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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Post #12: Katie Visits Bonnie View

So we had this wonderful place to visit.  Lots of things to explore for the kids, and lots of wonderful scents to follow if you happened to be a hound.  We started taking Katie with us to give her a chance to explore and run in a much larger area than the back yard.  The property had a man-made pond, or tank, which was kept full for the cattle.  A low area was dredged out.  The dirt and sand was piled up around the edge to help catch the rain water and funnel it into the tank.  There was also a well nearby.  A pipe had been set into the sand and water would could be pumped through pipes to the tank.  This assured the cattle and other wildlife that there would be fresh water, good for drinking even during times of drought.  We were close enough to the bay, that the river water was more salt than fresh.

To keep the tank alive and fresh, Bill and William had paid to have catfish fingerlings put into the tank.  They kept the catfish alive by feeding them until vegetation could begin to grow.

The first day we brought Katie with us was a warm sunny day.  It had been several months since the catfish project was started, and we drove out to the tank, hoping to see how the fish were doing.  There had not been much action in the tank for a while, and the water was still.  Wife, the boys and I stood at the top of the dirt embankment looking into the pond.  I saw an occasional turtle’s head pop up (where did that come from?), and a layer of green algae extending about three feet into the water, but no other activity.  There were also some birds on the pond, which took off at the sight of us.  A sand crane was on the opposite shore, looking for food.

Katie saw a great place to run.  She may have seen the turtle, too and wondered what that was.  Katie took off, down the embankment, onto the little bit of beach there was, and started racing toward the center to the pond.  Her tail was up, she was baying at full volume, and was obviously in full Hunting Mode!  It was a beautiful site.

Until she hit the algae.  Thinking it was solid ground, or grass, she continued to run until the ground gave out from under her.  Katie sunk up to her neck in green water.  Her baying turned to yelping as she tried to turn around and climb back up on the algae.  Of course, the algae kept giving way.  Fortunately, the water was not deep, and Katie managed to splash her way back onto what really was solid ground.  She emerged back onto the bank wet, frustrated, and embarrassed.  I’m sure I saw her blush!

We stayed on the property a little longer than planned that day, giving Katie plenty of time to dry off before we put her back in the truck for the trip home.

Over time, we found that the tank was supporting more life than expected.  In addition to the turtles and the birds, we could see alligator gar, an ugly fish with its roots firmly in prehistoric times.  There was also an alligator or two that eventually made their way into our pond.  We never did catch any catfish in that pond, although we did catch a bass and a redfish.  Looking at the mud along the bank, we could see signs of deer, coyotes, and wild cats.  It was always fun to visit the pond and see what had come to visit before us.

The nice thing about dogs is, they forgive you for laughing at them, and they quickly forget their embarrassments.  Katie didn’t sulk, after her unexpected swim.  She shook off the water and was able to enjoy the rest of her day following the scents of strange critters that had never walked across our back yard.  She enjoyed learning about a place far from home.  She enjoyed the chance to walk and run with her family.  And we enjoyed just being a family together, a dad, a mom, two boys, and a dog.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Post #11: Bonnieview

My father-in-law, Bill bought a large piece of property with his best friend, William.  This about 600 acres on the Aransas River.  The nearest town was a small place called Bonnie View, and so that's what we named the property.

The Aransas River took a turn toward the bay at this point, so the property had more than its share of river frontage.  Bill had bought the property as an investment, and so it was "for sale" as soon as they purchased it.  In the meantime, this was a great place for a family with two boys to visit and explore.

The property was just across the river from the Welder Wildlife Refuge, so there was no shortage of animal life.  I took a friend to visit the property once, and he noticed something I had not.  This was the first time my city dwelling friend had ever looked around and not been able to see a utility pole.

