Ella Beast : Squirrels

Ella un-a-cyst-ed

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Ella in her Surgi Snuggli after cyst surgery
I've been so focused on my book for the past year or more that I can't even remember the last time I posted an Ella update here to the blog. I find that unconscionable, so I'm here to remedy that.

First off, Ella is doing just fine, despite the fact that she had surgery last month, the second time this year. Like many wheaten terriers, Ella is prone to developing big sebaceous cysts, which for the most part we have left alone. They're mostly only a problem if they start to grow. In that case they can cause intense discomfort, or they can even burst and get infected.

Normally we've handled Ella's cysts by having them drained with a needle when they get too big, but in February we finally had to send her under the knife for the first time to have four of them removed. One had burst, another was getting bigger, and we figured we would just take as many off as possible as long as she was under anesthesia anyway.

This is considered minor surgery, but it's still nerve-wracking, especially because of the anesthesia. But Ella came through the first surgery fine, which made us a little less wary about doing it again last month.

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It's been several months since I posted an Ella video, so I figure we're overdue. Here's one I took this past Saturday at Astoria Park during off-leash hours.

Ella spies a squirrel foraging far out on the meadow. For a while she just watches, until I nudge her into action (about 0:27). The thing to note is how Ella bends her trajectory not directly toward the squirrel but to where she predicts the squirrel is heading. She trying to cut it off before it reaches its tree.

Spoiler alert: She doesn't catch the squirrel, but I still hope she will someday.

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Curious squirrel
The other morning I truly thought for a moment that Ella had at long last caught a squirrel.

We were walking in Astoria Park in Queens, as we often do, where dogs are allowed to roam off-leash before 9:00 a.m. There's a lightly wooded section of the park near the big swimming pool that I call Squirrel Alley, because all the trees and undergrowth ensure a robust population of arboreal rodents for Ella to chase.

We were walking past a tree that one squirrel had just used as an escape route when I spotted another squirrel on the far side of the tree. It was sitting on an exposed root eating a nut. It was three feet away from Ella, but she didn't see it—and it didn't yet see her. It was facing the wrong way.

I nudged Ella's shoulder and whispered, "Right there!"

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Just resting

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Dead squirrel lies prone,
Chin resting on its two paws.
Looks like it's sleeping.

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There are moments when you just can't get your camera up in time.

Tuesday morning Ella and I went to one of her favorite haunts, Warren Park, for an extended walk. Tennis ball in mouth, Ella bounded up the south side of the park's huge sledding hill in pursuit of a couple of squirrels. I followed along at the bottom of the hill, trailling a little behind her, expecting that at some point she would drop the tennis ball and keep going. As it turned out, she did, and the ball rolled almost exactly to my feet. I didn't even have to break stride to scoop it up.

As I was stashing the ball in my shoulder bag, Ella turned west and headed down the hill, having spied another squirrel in the middle of the grass. The squirrel ran west and vanished around the corner of the high chain-link fence that encloses the park's ice rink. Ella followed closely behind.

I could tell from the rattling sounds I heard that the squirrel had climbed to the top of the fence. Ella loves chasing squirrels along fences, and when I saw the squirrel come scurrying back around the corner on top of the fence, I started fumbling my iPhone out of my pocket. A good squirrel-chasing picture was sure to follow.

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Squirrel's-eye view (sorta)
I think I've finally figured out how Ella can be all the way at the front end of our apartment and detect the presence of a squirrel in the back yard. Birds are the key. When a rodent invades their garden space, the sparrows set up a particular squawking racket that Ella has learned to associate with the presence of a squirrel. She hears that sound and charges toward the back door yipping and yelping like her tail's on fire.

Late one morning last week, alerted by one of these yelping fits, I rushed to the kitchen to open the back door for Ella. As usual, she tried to squeeze through the opening before it was wide enough for her. Then she clattered down the stairs from our second-story deck, and I could hear her charging around the yard like a wounded rhino. She started barking from near the gate at the side of the house, so I leaned over the railing to make sure the gate was shut.

