Thursday, June 3, 2010

Antidepressants may lead to gang violence in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

As you know, the Swiss are a peace-loving folk, and so are their dogs.  Bernese Mountain Dogs, St. Bernards, Apenzellers, Entelbuchers, and Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are perfectly content to herd livestock and pull carts, leaving the aggression to their German cousins, the Rottweilers and Dobermans.  Swiss dogs, like the Papal Swiss Guard, will valiantly defend their employers; but they are not known for unprovoked violence.   And like Swiss people, they come pre-neutered  (politically), thanks to centuries of breeding. 

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?

Stella Getting Her Drink On

Thug Life


  1. You know, my dog trainer told me some antidepressants given to dogs to decrease anxiety also decrease inhibitions, so maybe that's why she went after the squirrel. She may also start flirting with "bad dogs" and wearing suggestive clothing, so keep an eye on her.

  2. That's what you get for putting dogs on meds. Scientology can help that dog out. Call me.

    -"The Cruise"

  3. Very funny. Eloquently written, as always.

  4. Our cats kill many small furries a day - chippies, squirrels, field mice. Their favorite trick is to bring them in the house while half alive so I can scream for my husband who then has to chase the maimed creature out from under the furniture, take it outside and dispatch it, then bury it. Good times! He's probably not so psyched about working from home at this point.

  5. Oh my. Now that she's tasted squirrel what will be next? Duck, baby bird? You know how it is... these kids get hooked so easily these days.

  6. I can't decide which is funnier...your dog stories or your baby stories! Practically pee my pants laughing every single time! You are hilarious! I'm still giggling about the squirrel giving up the ghost....too good!

  7. Fantastically written story. Loved every word of it.

    My 130lb lab, Skeebo, is also very gentle and doesn't usually engage in activities of that kind. But...let him come across a tiny woodland creature and he turns into bloodhound vampire dog extraordinaire.

  8. She's becoming a normal dog! Yay!

  9. I need a drug like that for my terrified of everything cat.

  10. Reminds me of the cat we had in Missoula. She brought a furry or feathery gift to our front door nearly every day. Shan wept and little Jess said, "Han de tat killed a buhd!"

    BTW, what is the name of Gina's blog?

  11. Clearly I need to change my meds. *drops kitten from mouth and searches out more wine*

  12. Hilarious! And deftly written! Big kudos from another dog-lovin' writer!

  13. Oh goodness I have not commented in ages.

    I am immensely happy to hear that Miss Stella's antidepressants have worked so well! I am, however, completely understanding of the fact that you don't want to have to deal with rodent dismemberment. Isabel, my collie/terrier(??) mix is bad with that. If we take her to the farm off leash, inevitably, we find her with a dead rabbit, field mouse, squirrel, chipmunk, or the occasional bird hanging out of her maw, tail wagging proudly.

    She once took down a wild turkey, because she is that hardcore. Actually, that was kind of cool, because she did actually instinctively herd them together, but by the time I realized her true intentions, it was a bit late. Watching a 14lb dog try to drag you the convulsing corpse of a large bird is unsettling, at best.

    That being said, I hope she eventually can stand to be around paper bags and cardboard boxes. And I'm betting she will. She'll only mellow with age, sir!


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