Backyard Safari

We’re back in our home town, which is a city of several hundred thousand people.  That said, the area we live in is heavily blanketed with mature trees 50+ feet in height, lots of bushes, grass, and flowers. My plain-Jane ca. 1960 house backs onto a former quarry that is now a brand-new exclusive condominium development.  The bad news is, when they built the condos, the wildlife migrated . . . to our backyard.  While this doesn’t sound like a bad thing for a nature lover like myself, it’s one thing to see a deer or two – – it’s quite another to see twenty-four deer at one time on a daily basis.  Without natural predators (unless you count moving vehicles driven by humans), the herd grows every year.  Our yard is fenced but our next-door neighbor’s is not, and they have so much poop on their lawn they can’t even sit out there.  And the yard is full of deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease.  Plus, deer are voracious.  So unless you have a fence, don’t expect to have any leaves left on the trees or shrubs or flowers unmolested.  No, our city deer are not the cute fuzzy Bambis of your childhood.

This past Fall during rutting (mating) season on a Friday night I heard a clicking noise.  When I went outside I was treated to a show of  two bucks sparring with their antlers in a not-too-serious battle of dominance to see who would get the doe (I couldn’t take pictures because it was Shabbos but if you want to see an example from the wilds of Colorado, click here.)  It sometimes happen that the antlers lock and the deer cannot extricate themselves – –  a death sentence for both of them.  I just find it amazing that we are witness to such things in a big city, and due to overcrowding, easy winters, a constant food supply and no hunting, we are more likely to see deer in the big city that is our home town, rather than in the wilds of Maine!

Sometime between February and March, the bucks “drop” (lose) their antlers.  They regrow in the Spring, first coming in as buds covered in “velvet.”  Eventually the deer rubs the velvet off on a tree, and this promotes growth of the antlers until they grow bigger and bigger each year.  The more impressive the “rack” the more desirable they are to the does, not to mention to trophy hunters.

What happens to the dropped antlers?  They are actually a form of bone, so usually they get gnawed and chewed up by possums and foxes, until there is nothing left.  G-d recycles!

So today I set out with my dog, Spencer, on a backyard safari.  There is a “no man’s land” of woods between the back of my house and the quarry condos where the deer hang out, and I thought I might find some dropped antlers on the ground.  Usually the buck loses both his antlers within hours of each other, but it can take up to a week (which makes for a comical looking, lop-sided deer).  That said, it’s unusual to find a matched pair next to one another, but that was my goal.

I didn’t find a matched pair; but I did find a large single antler with several “points” (branches).  With my “trophy” in hand I started to walk back to my house when I saw Spencer up ahead, rolling in something.  I yelled at him:  “Spencer, leave it!  Go home!  Stop!  Get away!” because I had visions of him rolling in some animal’s poop (besides the deer there are plenty of foxes in those woods, too).  Unfortunately, it was much worse than I anticipated.  Much, much worse.

Spencer was rolling in the carcass of a very dead and decomposing raccoon!

I forced myself to look.  The raccoon had a snarling expression and his teeth were clenched tightly.  Uh-oh.  Could it have been rabid?

I wasn’t worried about Spencer getting rabies, since his shots are up to date.  But I had heard that if the saliva of a rabid animal touches your dog and then you touch the dog, it is possible for the rabies to be transmitted to the human.  While obviously a long-dead raccoon does not have saliva, I wasn’t sure if it was possibly infected.  So I brought Spencer inside, never touching him, donned some disposable rubber gloves, gave him a thorough shampoo and bath, and then called my vet.

“You did the right thing, and we understand Spencer is up to date on his shots, but we’d like to give your dog a booster shot,” the office staff explained.

“Do I need an appointment, or can I just walk in when convenient?”

“Unfortunately, once a domestic animal comes in contact with a suspicious animal, by law your dog cannot be seen by our vet technician, he has to be seen by the vet.”  Translation:  be prepared to pay big bucks.

We might have bears, coyotes, skunks and moose in our backyard in Maine, and things that growl, scream and hoot  in the night, but somehow it feels safer in Maine than in our city backyard!

And now a postscript:  I showed the antler to someone I know, who happened to be with her child.  This person’s reaction:  “GROSS!”  First, let me just say that the antler is completely clean and odorless.  While I respect that the woman may not have been as enchanted as I  was by a deer antler, to exclaim so negatively in front of her child was a huge misstep, in my opinion.  She missed a golden opportunity to educate her child about the wonders of HaShem, because when you think about the life cycle of an antler, it is really nothing short of miraculous.  Few city kids will ever have a chance to see an antler up close in their lifetime.  Yes, we have 613 mitzvos and they don’t have to include deer antlers, but when we truly appreciate the amazing art and perfection of HaShem’s creations, we develop a love and awe of G-d that strengthens our emuna (belief in the uniqueness of G-d).  In these trying times when our faith is constantly being tested, an increase in our emuna cannot be a bad thing.  Her reaction just made me feel very sad but not surprised – –  I frequently  see it in the way many religious children treat and relate to animals, with ignorance, antipathy, and fear.

Guess where they learned that? (hint:  not from  the Torah)

Here is the large single antler I found in the woods in my backyard. With the assistance of one of my grandsons, my dog Spencer becomes a "deerhound."

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