Dog Days of Summer

I don’t even remember what I went to the Home Depot for in the first place. I think that might be a common occurrence for a lot of us. You go in there for a box of nails and come out with a new patio set. This time I bought all the supplies necessary to build a raised garden bed and plant some pumpkins, squash, peppers, lettuce, and watermelons. Just enough to keep the girls and I busy and give us some fun stuff to make dinner with along the way. We built the raised bed the weekend after Memorial day and put all our plants in the same day. Watered and smoothed out the soil and we left it to do what plants do.

I had gardened a bit when we lived in Vermont but had to be careful as one of our dogs – Angus – has an appetite for everything. He ate an entire garden once, right down to the roots. He came bounding up to me with the last Summer Squash in his mouth, as happy as could be. I let him finish it.

As a result of that experience I placed our garden outside the dog’s invisible fence line. This also happens to be outside the reach of our hose. So I have to cart buckets of water down to the garden in order to water the plants when there hasn’t been much in the way of rain.

On one of these trips I noticed that the watermelon plants had lost some leaves. We rent our house here in Maine and  our landlord kindly provides lawn care. They had mowed that day and had been good enough to edge around the garden. I assumed they had accidentally blown a few leaves off the young melon plants and since the plants were growing so fast they should have been large enough to resist having their leaves blown off by the time the lawn needed another mowing.

When I came down the next day to water, the plants were gone and we were missing some leaves off the pepper plants too. I wasn’t sure what to make of that until I saw her, the groundhog had a burrow right against our house and then another one that went under our barn. She seemed to know where the edges of the dog’s invisible fence was as well because none of her burrows had entrances in their territory.

I put some research into trapping her – according to the Hav-A-Hart website cantaloupe is the best bait for groundhogs – but then I saw that her burrow was under my house and I read some articles about most wildlife not surviving relocation.

I decided to kill the groundhog. I set up a sniper over watch in the second story of my house and took a few shots at her. Missed by a fair amount. When I saw she had babies I was thankful that I haven’t gotten around to joining the local gun club and that my shooting was a little rusty. I had come close to hitting her and when I didn’t see her for awhile I thought maybe she had gotten the hint.

Our landlord hayed the field out back during this time and after the grass was cut low and the hay was laid out we saw the babies out grazing. They were considerably bigger now. I decided I couldn’t have them in the yard but didn’t want to be firing a rifle into the yard if my aim wasn’t as good as I like to think it is so I got out the old break barrel air rifle.  I took some pellet gun shots but the pellet gun is not accurate, or I’m terrible with that thing as well and the little ground hogs ran off.

That week was a particularly rough week for the McNutt family. We learned that week that what we thought was our federal tax bill was actually off by several thousand dollars. Several thousand we don’t currently have. We are also still trying to sell our house in Vermont – if you know anyone who wants a lovely Cape on six acres of Paradise let me know. And it turns out the house needs a fair amount of work done to it this year. And we are nowhere near making it someone else’s problem yet. I have been working weekend shifts at a few veterinary emergency hospitals in the area in addition to my regular job(s) in order to keep the family’s finances going through this time. I was looking forward to not needing to do that anymore. On the plus side, it looks like I won’t have to make any weekend plans for the foreseeable future. The fun part was, we found this all out on Friday. So our chances of enjoying the one weekend day we were going to get together (sort of) that weekend were in jeopardy.

As I went down to water the garden that Friday evening the dogs were acting odd. I walked around the back of our old barn carrying two five gallon buckets full of water and there lying within the dog’s territory was one of the the young groundhogs. I figured it had wandered in by accident and the dogs had played with it until it wasn’t fun anymore. As I approached it to move it out of the yard I set my buckets down and the little thing jumped up. I expected it to run off but it turned and faced me and maybe it’s because I am a veterinarian and read animals everyday but more likely it’s that I’m a little crazy and think I know things that I don’t, that groundhog looked at me with an expression that told me he was going to charge me. And then he did.  So I kicked him. I kicked him square in the chest and he rolled over a few times and ran off. I watered the garden and went back to prepare dinner. I will admit to feeling a little proud of myself.

