Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quills Not Meant for Writing...

I have a lot to catch up on. So first things first. Let's talk about quills.

Not fancy, old-fashioned writing tools -- though those things are damn cool. (Have you ever written with one? There is something so comforting and so "I am creating something important" about the loud scratchiness of quills.)

Oh no. I mean porcupine quills. These lovely things.

And I am sure all of you now realize exactly where I am going with this.

~ sigh ~

Rilke, my smart boy, had one interaction with a porcupine this summer. I was lucky in that he only had maybe 10 quills, mostly in his nose. This meant softer tissue, making it somewhat easier -- but a hell of a lot bloodier -- to get the quills out. But he also learned his lesson, and at the next sighting of a porcupine he most definitely barked his butt off at it -- at a nice safe distance.

This is due to the first fun fact of the day: porcupine quills have slight "ridges" on them (for lack of a better word) that act as little reverse hooks once they have entered something else. That is, they enter the other body easily, but resist being pulled out by "grabbing" as you pull. To be more exact and scientific sounding (thanks to this website):
Quills vary in size from half an inch to 4 inches (1.2 to 10 centimeters) long. Despite their appearance, quills are really specialized hairs. A quill consists of a follicle that attaches to the skin, a shaft with a spongy interior and the notorious barbed tip. If you look closely at the tip, you'll see multiple layers of barbs that cause the quill to embed deeper into a victim's skin after penetration.
Fun fun fun...

Second fun fact of the day: porcupines are the third largest rodent, behind the capybara and the beaver. According to Wikipedia (read more here): Most porcupines are about 25–36 in (63–91 cm) long, with an 8–10 in (20–25 cm) long tail. Weighing between 12–35 lb (5.4–16 kg), they are rounded, large and slow. They are herbivores, and the North American version can climb trees in search of food.

Don't they sound like cute little critters?

And to be honest, they actually are pretty damn cute looking and cool looking. It's just when your dog decides to introduce themselves and forgets basic etiquette about personal space.... Ever met a "close talker"? Well then you understand why porcupines might be a bit offended by a dog's lack of respect for distance in communications, and might shove a few quills down them....

Okay, so porcupines don't do the quill thing "pro-actively". They are not capable of shooting them out or even flinging them at a predator -- or a non-personal-space-respecting creature. They merely are released due to contact (damn close talkers!) or may fall out as the porcupine shakes its booty.... er, body.

So. What does this have to do with me, besides the Rilke "incident" over the summer? It appears Hollow is not quite so smart -- or quite so willing to back down -- or quite so willing to.....

Not. Get. Porcupine. Quills. 

First time: Hollow disappears, as usual, towards the end of our walk, and finally reappears as we get close to the cabin. (My calling "Hollow, Heading home. Heading home, Hollow" might have something to do with that. Might.) I notice several quills in her front legs. Deep sigh.

We get inside, and I have to get to work on a half feral dog (I'm starting to think) that I've had for barely two months, pulling out porcupine quills. My mind flits back to me sitting on Rilke in the kitchen, him screaming, and blood every where. I shake off the image.

Hollow is too big for me to sit on. I try to hold her still with one arm, using that hand to try and hold her jaws shut, while trying to use the other hand to hold the pliers and yank. I move as fast as I can, and get perhaps half of the quills out before she really understands what is happening. Blood starts coming out of a few locations.

Now she's not happy. She shakes her head out of my grip, grabs my cheek as hard as she can while also being gentle enough to not break the skin and pulls my head away from my work. Now I'm not happy. But there are three quills left.

Damn. I rub my bruised cheek, grab hold again, cussing Hollow out the entire time (I would say this would most definitely fit my mother's definition of an appropriate moment), and try again. I get one and two halves. And then I think she might actually kill me.... So we come to an agreement: She will not hurt me, and I will stop.

Yup. With her squirming, two quills broke as I grabbed for them. One in her leg, one in her paw. I've decided Hollow is the Sicilian in this equation, and I give up entirely.

Well. Except I'm a damn stubborn gal. And stupid. Did I mention that? So two hours later, she's sitting in the dining area, after finally having come out from hiding behind the front door. There's dried blood on her foot, and her eyes are wide and looking damn wild. But I can see the quill in her leg. I can see it. And of course that means, I can touch it, right?

And somehow it works: I look in to her wide, wild eyes, not breaking the stare, grab the pliers, and yank. She yelps, gives me a dirty look -- which I actually find reassuring as I was expecting a life-threatening look -- and retreats behind the door again.

Half of one left.

And so it remains. She'll barely let me touch that leg, let alone that paw. I give up.

