Kathy Riordan

Kathy Riordan
Florida, United States
April 27
One woman's view of life and the universe. Follow @katriord on Twitter.


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JUNE 29, 2012 11:38AM

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

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Two days before my winter migration to Florida last November, an unexpected visitor arrived in our neighborhood in central Wisconsin--a six foot black bear.

Although we live very much in town, and less than two blocks as the eagle flies from the helicopter landing pad that services the local emergency room and hospital, we are surrounded by forest, very much a rural setting in an urban one, and the fact that many of the neighbors feed wildlife--the resident deer population, the flock of wild turkeys--made our street all the more attractive to a bear reluctant to bed down for winter.  For the same reason, the appropriate government agency once contacted refused to assist in trapping or relocating the bear unless all neighbors cooperated with taking down their bird and animal feeders, which they were similarly reluctant to do.

I first became aware of the bear's presence late one night when my neighbors returned home and were honking their car horn loudly in the driveway.  A phone call later, I was informed the bear had run to a tree in my front yard, a tall ash.  The next morning between the ash and another tree, there were prints in light snow.

The government agent assured that the bear would soon hibernate for winter, never fear, but the animal's arrival accelerated my departure, and we headed to warmer climes.



I was walking my dog one Florida morning in early April, the bear long forgotten, the cold behind us.  His jocular jaunts were our customary greeting to the day, stretching legs in a neighborhood both friendly and familiar.  Generally there were few hazards, except occasional bad weather which if possible we avoided.

We'd seen the greyhound occasionally on our street, visiting we thought from another state, but never perceived him as dangerous until in a flash he had twelve pounds of my Havanese in his teeth, thrashing him from side to side like a rag doll, a stuffed toy, in a my-God-who'd-have-thought sort of moment.  We always hope our instincts will serve us in those moments, but never sure there will be anything but a tragic outcome.

Several hours, several stitches, and several hundred dollars later, my dog came home alive from the emergency clinic.  The mystified owner of a rescued greyhound was left to ponder how the unthinkable had happened.
That it happened in the first place was nightmare enough.  That the owner chose to shadow us up and down the street in the days and yes weeks that followed, was, well, incomprehensible.  Bullying was something I didn't really have to endure as a child--teasing, yes, but not bullying--and not even as an adult, so I found the gestures of a sixty-something man parading the animal that had severely injured my dog and terrorized us both to be lightyears outside the range of acceptable civil behavior.  Maybe that retired racer was gentle every day of his life before and after that, but on that day, he was Cujo, and that was enough to mark him in my own mind as a threat.

As spring came to Wisconsin, I learned the bear had returned.  More accurately, he had never left.  Apparently, according to the government agent, he had hibernated on our street (why not?), satisfied there was a reliable food source at winter's end.  And he was right.  

Neighbors ultimately complied with the government agent's request that feeders be removed, and within twenty-four hours of a trap being set, it had Yogi inside on his way to a new home.


A month later I was in a movie theater in Florida on a stormy night in Wisconsin, almost but not quite ready to make the return migration north, when I got a phone call. 

"It was a stormy night here in Wisconsin," my neighbor told me.  I knew already, as I had seen the storm watches and warnings online.  "The wind was pretty bad.  But it hit only one house on our street."

I knew already.  My house.  One tree, a large maple, had been completely uprooted and carried across the street.  The other, a stately ash, had split in two, the fallen half laying in my front yard.  Neither would ultimately survive.

I laughed with the assurance of Garp after the airplane flew into his home.  We'd be safe now.

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busy winter!

