When you wish upon a squirrel

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The other morning I truly thought for a moment that Ella had at long last caught a squirrel.

We were walking in Astoria Park in Queens, as we often do, where dogs are allowed to roam off-leash before 9:00 a.m. There's a lightly wooded section of the park near the big swimming pool that I call Squirrel Alley, because all the trees and undergrowth ensure a robust population of arboreal rodents for Ella to chase.

Curious squirrel
We were walking past a tree that one squirrel had just used as an escape route when I spotted another squirrel on the far side of the tree. It was sitting on an exposed root eating a nut. It was three feet away from Ella, but she didn't see it—and it didn't yet see her. It was facing the wrong way.

I nudged Ella's shoulder and whispered, "Right there!"

Ella turned and spotted the squirrel. Often she'll stare at a squirrel, transfixed, before trying to catch it, but this time she burst immediately into a run. Her muzzle touched the squirrel's back before it even reacted. My stomach knotted. Here it comes! I thought, bracing for it.

But Ella's mouth wasn't open. The squirrel bolted straight up the tree. Ella looked up curiously ("But dogs can look up!"), then continued on her patrol.

It's possible I was more disappointed than she was. I don't wish most animals harm, but I do desperately want Ella to catch a squirrel. She's been trying her whole life without success. She did once catch a young rat, which I made her drop, and the look she gave me afterward was one of withering scorn. Ever since, I've been determined to help her live her dream, just once.

Look, I know it's a horrible thing when a dog catches a squirrel. I've seen it happen at that same park. I've heard the ungodly screams (not shrieks or cries but screams) when one is being shaken and chewed to death. And still I want my dog to be the one doing the shaking and chewing. It's her function. It's what she was bred for.

She's ten and a half years old. She's still pretty fast, but she's not as fast as she used to be. I'm not sure she'll manage it on her own. The clock is running down. Which is why I'm out here on the front patio every afternoon with this bag of peanuts.

Think of me as the Canine Make-A-Wish Foundation.


Here, Ella stalks some other squirrels earlier this year.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on May 9, 2014 9:13 AM.

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