Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When in Doubt...Run

One of the things my husband, Bev, loved about growing up on a farm was the freedom he had to roam over the expanse of their 150 acres when the work was done. Our own children loved to visit the farm where he grew up for the very same reason. The rolling hills and sun kissed fields offered endless possibilities for adventure. There was a stream at the back of one of the farthest fields and close on its banks was a stack of cedar rails left over from the dismantling of a rail fence. We called it the teepee because that’s what it resembled with the rails all standing on end and leaning together at their apex to form a rough circle. It was the perfect destination on the day when Jason and Lauren decided to hike to the back of the farm to pass the time while their older brother, Daniel, was away with the men getting a load of wood. I wasn’t worried about letting them go off on their own. Our dog, Brownie, would stay with them and there was nothing dangerous out there anyway…. or at least that’s what I thought.

I might have been a little less complacent if I’d known that the first thing they would attempt to do on reaching the teepee was to climb it. I must have forgotten my own childhood and the irresistible power of those three little words ‘I dare you’. It was no surprise that Jason managed to reach the top of the stack but Lauren, not to be outdone, also managed to pull herself up the steeply tilted rails. Brownie was intent on her own pursuits. Her keen sense of smell had picked up the scent of some creature hidden away inside the teepee and she was busily nosing around its base looking for some way to get in. She eventually found what she was looking for and immediately squeezed herself into the small opening in an excited attempt to reach whatever animal had its den in there.

The children looked at each other in considerable alarm when her barking changed to yelps of pain and there was a frantic scrabbling that set the whole stack of rails to trembling. The animal she’d cornered in the teepee turned out to be a porcupine and the encounter was an agonizing lesson for Brownie. She managed to get herself turned around in that small space but that just meant that she got hit both front and back. By the time she emerged she was fairly bristling with quills from one end to the other.

Jason had climbed down by then and he could see for himself what had happened. He didn’t know much about porcupine quills and he was convinced that if Brownie brushed up against him those spiny darts would stick into him as well. There was only one thing to do….run.

“You better get down,” he shouted over his shoulder to Lauren who was still up on the teepee. “Porcupines can climb trees!”

With that parting bit of sage advice he lit out for the house as fast as his legs could carry him. Much to his consternation, Brownie tore off after him and no matter how fast he ran she was never more than a few steps behind him. We could hear him screaming long before he appeared in the yard, feet flying and arms pumping wildly with the dog racing at his heels. I couldn’t believe he’d run all that way without stopping or slowing down and I wasn’t too happy that he’d left his sister back there by herself. Then again, under the circumstances I could see that he felt he’d had no choice. He was only too happy to go back for her once we had Brownie firmly in hand and there was no further danger of her touching him with the formidable array of quills sticking out of her. As it happens Lauren was already well on her way back to the house by the time he reached her. Jason’s warning about tree climbing porcupines was a good incentive not to dally anywhere near the teepee.

Meanwhile, poor Brownie was in terrible pain. Even her eyelids were covered in quills. Bev’s sister and I donned heavy gloves and worked together to hold her securely while we used pliers to try to pull out the ones nearest her eyes. It wasn’t working very well. We couldn’t do it without hurting her and she kept snapping at the pliers. In the end we made a quick phone call and bundled her off to the vet in town. He gave her an anesthetic and was able to extract the quills while she slept. He removed over a hundred of them. She wasn’t too lively for the next few days but it wasn’t long before she was back to her usual rambunctious self…a little older and a little wiser about what sort of animal to leave strictly alone.

Brownie has been gone for a number of years. She lived long enough to have been considered eligible to vote which is a great old age for dogs. She was a constant companion on many adventures and saw all our children grow to adulthood. She never forgot the lesson she learned that day on the farm and neither did we. We still have a plastic bottle filled with quills as a memento.


  1. Brownie Learned - she was one smart dog! Most dogs just get mad at porcupines in general and look for "revenge" on the next porcupine they see, which, like in life, leads to a never-ending cycle of pain.
    Love the story, I can see it all happening, great visuals, miss that pup.

  2. I still remember that. What an adventure. She looked like a fuzzy demon cactus! She was a good co-adventurer and hunting partner.