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Chet Baker, Predator

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chet Baker nabbed a chiptymunk today, the first I'm aware of in oh, about 1,000 tries this spring. Just FYI he doesn't pet them and let them go. His inner Cape Hunting Dog comes out, he gives them a quick shake and a crunch and stretches them in the grass, then trots off without a backward glance. It's the rat terrier half of him. The smooshy-wooshy sweet wad of doggeh love is his bulldog half.

Chet Baker, Predator. Bunnehs beware!

Thank the Lord he doesn't swallow them whole, as our dachshund Volks once did with a very dead squirrel. Blecch. We caught him masticating it and as we watched in horror the entire thing disappeared down his throat, like as if he wuz a snake. You want some yaller mustard for that squirrel hummmmm?

Tuesday night, as his welcome home from two weeks at Camp Baker, Chet tangled with a raccoon that was trying to raid the bird feeders. He came slinking in with three puncture wounds on his face and throat, and the reek of coon on his neck. Thank goodness he had his rabies booster in May! Chet feels so very sorry for himself when he gets hurt, rolling his eyes and slicking back his ears. He rolls over and lets me wash him up and assess the damage. And it is the time of year when I need to sweep the yard with a flashlight before letting him out for the last time, because that rat terrier half will always go in for the tussle.

Let's face it--the animals we like to cuddle and kiss are predators. Cats happen to be much, much better at it, and better equipped for it, than dogs. But even Mr. Adorable gets a chiptymunk now and then, and a couple of rabbits a year, and that's OK with me. We've got plenty chipmunks and rabbits here. We even have rabbits that climb up on 18" high concrete benches and into my planters to demolish the rare geraniums I've been propagating, reducing a year's nurturing to nubbins in a single night. Guess what part of the geranium they eat? Just the crunchy leaf stems. Not the leaves, not the beautiful flowers nor the main stems. Just the leaf stems. Oh, that's worth killing a whole plant for.

Now those rabbits are out of line. These are the times I wish Chet were a better predator.

You can bet that if Chet were offing a bird or two a day, as some cats do, he'd be an indoor dog. This is why I have a dog, and not a cat. Dogs are evolutionarily much better equipped to take correction than are cats. As in: Dogs take correction, remember it, and apply it to their behavior. Cats, well...cats do what cats do, and if what they like to do happens to be compatible with being a good pet, that's lovely for everyone.

Chet has been taught not to chase birds. He wouldn't hurt one if it hopped up and perched on his nose. Same goes for turkles, officially Off Limits, ever since I caught him chewing on ol' Naraht when he was a puppeh. Yesterday Phoebe and I were playing with a dwarf hamster, and we wondered if we got one, whether Chet would try to give it a quick snap and a shake. Well, he might, if we neglected to tell him he couldn't. I feel confident that if we had a pet hamster, rabbit or chipmunk, we could very quickly teach Chet to leave it alone. That's the beauty of dogs. Can somebody breed trainability into cats, please?

Smart chipmunks go straight up when Chet makes the scene. Here, he's treed a chipmunk.

It's the dark little blob at the top center of the picture.

Zooming in...

You have to love the almost prehensile tail.

No, he didn't get this'n, like he doesn't get 99.9 percent of the chiptymunks around here.

But that doesn't keep him from running lightning-fast raids a couple of times an hour, all day long.

I love to chase small furry animals. It is my job, and I am very good at my job. Notice that I did not say "catch" small furry animals. I chase them, mostly.

The Chet Baker commentary that aired on NPR got tons of comments, both on the NPR website and on NPR's Facebook page. (You'll have to go to "Older Posts" to find it on the NPR Facebook page). Hundreds. The overwhelming majority that came in were supportive, from people with whom the piece struck a chord. After all, who likes to have someone come up and say something mean about their dog?

