Thursday, August 11, 2011

Power Of The Porky - Porcupine Encounters

This is the business part of a porcupine, the quills. In the top collage, the porkies in the trees are babies. The one in the middle is an adult.
Tough foot pads and claws help porcupines to climb trees.

Baby porcupine feet, teeth and 'product.'
Porcupines can be very destructive to trees. When they girdle the bark as in the lower photograph, it kills the tree. They are voracious eaters. The food they eat is low in nutritional value, so they must consume vast quantities. That results in lots of 'end product,' as seen above.
When there were six feet of snow on the ground last winter, the porcupines sat on top and ate the bark of these Spruce trees. These trees will die soon.
The sharp, hard quills are mixed in with stiff, guard hairs. The quills contrast with the hairs so that predators can see the porcupine in the dark when they are the most active.
     A couple of months ago, our dog got a face full of porcupine quills. It was the fourth time he has done it. They say that dogs don't learn from the misery of that experience and will do it again and again. Apparently so. Our dog doesn't attack them, as some dogs do. He does not have strong prey drive. He just sniffs them, but that's all it takes.
     The common name "porcupine" comes from the French porc d'epine, meaning "thorny hog" referring to the more than 30,000 quills which serve as their main defense. They are docile creatures reported to make good pets (don't try this at home, kids). Porcupines do not attack dogs; dogs attack porcupines. Porkies have muscular, rolly-polly bodies like small pigs and smell kind of like old sawdust. Their quills are simply specialized hairs which raise up when the animal is tense, much like the hair on your arm raises when you are scared.  An alarmed porky will rattle its quills to warn a predator. The quills also emit a strong hormonal smell when the animal is threatened. 
     Neither do porcupines shoot quills, as is the folk lore. They raise the quills up to make themselves look bigger to the enemy. A threatened porky will thrash its quill laden tail back and forth impaling its assailant. The quills come loose easily, much like hair. The outer tip has a reverse barb which hooks readily into whatever it contacts. The sharp quills cause tremendous pain, prompting the dog to paw at itself and roll its face in the dirt in efforts to remove the quills, only driving them deeper.
    We live in old spruce forest, favored habitat for porcupines. We have met the porkies face to face in the dens they make in the piles of windfalls. They have denned under our house and I've seen as many as seven at one time! We are over run with them! This time, our dog encountered the porky at home under one of our decks. He yowled, then raced to the door, desperate to come in with what looked like a dead animal in his mouth. "Oh no you don't, Buster!" I yelled and slammed the door in his face. At the same instant, I realized his muzzle was bristling with quills.
     We have a wonderful dog, but he does have his issues. Besides lapses in judgement, he also hates to be restrained. Though he only weighs thirty-eight pounds, it nearly requires a straight jacket  to trim his nails. We have to take him to the vet for that. He gets so wrought up he trembles and pees himself. Not unlike myself, he requires sedation for almost everything.  Nor will he take pills of any kind. No matter what it's hidden in, he will spit the pill. He won't take biscuits from the UPS driver, either.  He makes the driver put the biscuit on the ground only taking it after the guy leaves, so that it never appears that he can be bought. He's no dumby, though he is very difficult when it comes to medical needs.
     So, of course the latest quill debacle happened on a Friday night at six-thirty, when all good vets are at home working on their second martinis. Emergency veterinary services were more than an hour away. Quills need to be removed immediately. Some suggest that if you take a dog into a wooded area where you expect porcupines, take pliers with you so you can do the job right away. The longer the quills stay in flesh the harder it is to extract them. They also begin to migrate into the body and can kill an animal.
     The dog was shrieking in pain and clawing at his own face. It was not a time for timidity. There was nothing to do but get  the pliers, swig a mouthful of whiskey and pull. First, we offered the dog a couple of shots of whiskey, but he said no, he only wanted a bullet to bite down on. So we swilled his share and commenced. We pulled three quills before we had to get help. Brute strength was needed and the two of us weren't enough. I raced to our neighbor, Ed's house.He was standing at his barbecue grill tongs in hand, but did not hesitate. He tossed down the tongs, shut off the gas and ran with me to our house.