I will tell you something that perplexes me to this day: in the aftermath of that awful storm that brought down so many trees in new england AND wiped out the power across the state for more than a week, there may have been an incident.

according to my neighbors my dog, poppy, who is a visla/german shepherd mix and who has never run off or wandered away, left our property and attacked another dogs, a small pomeranean. they swore it was her. except we have a fenced and gated yard and our dogs have never been out there unsupervised for more than a little while.

well, because they couldn't say for sure, there was only one witness at a distance. and because they looked at our yard and saw there was no way for her to get out but to jump the fence AND then jump back in, it was put to rest. my poppy showed no injuries. there was no indicator.

but she doesn't care for small dogs. she may see them as prey we don't know. it was a stressful week. no electricity. lots of people walking around the area, lots of chain saws going, trees falling, noise, tension.

she MAY have done the unthinkable.

as I see it, with animals you NEVER know.

so we keep her close. there are NO unsupervised outsides. NO chances. NO not seeing her in the yard. I don't assume the worst, but I wonder.
ps. I hate losing trees. we sustained serious tree damage in that storm. a giant japanese maple may or may not make it after losing about a third of her limbs.

I hope you didn't sustain too much damage and by too I'm thinking the kind that insurance companies might not pay out on initially, but are important enough to make you a little crazy until they're repaired.
Hard to attest if you didn't witness. Imagine if you had witnessed. I can see that a storm could have created some mayhem there. What happened to the pomeranian? And you're right, with animals, you never know. Sometimes, with people either.
Foolish, I lost all of my mature trees. A third tree, a mature birch, came down about three years ago. It looked terrific, but was apparently diseased. The tornado took these other two. The maple trunk is still as you see it in the bottom photo above, looking a little like a post-terrorism memorial. Who knows what the city is planning to do with it. In the meantime, there it sits, a testament to the power of nature.
The Pomeranian was stitched up and is - last heard - fine. But she or he had been attacked a couple of months before that.

You know Kathy, we don't know what dogs communicate to one another. This dog was one yard away from us. So it's possible the little dog was communicating something to my dog that may have made my dog think, "better go deal with that". (german shepherd).

Although she's never done ANYthing like that. Still, she does not care for the little dogs. Or cats. She looks at them curiously and sometimes one of us will leash her when we're visiting friends with cats or miniature dogs. She did not bother our Smoochie, who came to us as a tiny little very annoying puppy. She didn't mother him, but left him alone. So if it's in her, she keeps whatever it is she's feeling about small animals, under control and we make sure of it.

Because you never know with any animal. You really never do.
Great post, Kathy. When I was in jr. High many moons ago I had a pet donkey. I had bottle fed her as an infant. She was the cutest thing! When she was about 6 months old a pack of neighborhood dogs jumped into the corral and attacked her, almost killing her. A neighbor boy witnessed it and ran up to the house to tell me. Expensive vet bills, months of treatment, and many tears on my part, but she survived. Dogs have a pack mentality, even domesticated, and this group of dogs when let loose during the day would join up and hunt. Very scary. Glad your dog came out of it ok.
Our (I always say 50 ft but it's more like 35 ft) Japanese Maple split into three parts. Two main branches tore away at the trunk, one pretty badly. The tree guy said it will probably come back but he had me tar up the splits, feeling it would give the tree a break during the winter although this isn't done anymore. But the splits were very open and severe.

Thank goodness we had a particularly mild winter, although with parasites, who knows? might not have been for the best. We'll know in appx two years.

Oh I was crazy with the trees. We had to cut away at a very old oak that came down in the front. it wasn't on our property but our assessor said we should for our own safety. it hung right over our roof and driveway and had been throwing limbs on us for years. one limb hit our chimney and cracked it. but it broke my heart to do this because we know we killed it. the owner wouldn't pay to cut it down, so it will slowly die, the most beautiful and majestic oak on the street. it's terrible what nature can do. (sighing here)
Sighing indeed. Nature, and animals. lschmoopie, I've never seen anything as personally terrifying and violent as that greyhound attack. And I've seen a lot. foolish, it's hard with these trees. I had a family member take photos the next day to send to me. The maple that flew across the street blocked much of the street that night, so the city came and cut it up, hauled it away, and put the trunk (as you can see, sort of) back where it was. The stump of the ash eventually got ground down, but the city is responsible for the maple, and hasn't attended to it yet. I had hoped they'd try to save the ash, but it wasn't to be. The two trees I lost are the trees in the top photo of this post. That was my view, until recently. Now it's just bare lawn. And that mangled trunk.
It's good to see you back, in spite of the rather unpleasant circumstances. Bears on the street... kind of surreal. ~r
OMG your poor puppy! This is why I carry a .45. My little dog stays close and safe!
Joan, don't you think that video is reminiscent of the one in the Mel Gibson sci-fi movie, "Signs?" That just occurred to me. A big dark shadowy figure creeps across the screen.