As there always are in online forums, there was a smattering of snarky comments, too, from people saying how "inbred" Chet is, how maladapted; what a jerk I am to buy a purebred dog; how I should have rescued a dog instead; how sick it is that humans have selected dogs for certain traits...including, I assume, intelligence, beauty, tractability, forward-facing googly eyes, prickety ears, slick coat, sense of humor, kissable purple awful of us! Perhaps we should all be keeping lean, lanky wolves and jackals as pets? Somehow I can't imagine a wolf sitting on the back of the couch, watching American Idol with us.

I'm sorry, cranky people, but you make me hoot out loud, because you're so predictable. There's something about a keyboard that can inspire a kind of road rage; maybe people aren't getting enough fiber, or getting up and walking around enough, but cranky commenters all sound alike after awhile. I'm with the Obamas--having a dog is a big decision, an enormous outlay of cash over the decade or more that we own it, and we have a right to select the kind of dog we really want. Maybe your urge to rescue a dog is stronger than your desire to get exactly what you want vis a vis size, coat length, personality, temperament, and that's fine. You can go rescue a dog, and someone else can go to a good breeder to buy a purebred. That's what selective breeding, and personal choice, are all about. And no matter what you do, there's always going to be a cranky person at a keyboard somewhere ready to take a shot from the sidelines at the stance you take.

I'd like to invite all the holier-than-thous over to see this lean, sleek, beautiful boy go about his doggly bidness.
But just for a few minutes, and I'm not going to bake you cookies. Those, and sloppy Chet Baker kisses, are for the nice people; i.e., the ones who agree with me.


Obviously, those who commented negatively about the NPR program never had a Boston Terrier. They are almost human (better than a lot of humans but we'll keep that secret to ourselves!).

Ooh, ooh, I found your blog by doing a search for "Chautauqua porch style." I'm in the middle of redecorating my porch and decided that I want to model it on the gorgeous porches I admired so much in the measly 12 hours I spent at Chautauqua.

So now I'm catching up with your blog, beginning at this entry, which arrested my attention right away. I adore Boston Terriers!

I plan to get two after my husband, (who is allergic to dogs) predeceases me. Everyone thinks I'm kidding, but I'm already picking out names. Of course I hope this won't be for another 40 years, but it's best to plan ahead.

I'm going to name one after Carl Yaztrzemski, the great Red Sox left fielder. I can call him Yaz. I'm still puzzling over the name for the second one, but I figure I have 40 years to figure it out.

In the meantime, I wish I could borrow Chet Baker for a week. My yard is being devoured by rabbits and chipmunks, and anyway, he's adorable.

Love your blog!

I sympathize with you over your geraniums! I nurtured two lilies all spring in my garden, put wire mesh cages around them to protect them from rabbits and groundhogs, admired the 20 or so swelling buds, just beginning to show up one morning this week and incredulously peered out at bare stems, buds having been neatly snipped off save for one lonely one at the top. I'm blaming a deer but couldn't find any tracks, perhaps thanks to the heavy morning rain. Thanks for letting me vent, and Chet Baker is adorable!

Oh Deb. I sooo feel your pain. Yes, deer. Probably the same damn deer that bit the tops off my tiny baby heirloom lilac and killed it last summer. Or maybe the one that beheaded the lone sugar snap pea that dared grow on the outside of the 9' garden fence. He gets around.

Poppy, your blog rawks. Everybody, check it out! And I should say that I am allergic to EVERYTHING, including cats and most dogs, but I can use Chet Baker as a sofa piller and never have a sniffle or itchy eye. You need to get Yaz now. And get him a girlfriend named Debbie.

Ditto the geranium sympathy...mine are on the deck in pots so the deer don't munch them. That, however, does not deter the hail! Mine look just like the pot in the picture because of inanimate means not furry ones. Sheesh!

I love the treed chipmunk! We used to have tons of them in our yard in NJ and I never saw one up a tree (or bush). Our two cats took care of the chipmunk population and that was before we realized the cats didn't belong outside. My current cats are city cats but when the time comes to move away from this urban setting (hopefully soon), they will remain indoors. Predators that they are, they will never go outdoors unattended. This will also spare them from the myriad diseases and afflictions they'd be susceptible traipsing around outside.

