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A Dog’s Work Is Never Done

Investigating predation sites is not as glamorous as it sounds. There are thick woods to thrash through and steep slopes to slip on.Usually the kills are weeks old, with little left but a scatter of bones.Helping us locate these bones is one of Jadzia’s jobs.After finding the collar dropped by the mountain lion, I decided we should work a nearby site, where the same lion had killed a mule deer a month ago. Bouncing down dusty logging roads to get to a specific area was time-consuming, so it seemed logical to me to do this now rather than return another day, even though it was our anniversary.

After only a few minutes at the site, Jadzia emerged grinning from the shrubs. I expected to see a bone in her mouth, but instead, the whipping tail of a field mouse protruded from her lips.

“Drop it!” Misty said.

Jadzia’s brow furrowed and her big brown eyes grew sad. Are you KIDDING, Mom? Don’t you know how hard this thing was to catch?

“DROP IT.”

Jadzia opened her mouth and the soggy mouse plopped to the ground. It looked around wildly, then scurried away.

Part of my predation study involved measuring vegetation to determine differences between sites where lions made kills and sites where they did not. As I walked out laying a transect sample line, I slipped and fell, but didn’t hit the ground, hanging instead in the thick shrubs like a fly in a spider’s web. I heard the brush rattle. It was not a spider, but Jadzia. What are you doing, Dad? A few face-licks and she moved on. Dad’s okay—he’s just a little weird.

Watching Jadzia leap over logs and thread through dense thickets with ease and grace, I could picture a mountain lion working the same terrain, using its stealth and agility to stalk an unsuspecting deer. Like me, Jadzia is part couch potato.Yet in the forest, her wild ancestors seemed less distant than mine, providing me with another, non-human perspective into the natural world. Away from their heated homes and kibble dinners, few companion animals are wild enough to survive on their own, yet most are more connected to the natural world than are their human friends.

Another one of Jadzia’s roles on the crew was beast of burden. When I regained my feet and reached the end of my transect line, I realized I didn’t have the clinometer—a device for measuring tree heights. “Where’s the clinometer?” I shouted to Misty.

“Don’t you have it?” she shouted back.
“Would I be asking if I did?”
“Well I don’t have it! Is it still in the backpack?”
I considered this. “Maybe.”
“Call your daughter.”
I did. “Jadzia, COME!”

A few moments later, Jadzia appeared next to me, clinometer tucked under her collar. She was laughing dog-style, tongue lolling from her gaping mouth, eyes bright with glee. Forgot something AGAIN, didn’t you?

“Who asked you?” I replied. “Let’s not forget who makes your dinner.”

Jadzia snorted.We both knew who’s really in charge here. She turned and raced back toward Misty. A moment later, I heard my wife cry out. I sprang to my feet and thrashed back through the morass of shrubs, fearing lions and carnage. I found Misty at the bottom of a small rise, kneeling, her back to me. Between her shoulder blades was a muddy paw print—a dog’s.

“She just jumped over me!”Misty said.
“Almost,” I agreed.

By the time we finished our work, Jadzia had covered 10 times as much ground as the two of us combined.When we got back to the trailer, she collapsed in the yard. We had to wake her up for her Popsicle, then hold it while she raised her head and licked the cold treat.

Although a vital member of the field crew, Jadzia is not a working dog. She’s a pet. The state ofWashington had a policy against dogs riding in state trucks, and we compromised by strapping Jadzia’s crate in the bed. I thought Jadzia would balk at riding back there, but every morning she would be in the crate before I came out with my coffee. Come on, Dad! Let’s go!!

I turn the triple-bagged radio collar over in my hands.“What was she barking at?”Misty calls from the bedroom.
“The radio collar. It was in the closet.”
“Moron!”
Jadzia noses the bag. “She means you,” I tell the dog. It was the first mountain lion we’d collared.

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