Over the course of my short blogging career, many of you have gotten to know my trusted and loyal hound dog Xena. She is a mix of Plott Hound and Catahoula Leopard Dog. She is twenty-four inches tall at the shoulder and sports a muscular ninety pound frame. The Plott Hound was brought to America from Germany in 1750. The breed was originally used to hunt bears in the Black Forest. The Catahoula, in turn, was brought to America in the Sixteenth Century by the Conquistadors. Today they are famous as boar-hunting pack dogs; taking on prey that can be ten times their size.
The good news for all of the urban wildlife in Colorado Springs is that Xena has no hunting instinct whatsoever. She would be most comfortable lying in the sun on a general store’s wooden porch. As she snoozed, I would sip away at a frosty bottle of grape Nehi. She would occasionally glance up at me as I played checkers against the town barber. Oops, that’s a black and white television episode that is set in Mayberry! I slipped back into my idyllic childhood for just a brief moment there.
Over the past week, a new wrinkle has been introduced into our morning walk ritual. Our neighborhood is near some green belts, several parks, and a golf course. That gives rise to a preponderance of urban wildlife, including foxes. These animals, subsisting on a steady diet of dumpster delicacies; grow much larger than their counterparts in the wild.
It began when Xena spotted one of these foxes in the park. I chalked it up to sheer chance that we came across this magnificent animal. The next morning we saw the same fox in roughly the same location. This time I thought to myself that it was mere coincidence. This morning we saw the fox for the fifth time in a row. I am starting to see a trend here!
Typically, Xena will freeze and draw her long tail straight out. The large ears get pulled up to attention. She takes on an exaggerated stance, front legs drawn out and hind quarters lowered in a pouncing position. She will lock eyes with the fox momentarily. Then the chaos begins! A true hound has never mastered the canine art of the bark. Instead, they bay or howl in a tone that can only be described as “not of this earth.”
The next thing I know, I have become a sled; being dragged across the grass in the park. Xena begins pouncing wildly towards the fox. I guess maybe there is a little bit of hunting instinct in the old girl after all. Today, however, I observed that her tail was wagging the entire time she was pulling me towards her genetic cousin. It struck me that she wanted to play with her newfound friend.
The fox, on the other hand, always pauses for a moment to study Xena. It will typically take one or two steps towards us and then think the better of it. Centuries of instinctual imprinting have taught the fox that ninety pounds of howling hound dog charging towards you is not a desirable situation. Invariably, the fox will trot off into the distance; pausing every now and then to look back at us. Five long minutes later, Xena settles down.
This recurring drama has given me a new insight into humanity as well. On the one hand we have the dog, who through years of evolution is supposed to be the enemy of the fox. Yet she only desires to play with what should be her prey. Then we have the fox; who by virtue of nature is curious and yet cautious. It has no choice but to yield to the fear that assures its own survival. It does not pause to consider that it may have found a new playmate. It only repeats the patterns that have preserved it in the past!
As you start your morning tomorrow, ask yourself if you are a hound or a fox. Are you willing to take a chance with somebody you do not even know? Is your tail wagging as you approach that newfound stranger? Or are you a fox, condemned to repeating a cycle of behavior that is dictated by fear and habit? The choice truly is yours!