Summertime here in Michigan, and the livin’ ain’t exactly easy. Well, it ain’t easy for me. But it’s heaven for Henry.
We live in a development with the oxymoronic name of Beach Forest. It’s a lot more forest than beach, with trees, shrubs and flowers exploding into bloom in a week’s time in May. And with better weather also comes an explosion of critters—squirrels, chipmunks, birds, possums, rabbits, and deer, all apparently dedicated to defiling our backyard.
To protect us from the hordes is Henry, our own little twenty-five pound army of one. The days of summer in Michigan are long (5 a.m. to 10 p.m.), and after his morning coffee Henry is on almost continuous patrol, scanning the grounds in search of interlopers.
Bubba is essentially a mouser, a dog bred to hunt for little critters. And hunt he does, sprinting across the lawn, plunging into ivy, and sometimes bulldozing a path through the hostas to get to the crabapple tree, where occasionally a critter takes refuge from Henry’s efforts at eradication. Whether or not there actually is a critter in said tree doesn’t matter, as long as Henry thinks there is. That may be because I come out once in a while and shake the tree to encourage critters to dislodge, so that Henry may give chase. So his thinking is that if he jumps on the tree trunk long enough, I’ll come and critters will follow. Anything to keep me from writing, I guess.
I’m one of those geeks who loves nature shows, and I’ve often seen in them connections between animal and human behavior. As I watch Henry make his daily, engrossed rounds, I sometimes wonder where does the instinct for survival end and obsession take over? He certainly doesn’t need to catch critters to survive, but he regularly exhausts himself until I make him give up and come inside. I know a lot of people who act pretty much the same when they’ve decided they just have to achieve a certain goal. But I digress…
In the seven years we’ve lived here, Henry’s caught a handful of vermin, usually after intense chases. But a couple of weeks ago he spent an inordinate amount of time on the side of the house, by the air conditioning unit. When I finally went out to check I found him pawing at not one, not two, but three dead chipmunks.
A mystery was born. Had he killed them all? Henry’s fast, but not that fast. In case it was an epidemic among the chipmunks I contacted the vet, but Henry was fine. Perhaps it was some weird, rodential suicide pact. Maybe a neighbor cat had done the dirty work and deposited the critters there for between-meal snacks. I’ll never know for sure what happened. Of course, I asked him about it, but all I got was a canine smile, a wag, and his usual rejoinder: “Got any food?”
Who’s to say his obsession didn’t finally pay off? I can’t help noticing that many of the people lauded for their success—sports stars, entertainers, business moguls—are the ones who ignored the rest of their lives and relationships to focus on their goal and not the journey. Maybe obsession is the way to go. But I can say that his little adventure, whatever it was, hasn’t pacified him one bit. He’s still out there every day, nosing through the grounds in search of just one more critter.
As for me, back to the nature shows and the keyboard. We all have our obsessions I suppose.
Happy Dad’s Day to all you dads, btw.
 Beach is a nearby street, but it still sounds silly.
 Not that the squirrels and chipmunks et al aren’t around in winter, but Henry is a lot like Newman, the mailman from “Seinfeld”—he doesn’t work in the rain (or snow, or cold).
 One of several approved Henry nicknames, also including Babalou, Caligula and Melvin Belly (as in belly rubs).