As for purebred dogs, I personally would go to a shelter but I totally get why you'd want to have a sense of what you're getting. Like the Obamas, my brother would have to go to a breeder for a dog that wouldn't set off his partner's and possibly their new baby's allergies. An opinion is one thing but people superciliously judging someone's decisions really pisses me off.

There's an equation that fits this post:
Person + Chet Baker = LOVE. It's know him is to love him. Shoot...I wanna BE him.

And being married to a writer, I can attest to the bile that seems to pour from some people. It used to truly bother Geoff when his brainchildren got spattered with the foul caca of other people's misplaced angst. Thankfully, he can actually laugh at them now.
Rock on, Julie.

I need to borrow that dog. The chipmonkeys showed up in the past month and 3 of them are raiding all 3 of my bird feeders daily - no, hourly. The seed feeder, the thistle sock - hey, they just ripped a hole in it since they aren't exactly anatomically suited to use as intended. They swing like Cirque du Soleil on the suet cage, trying to hold on with one paw and scoop out the goodies with the other.
Why don't the birds harrass them like they sometimes harrass each other? Even the squirrels don't show up any more.
I'll step down from the soapbox now. I commented on the NPR piece just to say how much we all need and enjoy your commentaries as relief from too much bad news. I try to send a comment after *every* one - your peeps gotta show
our numbers. I'm glad you & Chet racked up some big numbers.

Posted by Dallas D June 21, 2009 at 4:42 PM

I agree with. I'd like some sloppy kisses please.

Julie, I have cats. Six of them. They NEVER go outside, because they don't belong there. Feral and stray cats are huge problems for bird and small mammal populations, as I'm sure you know. So are domestic dogs.

They ain't native wildlife. Boston terriers, no matter how wonderful, are not native wildlife, and shouldn't be allowed to kill it.

I don't think there's a better breed of dog for me. Great post, Julie. Very funny, of course, whenever Chet is the subject :o)

I'd kiss him on the lips, chiptymunk breath and all.

April, of course you're right. Domestic dogs shouldn't be killing native wildlife. So far, one chipmunk has fallen to Chet this year. And I know of one rabbit I would love to introduce him to, but it's too smart for him. I think it would be hard to make the argument that,with his batting average, Chet should never be allowed outside. I hope that's not what you're implying.

It's a matter of degree, and I think, given the dozens of chipmunks and double-dozens of rabbits in our yard, that it's an acceptable cost to having him as a yard companion. I'm not at all sure that domestic dogs are a "huge problem" for wildlife. Some dogs doubtless hunt, but not all dogs. The numbers are there for cats (Stan Temple's WI study and an excellent long-term study in England), but if there's data on dog depredation, I haven't seen it. Good for you for keeping your cats indoors.

That last picture is priceless. Don't tell Chet, but in that one, he looks like my cat Bugsy -- who sits, rolls over, does bringing (what dogs call fetching), and a little towel bar balancing act known as 'Circus Boy.' He's also powerless over his craving for the moths that mill around the back door, waiting for their chance to worship the great fluorescent god in the laundry room. Bugsy's a catch and gobble hunter. (And indoor-only.)

My friend Rosann's late Bichon had Chet's killer instinct; she had it in for groundhogs. Luckily, I never saw her in action, but apparently Angel was the Globetrotters to the whistle pig's Washington Generals.


I love "bringing" as a term for cat fetching. Does he say meh meh meh meh meh when he sees a moth?

And the image of a puffy white bichon tackling a groundhog is hard to get out of my head. Here's an odd one--Chet will run at a possum and roll it, but he doesn't bite them. Scary teeth? Icky factor? Who knows. Possum rolling gets a scolding and a spanking. Possums have enough trouble without Chet Baker.

Loved the chipmunk-chasing story and EXCELLENT pics!

As for the naysayers and negative commenters, I've had pure bred and I've had rescue, each dog chosen for different reasons. There's no moral higher ground. If there is, it's that whatever animal we bring into the family be well-cared-for and loved.

