A Standoff of Rivals

By Megan Willome

Dogs vs. Squirrel

In my backyard I keep a 6-foot-long stick handy. It is my squirrel stick. No, I do not use it to beat squirrels. (I possess some self-control.) I use the stick to whack the tree in which the squirrels stand, mocking my dogs.

We adopted Polo and Clover six years ago after they were dumped on a ranch. They are sisters. They are on squirrel duty all day. They are not good at their job.
It’s a standoff of rivals, and my backyard is not a place where good triumphs over evil. Every morning the sun rises on a new day with the possibility of victory, and by the end of every evening the villain with the fluffy tail wins.

There must be many squirrels that visit our backyard, but there seems to be only one, my terriers’ nemesis. He prefers a particular tree, a small live oak that grows in the middle of a much taller red-tipped photinia. I am sure one of the current enemy’s ancestors planted the tree there because no yard-respecting homeowner would plant a tree in the middle of a bush. The squirrel likes to sit on one of the oak’s branches and taunt my dogs. They take the bait every time.
I have a higher tolerance for barking than most people, so it may take me half an hour before I notice the noise. When I finally do, I grab my squirrel stick and bang on the tree. The squirrel, who perches slightly higher than my stick, then leaps to another tree or onto the storage building or into a neighbor’s yard or into the alley. The birds resume their songs. Harmony? Restored. Until the adversary returns 10 minutes later.

I’ve wondered what would happen if the squirrel were to lose its balance and fall. I assume there would be carnage. Polo and Clover may look cute and cuddly, but they are carnivores. On our walks, they eat roadkill when I’m not looking. They’ve eaten dead frogs and birds in the yard. They recently killed a mole. They chase cats and deer, and I’ve seen them lunge at a cow as if to say, “Lemme at ‘em!”

It’s hard to believe a rodent is smarter than the combined brains of my two canines, but it seems so. Why can’t they ignore this antagonist? Even if it’s a hot day and Polo and Clover are sound asleep inside, enjoying the air conditioning, they will leap from their shared dog bed as one and charge the back door as soon as the squirrel enters the premises. Then they’ll be happy for the next couple of hours, doing reconnaissance.

If you were in the market to buy a house and happened to take a tour of one located near mine, you might think, “Those Willomes look like nice folks,” but if you happened to visit when my dogs were in the midst of one of their squirrel tirades, you would think again and quietly drive away to the nearest dog-free listing.

I know my dogs annoy my neighbors. Next door live two larger dogs who do not bother with squirrels. I guess they are not threatened by an animal that is basically a rat.

One weekend afternoon when my dogs would not shut up, a neighbor got out his BB gun and shot in the squirrel’s direction. He scared the varmint so badly it jumped into the yard of the house behind us, where it was promptly devoured by a dog named Major. Major never barks. He just gets the job done. My neighbor apologized, but he was my hero that day. Major, my champion.

There are people who like squirrels. Most of them live in wastelands devoid of trees. The rest live in the UK.

When John and I went to England back in college, we spent a night with friends of my dad’s who showed us a squirrel documentary from the BBC called “Daylight Robbery.” I can’t find the original online, but its sequel, “Daylight Robbery 2,” exists on YouTube. It has a soundtrack and a narrator and more than a few commenters who are happy to see this treasure from their childhood revived for a new viewing audience. I find it appalling.

While watching the video, our English hosts applauded as the squirrels conquered each new obstacle, while John and I laughed politely, shooting each other looks of horror. When did we decide to cheer for the bad guy? When did man’s best friend become the foe?

Right now Clover and Polo sit beneath our pecan tree. They have spotted a squirrel on the low-hanging branch. It must be a different one from their regular rival because they are silent. Their noses are raised high. Their ears stand straight up. My stick lays still.