40: The Battle of the Birds

40: The Battle of the Birds

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Dog Did That!

The Battle of the Birds

Trouble is part of your life, and if you don’t share it, you don’t give the person who loves you enough chance to love you enough.

~Dinah Shore

We weren’t aware of the Beagle breed’s regal history when we purchased our first one. All we saw was an adorable little black, white and tan creature with beautiful, long silky ears. We named him Brandy. Like the fortified wine that was his namesake, he proved to be a potent entity. By the time he was six months old, he’d raided barbecues, stolen pizzas, pursued local cats through beautifully tended vegetable gardens, and chased a neighbour’s horses in carousel circles around a pasture with dizzying regularity.

He’d also gained a number of extra monikers that had nothing to do with wine, the most common of which cast dispersions on his parentage. Efforts to contain him proved useless. The Houdini of hounds, he viewed fences, collars, and any other restrictive devices simply as momentary challenges to his agile little brain.

As Brandy passed his first birthday, the school year ended. Our family — my husband Ron, our three children, Joan age nine, Carol eight, and Steven seven, the Beagle and myself — moved to our summer cottage near Miramichi Bay along the Tabusintac River. That spring Ron had purchased an ancient outboard motor boat. Proud of his purchase he’d often load the family aboard and we’d set off.

Occasionally the old boat churned decently along, but more frequently we ended our voyage wading home through the shallows — the “Undependable” in tow. Having sputtered to a stop, it (I refuse to use the nautical term “she” in reference to such a finicky creature) had refused to revive for the journey home. During these treks, Brandy would stretch out on the front of the craft, sunning himself while his galley slaves tugged and pulled.

One beautiful July morning we decided to take a trip out to one of the nearby islands at the river’s mouth to dig clams. Shortly the entire always-optimistic family had clambered aboard, pails, shovels, and lunches carefully stowed away.

Undependable ran beautifully on the outgoing voyage. Ron manned the steering wheel and controls in the front, the children, myself, and supplies in the back. Bran stood with front paws braced against the dashboard head over the windscreen, ears streaming back in the breeze. His delight in our mini-adventure was contagious. Even old Undependable seemed to be humming along better than usual.

Once on the strip of sand and grass we called “an island,” we discovered that the tide had cooperated, and gone out to allow us access to the clam beds. Since Brandy was penned in by water, we didn’t bother to keep track of him. We paid no attention when he disappeared into the tall marsh grass that grew thick and rich along the island’s elevated spine.

Suddenly screams erupted from the vegetation. Looking in the direction of the commotion, we saw a cloud of herring gulls rising out of the grass, their shrieks shattering the calm of the otherwise-perfect summer morning. A flash of black, white, and tan burst out of the three-foot tall grass, the furious flock in incensed pursuit.

“The little beggar must have gotten into their nesting site,” Ron muttered.

Homing instincts in perfect order, Bran headed for his family at top speed, hoards of enraged gulls screaming and diving after him. Scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds came to mind and I was suffused with an urge to throw myself bodily over my children in a heroic effort to save them. Ron took a more practical approach.

“Run!” he yelled and we were off en masse. Two adults and three children hit the deck of old Undependable in a rush that all but capsized the thirteen-foot plywood craft.

Bringing his squawking, dive-bombing entourage, Bran leaped aboard behind us.

As Ron struggled to push and paddle us to water deep enough to employ the motor, the birds had time to reconnoiter, hover, and begin doing what herring gulls do best. We reached sufficient depth to lower the motor just as the first volley of guano hit us amidships.

True to form and uninspired either by the barrage of bird bombs or the cries of children, Undependable chose not to start. With Ron desperately trying to crank its twenty-five horsepower Johnson into life, we floated toward the bay. Bran alone seemed to be weathering the battle fairly well. He had dived under the front seat.

Later when Ron had finally managed to threaten Undependable’s propulsion system into life with a combination of brute strength and his own special selection of expletives, and we were leaving the ballistic birds behind, Bran emerged from his bunker. He cast a disdainful eye over our splattered bodies and deck. He yawned, stretched, and then with a sigh (the Beagle equivalent of a shrug), he returned to his shelter to sleep out the remainder of the voyage.

~Gail MacMillan

More stories from our partners