“Trade?” I ask Willow when she has hold of something not good for her (like my sock, a pencil or a shard of firewood).
Her ears perk up. She runs over to me, drops the not-so-good thing for a better thing (a cookie or an approved chew toy).
We are in the process of learning “Drop It” which is a harsher command (think of how it sounds — the intonation behind the words as opposed to the inflection of “Trade?” which ends in an up pitch). But I wonder if it’s such a good thing to barter with your puppy.
Today, Willow found a gray rat. I don’t know if she killed it or if it was already dead. But at 6:30 this morning, I looked out the window into the dog yard on the farm to see this bit of fur with the unmistakable rat tail limply hanging from her mouth.
Being a natural ratter, she was ecstatic. Racing around the yard, the little gears in her primitive mind whirling with great velocity, torn between finding a place to hide her new treasure and the inability to let it go.
Fascinating from a anthropological point of view. DISGUSTING from my personal point of view.
The dilemma: I have nothing better to trade that beats a dead rat.
Ninety minutes of watching her and periodically enticing her to “Trade?” and coming up short later, she appears at the back door sans rat. I pray she hasn’t eaten it (poison possibility, worms, God knows what else) but stashed it somewhere for later. She comes in, gets breakfast, is praised for coming in.
While she eats breakfast, I go out into the big dog yard (which is actually a part of my garden), wearing a pair of work gloves and muck boots to seek the corpse. No luck. Only Willow will lead me to her prize, so I put her on a long lead and harness. Out we go together, leaving Gus and Martha in the house. Sure enough, she dives into the dank darkness beneath the deck and emerges with mouth clamped around the dead vermin.
“Trade?” I ask, holding out her favorite squeaky plush toy.
Are you kidding? her eyes say. I am a ratter. I am a great spotted hunter. I have prey. Real prey, with real fur and real stink. Uh-uh.
I reel her in, grab her by the scruff of her neck and pinch her nose. The dead rat, its gray fur now matted with dog saliva, its long yellow teeth visible in a mouth in the beginning stage of rigor mortis, drops to the ground. With my free gloved hand, I lift it by its long naked tail, holding it high above my shoulder as we walk toward the garbage can just on the other side of the dog yard fence.
It hits the bottom of the empty plastic bin with an unremarkable thud.
Willow looks at me, crestfallen.
There will be other rats, even if she does not yet understand that. But there is always something special about your first time.