Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Visitor

I was living in Boulder, Colorado, when it happened. The whole neighborhood took notice, including our local newspaper, The Daily Camera. A small female deer had wandered into a field populated by about a half dozen horses and made herself at home. Now it's not unusual for deer to do this kind of thing; last evening I posted about a deer that had finally returned to my hayfield (I hope she's the same one who visited last year, that would be so fine).

What was different about this particular deer was the fact that she stayed on, rather like a relative who visits for a weekend and doesn't leave for a month. You know the type. Subtle hints like, "Gee, Uncle Bob, we're going on vacation next week, don't you think it's time you left?" bounce off like a high velocity racket ball. Not that anyone was eager for the deer to leave, mind you. She appeared quite content, not only with the dinner offerings, but also the company and the horses treated her like one of their own.

It was an amazing thing that went on for several weeks.
Then one morning, she was gone. Something must have frightened her in the night; she bolted, leaped the fence, and was struck by a hit-and-run driver. But that's not the end of the story. She was found the next morning with a neighbor's dog standing guard over her body. That's right, standing guard. The owner said her dog had taken quite an interest in the goings on in the pasture and made himself at home with the horses and deer from time to time. Unlike what you might expect, he never chased them, she said, he just "hung out." And when the deer was killed, he laid near her throughout the night, protecting her.

It's impossible to know, I suppose, what goes on in the minds of animals. Our conceptions about their cognitive abilities are in a state of flux and the old notions of purely instinctual behavior are changing. If this was a story involving humans, we would say it was about friendship. I think that's exactly what it was.


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