at me out of the corner of his eye, gently pick up his prize, and walk a few feet away before settling down again to resume eating. I have also seen him capture and consume two groundhogs on our property.
In early June, my daughter Anna and I hiked Mt. Chase with Dexter. On our way down, a rabbit hopped near the trail for the last time. Dexter spied the rabbit and within seconds ran it down and killed it instantly. The rabbit didn’t even have time to scream for its life. Dexter was quite pleased he’d finally caught a rabbit after trying all winter to hunt one down through the deep snow.
What amazed me the most was how he ate his kills as if he were a wolf out in the wild. Witnessing these events served as a reminder to remain vigilant whenever Dexter was in the vicinity of our three beloved indoor cats.
This past spring I watched from my kitchen window a gangly young moose meander around the perimeter of our lawn. Early the next morning Dexter and I trekked down to the barn to take care of the horses. He trotted ahead of me and then suddenly sprinted into the field adjacent to the horse pasture.
When I looked to see what he was pursuing, I saw the same spindly moose standing in the field watching Dexter dash towards him. I expected the moose to take off into the woods with Dexter in hot pursuit, but the moose stood its ground and lowered its head.
I had recently finished reading Gary Paulsen’s memoir, Winterdance, which described his experience of training for the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska. Once when he was on a training run with his dogs, he and his team were attacked by a psycho moose who tried to trample them to death. Luckily a fellow musher shot the moose.
Suddenly I had visions of this moose running down my dog and pummeling him with its pointed hooves. Dexter and the moose faced off for several seconds. Each time Dexter approached the moose, the moose would take a few steps towards the dog with its head low to the ground. Dexter sensed this animal was different from the horses he’d befriended, and he ran back to me looking over his shoulder to make sure the moose wasn’t following him. Fortunately the moose moved onto new territory, and we never saw it again.
On a Saturday morning in mid June, Dexter and I were hiking on the Westford Hill trails when he heard an animal rustling through the tall grass and took off running. I couldn’t see what he chased but guessed it might be a fox since there were several in the area. He had a bear bell attached to his collar so I could locate him easily and to forewarn the animals in the woods. I stopped to listen for the bell so I could pinpoint his whereabouts, but instead of hearing the familiar jingle of his bell, I heard him bark.
Dexter rarely barks unless he’s in trouble or he’s distraught because I’m leaving him behind, so I knew something was wrong. Sure enough when he came back to me, his bottom lip was pierced with twelve porcupine quills.
My husband Matthew was traveling with Anna to a basketball tournament, so I woke up my sons, Walker and Wyatt, to help me remove the quills. I carefully tied a strip of sheet around Dexter’s snout to keep him from biting us. As Wyatt and I held onto Dexter to keep him still, Walker tried pulling out the quills with pliers, but each time he came within an inch of his mouth, Dexter would whine and struggle.
After the third attempt, we were all frazzled and knew it was time to call our veterinarian. We drove him to the vet where they sedated him and plucked out the painful quills. When I picked him up, the veterinarian came out and said, “There was no way in heck you were going to get those out on your own.”
I’m certain these are only the beginning of Dexter’s animal encounters. That’s why I have an ample supply of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dishwashing detergent to use when he meets his first skunk.
Lee-Rae Jordan-Oliver is an educator and author who lives in Hodgdon with her husband Matt and children Wyatt, Anna and Walker. Her column will appear on a semi-regular basis in The Houlton Pioneer Times.