Have you noticed there's almost nothing about which people cannot be ELITISTS? It's exhausting at times.

Your Chet Baker is adorable.


Hi Julie,
I didn't catch your NPR commentary or the additional comments, but it just reminds me of the old saying, "you can't please all of the people all of the time and you can't please some of the people any of the time!" Seriously, whatever happened to plain, old-fashioned courtesy and "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"??
I only have 1 chiptymunk in my backyard but we're overrun with 13-lined ground squirrels and Sophie's getting too old to catch them anymore. I think I'm going to have to resort to live-trapping them unless I can find a "rent-a-terrier" service locally.

He has no shortage of challenges and gets gobs of exercise. The worlds most fit dog. I wish I could rent him for a few days. I have an over supply of chipmunks.

"There's something about a keyboard that can inspire a kind of road rage" Oh I love it! Must be the sense of anonymity and the perceived lack of consequences that gives people the freedom to let loose online like that. I'm glad you laugh it all off, though not surprised!
Chet is gorgeous and seems just perfectly suited to his family and surroundings. I kind of like the fact that his hunting instincts are allowed to surface every once in a blue moon - it's always impressive to see even if it ends in a kind of crunching you'd rather not witness. Seems a fair and balanced approach to me, especially concerning the chipmunk population. So cute, but I imagine they have been enjoying a population boom this year?
Part of me feels like whining "it's so unfair" that cats can't have the same outdoor freedom as dogs without consequences, but I think that's only because I grew up with outdoor cats and as a result I now approach the subject from a standpoint of feeling bad for the poor cats being left behind indoors. There's obviously scientific data that says cats can live happily as indoor pets and that their (fantastic) hunting skills cause problems when they are let out. I guess it's just tough to hear what I don't want to hear some days, even when I can't argue with the truth of it.

Deb, I think Yaz's companion terrier could be named Teddy - Teddy Ballgame on formal occasions :) Great names for Boston terriers, if you ask me!

Wow--Julie--you tapped something here, based on comments.
As for cats and dogs--we have both. Cats are allowed outside ONLY when they are supervised or in a small fenced in area. No roving cats allowed here. I only ever had one cat catch a creature--one of our cats caught a chipmunk--no killing in mind, only playing--but the cat brought the chipmunk IN THE HOUSE, and proceeded to play with it. The other 2 cats (at the time) joined in. Chipmunk nearly died of fright.
Our current dog wants to chase bunnies, but since she's a border (1/2) I don't let her chase anything for fear of her encountering injury or death. She tries to chase bikes and trucks as well. But the neighbor's backyard bunny in a hutch--our dog only wants to smell, I mean really WANTS TO SMELL.

Love that last photo of Baker!

Your high dudgeon is high delight! Always enjoy Chet's adventures, even when they include a not-fast-enough chippie. I'm a cat lover - and yes, they both stay inside for their own good as well as the local bird population. A bit of trainability might be nice, but then they wouldn't be who they are, would they? I like to think that Chet would still bestow some sloppy kisses were we to meet face to googly face.

Jen, I'm getting better at laughing it off, attempting to grow the kind of rhino-thick skin you need to be a public presence. I heard Terri Gross interviewing Woody Allen yesterday about his marriage to Soon Yi and public scandal, and he stammered and hesitated a long time and finally said (I'm paraphrasing), "If you lived your life according to what you thought people wanted you to do, what kind of life would you have?"

Oh yes, Peg, he'd have all kinds of smooches for you. The Flockers who attended the New River festival in WV this May can attest that Chet Baker has enough kisses for everybody! They were all comparing notes, like, "He kissed you, sure, but did he French kiss you?"

Oh, dear. Someone dribbled dog on the studio floor and Phoebe slipped on the puddle. He's shuttling in and out, hot sun to cool floor. How I wish all you good-hearted folks could let your cats do that, and how I and the birds appreciate your biting the bullet and keeping them in, as my sister and friend Shila do.

