Friday, September 30, 2011

Risk Management, St. Elsewhere Style


“Dogs! Reef! Roxie! C’mon!” we yell as the four of us tumble into the owner’s bedroom. Rick’s spotted a bee cloud racing across the fields toward the house, and we run for the closest room with glassed-in doors and screens. We sit in the dark, me peeking out from behind the blinds, as if letting them see us  would pull the hive in our direction.

I try to remember the rule about wild animals and eye-contact; is it don’t look, so you don’t appear to be challenging their alpha-maleness? Or look, so they know you’re as tough as they are? Or is that only with orangutans, but not with bears? And is there a rule for bees?

Or cows? Like the other day, when I instinctively ducked my head, turned on my heel, and walked quickly away when a large brown cow charged the dogs – though not retreating so quickly as to signal fear, or to cause her (or him) to want to chase me. I knew the minute I spotted her (or him) that this was no ordinary, road-wandering cow like you see here every so often (that is, every time you leave the house, since a dozen cows, along with a small family of donkeys and a mangy flock of chickens have claimed our side yard as their own).

This was a cow (or bull) who clearly felt she (or he) owned the entire English Quarter, a windswept bluff of open fields backed by thorny acacia trees  where we had taken the dogs for a walk, and where – apparently – cows like to hide.

As the dogs trotted out, happy to be among new smells and tastes, the cow (or bull – we never got quite the right angle on that) stepped out of a thicket. She was a good 15 feet away, so no worries, I thought. She’s just a cow. But this bovine fixed her gaze on Reef and Roxie - who, for their part, were skipping ahead, following their noses - and gave them a look that clearly said, “Stop. Frolicking. Now.”

I’m not sure exactly what happened next, because once I saw her move in our direction, I did my pirouette, dropped my gaze (or is that for moose? mountain lions? Think!), and headed back in Rick’s direction. I think I abandoned the dogs – I definitely didn’t invite them to follow me. I could hear the cow pick up steam, heavy hooves pounding across the grass. I thought of all those Western movies I’d seen as a kid, where the feisty dogs run like mercury on cattle round-ups, and I assumed instinct would kick in and they’d run that cow in circles, yipping and yapping like their forebears.

Reef and Roxie are, however, labradoodles, not border collies, and their instinct tells them to chase tennis balls and lie on your feet, looking elegant. Nipping at the heels of charging cattle is not in their DNA.

“Confused” is how Rick described their response to the cow attack. “They just seemed confused.”

Safe, after the attack
But they moved out smartly on the bee drill today. They knew who’d win that battle. And they looked darned good in retreat.

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