I’ve written a lot about why we chose to move out of the suburbs and into the country. If you’ve spent any time on this website, you’ll already know that liberty was a big factor for me. The truth is that freedom always comes with a cost, and sometimes it can be pretty ugly.
The story I’m about to relay might be a little shocking for some of you. I apologize if it’s upsetting, but I feel compelled to share the good stories along with the bad. The weekend before last brought a lot of excitement to the Ant Farm, but very little of it was the good kind.
Leigh was out of town on a beach trip with some friends from college, and I was “batching” it with the kids. After a hard day of picking up brush and seeding the field, the kids and I were out late Saturday night consuming insane portions of fried goodness at Top o’ the River.
At 6:15am I was awakened to a very strange sound. It was one of those groggy instances where you question whether you actually heard it or not, but then it happened again. It was a loud “BAGOCK!” Instantly I knew what was happening, and I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.
Over the previous four days we had been dealing with a large stray dog that had wandered up. Bailey was immediately enamored with the visitor. Leigh called me at the office to tell me that the two of them had been out playing all day, and she wasn’t sure what to do about it. I groaned. “We can’t take in another dog.” She agreed, and we decided that I would figure something out when I got home.
As soon as I stepped out of the car I was greeted by the two pooches covered from head to toe in mud, and I’m pretty sure they were both smiling. I’ve often told Leigh there’s nothing in the world that illustrates freedom like a group of wild dogs running down the road. No matter how disheveled and rag-tag their appearance, there is always a look of unbridled joy on their faces as they run just for the thrill of it. This was the picture of Bailey and her new friend.
I gave real consideration to keeping him around. He appeared to have some Great Pyranees in him, and with the right disposition that might make a valuable addition to the farm. Of course, dogs will be dogs, and it wasn’t more than an hour before his hormones got the best of him. He was relentless, and poor Bailey had no idea what was happening. That was the last straw for me. This stray was about to lead to an entire litter of strays, and this was getting out of hand. I went inside and grabbed my .22 pistol and proceeded to tie Bailey up. I fired a shot into the ground, and he didn’t even flinch. I fired a second shot and the goofball chased after the dirt it kicked up. Plan B. I picked up a big stick and started shouting. I chased the dog clean off of the property. He returned a few more times but eventually, he got the picture that he wasn’t welcome any more.
I returned to find Bailey sitting with her ears back with saddest expression I’ve ever seen on a creature in my life. She finally found a friend, and I ran him off. She moped around for hours, and I felt pretty bad. However, it had to be done, so I got on with my chores and other business around the property.
For the next few days, I fought the good fight. I chased the dog repeatedly. I eventually graduated to popping him in the rump with a BB gun to run him off. It seemed to be working. Eventually the visits grew further and further apart, and I thought he had finally moved on. The kids were upset, but they’re learning to understand the nature of things on the farm. Edie was adamant that we could make this new dog our own, but she ultimately gave in and accepted that he couldn’t stay.
Following my initial shunning of the new dog, Bailey mourned for about a day. After that she began to bark at him and steer clear whenever he came sniffing around. Apparently, she understood that he was not part of our herd, and as much as she wanted to go play, she knew better. He was no longer welcome at the Ant Farm. By this time we had spent hours training her, and she really seemed to understand that the chickens were part of our family. Her initial instincts to chase them had faded, and now she would tolerate them like annoying siblings rather than regarding them as a potential meal.
As I sprang from the bed Sunday morning, a sense of dread fell over me. I already knew what I was going to see. Just a few days earlier the dog had awakened us barking wildly at the coop. As I leaned toward the window, my fears were confirmed. There was the dog with our Buff Orpington hen in his mouth. I immediately sprang into action.
Bounding onto the porch I could see a pile of feathers and big lump through the morning fog on the western part of the lower field. It wasn’t moving. I rounded the corner to see the big white dog cornering our rooster, Quimby, while Bailey was running around barking wildly. She was beside herself, and I could tell she didn’t know what to make of the situation.
As soon as the new dog saw me he began his retreat. I knew in the moment that the situation had escalated, and we were past the point of no return. There would be no more stick shaking or BBs. He had killed a member of our clan, and there was only one path forward. I raised my rifle, and my ears clamped down from the lack of hearing protection. The dog cried out and scrambled into the forest. It was not a clean shot.
