Of Porcupines and Stock Car Racing

Stainless Steel Forceps – Quill Outerators

I tried to explain to Kavi, one of our livestock guardian herding dogs, that we now have airplanes so that if he wants to get somewhere fast he can just fly there, he doesn’t need to jump into his stock car and race around the figure eight track 100 times. But no, he won’t listen. He says it just isn’t the same.

Oh, wait, my bad, that’s John the stock car racer who might have replied thus had I said that to him. What Kavi and I were talking about was pointy sticks and porcupines. See Kavi thinks it is great sport to play with prickly pests while I just want to poke them with a pointy stick and be done. Fang and claw are much more macho says Kavi, the spear is too mechanical and lacks the thrill of paws on killing.

This morning I pulled about 100 quills from his face and some out of his mouth. I reached my hand deep down his throat where I can feel one at the back end of his tongue but can’t get it out. I’ve got large hands. He easily swallowed mine as I explored his innards. His front teeth were half way up to my elbow. He was polite enough not to bite off the hand that feeds him although he said it made him want to gag. I say polite because he allowed me to do it. He was the one who came to me and asked to have the quills removed. “Quills out”, “Quills out” he signed with pantomime. Paw signals are a part of our communication and really help at a time like that when your mouth, lips and tongue are full of sharp pointy needles.

Our daughter Hope compares it to people who like to go get drunk but hate the hangover. I personally would think that having all those quills in my face would make me rethink hunting porcupines with my teeth.

Perhaps I’m enabling Kavi’s risky behavior. He knows I’ll be here to take out the quill no matter how many he gets. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it again. One does not abandon pack. At best I will find the prickly critters and deal with them remotely using a pointy stick. I’m not fond of porcupines – I’m not taking them on my Ark.

Sirius agrees with me. He got three quills when he was a young pup. After that he never did it again. In fact, he doesn’t even go on walk-about. When the others venture out on adventures he comes and tells me they’re gone and tries to call them back. It is rather interesting how for some people these thrilling games, risk taking and drunken behavior can be so appealing but for other people it is the opposite. Sirius is a teetotaler like me. We’re just a couple of boring guys.

Remus, who is much younger and much larger, fought me tooth and nail, literally, when I pulled quills the first time. It took three people to hold him down. Two times ago he approached me himself and asked for “Quills out” but still acted badly during the operation. There is no anesthesia so he has to wolf up and tolerate the pain of the porcupine withdrawal. This time Remus, who had gone off with Kavi for some macho hunting, came to me and asked for the “Quills out” and actually held still with no restraint up until the last few quills when he finally said, “Enough” with a click-click snap of his teeth. He still has one protruding from his nose. Either he’ll pull it out himself or I will later when he’s ready.

Both Kavi and Remus told me to stop time to time by clicking teeth or grabbing my hand with their teeth when I ignored that. It hurt, but I’m sure they were in more pain than I. What is remarkable is the restraint they showed. Neither broke my skin any of the times. My skin is much more fragile than theirs. They have sharp teeth and strong jaws. That demonstrates a lot of understanding and will power at a time when they’re in pain. They were just asking for a break in the quill pulling procedure – a time-out. What they did with their teeth on my skin is the second word for “Stop” in their language. Best to respect it. At times in the past when Remus was uncooperative such that I couldn’t observe his request, I wore leather welding gloves for my own safety coupled with a thick stick for him to bite instead of me. This reminded me of the old western movies where the cowboy bites the bullet. Remus needed a pretty strong stick and tore it up pretty badly. Remus didn’t need the biting stick this time which made the whole much easier. It is much better now that he understands and helps.

After a few minutes of resting they come back for more “Quills Out”. It is a classic approach-avoidance behavior dance that they do until they decide it is time. Then they sit while I used the forceps and methodically removed more quills from their thick fur, nose, lips, gums, roof of their mouth and tongue. Will and Ben held and petted Kavi while I told tell him “Mouth Open”, “Head Up” or “Roll Over”. He really doesn’t like the last. He knows his position in the pack but as Alpha of the dogs and having three of us leaning over him from high-pack it makes him feel very vulnerable. Yet he did it. Slowly and methodically we got through it. I say held but it was not really restraint as much as touch, sometimes firm, sometimes light, sometimes stroking. He knew what he wanted, “Quills out”, and knew that he just had to get through the pain of the hangover.

