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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: December 30, 2021

Intersecting Trails

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,




**********

Every Wednesday morning I cover early morning dog duty at the animal shelter. That means arriving by 5:45 a.m., giving every dog a brief "pee" walk, and then feeding, cleaning and medicating as needed. Around 6:45 a.m. or a bit later I start the "long" dog walks, intended as a time for the dogs to relieve themselves, get some physical exercise and some one-on-one time with the volunteer. I do this alone due to Covid, and our main morning dog person also works alone. Believe it or not, that volunteer, a retired Air Force vet, does this alone FIVE days a week; he did it six days a week until I picked a morning up. Nearly any kind of volunteer efforts have a "Jerry," I have no idea what we'd do without these kind of people.

I love morning dog duty. I do night duty often, since this is an unpopular and hard duty to fill at this time of year ?? dark around the remote shelter when the 7 p.m. walks start, windy, cold, and at times, slippery. I am by nature a morning person and I love the fact that by the time I start morning "long" walks, there is a hint of dawn, making it seem warmer and certainly safer. Night walks are a challenge since conditions usually get worse as you work your way through the waiting dogs, but they need to be done since dogs will suffer for hours before fouling their kennels overnight; and so as, my late mother-in-law used to say, I "offer it up."

Last Wednesday I started morning long walks with a dog I'll call "Asia." (As always I change animal names to respect the privacy of the person who surrendered.) Asia is a "four strikes" dog in my personal adoptability rating system ?? not good. That said, she's very bright, walks great, is obedient and loves people she knows. I have faith her "right person" will eventually come along. In the meantime, she's a special favorite of mine. All shelter volunteers love all the animals, but inevitably we all have favorites and interestingly enough, almost every animal has at least one volunteer who says that pet is the volunteer's favorite. (Except "Betsy," the attack rabbit, and even she found a home, to my astonishment.)

As Asia and I started out there was a biting west wind. I had a walking route planned to spare myself the worst of the wind, but Asia ran across some very fresh tracks in the light snow she found of interest. They were clearly canid, probably coyote, cutting near the shelter and then down the long hill to the brushy fence line. She let me know she'd like to follow the tracks. Purists would say I should overrule her, and make her walk where I planned to go. Humans are the boss, dogs are submissive. Asia has lived for months in a metal box with a concrete floor. Yes, it is a relatively roomy indoor kennel, by shelter standards. It is still a place of confinement and boredom and dogs are smart and social animals. I let her follow the tracks arrow straight down the hill.

About halfway down the hill we intersected the tracks of a rabbit. I looked backwards up the rabbit tracks, and it had left the comparative shelter of a small pine grove to cross this highly exposed hillside in the semi-darkness. It would seem an unwise move, exposed to the gaze of any predator. I can't understand the motive of the rabbit, but the two tracks intersected and both, one superimposed on the other, led further down the hill. It appeared neither increased their stride or changed direction. I found myself fascinated and Asia was living her best life, much better able to read the situation with both her eyes and her nose than I could.

After just a short distance further, the rabbit trail utterly disappeared. There could be no mistake, I scanned for 20 feet in all directions; there was no cover, no obstruction and no holes in the snow. The rabbit trail was simply gone. The coyote tracks continued on in the straight path unchanged, but alone.

There was no disturbance in the snow cover, no blood, no fur. I can only think of two scenarios to explain what we saw. Maybe the canid had ambushed the rabbit totally unware without changing his even stride to catch up. Maybe the wind camouflaged the sound of the coyote's approach, blowing the predator's scent to the east, and the rabbit was snatched up from behind, cleanly, before it even sensed the danger. Or, at some point before the coyote came along, a raptor took the rabbit and the predator knew, on reaching the end of the rabbit trail, that it would have no rabbit dinner, because they were beaten to it.

I had to head back; six more dogs waited anxiously for me. But I like to think Asia had her best day in a long time. She got to do what she was designed to do; hunt. She exercised her brain and body in the way she was meant to; and she got the emotional pleasure of sharing her fun with a human who enjoyed it, and her; very much.

I love all animals; but one of the fun things about dogs is that they will share their observations and interests with us if we just let them. Our own dogs "show" me things all the time; their noses, ears and especially Wolfgang's keen eyesight are way better than my own. A walk without them means I miss all kinds of interesting things that they would have pointed out for me. This exact talent is why our early ancestors chose to domesticate wild canids in the first place; I have had the "blinding glimpse of the obvious," in opening myself to watch the dogs be dogs.

Instead of sitting in the front of her kennel watching me as I took the other dogs in and out of the dog room, Asia laid down and looked very content. It was a great reward for an extra 15 minutes of my time that chilly morning. So my new year's resolution is to take the time to follow the interesting trails life presents, and not be in a hurry so often. Thanks for the great morning, Asia!

Happy safe, healthy new year. May you make time to follow the interesting trails that may present themselves to you in 2022.

A huge thank you to the two kind ladies in (I think) a dark blue VW in line ahead of me in the drive through at the Marinette Starbucks around mid-day on Wednesday, Dec. 22. I was having kind of a rough day and the fact you chose to pay for my coffee touched my heart and made my day better. Whoever you are, you are good people with great timing.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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