Saturday, May 19, 2012

When Charged by a Grizzly, Try to Stay Calm

If you surprise a grizzly bear while hiking and he charges, “you should really try to stay calm,” someone told me. No kidding. You’ll likely be so scared and shaking that you’ll be peeing your pants. If you have no doubt the bear is going to make contact with you, drop to the ground or he’ll likely kill you by the collision alone. Really the best thing to do if you don’t have any bear protection devices like pepper spray, is to curl up into a tight ball with arms over your head and don’t move a freaking inch. Hugging yourself tightly like this will help you appear less shaky and frightened. At this point you start praying the bear has better things to do and you can get away with only the loss of an ear or a finger. He might not be that hungry anyway.
If you had a dog with you, he was probably one of the reasons the bear charged you in the first place. It’s best to keep your dog on a leash when you’re in bear country, or have ten bear dogs (Airedale terriers, Irish terriers, Karelian bear dogs, Akitas, etc.) surrounding you at all times like you were the president or something.
Note to self. Firearms are sketchy for bear defense for several reasons. First, the bear is likely only bluff charging, so you’re likely to shoot at a bear who wasn’t going to attack you anyway. Use pepper spray. Second, you need a really big gun so you can literally knock the bear down, and they’re heavy to carry in the back country. Third, in your panicked state, you’re likely only to wound the bear, and wounded bears are nothing to sneeze at. They kill to defend themselves. Fourth, you might shoot your buddy by mistake when all hell breaks loose, like Dick Cheney. Fifth, unless you’re carrying a small cannon, relying on a firearm could give you a false sense of security right before the bear rips it from your grasp and shoves it up your ass. Just play dead instead, before you really are dead, unless it’s night time and the bear is hunting you for easy pickens, but that’s a different can of worms altogether and extremely rare.

When you see a bear from a distance, move away

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dog Ate Half My Shoe

I had this great pair of hiking boots I got from a second hand store, dirt cheap and stream-line looking. Man, they fit great and were so comfortable, old school kind, not those new techno boots that have way too much sole and flash and don't let you walk right. I felt like I got a lot of goodness for near nothing when I was wearing them in the woods, with the leather creaking as I walked and my feet gliding along like I was barefoot or something. I swear those boots made the sun shine brighter, the birds sing louder, and the trees grow taller. I was on top of the world.
     Yesterday my dog Will ate one. Well, half of one. He likes to chew on anything leather, except he doesn't spit out the chunks after he chews them. He swallows them like they're some sort of beef steak. When I came in the room and found him there eating it, he stopped sharp and looked at me. And I looked at him. Neither of us said a word or moved for about three seconds...
     Then I kneeled on one knee next to him with my hand on his shoulder. "You can't eat that, it's not food," I said, shaking my head a little. Then in two swipes, I substituted the boot for a nice thick stick in no time flat, and he went back to chewing like it was the same thing. Now when I go hiking, I have one boot with the top part gone and some of the eyelets missing. You know what, they still wear pretty good, especially knowing my dog liked them enough to eat one for dinner and knowing I got a lot of goodness for almost nothing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Porcupines and Dogs

Many factors determine what you should do if your dog attacks a porcupine, and removing the quills from a dog is no picnic. If your dog has less than three or four and none are near a vital area like the eye or the inside of the mouth, you could probably do it yourself. Otherwise, taking him to a hospital is your best bet. Quills are thought to keep going into the body until they’re pulled out, and they can migrate to other areas, causing more damage and pain. “You don’t want to mess around with these things,” an Athabascan Indian in Alaska told me once. “The quills can do a lot of damage.” I took his word for it.
     If you’re a hundred miles from civilization and have no contact with the outside world like I was in the summer of 2009 when hiking across Alaska, you’ll have to pull them yourself. Porcupines are plentiful in the forests there, and they grow quite large, like the size of a lamb. Keep your dog on a leash if you can, however you can’t always do this while hiking. Some hunting breeds will often run off tracking something, getting away from your protection in no time flat, like mine did.
     When Will, one of my two Airedale terriers, attacked a porcupine, about 200 quills riddled his face and head. I used my fingers to remove some of them; I wasn’t smart enough to remember to bring needle-nose pliers. I pulled as many as I could right away while Will was still amped up on adrenalin and not focusing on the pain yet. First, I pulled the ones inside his mouth, so he could eat in the coming days. Luckily there weren’t any down his throat, a place I couldn’t reach and where swelling could be life threatening. I didn’t restrain Will while pulling the quills, though I tried years before on a different dog. It’s too traumatic for them. Each quill is like a small spear. Yanking them out causes horrendous pain and varying degrees of added injury.
     As soon as Will began resisting, I stopped pulling the quills and waited for him to fall asleep, deciding to work with the dog instead of against him. After Will dozed off, I could sneak a quill, plucking it before he knew what was happening. Oh, he got wary of my hand indeed, but he could only fend off sleep for so long and then I would have another quill. With a lot less stress for my dog, I did this throughout the night for several days until I got half the quills.
     I don’t recommend a sedative unless it makes a dog completely unconscious. And only a veterinarian should administer this in my opinion. If the injured dog isn’t fully under, it only gives him another bodily malady to cope with while trying to fight off the pain. Complete, medically supervised unconsciousness is the way to go. The veterinarian can do his job with less chance of injury and the dog feels none of the pain, just the after effects when he wakes up.
     I flushed Will’s wounds a few times a day with cool water to help clean them and stave off infection. I squirted water into his mouth so he could drink and after a while, he was taking in chunks of food. Miraculously, I ran across a forest service helicopter parked on a remote gravel bar along the Sheenjek River. The people there were fighting a wild fire and the dogs and I got a ride out free. I didn’t have to face a long drawn-out delay getting Will to safety and out of the wilderness. I was lucky that summer, with both dogs and me finding our way home healthy and content.

A previous encounter

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Brothers and a Bird Dog

German shorthaired pointers run with so much intensity, it’s as if they’re in a different dimension from other dogs, like humming birds are with other birds, too fast to be attacked and too fleeting to fear. My Airedale brothers Jimmy and Will, used to ignore the high speed circling my parents’ shorthair did around them. He literally ran circles around the brothers while they hunted together in the woods, with neither the brothers nor the bird dog ever really entering the other’s world. The shorthair was too high strung and athletic and the Airedales too testy to allow another male dog to infiltrate their alliance. The brothers had an imperceptible understanding, a bond since birth, that they would react and take cues from each other, and no other dogs, in whatever they did. They would protect each other, but turn away from other dogs in trouble. They had other things to do. They had gained this bond growing up and spending every waking hour of their lives together.
     But after Jimmy died, will acted stunned for quite some time, with some of his vigor drained. Will was subdued and disinterested on his daily trots around the block with me on my bike. I seemed to have to force him to get up and go, which was completely opposite of the rambunctious hellion he used to be with Jimmy, when they used to take on anything or anyone together. Finally, I took him to see the bird dog – it was the only other male dog since Jimmy who Will wouldn’t beat up. The three of us hiked up Cougar Creek, off the North Umpqua River. As the bird dog circled, Will perked up and something that was dead for a month started to come to life. He found a little solace in another dog, where before when Jimmy was alive he used to ignore. He started following, and when the bird dog opened up his speed on a rare straight stretch, Will eagerly ran after, overtaking him with his great power. But the bird dog never stopped running and soon started circling again, however, it was clear that Will had once again found his stride.

German shorthaired pointer