I still think there's room for selective breeding of cats to be bird friendly. Breed one who doesn't care to hunt to one who feels the same and keep on going. Trick is finding those founding parents.

I have "NEVER" seen a chipmonk climb before.

I have three dogs that spend a fair amount of time outdoors. I have lost a rabbit or two by allowing my dogs outside. However I figure they have saved many more lives then they have taken by helping me keep the neighbors cats chased away. Even so the cats have taken more rabbits and birds out of my yard in a month then the dogs have in five years. I keep chili pepper on their favorite perches.

As a long-time self-professed non-dog-person, it was amazing just how much, and how quickly, my opinions of the animals changed as soon as we'd got one of our own. I had had some bad experiences with dogs growing up that had put me off (despite having had two of our own when I was younger), but quickly discovered that they were the exception, not the rule. I think, too, there's an element of "maternal" love for one's own animals that one doesn't have the same way for others, just as with one's own children. I rather suspect that all these naysayers and finger-wagglers would change their tune after owning and living with one of their own for a while.

Raven is a chipper-chaser, too. She'll pass by Red Squirrels and other animals (we've yet to encounter a rabbit, I've only seen one in the whole time I've lived here), but nothing sets her off like the startled chip of a chipmunk. Like with Chet, she's only caught one this spring, but unlike Chet, she had no clue what to do with it once it was under her paws.

I've often wondered about why there was such dramatic and diverse selective breeding within dogs - witness not only the range of breeds from Chihuahua to Great Dane, but also the range of purposes, from herding to pulling to sniffing - and hardly any in cats. There's virtually no size differences between breeds, certainly no difference in "purpose"; the only traits that have been obviously selected for are relatively superficial: coat colour and length, and, in a few breeds, smashy-faces or short tails. Oh, and those weird short-legged Munchkins.

Nattering nabobs of negativity or something like that.
Why are so many "green" people whiny lecturing martyrs?

Get a life people.

Better yet, get a dog ... of your choice, and love it, whether it's a stray or a carefully crafted purebred.

Thanks for the Chet pics and the chipmunk.
We don't have those here ... perhaps Chet Baker has been to Florida?

You have to love a man who quotes Spiro Agnew. Or at least you have to give him the Golden Years discount.
Thanks for the love, FC.

KatDoc here, stirring up the waters.

Why is it bad for cats to hunt and kill birds, small mammals and such, and yet it is good for dogs to hunt and kill, or attempt to kill, chipmunks and other mammals?

In my time and in my yard, my pets and I have killed wildlife. I have mowed over too many garter snakes, and once I transected two young baby bunnies with the riding mower. My dogs have killed birds - Holly jumped up and retrieved a Mourning Dove from the air, and Grace pinned the neighbor's guinea fowl in the house stall - both before I could stop them.

And, over the years, my cats have killed, too: one snake, one female bullfrog, many mice and voles, and yes, the occasional bird.

I regret all those deaths, including the House Sparrows and starlings that I routinely and deliberately dispatch. Shouldn't my dogs and I be judged in the same light as my cats?

Many cat owners share the same sense of pride in their cat's hunting skills that I hear in the voices of the dog owners here. Why is one morally wrong and the other not?

Yes, I know the statistics. Yes, I agree that hunting cats put pressure on wildlife. But, I submit to you, dogs do the same. Maybe not to the same degree, but the predatory instinct is present in all carnivores. Even when the dog does not kill, physical injuries and mental stress can be fatal. I have known caged rabbits to die without a mark on them when dogs harass them in their hutches, and sheep to die from being chased around their field by packs of dogs.

As a birder and nature lover, I know indoor pets are better for the wild things. As a veterinarian, I know that indoor cats are healthier and live longer lives than outdoor cats. But, as a cat owner and a vet, I believe that cats who have a chance to go outdoors are MENTALLY healthier, since I see much less behavior problems, like inappropriate urination, in the indoor/outdoor cat. This is a personal belief, not a scientific fact, but it is why I still allow my cats to go outside from time to time.

