A dog's close encounter of the wild kind Fauna: A city dog and his jogger owner suddenly come upon a deer -- right in the heart of the city.

November 27, 1998|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

City dogs and cats who are pets don't have many opportunities to meet creatures who live in the wild state. An apartment dog like mine has a soft existence. He is bereft of the feel of the earth under his paws except when he gets out for his walk, where anything is possible.

Inside, his life is not eventful. He sleeps, eats, sleeps some more. It is a routine, I should say, he has never shown an aversion to.

In his waking state he spends much of his time staring out the window at the squirrels running along the electric lines, the sparrows flitting in and out of the holly bush outside our apartment, and the humans who go and come in the courtyard. Sometimes he looks at the cat, but he doesn't seem to find it interesting.

When he goes out, he chases the odd squirrel in the park, though half-heartedly. He never expects to catch one, and the squirrels, clever things, won't move an inch if they see he's on a leash. They are smart and mischievous.

Outside cats he encounters he pursues more vigorously. Most will run away, but not all. You see, Trevor -- that's my dog's name -- projects no sense of menace, and some cats perceive that and hold their ground. When that happens Trevor stops in his tracks, stares at his would-be prey, then turns away. Probably if he were named Butch or Spike he might be driven to give a better accounting of himself. Even so, it is difficult to imagine my dog, with whatever name, red of tooth and claw.

Trevor is no fighter. Neither is he a lover, this for surgical reasons. Nor does he bark. In the dozen or so years he has lived with us, I've heard him bark only a few times. And it's not a proper bark so much as an emphatic canine clearing of the throat. There is no sharpness to it; his bark has no bite.

Trevor is a gray-muzzled Lab mixed with something else. Pointer, probably, for he's forever indicating with his nose and head some object or other. A stick, a tree, the next block.

I don't think he's ever met a wild animal in his life, neither raccoon nor groundhog, not even a chipmunk. We live near Linkwood Drive, which runs along Stony Run park, a meager green space in the city, and have all these animals about, and more. Wildlife in the cities is no longer news. Manhattan, I've read, even has coyotes. Nobody in Baltimore has reported sighting a coyote or wolf so far, but we do have brown foxes. We have seen them at night gliding across Tuscany Road. Trevor never has. He goes to sleep with the sun.

All of this is offered as a way of leading up to Trevor's odd encounter with a really unexpected animal. It was something new in his life. Mine, too.

Trevor has been my jogging companion for about 10 years now. I like his company because he doesn't talk, or expect me to. He just follows along a few yards behind, or trots up ahead, nosing in here and there. He's about 85 in dog years. I reckon I'm about 435 in dog years, and don't have much of a bark either, even less of a bite. But, thanks to some assiduous dentistry, I have more teeth than Trevor. Last time I counted he had about four.

The other day I was grinding my way north up the path by Stony Run, and when I reached Overhill Road I turned around to await my companion. No Trevor. Could something have happened to him? I turned back toward the small stand of trees we had just been in when I saw him emerge and come forward. He had a funny look on his funny-looking face; his head was cocked in a quizzical way, as if he wanted to tell me something. He didn't have to. An animal materialized in the path behind him, the size and desert-brown color of an Abrams tank. It then glided out of sight.

It was a deer, a very big deer.

Trevor was not eager to return. He lagged back, but then joined me as I re-entered the small wood. We stood there together looking down into the creek and into the lugubrious eyes of this deer, a female the size of a camel staring right back at us, less than 10 feet away.

"Imagine that," I said to my companion. "A deer. A deer right in the city."

More deer

Most people are aware of the exploding deer population in Maryland, especially suburbanites, who encounter them frequently. In 1993 there were about 200,000 deer in the state, according to a count by the Department of Natural Resources. This year their number reached 270,000.

Deer are met with in the most unexpected places. Three years ago an airplane landed at Baltimore-Washington International and hit a deer on the runway. A couple of years ago a large buck appeared at rush hour on the Beltway near the Charles Street exit. It was running in the grip of panic through the traffic a few cars ahead of me. It came to a sad end.

In traffic collisions the deer almost always gets the worst of it, especially these days with people driving around in tank-like vehicles. And it's getting worse. In 1992 fewer than 2,000 vehicle-deer collisions were reported in Maryland. Last year that number was 3,600.

The DNR emphasizes that many, many more collisions occur than are reported.

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