Or, Caleb: 1, Squirrel: 0
The tomato plants pushed out the top of the hoop house. Next year I will plant compact bush varieties.
The early spring heat wave fried my sugar snap pea vines before they had even bloomed. The mid-spring freeze weakened my beans. I had a good run of cucumbers and early on—until a rat (or rats!) chewed through the netting on my new hoop houses and ate the rest, plus the early crop of squash I had not yet harvested.
This makes me cry.
I set high hopes on the many fat, beautiful green tomatoes growing in the hoop houses—until last weekend. The variety I grew inside them was too large, and the plants have pushed out the top, creating easy access for the squirrels, who decimated my crop.
It has not been a happy growing season for me.
The squirrel proof net tent is showing signs of wear and tear.
To add to my woes, the famous Squirrel Proof Net Tent is now three years old, and it’s beginning to show signs of wear. Holes have opened in the net here and there, allowing for squirrel incursions.
So a few nights ago, I set a couple of traps. I caught a squirrel and a rat. I re-set them and caught another of each. I re-set them again, but then some varmint figured out how to steal the bait without springing the trap.
What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that someone was watching my struggles, learning and absorbing, and working out a strategy. I finally understood this last evening, right around sundown.
I was in my big kitchen chair working at my laptop, when my Australian shepherd, Caleb, came over and said, “Woof.” He nudged my elbow with his muzzle. Thinking he just wanted attention, I scritched his head and went back to work. But he was insistent: “Woof!” Another nudge, this time more urgent.
“Caleb, I can’t play with you right now. I’m working.”
“Frrrf! Arr! Arrrrarrrarr!” Another nudge. Then he ran to the back door, looked out, and looked back at me. “WOOF!”
I grumbled, relented, and hauled myself out of my comfy chair to open the door into the backyard for him. That’s when I saw what he was trying to tell me.
There was a squirrel inside the Squirrel Proof Net Tent, casually munching on the last of my green tomatoes. Caleb dashed out and proceeded to chase it around and around the perimeter of the tent. Inside the tent, the squirrel ran, dodged, turned. Outside the tent, Caleb ran, turned and followed. After several minutes of frantic circles, the panicked squirrel began to run headlong into the net, blindly trying to shove its way out.
Caleb caught on. After a few misses, he pounced on the squirrel as it hit the net. I heard a short squeak, then silence.
Caleb stood panting at the edge of the tent and looked at the dead creature at his feet, still wrapped in the sagging net. Then we looked at each other in utter surprise.
“Caleb, you killed a squirrel!”
He looked back at the squirrel and then back at me. Still panting, he trotted over to the 12-foot diameter inflatable pool I have installed in my driveway for the summer (that’s a whole nother story), hopped in, and cooled himself off with a victory lap.
I went into the house for a pair of gloves and a sack for the squirrel. Seeing me head for his kill, Caleb hopped out of the pool and ran to it. I picked it up by a forepaw. He grabbed the hindquarters through the net with his mouth.
I let go of the squirrel for a moment. “I know, buddy, but we can’t leave it here. It will stink.”
He let go, too. I picked it up again. Then he grabbed on again. “It’s mine.”
“Caleb, leave it.”
He’s a good boy. He dropped his prey, and I bagged it and disposed of it.
Afterwards, Caleb got a big thank-you treat for
- figuring out that squirrels in the garden = bad
- giving himself the job of squirrel-proof net tent watcher,
- insisting that I pay attention, and
- actually catching a squirrel.
And from now on, I will listen to what my dog is trying to tell me.
Thank you to my friend and marvelous musician Tom Godfrey for sharing this little clip, and to Wes Funderburk, Atlanta trombonist extraordinaire, for using his powers for good.