That's why I was stunned when Stella, our Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Swissy, for short), was involved in the mauling death of a squirrel yesterday at the dog park.
I was kickin' it with my homies Shaley's Mom, Elway's Mom, and Toby's Mom, when a ruckus broke out under the big oak tree over by the poop-bag dispenser. Stella, our Swissy, was in the fray; but I didn't worry about it because she always stays on the periphery of any tussle, maybe getting in a few nips at whichever dog is getting the beat-down (a function of her neutrality), but generally staying on the sidelines.
Elway's Mom's eyes narrowed as she crushed out her cigarette.
"Shit," she said.
"What?" I said.
"Elway's got a squirrel."
Elway's Mom sprang to her feet and hollered at her dog as she sprinted toward the violent scene. I sauntered a few steps in the general direction of the brouhaha, more to get a look at the action than to subdue my dog, who I could not imagine was taking any part in this act of brutality. Also, I had the twins in their stroller, and I didn't want to leave them unattended or have them witness a rodent dismemberment.
But when I was able to sort out what was going on under the oak tree, I could see that it was Stella who had the squirrel in her mouth, and she was shaking it vigorously.
"LEAVE IT!" I bellowed. Repeatedly. Loudly. Stentorianly.
Balls, frisbees, sticks, and Kongs fell out of the mouths of the forty or so other dogs at the park as their respective humans turned to see what terrible transgression was taking place, and what terrible dog owner had so poorly trained his dog that he had to scream at it in public. (Oh--it's the guy with the babies. God help them.)
Stella froze after the fourth or fifth "LEAVE IT," actually dropped the victim onto the mulch after the eleventh or twelfth repetition, and reluctantly came to me after the sixth "STELLA, COME."
After the dust had settled and I had cowed Stella into a down-stay back by our usual klatsch, I grabbed the stroller and went to check on the unfortunate rodent. It was motionless and milky-eyed, but still breathing and showing few outward signs of injury.
"It's just...resting!" I called to my homies as I headed back toward them.
And indeed it was resting. In eternal peace. But only after a violent, protracted seizure during which I'm pretty sure I saw a little translucent cartoon squirrel with wings and a halo leave the varmint's body and ascend into the limbs of the old oak tree.
As we rehashed the events leading to the squirrel's shuffling off of its mortal coil, it became clear that Stella was not just tagging along, but may have been the first one to get her fangs on the critter. I was torn. On one hand I resisted the recriminations against my timid 120-lb. galoot, preferring to blame her friends, the high-strung terrier mutts with their well-documented habits of chasing bikes and harrasing submissive dogs. On the other hand, I was perversely proud that Stella had actually accessed some dim ember of primal wolf instinct that had previously been enshrouded in layers of neuroses. But mostly, I was incredulous. At a gallop or a trot, Stella is graceful and efficient, more equine than canine. But she is not what you would call quick or agile. Picture a newborn foal chasing a ball. On ice.
We decided that the squirrel must have been very old, and had probably suffered a massive stroke and fallen into Stella's jaws. Be that as it may, Stella, who will spit out and suspiciously examine a dog treat if it's a flavor she has never tasted before, had dispatched the squirrel (which was on its last legs, of course, and which probably welcomed dying with its little rodent boots on rather than languishing in a squirrel convalescent hole, abandoned by its friends and family), with great gusto. This was not the Stella I knew, who was afraid of her own shadow.
As I scooped the rigid rodent remains into a Stella-sized poop bag, it occurred to me. Ever since we started Stella on the antidepressant Clomipramine a couple weeks ago, she has become a different dog, for which we are immensely grateful (thanks Big Pharma!). Her skittishness has decreased precipitously, she is more relaxed, and her self-confidence has blossomed. Even her poop, once a watery sludge, has become more robust! So this newly discovered doggishness, this prey drive that she never before exhibited, must be a side effect of her medicine. And although I would prefer that she not make a habit of murdering woodland creatures, I don't see this as an entirely negative development. If she can participate in such typical dog behavior as chasing squirrels--and succeed at it--what else could be on the horizon? Unflinchingly going nose-to-nose with a paper bag? Calmly stepping out of the way when someone walks by with a cardboard box, instead of crashing into furniture while fleeing in terror? Allowing a stranger to pet her? Dare I dream?