Saturday morning Amanda had to work until noon, so the girls and I had an adventure planned. That morning we saw a Turkey Vulture land on the barn, which seemed odd. Then we saw another vulture – a Black Vulture this time –  in the back field and we decided it would be best if we went out and investigated. We got out just to the edge of where the dog’s fence line goes and there was the mother groundhog. She had been killed by the brush hog that had been used to cut the field a few days previously and in the heat, she was pretty ripe. We left her body there and went back to the house. While I felt a little bad, I was also glad the problem had taken care of itself.

When Amanda got home from work around one o’clock in the afternoon we went into South Berwick to the annual Strawberry Festival. While the day is always fun and South Berwick is a great community, it was horribly warm that day and after a little over an hour of playing in the giant bouncy houses, the girls had had enough and we decided to go home and swim in the pool.

The pool is a story in itself. We didn’t want to do swim lessons again this year and figured that if we bought a small pool that the kids could swim in but could also stand in, it would help develop their swimming skills. We were correct in that assumption. We found the pool online – Facebook marketplaces are interesting – for just under fifty bucks which seemed like a great deal considering that they are around three hundred dollars brand new. After spending a few hundred dollars on a new filter, chemicals, tubing for the filter and more chemicals, we figure we’re just under a thousand dollars into our inexpensive pool. Maybe not quite that much, but definitely more than if we’d just bought it new.

A day that hot with that much fun almost demands that we eat a dinner cooked on the grill. And that we eat it outside. I made hot dogs for the children and Amanda and I had saved a bit of steak in the freezer from a family visit earlier that month. We decided to treat ourselves a bit and have steak for dinner. With dinner made we settled into the picnic table I had built the previous year and started eating. At little ways into dinner I kept getting these faint scents that I couldn’t quite figure out. It smelled a bit like natural gas but also maybe a little like something had died. I checked the propane from the grill, that was turned off. And then I was about to go looking for a dead mouse on the edges of the porch when our dog Angus walked over to me. He smelled like death. It took me less than a moment to realize why.

We adopted Angus from a shelter that Amanda was working at in Vermont. He had Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy a very painful bone condition in young dogs. We were supposed to be fostering him but he was so lovable we kept him. We had two other dogs at the time and for reasons I will never understand we figured they would teach him the ropes of how to live in a house with people. It doesn’t work like that. As a result he is the most poorly trained but also one of the best dogs I have ever met. He will snatch food right out of the kids hands if they stray from the dinner table with food – he also made potty training a disgusting adventure – but at the same time he is the first to greet the kids when they get home and he is always excited and happy about everything that happens ever.

Unfortunately, that also includes dead groundhogs. Angus had dragged the groundhog body into the yard and had rolled in it. He had greasy dead groundhog flesh and maggots all over his back. All over. My wife and I are both veterinarians, we have three daughters, and we share our house with five animals. Still, there was a brief moment when we realized what had happened where we just looked at each other and anyone looking in would have known that we were wondering if we could handle this.

I captured Angus and Amanda ran inside to grab some shampoo. We hosed off the chunks and as many of the maggots as we could before we touched him. We shampooed him all over and rinsed him with the hose. Then we repeated the process. Angus sat there and enjoyed the attention without moving or trying to shake the water off. He really is a good dog.

But Angus will eat food off the table or out of children’s hands if there isn’t an adult around – sometimes even if there is – because we let the other dogs raise him, and as I mentioned that doesn’t work. As a result of our excellent training, Amanda had to sit holding a wet dog while I took the shovel to the backyard and moved the remains of a long deceased ground hog. In July heat.

The job completed, we went on to enjoy the remainder of our Saturday evening. After thoroughly washing our hands. And our arms. And our legs. After showering. We definitely showered after that. At some point in the evening. I swear we aren’t barbarians.

Thank you for reading.



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