I say they showed restraint because their jaws and teeth are quite capable of taking my hand off. They can bite right through the leg of a cow, sheep or pig – I’ve seen them do it many times. It sounds like a gunshot as they snap the bones. They sometimes take the stainless steel surgical forceps I use, holding on for a moment to make me pause in my work. They know it is for pulling porcupine “Quills out” of their skin. While they’ll grab and hold it sometimes they never damage it – which they could with ease. That’s restraint while a hundred barbed quills are pulled from your sensitive face, mouth and tongue.

Generally I want to pull the quills around their eyes immediately but they tend to ask for the ones inside their mouth to be pulled first, yawning open their long jaws studded with large, sharp white teeth, displaying the quills within. Once they have enough out it is a drink of water they want.

*clink* *clink* go my forceps against the glass of hot soapy water I use to knock the quills off the stainless steel as I pull each one out. While I remove quills I say “Quill out” for each one. It’s our count down, our mantra. I say “Good” if they cooperate and holds still. If they’re in the mood they turn their face to present the next area to be worked. One spot may be bothering them more than another. We switch back and forth as areas get sore.

Romula found she could better handle it if she had a swear word to use so she says “Ow!” each time I pull a quill. This helps her hold still without restraints, enduring the pain she knows she must handle to get through this. I’ve heard rumors that research shows that expressing pain reduces pain. Personally I’m not one to swear but if it helps her then that’s how we get through it.

At least Romula restricts herself to that one word and doesn’t let loose with a string of colorful language like Katya. I have no idea where my sweetie learned those words and I don’t understand most of them! A regular sailor that girl. Katya has never gotten quills – an mobility issue I suspect.

On the one hand they’re wicked smart dogs. They have language. They can count. They have words they use to indicate nouns, verbs and modifiers. They string them together. They’ve made up word to describe new things. They use their language, our English language, signs and pig chuffs so they actually speak multiple languages both across species and between themselves. They can count and do basic math. Not tricks but real world work. They have culture that is passed through the pack generations. They know the hundreds of pigs on our farm and in which paddocks the individual livestock are supposed stay. They know people who visit the farm and which ones are allowed where.

They’re intelligent, yet they also enjoy doing some very risky behavior that has serious painful consequences. Racing stock cars, er, I mean biting porcupines is dangerous. Same thing I guess – The hangover is a bitch.

Well, at least now I better understand why Kavi does what he does. His analogy helped. I had tried to point out that I could just kill the porcupines if he would show me where they were but that misses the point for him just like taking an airplane wouldn’t be the same as Thunder Road Race Track for our stock car driver friend. There is a certain thrill to living and sometimes that thrill carries a risk.

We all have our vices.

Katya Gambling
Porcupines & Stock Car Racing
Communicating Complexities
Bilingual Dogs
Makes Me Want to Gag!
Speaker for the Dogs
Dog Names

Outdoors: 74°F/47°F Sunny – A Palindromic Temperature Reading!
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/64°F

Daily Spark: Excuse me, I just ate someone I disagreed with… -Sirius looking abashed after throwing a mouse backup

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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2 Responses to Of Porcupines and Stock Car Racing

  1. Marc says:

    Your narratives and understanding of your dogs are amazing! I would be interesting to see a genealogical chart of them!

  2. Jenna says:

    Yowsa! I just love the stories of your dogs. I know from personal experience that dogs differ so much between breeds and have read that the wild wolves are a lot smarter than most type of the modern domestic pet type dogs. Your dogs look like wolves. They are so smart. I love that they have their own culture and communications. I bet a lot of that is because you have a pack of them that is many generations long. This makes them much different than a single dog who is orphaned tinto human society. I bet that if more of us took the time to listen we would understand our doggy friends better. I’m looking forward to more stories from the pack on sugar mtn!

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