Rescue dog: Dogs will be dogs. Squirrels beware!

Rescue dog Albie reveals his hunting instinct. Neither rain nor snow nor ... steak would stay this Lab from his appointed prey – a poor little squirrel.

Photo courtesy of Peter Zheutlin
Rescue dog Albie is not on point but he's definitely on track...on the track of a squirrel.

Not since Glenn Close stalked Michael Douglas in “Fatal Attraction” (released 25 years ago this week, by the way) have I seen obsession like this.

The other day, Albie, our half yellow Lab, half Golden Retriever rescue dog, spotted a baby squirrel trying to make its way up a tree in our front yard. Albie circled the tree frantically, occasionally putting his paws on the trunk and stretching as far as he possibly could to try to get at the little creature who remained just beyond his reach. Eventually, the squirrel managed to get to a branch well out of range and remained there for a long while, still as a photograph, while Albie continued his exercise in futility. Nothing, not even a steak, could have distracted Albie from his mission.

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Then I noticed this tiny squirrel’s hind legs were dangling awkwardly, and it appeared he’d been crippled, either from birth or in some previous, unfortunate encounter. Since we were outside with Albie the whole time, we knew he hadn’t inflicted the injury. But as long as that squirrel stayed in that tree, Albie was going to be there hoping for a lucky break (for him, not the squirrel).

The standoff continued for well over an hour until the squirrel made an ill-advised decision to try to make it down the tree, clinging to the bark with his front claws, his hind legs dangling uselessly. When he reached the point where I feared Albie might reach him, it was time to intervene. I grabbed an old fishing net, reached up, and easily got the little guy inside. As Judy dragged Albie into the house, no small feat, I released the squirrel in a wooded area behind a neighbor’s house. I don’t know how he’s going to make it on his own, but I really didn’t know what else to do.

Back at the ranch, Albie sat by the front door staring intently at the tree, quivering with excitement. When we let him out a short time later, he made a beeline for the tree and continued to stare, circle, and jump up on the tree trunk in search of a prey that had long since left the building. This went on for hours and for the rest of the day and into the evening he was as amped up as we’ve ever seen him. The next morning when we went out for our walk, he again went straight for the tree, convinced his furry little friend must still be up there.  All day he kept checking, though his obsession seemed to fade ever so slightly as the day wore on.

The following day, we took our younger son, a high school senior, to visit the University of Vermont and left Albie in a neighbor’s care. We were gone about 36 hours, and as we neared home I said I expected Albie to still be curious about the squirrel; my wife thought he’d be over it. When we opened the door and let him out to greet us he was, as usual, beside himself with joy, but within two seconds made another beeline for the tree. Of course, one day another squirrel is going to appear in that tree – there are plenty of them around – and Albie will feel vindicated.

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It can be hard to reconcile the sweet, lovable dog you know inside the house, the one you think would pick an injured squirrel up gently by the scruff of his neck and carry him five miles to a veterinarian’s office, and the instinctive animal who roams the outdoors like a natural born killer. But he is a dog after all, and dogs will be dogs.

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