Our house dogs have never “earned their keep” so to speak when you think of a farm environment where all the animals are somehow providing for the farm and family. The house dogs are pets. They earn their keep by bringing us joy, being our companions, and vacuuming up crumbs and spills in the kitchen and dining room. Well, our new house dog, Bella, has proved to do all those things…but also to “earn her keep” more like a farm dog does.
Our back yard is surrounded by a 7-foot high fence to keep out the deer and elk. In that enclosed space are the kids’ play area (a play set and play house, plus a bunch of space), the berry bushes, strawberry patch, herb garden, vegetable garden, and small chicken coop. The cats have the ability to access the back yard by squeezing through a spot between the gate and the frame of the gate. Last summer we had two barn cats – Jerry and Mattie. They came and went from the backyard, keeping it vermin-free for us. They didn’t dig in the gardens, and they ignored the tree that has a colony of violet green swallows nesting in it.
Mattie disappeared last fall, and we got two new barn kittens, Midnight and Minli. This is their first summer on the farm. We have had many barn/outdoor cats over our lives, and Midnight is by far the most athletic cat we have ever seen. He can do amazing physical feats, and it makes him an awesome hunter. He jumped 10 feet, straight across through mid air from standing on our roof to land on a 2×4 on the kids’ playset with no problem at all. He climbs trees as fast as he runs on the ground. He is amazing. There is a downfall, however, to these amazing hunting abilities. The first one being that he finds the tree with the colony of nests in it to be an excellent place to go to grab a snack whenever he feels the urge. He climbs right up it, sticks his head in one of the holes, and comes out with a bird. This does not make us very happy. In addition, he sees my vegetable garden as his huge personal litterbox. I planted a bunch of lettuce and he dug it all up and used it as a potty. Not good. So early on in the spring we realized that we were going to have to make the back yard off-limits to the cats. It was easy, we just blocked the gap they use to get in and out.
Once we blocked the backyard from the cats, word spread quickly among the local mice population that there was a huge amazing oasis where there were no predators, and where delicious food was being grown. Not to mention the occasional spill of chicken feed near the coop. It was a mouse paradise. And they began showing up at an alarming rate. We started setting traps to protect the berries and vegetables and we were catching at least one every 24 hours.
Then we adopted Bella. She has an amazing nose and immediately went to work sniffing the entire back yard. She soon was on the trail of something and could not be deterred. She was going left and right, up over things, under things, and then she found it…the mouse she had been tracking. Quicker than lighting she killed it, confirmed it was dead, and then went on her merry way sniffing around.
We are really pleased to now have a working dog vermin patrol in the yard where the cats can’t do their job. Not to mention that she will keep the house rodent-free as well. Just one more wonderful thing about our new dog, Bella!