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It's Nelly's World

My Daughter Is a Predator

alec vanderboom


Every once in a while we get reminded that our projections are just that--an image we have placed on top of something. Something that then reasserts its independence against our will, and the paper tears, revealing its thin falseness. We project out of desire, or need, or pathology. And then one day, we are brought up short.

How often this happens with our dogs! I have a friend who got a new dog, after losing her first, deeply loved companion (they are sometimes called "soul dogs"; it's what Mercy was to me). Similar breed, of course: we are always looking, not for a replacement, but for a revivification of the dead. I am not breedist, except when it comes to border collies; I believe wholeheartedly in rescue, yet I have been tempted to buy, but only by a border collie. So there it is. Intellectually we know we have no business going back to the past, but we can't help it. We'll always want them back.

So this friend is slowly bonding with her new dog; it's tough, because the new one isn't the old one. Then suddenly, the new dog up and does something the old one never did: she attacks a playmate. And suddenly her dog is like a stranger to my friend--a stranger she isn't sure she even likes. And then she feels guilty for having this feeling. But she sees a distance between them now: the projection has been torn away. The new dog is, in fact, a new dog, with drives and desires that have nothing to do with the woman who keeps her.

Mercy was certainly a killer--woodchucks were an easy mark--but the chase part of the procedure was most alluring to her. Nelly, though; ah, little Nelly is a killer. She is driven to finish the job. As well she might. She is a dog, a wolf in pet's clothing.

Nelly is also a lapdog. When there is a loud noise, she leaps into my lap (uninvited--hot coffee whoops). I look into her sweet brown eyes and see a tender thing, a creature who needs my solace. And bingo: projection. "Nelly is such a sweet widdle thing!" So bonded to mommy!

Yes, but even more bonded to her genetic makeup. For her, prey trumps everything. And she is a formidable serial killer. One memorable day last winter, we were taking a walk together. Oops--my projection; that is what I thought was occurring. From her point of view, I had driven her to a place where she could hunt. And that is what she did, in some impenetrable briars, for three and a half hours. Darkness fell. Cold embraced the world. And I thought, This could go on all night. I pulled the car around to the point nearest the rabbit habitat and sat there, thinking about leaving her for the night twenty miles from home. I thought about lying awake all night worrying. I wondered if she'd really finally go lie down in the cardboard box I would leave for her, as suggested by the neighbor men at whose house I went to use the phone, lured there by the smell of my scarf. Feeling despair, I was just about to start the car and leave for home, when I saw a flash of white next to the bumper. Nelly, rabbitless. This time.

She has gotten her bunny, twice; one young woodchuck; numberless shrews; that hapless squirrel; and a ring-necked pheasant, the most tragic of a tragic lot. I didn't want any of it to happen. I suspect she has set her cap for a cat, too, but I am trusting that the cat's claws and similar weight will put it in the winner's corner, unless it is old and decrepit. And around here an old cat allowed outdoors has already been selected from the menu by a fox, a coyote, a fisher, an owl.

What I am worried most about, though, is Nelly's love of chicken. The kind that still wear their feathers. And I don't think this is because she sometimes gets some Bell & Evans in her bowl. (I'm sorry, I have to snicker derisively at the worried owner who thinks that giving "people food" is going to make the dog steal from the fridge; or similarly at the one who thinks if you give raw meat, the next thing you know they'll be killing all sorts of wildlife they wouldn't have if you just gave them that smelly brown stuff--it's not an animal! it's dog food!--from a can. I mean, think about it for a minute.) Now I have two friends who keep chickens, and if Nelly is ever around if they get out of their pens, they'll be ex-friends.

We went over to Bonnie's house yesterday, to take a little walk back into the woods. But once Nelly saw the new chickens behind their frighteningly flimsy fence, she dove into action. Hey, at least we finally found out where she had previously escaped from Bonnie's fenced yard--at 80 mph she showed us, running right underneath two different gates, both into and out of the yard, in her frantic search for the way to that delicious meal.

She can't help herself. She is not herself when she sees prey. Or rather, she is most herself: she is no longer my projection, sweet innocent girl, one who curls up with a sigh against my leg in bed, of whom I can imagine only ice-cream dreams. She took one look at those chickens and the hind brain came to the fore. I cannot let her have the chance to be near them again. Because where Nelly has the will, Nelly will find a way. And then the feathers will fly.