Barking For Fun and Profit

Did the dog see it or smell it? We'd have never known it was there.

Owning only labrador retrievers until Gandy, we never had barking dogs in our family history. Labs, for the most part, only bark when they are alarmed or if there is really something to tell us about. They don’t think of barking as a hobby. Gandy, on the other hand…

In her defense, she is usually pointing intentionally up the ridge behind the shed, or more often than not, over at the hen house and pasture. She SEEMS to be barking at something in particular. We look. We see nothing. Is she motivated by her imagination? Boredom? A sense of self-importance? The need for exercise for her diaphragm?

She barks at new things–a visitor’s car that is not usually parked with ours; a garden tool or bucket left where she can see it; a box on top of my car bound for the dumpster. She is a very details-aware dog, and I think that’s a good thing.

But the other day when she stood on the walkway barking toward the branch below in a more agitated manner than her usual, I bothered to look where her snout was pointing, and saw nothing. She grew more bold and approached the branch, which by now is deep in volunteer greenery–early Joe Pye, Burdock, Wingstem, and Touch-me-nots. Maybe it was mouse or chipmunk. I didn’t see a thing. But she kept insisting.

So I stepped carefully down the bank towards the sluggishly-flowing spring water at the muddy bottom of the depression that forms the boundaries of the wet-weather stream. Lo and behold, yes, what is that? It looks like a short piece of snake. But that doesn’t make sense. Then I connected the spiny snake-like tail to the rest of the creature: a mud-covered 14″ snapping turtle with a head the size of a softball. It has obviously just made its way through a 30″ culvert under the driveway and was headed towards Goose Creek.

Okay, Gandy. Your bark has gained cred, and we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt in the future. Sometimes, you know what you’re barking about!

About

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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