What I saw when I looked down was a squirrel climbing past the security lights installed on the corner of our brick building. (I wished I had a camera but my iPhone was in the apartment, charging. The photo below is one I took a few minutes later.) Ella was on her hind legs, barking up at the squirrel. The moment the crafty little rodent saw me peering down at it, it changed direction and darted along the railing of the deck below ours.

I hurried toward the stairs, my only intent being to flush the squirrel in Ella's direction. (I'm a good wingman for her in that regard, as is Laura.) But the squirrel didn't stop when it reached the end of our downstairs neighbors deck railing. It launched itself through the air, over Ella's head, leaping six feet to snatch at the branch of a tree in the garden. In moments it had swarmed up the trunk of the tree and made its escape over the roof of the garage.

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Omens

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Hanging Squirrel 6
It's a good thing I don't believe in omens or I'd probably think that 2011 is fucked. One of the first sights I saw on New Year's Day, when I was out walking the dog in the morning, was a dead squirrel hanging from power lines where they attached to the second story of house in our neighborhood.

The squirrel looked perfectly intact. It was hard to tell how it died. Maybe it had a heart attack. Maybe it froze to death. Maybe it touched a bare spot on one of the wires and fried. Whatever happened, I found the sight of it fascinating and compelling. After I took Ella home, I went back with our good camera and took as many pictures of it as I could.

Over the following days I kept checking on the poor creature. It appeared to be gripping one of the higher wires with its back paws, while it's body was draped over a lower wire. I thought it would likely fall off soon, or that someone would remove it, but as days turned into weeks the squirrel just kept hanging there. At first I found this encouraging. As January turned to February, though, I found it more and more disturbing.

Laura and I considered leaving a note on the front door of the house, reasoning that perhaps the residents had never looked up and seen the dead squirrel decorating their home, but we never did. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we were walking Ella together past the house. A compact SUV was parked at the curb, and three young children were carrying things from the house to the vehicle while a parent loaded the back.

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Ella is seven

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This is a seven-year-old dog
Yesterday was 10/07/10, and Ella turned 7 * . Using the common yardstick of seven dog years to one human year, she's now older than either Laura or I, which makes me sad. (Good thing Ella is immortal, and will outlive us both.)

Ella was six months old when we rescued her in April 2004. Well, really it was Laura who rescued her. We still lived in Queens at the time. I was on a week-long trip to the west coast—business in San Francisco, seeing my son in Portland, and hitting the Nebula banquet in Seattle. While I was gone, Laura spent a few days visiting her parents in the Chicago suburbs. Her parents' neighbors had a six-month-old, 18-pound soft-coated wheaten terrier puppy they couldn't care for anymore. They had heard from Laura's mother that Laura wanted a wheatie, and asked Laura if she would like to take the puppy home with her. She called me.

"Do you want a six-month-old wheaten terrier puppy?" she asked.

"Sure," I said. And thus our lives changed.

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Almost fall

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Squirrels chasing each
Other up and around trees
Like on Benny Hill

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William Ratfriend

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It's raining fairly hard here in Chicago this morning—not like in Texas, certainly, but hard enough that there's standing water a foot deep in places on our street. Ella and I just got back from an hour-long walk in that deluge. We had a famous time, chasing wet squirrels in the park and clambering on the maze of playground equipment that is forbidden to dogs.

Ella was kind enough to deposit a pile of turds near a large plastic rolling waste bin. It was the kind of bin with a hinged lid that is supposed to stay closed to keep rats out. The lid was open, though, and I swung the tied plastic bag of Ella's turds through the air and into the bin. Two points!

But the thud and swish of the bag landing in the bin was followed immediately by a harsh, raspy squeal. Startled, I moved near the bin and peered over the rim. A medium-sized rat was hunched in the sludgy foot of garbage at the bottom. I jerked back, then peered in again. The rat was soaked and looked terrified.

I drew back again. I had never seen a terrified rat before. I didn't know if it was injured, or if it had babies in there, or what, but clearly it was unable to climb the smooth, wet sides of the bin and escape.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Squirrels category.

Sports is the previous category.

Superstition is the next category.

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