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  • Writer's pictureReyna Bradford

Playing Possum (written 1-30-21)

I have suspected for a long time that Drifter really isn't the world's greatest livestock guardian dog. And tonight, when I found a possum chowing down in one of the pens at the barn, I was totally convinced of it.

It had rained all day long. Beady, cool curtains of rain, sputtering through the gutters, and pattering and clattering on the tin roof of the barn. Goats absolutely detest rain, so my girls were hunkered down under shelter for the day. I had stuffed their hay racks, changed out their bedding, and generally made ready for two nights and a day spent locked in their indoor pens.

The five doe kids from last spring, now almost yearlings, are kept in a pen by themselves. They're still at the age where I measure out their grain as a large, communal ration and dump it in to three rubber tubs, rather than divvying out a separate portion for each of them. It works. They jostle and shove and share as good-naturedly as goats can, and at this age it's all fine.

So this morning I poured the grain in to each of the three tubs and left them to it. Most of the time they polish off everything I give them, and after all, they were on lockdown for the whole day without much else to do besides eat. So I closed up their door and headed back to the house.

It was definitely a gloomy and dark day, and I left the lights switched on, knowing I would be back in the evening.

When I did return everything was quiet. The goats were calm. Drifter was calm. The rain had finally pushed off to the east and a stiff, northwest wind was hurrying in on its way. I went in to the kids' pen first to make sure their feed tubs were clean and empty before doling out their evening rations.

And there was our uninvited guest, happily sitting in the very first tub I grabbed, munching an overlooked handful of grain.

As far as I could tell, it never batted an eye. It was just as calm as everyone else in the place. Fortunately, I already had gloves on, because it wasn't going to stay with us.

I glanced over one shoulder and called to Drifter. It seemed only fair to ask him just exactly where he'd been and just exactly what he thought he'd been doing. He took one look at me and the possum and disappeared in to the dark field.

Fine. If my loyal guardian dog wasn't going to own up, then I would take responsibility and deal with this on my own.

I yanked the intruder up by the tail, marched it out of the barn, and flung it unceremoniously over the pasture fence. Possums in the barn are a no-no. It's more than just the gross factor, too. For one thing, they shouldn't be in contact with the goats, or be eating the goats' grain.

For another thing, possums carry a parasite that you don't want your livestock to get.

If it comes to that, any kind of varmint in the barn is a no-no. It was a grody possum this time, but what would it be next time? A rabid skunk? An aggressive raccoon? Or what about a stray dog with mischief on its mind?

All of these are certainly possibilities, and they are all reasons why Drifter lives with the goats in the first place. His specific job is expressly to keep unwelcome critters out of both the barn and out of the entire pasture. Instead, he had allowed this varmint not just to amble in to the lighted building, but to also climb in to a pen and get in with the goats.

It's a funny story, but the bottom line isn't amusing. Drifter is majorly not doing his job. And this scenario will happen again. Once animals have discovered a free and easy food source, they're going to come back for more.

So I am essentially left with three crummy options.

1. Do nothing. Pick up the feed tubs as soon as the goats are finished eating and take away any leftover grain. But aside from that, keep things the way they are and just deal with Drifter for who he is. Or isn't, as the case may be.

2. Get a new puppy. My preference is to work guardian dogs in pairs anyway. But since we lost Snowstorm two years ago, Drifter has been on his own. As the resident adult male, it just seemed best to leave things alone. Getting a female puppy would work, but it would also mean extra work for me. The job of supervising and teaching a puppy how to live with livestock is a nuisance and a worry that I really don't want right now.

3. Retire Drifter to Pyrenees rescue, find him another home where he can just be a pet, and bring in a new pair of adult guardians ready to go to work.

Like I said, none of the three options are appealing. And I'll have to think about this. But things can't continue the way they are. The dog isn't the one who's supposed to play possum.

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