Fred Dickey

Fred Dickey is a writer living in Cardiff, CA, USA

IN BACKYARD BRAWL, BEAGLE IS NO MATCH FOR RACCOON

"You need to write something lighter," my wife, Kathy, lectured. "You've been writing too much sad stuff. Write about what happened to Moxie (our beagle)."

"You think that's not sad stuff?" I said. "Moxie was attacked. She was in agonizing pain. The poor little creature was brutalized."

"Well, you could write it humorously."

***

Where to start? It was an eventful day for us and our runty beagle. "Eventful" usually means expensive.

Uneventful days for Moxie consist of sleeping for 18 hours, eating two meals and begging for six more, and guarding the house from the deck against leashed terriers out on a walk, but with furtive behavior that makes Moxie watchful of a sudden move to take over her territory. You can't trust sneaky dogs.

But back to the (more interesting) other kind of day.

It became eventful the moment a raccoon waddled by, intent on finding an unguarded koi fish pond. It was only being a coon, which can be irritating to koi owners.

Suburbanite raccoons no longer seek meals in creeks for little one-bite fish, which has a poor cost-benefit ratio.

That is so yesterday. They now dine on plate scrapings of filet mignon in Del Mar garbage cans.

Of course, nailing a fat carp in a backyard pond is a piece of cake (actually, a fish), even if a coon's skills are rusty.

An urban raccoon can range from 15 pounds up to gastric-bypass weight, depending on the security of garbage-can lids. However, in a fight, no raccoon is small. Those 15 pounds include 10 pounds of claws. Though they look cute, which they are as a stuffed toy, don't be fooled. They're wolverines with an arthritic walk.

They say raccoons are prey to coyotes, but I'll tell you what: That's got to be one tough coyote willing to pay for its dinner.

When humans seek to prove their stupidity, coons are happy to oblige. It's been known to happen in the rugged Sierra wilderness, between the Yosemite Lodge gift shop and the bus stop, that foreign tourists from Japan or New York rush for medical help holding a bloody hand out in front like a bowling trophy. The raccoon watches them run away while spitting out a finger. Doritos are preferred.

The ranger postings warn not to feed the animals. Apparently, the signs don't have room to mention no petting.

Down south, a "coon dog" hasn't earned the title if it doesn't have as many scars as a daydreaming butcher.

So, what skin does Moxie have in this game? Beagles aren't guardians of gentrified carp.

First, a word about the pampered Moxie. She's a cuddly pet to us "owners." Can I still say that?

Some pursed-lip souls oozing with unctuous, preening sentimentality take offense at the "owner" label. They prefer "guardian" or "companion." Even "pet parent" is suggested. However, that might be awkward for a woman who becomes "parent" to a male dog.

However, a cute dog is not universally loved. To rabbits and ground squirrels, Moxie is a terrorist deserving of a gallon of waterboarding.

She'd make her living hunting little rodents full time if she weren't already on welfare.

Moxie stares through a patio door by the hour at a hole in the fence where a ground squirrel briefly surfaced back in 2015. She is heeding an ancient inner voice that commands: Thou shalt seek and destroy cute little furry creatures that mean thee no harm.

Eternal vigilance is the price of, well, killing a rodent. Surely, hers is a study in determination and patience. But on the other hand, she has nothing else to focus on except the aforementioned eating and sleeping.

(I once had a boss who would doggedly stare like Moxie while monitoring the office coffee machine.)

Dogs snore, and they dream, too, which is apparent by restless yipping in mid-slumber. About what, I can't imagine. Maybe she's the regal Buck in "Call of the Wild." However, Jack London would never have created an undersized beagle as a noble canine protagonist.

Someone once advised that a touch of mineral oil in Moxie's food would make her coat shiny. Well, yes, it does that, but I won't tell you what else it does, this being breakfast time.

Anyway, back to the showdown in suburbia. You know by now that dog and coon are going to meet, right? And revenge for the rodent nation will ensue, right? I foreshadowed that. Well, when they did, the fur flew, which is what we say when a better metaphor hides from us.

It started when Moxie was making one of her appointed rounds in the backyard. All of a sudden, she sees this - What? Giant ground squirrel? A Boone and Crockett record? ... Well, big and fat, but manageable. This is what I do.

The battle lasted about 10 seconds, but must have seemed forever to one of the combatants. Guess which one?

Moxie ended the fight by doing what she could do and the coon couldn't - yelp and run like hell. And if a smirking rabbit were watching? Too much to bear.

A friend was closer to the action and might have jumped between them, but refused. People always let you down.

There were two winners and two losers in this bout. The coon remains undefeated and waddled away with a great brag to take back to the den. The bloodied loser was Moxie. Joining her in doleful defeat were her human companions: Kathy, the treasured companion, and I, the tolerated one.

The other winner was the veterinarian (sponsor of the coon, I believe) who joined the raccoon in the winner's circle $904 richer, and cooing sympathetic condolences that not for one minute did I believe.

Moxie emerged from the vet's clinic stitched up like a pet companion to Frankenstein's monster, wearing a cone on her head like an alien in a 1950s sci-fi movie. Maybe she should be allowed to lick her wounds. She sure as hell couldn't lick the coon.

My next dog is going to be a three-legged pug named Tripod that'll hobble away in panic from a backyard gopher.

 

Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]

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