This was a good place to hunt deer, wild hogs, turkey and dove.  I have tried my hand at deer hunting exactly two times.  The first time we went to Bonnie View as a family.  My father and his wife had pulled their travel trailer from Arizona to visit and to go hunting with me.  He loved to camp, and had never had the chance to take me on a hunt.  My father had hunted all of his life, beginning during the depression on his family farm in Iowa.  Back then, hunting was necessary to keep the family supplied in meat.  Later, he hunted for the sport of it.  He had brought his rifle and scope to give to me, since he knew he'd had his last hunt.  We slept in a tent, and they stayed in the trailer.  The camping out was great fun. 

We got up early the next morning and trudged off to our deer blinds.  Jason and John went off to a deer blind that was on one end of the property.  I remembered seeing a deer blind on the other end.  I took my elderly father to that spot. 

After a lifetime of smoking cigarettes, my father who was nearing 70, had COPD.  He carried oxygen with him wherever he went.  He had a small pack that he strapped over his shoulder or around his waist, and he could pretty much go wherever he wanted, as long as his tank didn't run empty.

So, off the two of us went.  Me carrying the rifle and scope that my dad had taken on many hunting trips, and him carrying his oxygen.  We walked, and walked, and walked some more.  The blind was a little further away than I had remembered.  I had not bothered to check on it the day before, so I was relying on old memory.  When we finally arrived, the blind was gone!  The blind had been put on the property by one of Bill's friends.  Apparently the friend had decided to take it down and move it to a new location.

Well, that was really OK with me.  I wasn't real sure that I wanted to shoot anything that day, anyway.  It was nice just to be out there with my dad.  So, we turned around and started back.  We were about half-way back to the camp site when I spotted a family of wild hogs crossing the road.  It looked like there were four adults and a half-dozen piglets.

All I could think of was that horrible scene from the book "Old Yeller."  There were a few small shrub oak around, but noting that could get us above charging wild hogs with 3' long razor sharp tusks!  Besides, my dad couldn't climb a tree with his oxygen tank.  The rifle was a single shot.  I couldn't be sure that if I shot one hog, the rest would get scared and run away.  They might just get mad and charge, instead.  I might have time to reload and shoot two more hogs, if I were quick and accurate.  But then the rest of the hogs would be on top of us.  There's that awful scene from Old Yeller again.

So, we froze.  And we waited.

And the hogs crossed the road, totally ignoring us!  Whew.

My second time to go deer hunting was a trip I made with just Jason.  We were at the property before dawn, and we each climbed into a different deer blind.  And then we waited. 

It was cold that morning as the sun turned the darkness to grey, and then brightened everything around us.  I looked into the clearing in front of me, watching for a deer to walk across my line of site, holding my father’s rifle at the ready.  As the dawn emerged on the South Texas brush country, new ideas were dawning in me.  If I did actually see a deer, I was pretty sure I would be able to shoot it, even though it would be the largest animal I had ever shot.  However, there was just a bit of doubt.  Did I really want to kill an animal?  Hogs, snakes and predators would be no problem, but a deer?  And the other concern:  Once I shot the deer, then what?  I knew nothing about gutting and skinning animals.  Doing the initial butchering to get them ready for the final job at the butcher’s shop would be a messy job.  A job I knew I wouldn’t like.

I was relieved that morning that I didn’t have to make that decision.  No deer was seen by either of us that day.  And I was able to make the decision that I am not a deer hunter.  I told this to Jason as I handed him my father’s deer rifle, letting it skip a generation as the rifle moved into the hands of a young man with more appreciation of its purpose than I had. 

The first time we went to see Bonnie View, we went as a family.  Kathy and our sons and Kathy’s sister and her husband made the 45 minute drive to check out this new piece of property.  There was a slough that collected run – off from the property and ran into the river.  It was stagnant water most of the year.  We had driven to the slough at the farthest end of the property.  Everyone got out and started exploring.  Kathy and her sister stood at the fork, watching the river and visiting.  All of us guys headed off to see how far inland the slough ran.

The boys and their uncle go interested in looking at things around the slough, and I walked back to where Kathy and sister were.  Kathy got the idea that she would like to play a little trick on the boys.  There was a small log floating just off shore.  She thought it looked a little like an alligator.  So she thought she would scare the boys and tell them there was an alligator in the water. 