     We put the dog in the bathroom so he wouldn't escape and because blood was coming from somewhere. It was tight quarters for three adults and a dog. The bathroom turned into a steam bath, sweat was pouring from all of us. The dog started blowing hair everywhere, which dogs do under extreme stress. He immediately slipped his collar and leaped into the bathtub to get away. We bound him in a blanket and started over. After the dog had seen the pliers, we couldn't get near his face. The strength of a terrified animal is astonishing! We had to blindfold him. He curled back his lips, snarled and bared his great, canine teeth in self defense. That may have been because he had quills in his mouth or simply horrendous pain. Either way, it was dangerous. A terrified dog in pain will bite no matter how loyal a beast he may otherwise be. Hell! I would have bitten someone myself under the circumstances! We were all fearful that we would be bitten or otherwise maimed. It's easy to injure a dog in a melee like that. Their shoulders can be dislocated or bones broken while you're wrestling them.
     I got a golf club to put between the dog's jaws and teeth so he had something to bite besides ourselves. The plastic covering of the club was shredded immediately, but the metal held. Somewhere in there the dog bit down on his own tongue. Blood gushed all over the place as he screeched. The four of us floundered in a battlefield of blood, sweat and hair . Just when it seemed it could not get worse, the dog pooped himself.
    We suffered two and half hours in the  bathroom hotbox, flailing in dog poop, blood, sweat and fear. In the end, we pulled eighteen quills. With nothing left in any of us, we had to give it up and hope for the best. If the dog got through the night, I'd take him to a vet the next day. Exhausted, we all went outside. The dog was double leashed, though he didn't have the strength to go anywhere nor tangle with wildlife. He could barely stand up! We sucked deep draughts of fresh, night air and  babbled light hearted chit chat, while reconnecting on a friendly level with the dog.
    When this whole affair had started, my husband had just gotten out of the shower and was in his pajamas. There he stood in his P.J.s staggering as badly as the dog and about to collapse. I realized it was hours past when he had needed dinner. Ed made soft talk to the dog. "There, Perry. You'll feel better pretty quick. Have a little drink of water will ya? Here ya go, fella," he said, nudging the dog to the bowl of water. We were all plastered with blood, dog hair, and "other." Though we were out of the bathroom, I could still smell intense poo."Ed, I can't thank you enough," I said. "I'll owe you forever for this." "No, no you don't. Don't you worry about it," he said. "These are the things friends do for each other." I watched the dog teetering sideways. Awash in after crisis let down and love, I thought I might cry. My husband muttered, "Ya, Eddie, thanks. Oh God! I've got to sit down." As he sunk to the steps, I saw that he had a big smear of dog poop across the lens of his glasses.
     Ed went home. The dog went to bed. My husband took another shower. I made dinner. While cooking, I pondered the nature and depth of friendships. Ed was a friend indeed and heroic, as was my husband. If I were to be stranded on a desert island, they are the two people I would want to be with me. I want people in my life who love me enough to do whatever it takes to help me. No matter what it costs, I'm worth it to them. Our dog will one day probably engage with a porcupine again. We love him anyway and we love him enough to rise above our own fears to help him through his serial stupidities. That's the kind of person I want to love me.
     The question remains: why do dogs persist in contacts with porcupines? It's unlikely they forget the pain and terror, because dogs have good memories. It must simply be that there is something so enticing and attractive that it's worth it in the end. As a photographer, I understand. To get close enough to a porcupine to smell it and feel its chubby body, to photograph its teeth, quills and feet was risky. But I couldn't help myself. I did it anyway. Now, we'll see who loves me enough to hog tie me and pull the quills from my snarling face!


