Monday, June 3, 2019

Turtles: A Clear and Present Danger

 (Subtitle: Or how I almost ended up in Kent Park Lake)

Just when I thought I’d seen every weird canine behavior possible, I hadn’t.

Banner encountered his first turtle on Saturday. It might as well have been one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Remember Yertle The Turtle?
Not Bann's idea of a bedtime story.

 It was a simple little painted turtle about the size of a medium-sized dinner plate. In the manner of turtles, it was minding its own business on the side of a trail Banner and I have walked a hundred times. A stretch of this trail borders a lake and we frequently encounter muskrats and all manner of waterfowl. These are never up close and personal encounters, since the creatures in question take one look at us and wisely head the other direction.

Bann has seen virtually every type of Midwestern wildlife available (with the exception of the cougar that’s been bopping through backyards in Des Moines. Yes, I’m serious. No, I can’t make this stuff up) but he had never seen a turtle. Anywhere. And especially on this particular stretch of this particular trail.

One of Banner’s super powers is the ability to go someplace he’s been a hundred times and immediately spot things that have never been there before. If he was a human, he’d be the kid who could do those “Find 12 differences between these pictures” puzzles in a snap. 

Banner's world view is if something was never there before, it doesn’t have any business being there now. He’s a status quo kind of guy. He’s been that way since he was a puppy. He’s the dog who walked into our brand new farm shop and had a screaming melt-down the first time he saw a tractor parked in it. He’d seen tractors. He’d seen the inside of the shop. He’d never seen a tractor INSIDE the shop and thought it needed to not be there. (Okay, I felt the same way. Tractors occupy a lot of space that could be used for training.)

So he trotted past this turtle, screeched to a stop, jumped about two feet straight up and reversed thrusters when he was in mid-air. It would have been funny if it hadn’t scared me half to death. When shit like this happens, I always wonder, does the dog know something I don’t? Do I need to be worried about this turtle? Is it a harbinger of cougars? (Seriously, no one in Iowa opens their back door and expects to find a cougar in the yard. But it happened. I don't even live in Des Moines and I have a problem with that.)

All forward progress on the walk screeched to a halt for turtle inspection. Banner was enchanted by this life form that came with its own body armor and was impervious to his initial polite enquiries and subsequent complete lack of manners.

He got as close to it as he could without actually touching it. Did you know Aussie necks are made of a bungee-cord-like material that can stretch up to 36”? Truth.

He circled it. He crouched down in front of it. He smacked it with his paw a couple of times. He got brave enough to poke it with his nose. I’m sure the poor turtle was laying there, all retracted into its portable bunker, thinking “What fresh hell is this?”

Nothing happened. Banner found this annoying. (No word on what the turtle thought but I can only imagine.) Bann is usually very good at making something happen. He takes being ignored personally. I think it comes from being raised by a Malinois.

So he barked at it. My apologies to everyone on the west side of the village of Amana who had to endure my dog screaming at a turtle in a fit of temper. It was after 9 a.m. It was time to get up anyway.

Kinda like this. Not quite as cute and a whole lot louder.

 The turtle continued to play possum. I eventually decided enough was enough. We set off down the trail, Bann making frequent glances over his shoulder, clearly concerned the thing might decide to chase us.

Flash to the next day. Banner and I set off on another walk, this one on a trail we hadn’t walked in years. It circles a recently renovated lake, which at the moment, has the loveliest, cleanest, clearest water you’ve ever seen in this state. Iowa is known for Cyclone basketball, Hawekeye football and food on a stick at the state fair. It is not known for clean lake water.

With that in mind, I didn’t hesitate when Banner trotted down the boat ramp and went in up to his belly. He hasn’t been swimming since he was a baby but he enjoys wading pools. He clearly viewed the F. W. Kent Park lake as a very large wading pool and was splashing about happily in the shallows.

Then he saw it.

The lurking turtle.

It wasn’t a turtle at all but there wasn’t any telling Banner that. It was a flat piece of stone, the same kind of chunky limestone that had been used to stabilize the shore around the ramp, lying a couple of inches under the surface of the water. I knew it was a rock because unless things have gone seriously awry with Mother Nature, turtles do not come in squares.

Banner was sure no good would come of it. He flew out of the water, performed an airborne 180 and landed in a rigid pose that indicated turtle combat was imminent. He crept back into the water.

Seriously, I’ve never seen a dog so determined to go after something he’s scared of. It’s a behavior I see in him often. He has a melt-down freak-out, then refuses to leave until he musters the courage to go poke it with his nose. (For all the time we spend in Des Moines, God help us if we ever encounter the cougar.)

He worked himself up to sticking his muzzle in the water and blowing bubbles at the turtle/rock in apparent hopes this would cause it to run out of the lake where he could kill it once and for all. In the process, he started making wider and wider forays around the turtle/rock, all the while putting his nose in the water and snorting at it.

Did I mention we were standing on the edge of a boat ramp?

Boat ramps, due to their very nature, tend to drop off rather suddenly.

Banner, not being a student of engineering, did not know this until the ground under his hind legs suddenly disappeared. In the ensuing panicked scramble to get out of the water, he stepped on the fake turtle.

Since it was little more than a rock balanced on another rock, it moved.

This confirmed every suspicion Banner had that turtles were out to get him. It would have been funny if he hadn’t almost drug me into the lake with him. He was on a six-foot leash and hit the end of it with enough force to yank me forward. I could see him winding up to give that turtle/rock a piece of his mind.

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and there were lots of people around. I reeled him in and we left the boat ramp before the barking started.

May your week be blessed and turtle-free.

1 comment:

  1. This Totally cracked me up! My problem is that our Nevin (Staffy/foxhound/mixed low-rider) is a clear & present danger to any box turtle he can get his jaws on, and he'll dig under the fence to get to one. I heard the Turtle Death Bellow this morning when I was tied up on the phone and by the time I could get out there, sure enough he'd gotten a pretty big one and was gnawing away. His "leave it" needs improvement when it comes to turtles, but I was able to take away & release down the road