By Tracy Ahrens
It was a sunny, peaceful summer Sunday and my dog, Trucker, was enjoying following me around our yard off leash while I completed yard work.
I was so used to spotting him lying in the sun or nestled in cool groundcover plants that I was rendered motionless seeing him bounding down the driveway after a goose. Large flapping wings, goose honking noises and the scratching of Trucker’s paws in gravel resulted as he playfully chased it out of tall grasses at the end of our driveway. I called Trucker’s name and he trotted back to me with a large smile on his face.
Friends have joked with me that creatures are drawn to my home, no matter where I have lived. A statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, stands on my front porch and in my backyard garden. Ironically, St. Francis died on Oct. 4, 1226 and I was born on Oct. 4. My pets (Trucker and three cats, Joan, Jack and Forest) are also friendly and seem to encourage critters to stop and rest here.
I have lived at my current home, along a river, for six years now and recorded the hopping, flying, crawling and walking creatures we’ve encountered so far. They have included:
Toads big and small hopping around our yard, including a baseball-size one that was resting inside of a downspout and hopped out when I moved some leaf debris. Trucker jumps back when they hop, like a chain reaction.
A snake along the riverbank that Trucker startled out of tall grasses and it slithered into the water. Trucker stared at it moving across the water and then carried on with his examination of the riverbank.
Cicadas that Forest likes to catch and leave for Trucker to sniff. Trucker likes to pick them up in his mouth and feel them buzz their wings against his tongue and cheeks.
Shrews that Forest hunts in groundcover plants and then waits for Trucker to swoop in and carry them away in his mouth.
Mice that sometimes move about in my upstairs ceiling when cold weather sets in. They scratch along in the ceiling as my cats and Trucker sit and lie about the room staring upward, following the noise with their eyes.
Squirrels that love to nest in a giant cottonwood tree in my backyard. Trucker chases them back up their tree now and then. We’ve found squirrels hanging on one window screen while they eat black oil sunflower seeds from a bird feeder. Trucker and Forest bounce their noses off of the window glass trying to catch the rodents.
A bat flying around in my house one night as Trucker leaped into the air to catch it like he tries to catch flies.
Opossums that often visit our yard, journeying up from the riverbank. One night Trucker dashed into the front yard and when I found him, he was sniffing a large opossum that stood motionless. I told Trucker a gentle, “No,” and he followed me back to the house. The opossum waddled about his business like nothing happened.
Raccoons that find our yard by exploring the riverbank. They also like to climb up a downspout on our house and trot around on our roof at night.
Neighborhood cats that prowl outside of our home at night, meowing and sometimes hopping up into the windowsills to look at my cats through the screen.
Stray dogs that make their way to the end of the dead-end road where I live and hang around in our yard waiting for rescue.
Geese that bring their babies into my front yard so they can feed. My cats and Trucker like to watch them from our porch roof and porch windows.
Ducks that waddle through our yard and neighbor’s yards, resting under bushes and sometimes on my front porch steps.
A wide variety of birds that nest in my yard, and owls that speak from trees around our home during the night. Woodpeckers have waked us a number of times as they drill the fascia boards around the second floor of our home.
Rabbits that stimulate Trucker into a greyhound-like frenzied sprint. One day he saw a bunny in our neighbor’s yard and took off so fast I couldn’t follow him. He ran at least a block before trotting back to me, exhausted.
One bunny-chasing story will always remain in my mind.
I had recently undergone foot surgery and was wearing a cast boot. Trucker was enjoying sniffing around at the side of our house, off leash. We live at the end of a dead-end street, so traffic is not a concern. Suddenly he spotted a rabbit and dashed off like a racing dog. My foot hurt so badly that I could not run after him.
I hobbled around the house calling Trucker’s name and paused in my neighbor’s driveway. I didn’t see or hear Trucker. Abruptly I noticed the same rabbit dashing across the neighbor’s lawn back towards my house. Trucker was nowhere in sight.
Somehow that little critter tricked Trucker and zipped away. I could swear it was laughing when it passed me by. I told it, “You better hurry and hide.”
Trucker walked back up the neighbor’s driveway to greet me with his tongue hanging low. He probably saw a squirrel while chasing the rabbit and got distracted.