~Kathi, standing back and waiting for the abuse

But, as a cat owner and a vet, I believe that cats who have a chance to go outdoors are MENTALLY healthier, since I see much less behavior problems, like inappropriate urination, in the indoor/outdoor cat.

I completely disagree with you, since my indoor only cats don't have any of those problems. Cats don't NEED to go outside. Period. My cats are happy, healthy, and well adjusted, and they don't eat birds.

Katdoc, you raise excellent points. We're smiling proudly on dogs killing chipmunks and rabbits even as we frown and point fingers at cats killing the same species, plus...and this I think is the crux...songbirds. I think the important distinction, which I discuss in the post, is that it's a matter of degree as well as species taken. First, what dogs wind up killing are generally regarded, rightly or wrongly, as "varmints" by their owners. Chipmunks and rabbits are no friend of the avid gardener. Second, very few dogs kill birds in any significant numbers, correct? There might be the odd spaniel or terrier out there that specializes in jumping robins and mourning doves, but really, dogs aren't equipped to do the kind of damage--in hundreds of millions of birds killed every year--that cats are well documented to do. Ditto on mammal kills. Dogs aren't as well equipped to kill great numbers of mice and other small mammals as cats are.

Yes, dogs are capable of damage to native wildlife. But cats are simply much, much more capable, and, I'd submit, much more dedicated to it on a daily basis. Most dogs are simply too lazy or ill-equipped to do the kind of depredation that cats do. Cat claws and sharp teeth do a lot of damage, not to mention lightning reflexes, and a hunting instinct on hyperdrive.

Letting one's cats go outside from time to time, especially supervised, is one thing. Keeping them outside, letting them breed wantonly, and feeding vast colonies of sickly feral cats, is quite another. Around here, it's the "barn cat" syndrome. Intially, people get a couple of cats, ostensibly to kill mice around the barn. And those cats beget more and more and more until there's a biological wasteland around the place that spreads throughout the countryside. It's a huge problem, on a national level. If there were feral dogs roaming the fields and woods, they'd be shot. Cats get a pass, for whatever reason. So there's hypocrisy and uneven ground on all sides.

Thanks for rising to the bait. I can almost always count on you!

I rented a carriage house from people whose Corgis had the run of the property. I found them to be friendly, affectionate, and, to my horror, dedicated baby bird killers. I tried to stop them but failed one day when they killed two fledgling blue jays. On another occasion, they did in several young robins. I later learned that the oldest of the three had killed the family cat after several years of seemingly peaceful coexistence.

Julie, I feel so much better about Ruby's occasional success as a hunting dawg. Ruby also understands not to hunt the bewds and saves her hunting for the rodents who go after the birdseed. 99% of the time, they escape her but still. I'm so completely with you on the purebred dog issue.

I, for one (amongst many) think Chet Baker a darling fellow, a champion among dogs, a true blue and trusty terrier. I love terriers - i have a mini schnauzer, and they are almost human.

May all those nasty people come over and scoop poop for an afternoon! Put them to good use.

Posted by TaraDharma June 22, 2009 at 9:05 PM

Oh Chet Baker, you are a darling doggeh.

I've got a super-soaker all loaded up outside my door for neighborhood cats. It's not just the hunting. It's the poo in the garden soil, too. I'm on my second cat, indoors since babies and quite content (I can't imagine that occasional outdoor excursions would make them happier). Larry would sit, shake hands, and roll over upon request. She also, in her dotage, was allowed outside but would not step off the patio, because we asked her not to. Tater, on the other hand, is dumb as a post. Can't even catch an indoor four-foot-wide bat.

My dog (half Jack Russel, the other half Whippet) loves to flush out birds, although she would not know what to do with one if she ever caught it. Chipmunks are also on her list as well as any cat that dares to wander into her yard. This is their nature and they are happiest when they are doing what they are bred to do. I hope Chet recovers from his adventure.

I usta like chiptymunks--until I found out they eat baby birds! Chet--eat your fill.

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