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The sentry

April 12, 2011
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

When you leave our house by backing out of the driveway, you back onto the graveled portion of the lane before going around a slight curve and head directly south. You come up over a slight rise from the house, which is the highest point on the property. On this rise, weather permitting, is where you will find Holly. She is usually positioned right to the side of the lane, just watching.

Holly is our sentry. From this promontory, she can see most of the lane, including the head near the road, and a large portion of the edge of the property that lies to the east and south. This is the path civilized visitors must travel to the house. This vantage point also gives a clear view of the usual deer run. Holly is always vigilant of either.

Holly hears cars coming down the lane long before we do. If you happen to be watching her, you will know there is a possibility someone is coming long before you can hear tires on gravel. She cranes her neck, perks her ears and casts her steely eyes to the west. But, because she is vigilant, a car or truck just passing by on the road will elicit the same responses. Once she is certain there is a vehicle on the lane, she stands and begins a well developed routine.

Holly knows the sound of familiar vehicles. Each must have a unique sound she is able to discern. If it is a familiar one, her tail will begin wagging. If not, her tail will drop and she will give out a single husky bark to alert the other canines that an interloper is about to arrive. Once she gets the attention of the other dogs, the barking begins.

Unless it is 15 degrees or colder outside, or inclement weather has Holly bedded in the garage, no unfamiliar visitor will arrive here unannounced. I don’t think Holly sleeps much of the night either, she’s always watching. However, such service to her masters is not given without certain faults. Because of her hyper-vigilance, certain other visitors besides human will also trigger her sentry behavior.

Both Holly and Frankie, the athletic chocolate lab, who by-the-way is her best friend and almost constant companion, have this innate hatred of both raccoons and coyotes. They will engage either and dare the interlopers to tread on any part of what they consider their turf. They will also sound off when a squirrel is spied near the edge of the timber.

This well seasoned master has learned to discern from their behavior the likely species of any intruder.

If the trespasser is one of the many deer which haunt the property, Holly will give out a series of not-so-urgent throaty barks. She will stand in place, but will not pursue – she has learned a chase is frivolous -- she won’t catch them. Frankie however is not as smart, he regularly gives chase to deer. It is quite possible he just enjoys the sport.

If either a raccoon or coyote venture too close, the barking becomes more urgent and Holly will pursue. Frankie can tell by her signals he too must spring into action and the pair takes off, with Frankie leading and Holly taking up the rear. Smart interlopers will hightail it into the deepest reaches of the timber – the others suffer an unspeakable fate. I’ve disposed of enough carcasses to speak from experience regarding this subject.

I’ve often commented that Frankie isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he isn’t. Holly on the other hand is very smart. But as a team, they have perfected the art of squirrel hunting, with Holly taking the lead and the ultimately the spoils.

Squirrels are by nature rather playful and will take pleasure in luring a dog to a tree in order to tease them. A squirrel can move laterally around the base of a tree and manage to stay out of reach of a snarling, snapping dog.

Like I said, the two have learned to hunt those squirrels and many have fallen prey to their methods.

Frankie plays the part of the snarling snapping menace. The squirrel will dodge back and forth on the trunk of the tree and stay safely out of jaw reach. The squirrel becomes distracted by the viscous sounding Frankie and is unaware a second, silent killer has positioned herself on the back side of the tree, just out of sight Frankie stays in one position snarling until Holly is in place. All at once he will make a move on the squirrel causing it to move farther around the tree and right into the waiting jaws of Holly.

Holly is a rather large yellow Labrador retriever, and has tremendous jaw pressure. Entire rabbits have disappeared in mere minutes, and even the strongest steak bone is rendered to bits in a matter of minutes by those powerful jaws.

Holly is also very quick for an overweight old gal. She is the only dog I’ve ever seen who after being pestered too long by a nagging fly exacts the ultimate revenge – yes she is a very talented fly catcher. Think of the fellow who entertains by scooping a fly up in his hand, only Holly does it with her mouth, and with great precision.

Once again I’ve whiled away the better part of an early morning regaling you with dog tales. It’s time to get on with other productive things and get this story filed with my editor. While I might not have further anthropomorphized the pets as promised last week, I hope I have given you some further insight into Holly and her prowess as a hunter, as well as alert you to the fact it might not be wise to arrive unannounced down our lane.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the “Local Columns” button at the bottom of the page.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2011 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.

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