  1. I love this story the first time but even better in writing. I think I am love with dedication or the idea of it. To trudge through purely for the sake of love and relieving someone else's pain. Pure bliss.

  2. Ouch! I'm stopping at Reny's for another crate of mothballs a.s.a.p.

  3. Vclark, thank you. Yes, it is about love. Got pliers?

  4. Carol, thanks. Do moth balls keep porkies away?

  5. Oh Robin- I felt like I was there with you in the steamy, poo/blood soaked bathroom (but so glad I wasn't)! Your writing really makes the story come alive! We saw Ed right after that episode, I agree- he is a true, blue awesome friend....not many people would be willing to take that kind of situation on. I love you lots, but I would have been offering to drive you to the ER vet!!! Eighteen quills, OMG!!!! Poor Perry, just hope he'll run away next time he see another porky!
    Ms. Boo

  6. Ms. Boo, I'm so sorry to have dragged you down that olphactory path! Thanks for the read, compliment and comment. I do so appreciate that you take the time. Next time, I'll call you for the cab ride! XO

  7. oh my lord! your neighbor, eddie, deserves about 15 barbeque invitations for that service! what an ordeal! i felt for all of you through this entire process!

    and i am newly grateful we don't have porcupines here. i'll take a houseful of skunk odor over pain and agony any day...

  8. TexWisGirl, thank you so much for the read and comment. Your rock girl! I thought at the time I'd swap skunk for porcupine, too. And, we have both. It's an option. I should be careful what I wish for: I could get both!

  9. Robin, if that wasn't the sharpest story that I have read authored by you. It certainly lived up to everything that I knew it would. I have read it 3 times so far; twice to myself and once to my husband. I knew he'd enjoy it, I also hope that it will encourage him to keep our dog on a leash at night. I certainly Jolene got the point. Your neighbor Ed is a friend indeed. Good friends are priceless.

  10. AnnieO, thank you. You humble me, really. It's astonishing to me that I have an audience to live up to. Words to live by: keep the dog on a leash, no matter what it tells you.

  11. What a nightmare Robin! Are any doggy straight jackets made?? Sometimes when the animal is truly restained that way they somewhat give up. And how about some sort of liquid vallium dose for such times - for him not you.

    I've missed you. LOVE the photo of David in the kayak!


  12. Oh my goodness!!! The photos are amazing! The story is ghastly...but good to have those two men who've got your back. I hope you and your dog are doing okay now (and your husband & Ed, too)!

    clay ball

    August 11, 2011 05:54 PM

  13. Great photos, but I ain't convinced that serial offenders (the dog) are worth getting covered in dogshit. In your place, I'd get my vet to authorize me to purchase one of those rifles that inject tranquilizer drugs from 40 feet and use it on 'ol Perry there (and who knows, when one 'a them West Pointers gets unruly, use it on her too.....)

  14. Love this post with it's sharp images and the dog who just won't say no.

    Algis Kemezys

    August 11, 2011 10:42 PM

  15. Robin, a gripping story, powerful writing, heroic action, terrific pix and a priceless friend! Glad you all did okay in the end. Sorry I can't share it with my dog as a cautionary tale.

  16. Hey Robin,
    So glad to see your blog again.
    Fantastic, over the top!
    Keep em comin!

  17. Comment 1 Your dog's a male. That answers why he keeps on doing dumb things.
    Comment 2 You are truly blessed with not one, but TWO people in your life who would wrestle with a terrified, crazed with pain animal with claws and very sharp teeth!
    Comment 3 Those pictures you took.... they were ALL of a live critter??!?!?! If they are, I rescind comment number 1!! Your devotion to your craft is truly amazing.

    Chrissie Pissie

    August 13, 2011 09:01 AM

  18. Oh, the pictures and their layout is marvelous, and the story had me riveted.

    Chrissie Pissie

    August 13, 2011 09:04 AM

  19. Great story and the photos are beautiful! This should have gotten an EP!! You should PM this to your friends on OS so they can read it.

    Susie Lindau

    August 13, 2011 09:55 AM

  20. Oh, My! What a nerve arousing experience...I was on the edge of my computer chair the entire time! What a rescue you three shared...Perry is VERY fortunate that all of you cared so much to endure all that you did to assist him. Lucky dog! I learned so much about porcupines that I never knew! Had I still been teaching I would have shared this with my students...except maybe the poop part!

  21. Susie, Thank you for the vote of confidence. I have to say that sometimes I'm dismayed by what gets attention then, what does not. I guess the bottom line is that if a writer, or any artist, is dependend on attention, they should quit. Sob. Snivell. My poor, little ego will probably go on to write another day, whether anyone reads or not. Sob. Snivell.
    Thank you, truly.

