Tony Vagneur: When animal eyes don’t blink
The pup is at it again tonight. Growling, barking and snarling under his breath, inside the house. There’s something out there, something he doesn’t like. Last night he was outside on the deck and his warning was heard loud and clear by my partner, Margaret, on the other end of the phone.
He’s a new pup, border collie, about 3 months old, and I’ve been walking him several miles a day, trying to keep the edge off. He’s too young to go much farther and playing with his friend, Dot, an energized female border collie, is much better exercise when we can swing it.
We take a long morning walk after breakfast and another late afternoon, after we feed the horses. Around 9 p.m. we take a final spin up the long driveway, to settle him down a bit before he kennels up for the night. It was last night after dark when things got strange.
Barking dogs don’t usually alert my adrenaline system, so we took off around 9:30, pitch black out, and I had my trusty headlamp on. Weak batteries, but giving off enough light to see the reflection of the horse’s eyes in the corral as we passed by, and to keep us from wandering off the road the rest of the way.
As we neared the top of the drive, there was the clear sound of animal movement, followed by the reflection of its eyes across the road, as it maneuvered and hunkered down behind some tall sagebrush. Must be a deer, I thought, and we continued up the lane, expecting it to take off as we got closer. Nope, it didn’t take off.
Instead, as we got closer, whatever it was took a couple of steps toward us. It was deep in the sage, and all I could see, given the weak headlamp, was the unwavering reflection of the eyes. Those big, greenish-yellow eyes were fixed on us; unmoving, unblinking and, at some point, it seemed best to stop.
You hear it all around — the bears aren’t out, it’s too early, bears don’t come out of hibernation this time of year. Until someone’s trash gets scattered or one walks in front of you. Then, it’s like, “Oh yeah, maybe they’re out.”
It wasn’t a bear though, I’m fairly sure. Bears don’t come out this early. Besides, my dog and me, sporting a glowing headlamp, would have scared a bear away a long time prior. Plus, the width of the eyes didn’t seem right for that. Maybe it was Ol’ Grizz, coming down from Wyoming.
Occasionally, we do see mountain lion tracks around here and the rumor from Colorado Parks and Wildlife is that the puma population is on the increase, posing a potential problem for people and their pets.
Where do you draw the line? How far did I want to go in the direction of the seemingly unmoving eyes? For me, it wasn’t really a question; I was ready to challenge the beast, but the pup, 3 months old, wouldn’t stand much of a chance and I was worried for his safety.
“Come on, Tux, let’s turn it around here.” He hadn’t figured out yet that there was something hiding in the bush. And whatever was hiding in there didn’t know that we could see the reflection of its eyes.
Walking away from something like that can be a little unnerving. Turning your back on what might be a dangerous predator may not be smart, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk backward down a steep driveway in the dark, trying to keep from tripping over my dog at the same time.
Turning one’s back might be just enough arrogance to protect yourself — I see horses and cows (and coyotes and foxes) do it sometimes, like them saying, “Screw you, we ain’t playing by your rules today.” Besides, I figured I’d hear a last-minute scurf of paw against gravel as the attack sprang to fruition, maybe giving me time to respond. How quick would I be after that last sound, who knows? If a cougar gets hold of your neck on its first pounce, there’s probably not going to be a chance for you to talk about it later.
You could do a lot of things the next day, like look for tracks, scat or for hair scraped off on the sagebrush. You could, but I didn’t. It well might have been anything spying on us, and maybe it’s better to keep the mystery. We still take our walks on those dark nights, waiting for the full moon to reappear.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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