Missing The Farm Dog

By Terry Golson

I was sitting in my screened porch in my peaceful backyard when a house sparrow landed on a large sunflower growing in a pot by the steps. That wasn’t unusual, this bird often uses the plant as a vantage point. What caught my attention was that he started chirping in an agitated voice, then flew over to the raspberry patch. The little brown bird swooped low, complaining all the while, then headed up and off.

There’s always a good reason for such behavior. I looked hard, and it took me a moment to focus in the shadows, but there it was – the cause of the bird’s consternation was an immature raccoon, probably recently weaned.

If you’ve had no experience with raccoons, you probably think they’re cute. If they’ve raided your chicken coop and shredded your birds to bits, if they’ve left feces in the yard that are laden with disease, if a rabid one has stumbled onto your doorstep, you might think differently about them, and prefer that they live deep in the woods and nowhere near where you can see them.

For fifteen years I haven’t had to worry about such incursions. Lily, my good farm dog, was here. Deer didn’t dare graze in my garden. Raccoons stayed on the outside of the fence.

It’s been only three weeks since Lily died. Already, the squirrels are insouciant in their strolls across the lawn. Deer have appeared in the meadow. And now this.


I yelled when I saw it by the raspberries. (It was foraging there, photo taken later.)


The raccoon dropped a raspberry on the way up the tree.


It stayed there for awhile. Literally hanging out.


Zoom in, and you can see that there’s something wrong with the little guy’s face. It’s swollen and sore. Nature is not always pretty.


All of the animals in my neighborhood know each other. (Karen Pryor wrote a wonderful essay on this topic of interspecies communities. You can find it in her book On Behavior.) The neighborhood knows that Lily is gone. They’re already filling in the hole she left in their own ways.

They also know this dog, and know that to them, he is of no consequence.

Scooter noticed the smell of raccoon in the raspberry patch, and briefly had a sniff, but that’s not his worry or his job. Now it’s mine, and I have to take it seriously. If Scooter tangles with a raccoon, he’s going to lose.

I’m not half as good at the job as Lily was. She would have known the location of that raccoon the moment that her nose was out the door. Lily would have directed Scooter to stay clear. The raccoon would have scuttled away before I was aware of it. Lily knotted a safety net around this yard, and only now that it’s gone can I see it.

3 thoughts on “Missing The Farm Dog

  • Robin

    I’ve lived with urban raccoons my entire life, in wooded ravine lots. They are cute and fun to watch, but we also know not to go outside when they’re there and to protect our pets. I’ve tried peppermint oil as a repellent (didn’t work) and vinegar (didn’t work for me but kept raccoons from pooping all over my parents’ boardwalk). I have some cayenne pepper and garlic ready for a pungent concoction in case a raccoon shows up on our deck again – I’d like to enjoy my container veggies myself. 🙂 It worked to keep rabbits out of my garden.

    I hope that young raccoon isn’t suffering (swollen face)! A squirrel died horribly and slowly with a swollen side of face – dental abscess? I wish I had gotten a live trap and tried to catch it to take to a wildlife rehabber, but by the time I figured out what was going on it was too late. I felt so bad. No living being should suffer like that; next time I’ll try to get help sooner by contacting a wildlife rehabber or the DNR wildlife expert near us.

  • Michelle McMillen

    Poor thing looks like it has an engorged tick or two on its forehead. Yes, I like raccoons. My dogs would take them on, but I don’t like the odds so take care not to turn the dogs out if raccoons are on the deck, and I try to minimize the availability of foodstuffs. Our little five acre lot is quickly becoming an island in a sea of development, both vineyards and houses; the wild things need SOMEwhere to go….

  • Gin

    Amazing how those animals can communicate with others. I’ve seen this kind of behavior before. I have two farm dogs now so I feel my chickens are pretty safe, and they are locked up at night in Ft. McChicken. I put one of my dogs in a pen at night (I don’t think big dogs should run at night), the other has decided he needs to sleep in the house, but the one in the pen doesn’t miss a sound or scent and one little bark from her and the one in the house is out on the job. It was better when he slept in the barn, but he is getting sort of old so I don’t mind him sleeping where it is warm.
    Lily is irreplaceable, and I know you miss her in many, many ways.
    That book looks interesting, I think I’ll get one next time I order from Amazon.

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