  22. HG, TOOOOO funny! That I can enumerate factoids about anything and keep a person "on the edge of my computer chair" at the same time is a pretty good endorsement for my work! Thank you so much!

  23. Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder! At any rate, I'm glad that it was only a summer hiatus caused by the seasonal 'digging for dollars' and setting up the daunting 'Facebook' business.

    I enjoy your in depth study of the various subjects, going with 'what comes up' - that adds to the variety. Having 'been there' on many subjects, I'm right back in the early '70's, with the dog backed into the corner with his head through my knees and the 5 year old crying that I was hurting him as I managed to get 3 quills extracted in 5 tries - having had the 'piercing the brain' talk from Les the last time he had done it. One time the foolish canine had a huge amount of quills, lots of sedative, and the vet couldn't be certain he got them all. By the time he went to his reward after a stretch of failing kidneys, we were well into X-C ski meets requiring weekend travelling with no stay at home child, and we have not ventured into dog ownership since.

    Keep it up as long as it 'works for you' - and I don't mean making it feel like work! liz

  24. It sounds absolutely horrifying I am so glad you had help to save your Perry from himself. I really hope he looks the other way next time he crosses paths with a porcupine!

    Lunchlady 2

    August 13, 2011 07:24 PM

  25. I admire your photos so much, and then I find a story that overwhelms them. Wow. What an adventure.


    August 13, 2011 09:21 PM

  26. A SimpleshutterbugAugust 14, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    OMG!! I think I had my hand over my mouth the whole time I was reading. I can't believe you got those photos, you are braver than any wildlife photographer that I know. Thank goodness for your husband and your neighbor. Hope everybody is doing okay.

    A Simple Shutterbug

    August 14, 2011 07:47 AM

  27. Marvelous photos, horrific (tho well-written) story. When I was stationed in Germany I learned that the porcupine (hedgehog - same thing?) was the national animal of Germany and that the Germans called it an "iggle." I didn't go to the trouble then to try to confirm this, nor have I Googled it this morning, as I am too exhausted from empathizing with you guys and your bloody poopy rescue mission. Whew.

    Matt Paust

    August 14, 2011 10:48 AM

  28. Wow. What a story, Mrs. Robinson.

    Scarlett Sumac

    August 14, 2011 10:43 AM

  29. amazing n cover material surely . rated.


    August 14, 2011 11:06 AM

  30. I had read this gorgeous post last Friday and shared with my. . . sisters, but couldn't post my comments, as I had trouble now too. I had not seen a porcupine up that close - thanks to your close-up photography. The painful (though comical) ordeal of pulling the needles from your dog's face was very well written. I hope you won't have to go through the same again.

    August 14, 2011 10:30 PM

  31. That you had the strength to write this post afterwards---I am in awe! But I guess quills can do that---inspire writing! Give your dog a hug for me. No. Give yourself a hug for me. And go buy a new golf club!


    August 15, 2011 09:44 AM

  32. This was like two stories for the price of one...the marvelous porcupines, and the drama of spine an amputation scene in an old Western. Poor dog, and poor trees, but, you just gotta love the porcupines! Thanks for an enjoyable read.


    August 16, 2011 09:02 AM

  33. The photos are amazing, the story agonizingly riveting! Fantastic writing!

  34. Pat, wow. I'm humbled by that kind of regard for my work. I work really hard at this, so to have someone reading and viewing and 'seeing' the whole package is a magnificent thing. Thank you so very much.

  35. the porcupine story is amazing. How is Perry? If I would be stuck on an island I would want the likes of you there!

  36. It's always a good idea to keep some acepromazine or valium on hand in case of porcupine encounters (for your dog, not you). I had a dog who got a mouthful of baby porcupine quills, which are the worst because they're smaller, finer and sharper than adult quills. There was no way at the time to get him to a vet, so I gave him the maximum safe dose of acepromazine, he calmed down enough to let me get at them and that was that.

    Also it's always recommended to see a vet even if you think you've gotten them all, since all it takes is one missed quill to cause infection and further misery.