The boys returned and Kathy launched into her little deceit, pointing to the log, trying to convince them that it was an alligator.  Kathy was really convincing, because, as we all watched it looked like a pair of eyes and snout were emerging from the water.  Sometimes Karma doesn’t take long to boomerang back.  This log really was a young alligator.  He was about four or five feet long.

I had my rod and reel in the back of the truck.  I grabbed it and stuck a plastic frog on the end of the line.  I was curious to see what the alligator would do with the frog.  Would it chase it?  Or just ignore it? 

He was patient, and ignored my frog the first time I cast it out to him.  The second time, he got a bit annoyed with me, and snapped at the frog.  There was no chasing.  It happened that quickly!  One snap and I had caught the alligator.  He went under water, and tried to get away, but I kept hold of the line and started to reel him in.  It was hard at first, and then it got easy.

Too easy.

That alligator resurfaced and was staring at me as I reeled him in.  Everyone started heading for their vehicles. And I began to realize that there just might a down-side to catching an 8 foot alligator.  Did he seem a bit bigger now than when I started?

We did eventually let Katie come with us, but that’s a story for next time.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Post #10: Snake!

The boys spent hours playing in the back yard with Katie while they were growing up.  And Katie did her job of protecting the boys and our house from squirrels, skunks and poisonous snakes.

The first time a snake invaded our yard, we heard Katie barking with an urgency that went beyond her normal squirrel chase bark.

Kathy went outside to see what she was barking at.  Then she called for me to come out.  Katie had been barking a snake that was close to our house.  She was keeping a safe distance away, telling the snake to go away.  Once family was in the backyard, Katie became more aggressive.  Now she wasn’t just trying to chase the danger away.  She was trying to protect us from the snake.  She started darting at the snake.  I had to run the wrong way, away from the snake, to get a tool to kill the snake.  It felt like it took hours to dart into the shed and grab a hoe. 

I got the hoe, and was back in the action.  I tried to go in for the kill, but Katie was quicker.  I watched with dread as Katie lunged and the snake lunged, too quick to really see what happened.  I think she was able to dance out of the way in time.  It looked like the snake missed.

Katie was still barking, still lunging.  I got in with the hoe and started hacking away at the snake, usually hitting the snake just a little behind where I thought I would hit, but still getting in some good licks.  Katie began to bark, but as the snake was getting more and more injured, and becoming less of a threat, we noticed Katie beginning to wobble and stagger. 

I killed the snake.  Kathy got a good look at Katie.  She had two small bloody spots on her muzzle.  We knew little about snake bites, other than they could be deadly.  All of the good TV shows said you put a tourniquet around the injured limb, sucked the venom out and got to a doctor lickity-split for an anti-venom injection. 

Well … we could do the last one.  So I gathered the remains of the chopped up snake and threw it in a bucket.  After all, if Katie is going to get an anti-venom shot, the vet will have to know what kind of snake it was that bit her, won’t he?  The snake did not have rattles, but it was obviously venomous.  Did young rattle snakes not have rattles?  Is there another kind of venomous snake that inhabits South Texas?  We didn’t know, so bringing the snake with us was important.

Then we bundled up Katie and put her in the car.  Off we flew to the nearest vet.  They are never as close as you need them to be.

We carried Katie in.  We carried in the bucket with the dead snake.  The vet looked at the snake in the bucket and asked why we brought the snake.  He had no idea what kind of a snake it was.  Ok, we thought, well maybe there is an all-purpose anti-venom that he uses. 

We watched expectantly as the vet turned his attention to Katie.

He gave her a tetanus shot and a shot of anti - ….

... biotics!? 
What?  Where’s the anti-venom?  We were worried about Katie dying from the poison, and the vet is treating her against tetanus and salmonella? 

The vet told us that there would be a lot of swelling, but that she would survive.  A snake bite on the muzzle is the best place for a dog to get bit.  The poison rarely gets down to the heart when the bite is in the muzzle.
He gave us a bottle of antibiotics medication and sent us home with Katie.