And Doug, that'll work. I'd probably shoot myself in the foot, carrying one, or worse. I'm not sure much of anything was going to dissuade that greyhound that day.
It's strange how nature is always present, and sometimes menacing. What I love in your account is how odd it is, if you think about it, that the bear didn't ruin your home - a harmless-seeming tree did. It all shows how powerful the earth is - there are forces so far beyond our control.

The mind, too, is a powerful and strange thing. Maybe the greyhound was a rescue dog who'd been traumatised by his past. Something in the way you or your dog were walking might have caused a flashback. Maybe his owner felt so defensive of his always-gentle dog, believing that you and your pet were to blame. So complex. I feel sorry for all animals, because they can't communicate with us verbally to explain exactly why they did this or that thing.

I'm very, very happy both dogs are all right, and you are, too, and I hope the damage to your Wisconsin house isn't too extensive - and I'm VERY glad you and your dog weren't there when the tree fell!
That bear is huge! My gnat-level attention span, however, drew me to the view from your yard. Spectacular at night, huh?

Sweetie suffers the same problem as my Coqui -- they both look like Big Dog marshmallows.

I could write a long blog on the language of dogs but I won't clutter up your comment section. Suffice it to say that the attacking dog's owner is ultimately responsible for how the dog interacts with other dogs. That attack could have been prevented with the right conditioning of the grayhound early on.
Well, the sky didn't quite fall down, and best of all, Sweetie was ok. Have a nice, peaceful rest of summer.
Nice to see you here again, Kathy: You've been missed. Glad your dog was OK.

We've lost a couple of ash trees across the creek (compliments of the emerald ash borer) on the far side of the ravine. I actually saw one come down during a windstorm. Broke my heart, even though I knew they were dying. I don't like removing even scrub trees out at the conservation area where I volunteer.
Alysa, thanks for seeing the interconnectedness of all of this mayhem. Fortunately, nothing touched my house. I have to wonder about the past of any rescued dog, but a retired racer has its own unique history, and you're right, it's difficult to get at that.

L., that video was shot from a neighbor's home to the east of mine, so not precisely my view (mine is more wooded, the lights of the ski hill peering through bare trees in winter), but it is striking. Big dog marshmallow is right.

Torman, I so agree. He lost control of the animal, and it was startling and eye opening.

Lea, yes, and I am aware and very appreciative of that fact.

Boangeres, thank you. I generally argue in favor of a tree, and really had hoped this ash would make it. What will yet grow in its place is yet to be determined.
there is a line for the ages indeed:
"I laughed with the assurance of Garp after the airplane flew into his home. We'd be safe now."
You are overdue for a long period of BORING.
A great telling of these events in your life this past winter. Well done!
Hi Kathy! What a crazy, scary time for you. Glad the dog is ok. Im not crazy about bears in my yard either. They are beautiful at a distance!
Wonderful writing as usual! I hope the owner of the greyhound offered to pay vet bills. That dog should be leashed at all times and under control. Accidents happen, true, but some apologies and financial responsibility for the actions of one's pet is needed. If my dog attacked another person's pet, I'd pay vet damages and be quite apologetic.

Taking down feeders is essential when bears are in an area.

The vet school at the college I work at rehabs retired racers and they are never walked without a muzzle in place. Apparently, their race training doesn't include socializing with other pets and they do attack other animals. Sorry your dog had to be in the receiving end of that.
What Phyllis said. I thought everybody knew that. They're conditioned to chase little things. Dog races end in a scrum with the dogs all attacking the "rabbit" and the owners wading in to drag them out. Retired greyhounds are great pets, but you gotta know what you're doing.