Second time: We go on a hike, off on a route I hadn't traveled in at least a week. Probably more. I hear barking in front of me from both dogs. Oh..... frick. I rush up the "trail" (this is one of my "make a trail" trails), and find both dogs seeming to "play" with .... something. It takes me a moment to realize what it is, but I'm already yelling "Get away! Get away from it!"

Thankfully, they come running, and I don't want to get too close. I have no idea if it's dead or alive, pissed or what.... As this is what I see:

First Porcupine Sighting
First Porcupine Sighting

Okay, so maybe I'm a wuss, but seriously! Did you look at those quills in the link above? I am so not getting close to a porcupine myself.....

Plus, I just figured out where Hollow got the quills the first time, and am thrilled she has only one in her leg this time that I can grab immediately -- as soon as I finish taking pictures of course!

That evening, I talk to my friends in town about it (they were spending their days skiing), and the husband graciously offers to help me get the remaining quill out of Hollow's foot. I hold her down, he pulls, tada. Though I'll admit I'm a bit jealous that she seems to give him an adoring look the entire time, not a possessed-I-will-kill-you look....

The next day, we go on the same hike, so that this time I can see if the porcupine was indeed dead (as it did strike me as strange that it seemed that Hollow was "playing" with it like a ball or something). This time, Hollow seems to go nowhere near it, and I come upon it, in the same place, as Rilke is trying to "bury" it by digging snow up on to it.

Which is actually rather adorable if you think about it:

Partially buried porcupine
Partially buried porcupine

Needless to say, I finished the job for the poor porcupine, and, especially now, several snow storms later, it is thoroughly buried.

I wiped my hands satisfactorily, and started hiking again, half thinking I should whistle a little tune... The smug feeling lasted exactly 24 hours.

As, if you're keeping track, there's a third time: The next day, on our morning hike, Rilke by my side, Hollow off on her wanderings, I suddenly hear Hollow barking like crazy. Close enough to bloody murder to freak me out. I race down the side of the mountain -- as in, completely off any semblance of a trail, jumping over fallen trees, flying through bushes and brush, screaming the entire time: "I'm coming baby! I'm coming!"

Yeah. Ummmm. Let's just say I'm very glad there are no people who hang out in "no man's land" beyond me -- especially no people with video cameras.

Mostly, because they would have caught me committing bloody murder -- almost. As I get down the hill, after my frantic pell-mell race, and find Hollow has cornered a porcupine. Another one. A live one.

Oh. My. God. I will kill this dog.

The "oh baby, hold on, I'm coming" is now "Are you kidding me?! You X&#!*&@$! dog! Get over here NOW. Away from it!"

~ sigh ~

I spot quills in her nose and her mouth this time. "Are you kidding me?! You X&#!*&@$! dog!"

And I felt sorry for the porcupine:

Porcupine in the willow bush

Close up of porcupine in willow bush

Smile! You're on Candid Camera!

Needless to say, I did not feel sorry for Hollow. I yanked 3 quills out right then and there -- and frankly, hoped they hurt so she would learn the lesson. The remaining quills were in her mouth, sticking out of her lip, and I figured those required pliers. Those would have to wait.

As unlike a smart, handy person and hiker, I not only do not carry something like a "leatherman" on me at all times, I don't even own one. Clearly this must go on my birthday list. Along with the generator and the river pump.

~ sigh ~

I got home, and decided to try the staring contest method again. I got two quills out immediately. The two in the gums on the front of her teeth (!). The remaining mouth ones, which were inside of her mouth, scared me though, so I decided to let her rest and let me rest.

Then I realized it scared me more to leave the quills in.

I started the staring contest again. There were three quills left. I got one and yanked. She stared at me, and her eyes got big and wide. She looked possessed. I panicked, grabbed again, and got another. She yelped. The stare was broken. I panicked even more, frantically grabbed, and the last one broke off in my pliers. Damn.

I gave up. More like she made me.

I kept my eye on it. A dark black pole sticking out of the roof of her mouth. Nothing budged, she wouldn't let me near her, but she didn't seem to be having any problems eating, drinking or having treats.

Eventually, a few days later, I decided I needed to make one last try: mostly because my friends who were in town were leaving that day, and I was about to lose my "help". The wife uses her body to hold Hollow down, I use all my strength to hold her mouth open, the husband tries to wield the pliers. Nada. Hollow is having none of it -- and frankly, neither we were we.

I wash my hands of the whole thing. So I have no idea if the quill eventually fell out or worked its way in further. It was on the roof of her mouth, which as we all know is a particularly bony and tough area, so my guess is it finally just fell out.

All I know is after that last incident, we have had no more interactions with porcupines. And I am pretty damn happy about that.

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