One recent morning, I opened the back door to fill the dog’s food and water bowls, and to let the cat inside. Sam Cat is nearly always at the back door first thing, standing on hind legs to look through the upper glass window pane in the door. He uses the house as a short-cut, walking from back to front door, where he then eats his breakfast on the front stoop.
This particular morning, only Ursa, my Great Pyrenees dog, was on the deck and she was standing over the partial remains of an animal. I registered white and black fluffy fur and two severed hind legs laying in a bed of leaves. The other two-thirds of the creature was not immediately obvious.
“Ursa, did you EAT . . . Sam Cat?!”
Ursa went under the deck. Horrified, I scanned the crime scene for the rest of Sam’s body. Another pile of black and white fluff lay nearby, partially obscured by fallen leaves. Poor Sam! I turned away, unable to look at his scattered remains, thinking about the grisly way he’d died.
Farms are magnets for predators waiting to eat your livestock, which is why many farmsteads invest in a livestock guardian. Great Pyrenees are working dogs known for their strong protective temperament. They watch over their flock, make their own decisions as to who is friend or foe, and then take appropriate action. I could not believe Ursa would eat the cat.
Ursa and Sam had lived somewhat harmoniously for seven years without anything more than an occasional cat swat across dog nose or a bark if a food bowl zone was violated. But maybe this time Sam had gotten too close to the food bowl. Ursa didn’t even seem contrite. Dismayed by her aggression towards the family cat, I closed the door. I’d deal with Sam’s remains after I finished the rest of the morning farm chores.
I gathered supplies for the morning milking and exited the house through the front door. Sam Cat was sitting patiently by his empty food dish, waiting for a handout, black and white fur intact, and oblivious to the rumors of his death. Which now begged the question—what had Ursa eaten?
Back on the deck, Ursa was standing guard over the mystery prey. A handful of scavenger crows landed in the driveway on the other side of the fence, hoping to steal scraps. Ursa raced off the deck and lunged at the crows. Her deep, ferocious bark made them scatter.
I pushed leaves aside to inspect the remains and found rabbit ears. Ursa had done exactly what Great Pyrs do when confronted with something that doesn’t belong in their space. Unfortunately, this was one of the farm’s domesticated rabbits. How it ended up on the deck was a mystery. I praised Ursa for a good job and apologized for my false accusations. Her expression clearly communicated “Of course I wouldn’t eat the cat. How could you think that?”
I scooped up the animal remains. It was one of 16 rabbits recently brought to the farm by my former interns, Tyler and Meredith, on loan until they had the facilities to house them. Ursa had not been introduced to the new rabbits yet.
The rabbits were seemingly well-protected. They were housed in wire hutches elevated on cinder blocks, and placed inside a fenced area under the side barn shed. But one of the lessons I’ve learned during my farm adventure is that animals will escape even when you think you’ve built the Alcatraz of animal pens.
Indeed, at the new rabbitry, the door on one of the six cages was wide open. It had housed four rabbits. Now only two remained. They seemed oblivious to the open door and freedom beyond. Somewhere, there was another rabbit, if it had survived the night.
I closed the wire door and pushed the latch into place. How did this door come unlatched? My thoughts were interrupted by movement near the garden fence. I noticed a wedge of black and white fur poking out from under the bottom shelf of a tarp-covered propane grill. The rabbit was perfectly still, unaware I could see him just below the cover.
How to catch him? It wouldn’t take much for him to be off and running across the adjacent pasture and gone forever. I reached under the grill. He scurried free on the other side and ran for the rabbit hutches. I followed and dropped to my hands and knees as he squeezed behind the stacked cinder blocks holding the hutches. I moved to one side. He popped out the other. I’d come close and he’d squeak by, just out of reach. I finally caught his rear foot and held on tight as he tried to wiggle loose. Do rabbits bite? I’d have to take my chance as I wasn’t letting go. I dragged the rest of his body out and deposited him into the hutch, again double-checking that the latch was tightly secured.
I was late to work that morning. Tyler and Meredith had one less rabbit. But Sam Cat was alive, and I had another story to tell (which is really what life’s all about after all). I’d learned I could chase and catch an escape rabbit without getting bitten. Ursa had again demonstrated her value as a livestock guardian. And perhaps most importantly, I was reminded that things are not always what they seem.
So if you’re planning your own farm adventure, think about adding a Great Pyrenees. They will faithfully watch over your flock and family—including the cat.