Sunday, 5 September 2010

Barking Up the Wrong Tree - Part Two

Photo Copyright Jason Alexander's pet Collie, Jessica

I was at Barshaw Park sniffing around the trees, as I do, when I was hit by a falling chestnut shell. Immediately I was alerted to the presence of a squirrel. I studied the branches of the leafy canopy above, listening intently for movement. Those critters are like irresponsible daredevils leaping from tree to tree without a safety net but occasionally they slip up and plummet to the ground. That is the best time to catch them, while they're still dazed, but you have to be ready because they recover fast. 

I have a love/hate relationship with squirrels - I love to chase them, hate not being able to catch them. We once had a regular squirrel visitor to our garden. He always escaped unscathed if perhaps a little frightened. From the bird feeder he would scarper towards the house along the top of the fence, moving like a furry wave. From the fence he would jump to the drain pipe then climb up to the temporary safety of the first floor. Here he would pause and assess his escape route. It was an amazing spectacle watching him crawl a horizontal path along the brick work, gripping the thin edge where the bricks were separated by mortar. When he lost a paw hold, I was sure he would fall. I even barked reassurance that I would catch him - catch him in my waiting jaws, that is. He just ignored me, concentrating on hanging on, until he reached the corner of the wall and then leapt across to the wall of the house next door and away, his cheeks full of nuts from the mistress' bird feeder. She removed the bird feeder shortly afterwards.

Anyway, something odd happened at the Park. The squirrel had been deliberately attracting my attention. He wanted to talk. He climbed down the tree trunk within squeaking distance and, when I had finished my barking, explained his proposal. The park had too many squirrels and not enough nuts to go round. He wanted my help to thin out the population. He wasn't the biggest grey squirrel I'd seen so I could understand his predicament - he couldn't take on the big boys and would go hungry and die in the winter. His plan was to lure the competition to ground level where I could pounce, ripping them apart. It sounded like a great plan.

I was to stay at the foot of the trunk out of sight and wait. He bounced away in search of our first victim. I looked around and noted he had offered the same deal to a number of dogs who were all standing alert at the foot of their trees, front leg crooked, poised for attack. Minutes went by, Everything was silent. Anticipation grew. Drool descended from the jaw of one salivating Boxer. Everyone simultaneously shushed a passing Afghan who, having pooped, scraped the leaves behind him. The tension was massive.This was going to be a massacre.

Suddenly a breathless Labrador pounded down the path by the Nursery Corner. He was exasperated. "Come on lads, quick! There's a million squirrels sweeping up all the fallen nuts over the hill." By the time we rushed over, the ground was bare and all we could hear was squeaky giggling coming from unseen full mouths in the trees above. We'd been conned. 

I post this as a warning to fellow dogs everywhere. Never trust a squirrel, especially when it comes to nuts.