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Humor, The Writer's Life

A Summertime Mystery: Henry and the Cache of Critters

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[1], 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[2], scanning the grounds in search of interlopers.

Henry and the critter tree.

Henry and the critter tree.

Bubba[3] 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.

[1] Beach is a nearby street, but it still sounds silly.

[2] 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).

[3] One of several approved Henry nicknames, also including Babalou, Caligula and Melvin Belly (as in belly rubs).


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


13 thoughts on “A Summertime Mystery: Henry and the Cache of Critters

  1. Ok… I’m a total sucker for posts about Henry, the coffee-drinking dog. I like seeing the affectionate sides people turn towards their pets. Currently, I am considering why my cat Naveen is obsessed with the food bag in the closet, but ignores the food in her dish. “That’s human nature,” someone said to me. I think we want to read human emotions and intentions into our pets and to draw parallels between their lives and ours. Definitely enjoyed the post…

    Posted by Meg | June 15, 2013, 1:16 PM
    • Animals, especially pets, do tend to reflect our simpler aspects. Maybe that’s why we like them so much. Few complications.

      Posted by jpon | June 15, 2013, 7:13 PM
  2. Henry seems to have too much personality for just one dog–have you thought of having him cloned, so that some of the personality will seep into his “twin”? But then, there would have to be two of you to keep track of both of him, so I guess that’s not feasible. My brother’s dog Saki was actually partially responsible for a tree having to be cut down because of her escapades in this line: she spent so much time digging at the roots of the tree where all her favorite friends the chipmunks lived (in an effort to do unfriendly things to them) that the tree died and toppled, and had to be removed. I guess it doesn’t take much to amuse some furry “people”! Thanks for the picture of Henry, by the way.

    Posted by shadowoperator | June 15, 2013, 1:32 PM
    • Fortunately there is only one Henry, and just as fortunately he’s too small to do much real damage. But he can be a pain–it took me a half hour just to get that one, slightly blurry photo of him.

      Posted by jpon | June 15, 2013, 7:17 PM
  3. I love your Henry stories, Joe. My father-in-law named every one of his dogs Carmen and taught them to say, “I want coffee.” His second to last Carmen said it the best, clear as a human, “I want coffee.”

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | June 15, 2013, 1:57 PM
    • Would have loved to hear that. Must have been quite the shock to people. But I could never teach Henry to ask for coffee–he just sticks his nose in my mug when I’m not looking.

      Posted by jpon | June 15, 2013, 7:19 PM
  4. Henry is pure dog, and he takes his duties seriously: Door greeter, ankle sniffer and especially it seems, critter herder. That’s probably what he’d doing. He’s keeping track of and herding your backyard flock of mammals. And he knows that in your generosity, you tithe a small portion of your livestock to him. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

    Posted by Jon Zech | June 15, 2013, 3:35 PM
    • He, and most dogs are a lot smarter than we think. Seriously, if aliens visited earth, and the first thing they saw was a human and dog taking a walk, and the human bending over to pick up the dog’s business, which one would they think was in charge?

      Posted by jpon | June 15, 2013, 7:23 PM
  5. Obsession is it, for sure. Now if you could just direct his obsession somewhere useful, like a cup of coffee or a book deal or something like that….

    Posted by girl in the hat | June 15, 2013, 3:41 PM
  6. Admiring nature from a distance is fine for me. I’m a city gal at heart. Don’t know if I could live an animal that was constantly rooting up critters…
    I think your wife’s book idea sounds great. Look at all the dog memoirs that have done well!

    Posted by Gwen | June 20, 2013, 12:05 PM

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