My heart was full of anger and sadness and dread. Why didn’t I deal with this before he drew blood? How would I tell Leigh and the kids what had happened? Was the shot fatal or had I just injured the dog? There was no redeeming end to this story… Only ugly and necessary realities.
It was at this point that I realized I wasn’t wearing any pants.
In the adrenaline fueled rush outside I had jumped into my muck-boots and raced out the door without the appropriate apparel. My desire to finish what was started was briefly overwhelmed by my basic need for trousers, so I headed back inside.
I quickly got dressed, and then it dawned on me that Leigh was still out of town. I couldn’t go running out into the woods and leave the kids home alone with no idea where I was. I woke Edie and explained the situation as clearly as I could. Out of the fog of deep sleep, she looked at me like I was speaking Chinese and then erupted into tears. Why did the dog kill Gracie? Why did I have to kill it? Why did two things have to die?
We talked for a few minutes, and I explained that I needed her to be strong for me. I told her that the dog was in the woods, scared and hurting and that it was not right to leave him like that. I explained that I wasn’t angry at the dog, but that he had to be stopped from killing the chickens. There was no one to come and clean up our mess. We talked about how we are on our own out in the country, and it’s our responsibility to handle things for ourselves. She re-composed herself, and released me to my work with an amazing calmness for an eight-year-old.
I set out into the woods with my rifle. By this time the adrenaline had worn off, and I realized how badly my legs ached from running through the brush. I searched across the property where the dog had run into the woods with no luck. I walked back to the house and got in the car. I drove down to the north edge of my property and there he was, sitting against the gate of the easement on the north side of the property line. He was hurting, but he didn’t look as bad as I expected. My shot had hit him just in front of his back thigh, and his movement appeared to take great effort. As soon as our eyes met he broke for the clearing. Again, I raised the rifle, took careful aim and fired twice. Both shots hit their mark. By this time he was about 50yds away, and I could hear him yelping as he ran through the woods. I followed as quickly as I could manage, but as I breached the edge of the brush he was gone. “This totally sucks.”
My neighbor and I searched high and low, but I never found the dog.
As I walked back to the house my mind was burdened under the weight of so many snap decisions that were effectively outsourced during our prior life. How could somebody just drop a dog off like that? What kind of person dumps their responsibility off on others? Why was I left to deal with the fallout from their crummy decision? Out here you have no choice but to get your hands dirty, and due to inexperience my hands were getting very dirty.
The gravel crunched under my boots with each step back toward a family that was waiting for answers and still kindling a faint hope that it wouldn’t all be bad news. The kids stood anxiously at the door. Edie kept it together long enough to tell me that she had heard the final shots and the dog yelping through the woods. We sat on the steps together, and I answered a thousand questions about life, death and the unfairness of it all. This, my children, is life in a fallen world.
The kids decided that they wanted to say goodbye to Gracie. As it turns out, they find the ritual of viewing the dead as bizarre as Leigh and I do. Edie looked up at me through a final round of glassy tears and whimpered, “That didn’t help at all.” They both took great solace from the idea that Gracie got to experience life as a “chicken in the wild”. It seems that even a five-year-old is capable of understanding the joy of doing what you were made to do.
I don’t know if the dog is alive or if it bled out alone in the woods. If it died, I hope it passed quickly. I keep thinking that I should have been more shaken up by the whole ordeal, but honestly, my only regret is that I didn’t manage to put him down more humanely. Deep down, I’ve quietly known that a day like this was inevitable. I’ve often wondered how I would react when the time came, and in the moment my decision-making process was surprisingly free of conflict:
The dog killed a chicken->The dog cannot be contained->Animal Control won’t help->The dog must be removed from the equation
I’m OK with the realities of this line of thinking. I hate that the dog had to die, but such is life. Initially I tried to deny that logic, and it cost me a good laying hen. In the future I won’t be so naive. If another stray wanders up and shows too much interest in my chickens, I’ll take the necessary steps to protect my flock. It’s my responsibility, and unlike the scumbags that keep dumping dogs at the end of our road, we do our own dirty work.
That, my friends, is the cost of freedom.