(This originally appeared on my blog at Patheos.com in May 2016.)
My dog Bailey was just outside, just hanging out in the grass, enjoying the evening air. She’d been outside maybe ten minutes when I went out to bring her in and saw that she had something pinned to the ground…it was a bird. I called to her, she moved towards me, and the bird jumped away. Bailey went after the bird, pinned it, and let it go. It hopped, she pinned it again. When it flew up about a foot, Bailey leaped up and caught it midair.
And the race was on. I told her to drop the bird, trying not to freak out. The bird was alive, squeaking and flapping its wings. I threw Bailey’s favorite ball in the hope I could distract her long enough to throw the leash on her and get her away, but all she did was run around with the bird, periodically dropping it to yank out feathers and then grabbing it again and taking off, bird bones crunching audibly as she chewed on the run.
My god, the poor bird! I tried to chase Bailey (bad idea). She’d drop the bird, I’d call cheerily and throw the ball again, and she’d start running. I used every attention-getting trick she’d trained with, to no avail, the bird getting smaller and smaller and me getting more and more panicked as the seconds ticked by. Could the bird even be saved now? There was no blood, just feathers flying. Maybe there was still a chance.
Eventually I ran into the house, reached into the fridge, grabbed a handful of mashed potatoes, and ran outside to throw them to the dog. She came running gleefully, but only because she’d already eaten the bird.
THE WHOLE BIRD. The head, the beak, the feet, and most of the feathers. I’d love to tell you what kind of bird it was, but the only thing she didn’t eat were a few feathers and the entrails, which oddly enough were left intact in the grass.
The entire scenario, from the moment I spotted her with the live bird until the time she finally came to me? Maybe two minutes, max. Probably considerably less, although it felt like an eternity.
I called the vet. We’ve just finished more than three weeks of dogs with stomach viruses and diarrhea and antibiotics, and I have no idea what’s going to happen to all of that bird that Bailey just ingested. The vet receptionist told me that dogs usually digest that kind of stuff really well, implying that this was a common thing, dogs eating entire birds. When I asked about the head, the beak, the feet, she simply said, “Yes.” When I pressed her – my dog ate a whole bird – she offered to have the vet call me to reassure me everything would be fine.
Will it be fine? To say that I’m traumatized is an understatement. I watched a bird go from hopping and flapping one minute to feathers and entrails the next, its life taken before my eyes by the animal that I cherish. There wasn’t even any blood; just feathers and that little string of bird guts. My dog did that.
I’m horrified that Bailey didn’t listen to me. She knows these commands cold and I tempted her with her favorite things. She should have listened to me. Then again, I had nothing to offer that could match a live bird. In her mouth.
Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. A few summers ago, she and Bandit made quick work of the three tiny baby bunnies that had been living in the back yard, bunnies who made the bad choice of hopping around right under the dogs’ noses and flaunting their frailty. It took me weeks to get over the fact that my dogs killed bunnies.
Of course, I understand that this is real life, it’s nature, it’s animals doing what animals do. We have a hawk that often visits our yard; I’ve come outside to find more than one headless sparrow who couldn’t escape the clutches of a bigger, stronger predator.
But at this moment, a few pin feathers still fluttering across the grass, this is too much nature for me. When I came inside after inspecting the yard for any body parts (there were none), Bailey was guzzling down a bowl of water and panting, her tail wagging, she clearly joyful for the hunt and capture she’d just executed. I looked her in the eye and, my voice shaking, whispered, “I can’t believe you just did that.” She stopped wagging and lowered her head a bit, and as our eyes met we both realized that, despite our mutual love and deep emotional connection, she will always be a dog and I a human. She will always eat birds and I will always be traumatized by it.
I reached out to hug her. She nuzzled my neck. I stroked her head and cried.
Bailey is sound asleep at my feet as I write, but I can hear her stomach gurgling, the bird likely making it’s way through her intestines. I’m praying she doesn’t throw up, at least not before darling husband gets home. The last thing I need now is a dog barfing up a bird’s head.