Katie’s face and neck did swell a lot.  I’m sure she was in pain for a few days, but then the swelling began to go down.  Katie recovered, with the only side effect being a little scar on her muzzle where the snake’s fangs had sunk in.

This was the first of three snake bites that our brave dog would take in her effort to protect us and keep us safe.  The confrontations would always start with frantic barking.  As soon as we stepped out, she would start lunging at the snake.  Kathy would try to grab Katie while I ran to get a killing tool, usually the hoe.

Katie could evade Kathy, but not the snake.  I would come in and kill the snake.  Once we realized that she had been struck, we would rush Katie to the vet, who would give her another antibiotic shot, fill a prescription of antibiotics, and then send us back home.

Three snake bites did have one effect on Katie.  As she got older, her skin would not quite return to the same tautness it had in youth.  I'm sure if she could have seen herself in a mirror she would have been embarrassed at the double chin she had developed in her later years.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Post #9: Katie Follows Her Nose

We knew that Beagles followed their noses.  We had read about that in our books on beagles.  But we were confident that our little short dog would not be able to jump over our fence and escape.  Our fence would keep Katie safely in the back yard.

As she grew older, Katie determined that there were a lot of great smells on the other side of the fence.  And she wanted to explore every one of them.  Our faith in her inability to jump was well founded.  However, we neglected to consider that Katie was a digger.  She began to dig her way UNDER the fence to explore the neighborhood.  I’d go out, find Katie missing and there would be a big hole under the fence.  So I’d put a block of wood or a cinder block in the hole and go get Katie.
Now digging under the fence in Aransas Pass was really no great feat.  After all, once you get past the little bit of grass that we had there are several feet of sand before any one with a shovel would hit clay, or anything that might give a digging dog a challenge.  Of course, it took me a while to figure that out.  Katie would dig out, I'd put in a block of wood or cinder block, and she would start digging out right next to the first hole, where the grass had already been removed. 

After several holes, I got the idea to bury a lawn timber under the fence where Katie had escaped.  That meant she couldn’t access the same hole where the grass had been dug up, but had to start a new one.  After putting down a few timbers, I learned that Katie could dig deep enough to get under a lawn timber.  So the next step was to bury lawn timbers two deep.  I took this plan on as a project, and sunk those timbers all the way around the fence.  This plan worked.  Katie was now confined to our yard.

Katie could no longer go underground.  But Katie was not a two dimensional dog.  She had the flat surface of the back yard, and could no longer go down.  That was not enough for her.  So she learned to go up.

Squirrels: those cute little furry rodents whose main job in life is to torment dogs.  They perch in the trees and chatter down at the poor grounded dogs, making fun of the dogs’ inability to climb up and chase them.
Except for Katie.  She did not know that dogs can’t climb trees. 

The squirrels would show up while she was napping and run across the lawn.  When Katie woke up, she knew immediately that her territory had been invaded.  She would run around the back yard, nose to the ground, tail high in the air, baying at the scent of her invaders.   Her tracking always ended up with the same frustration.  The squirrels had run up one of the live oak trees, out of her reach.
We had several Live Oak trees in our backyard.  The beauty of the Live Oak is in the way they allow the prevailing wind to shape their trunks.  So, rather than tall straight trees, they grow with bit of a slope.  Not a big slope usually, but still they were slanted.

Katie learned that she could take advantage of the sloping tree and run up the side of the trunk and into the branches.  There were three problems with this, however.  First, Katie could not get out to the narrow ends of the branches where the squirrels were.  Second, she could not jump from the branches of one tree to the branches of the next tree.  Katie’s biggest problem, however, was when she had followed the scent as far as she could, and the excitement had died down.  At this point, she realized that she could not get back down.  She let us know that she need our help by barking at the house.
Katie would remain stuck in the tree until I got a ladder or one of the boys climbed up the tree to rescue her.  It usually took at least two of us to get Katie down.  One of the boys to pick her up, off the limb, and someone on the ground or ladder to take her out of the hands of the first rescuer. 

I don’t think Katie ever got tired of engaging the whole family in this fun activity of “chase the squirrel”.