The scene: Round Lake, Tiger Mountain, WA
The protagonist: Finn MacCool, three year old Aussie
The Temptation: Mama mallard and her wee ducklings
The Incident: Finn's obsessive attempt to get the ducks
I've never been more mad at Finn, while simultaneously afraid for his survival.
We were running trails at Tiger Mountain on Saturday morning. It was cool and drizzling; the trails were muddy. Typical western Washington spring weather. Mike and his dog Alice were with us. We'd run about 4 miles when we arrived at Round Lake. We always stop here to let the dogs drink and wade. Recently, Finn has shown a propensity to jump in and swim after mallards. The ducks will fire off a few choice quacks in Finn's direction, the take flight to show him how silly he's being.
This time, Finn jumped into the smaller temporary lake, across the trail from the main lake. We've had a very wet winter and spring, so this overflow of Round Lake proper is quite large and several feet deep, with saplings struggling for air and daylight in the middle and along portions of its shore. Some winters it never forms at all. The first photo with Finn posing in front of it, was taken in February; since then, it's only gotten larger and deeper.
Mike and I watched Finn flail through the water, demonstrating his terrible stroke style, splashing himself in the face. It took me a minute to realize he was chasing a duck. I wasn't worried, figuring the duck would tire of the "threat" and fly away. I even shared a joke with Mike as we waited for Finn to return to the trail. A few minutes went by and Finn finally got out and joined us. We started running again.
The trail follows the contour of this temporary pond, and as we were just leaving it, Finn jumped back in. This time the quacking from the duck was more urgent. As I approached the shore to call Finn out, I saw what was so enticing to him: ducklings. Five of them.
Now I understood just how bad a situation this was. Finn - with all the focus only an Aussie intent on a moving bird can have - was going to keep swimming after these ducks until he either got them, or drowned. He was completely deaf to my calls. Mike felt helpless. Mama duck wasn't going to take off and leave her small, flightless ducklings behind. This was a standoff of potentially tragic consequences - for a baby duck, or more likely, for Finn.
I tried wading into the pond several times, from different areas, to grab Finn. But every time I tried, no matter from which part of the shore, the mama duck would see me, and change direction to avoid me, leading Finn away from me as well.
Alice was clearly upset, barking from her shoreline vantage point. Luckily, being a Samoyed, she has no interest in swimming, even after ducks. I like to think she was telling Finn he was being an idiot, but maybe she was encouraging him.
Sometimes the ducklings were swimming furiously right along with mama, all of them a couple of feet ahead of Finn; sometimes mama cleverly hid them in the leaves of a sapling while luring Finn away with her own swimming body. The ducklings were small; they couldn't possibly keep swimming that hard for long. If I hadn't been so mad at Finn, and so afraid for his survival, I would have quietly admired this mama's smarts and tenacity in protecting her young.
This crazy dance - ducks swimming, Finn splashing in their wake, Alice barking, Mike and I calling Finn from shore - went on, and on. Finn's a terrible swimmer; I knew he had to be getting tired. I worried he would suddenly just go under. At one point, mama duck easily leaped over a submerged tree trunk. Finn bumped into it, and tried several times to get over it. His front paws would drape over the trunk, he'd try to hoist himself up, then slip backward into the water; a couple times his head went under and I thought, "This is it; he's going to drown." After several attempts, he got over it. But how tired was he? How long could he keep this up?
I found myself repeatedly wading waist-deep into the cold water to try to get to Finn. Oddly, I hardly noticed to cold. Adrenaline took over. I just wanted to get my stupid dog out of that pond before he drowned! Finn would see me trying to grab him and swim away from me, so intent was he on his mission to get that duck. Finally, after what seemed an eternity but was probably about 20 minutes, I waded yet again into the middle of the pond. Maybe that smart mama duck realized I was actually trying to help her, because she brought Finn pretty close to me before veering away. I was up to my belly-button in the water, a good ten feet from shore, but I was not going to miss that opportunity to end the torment. Using a long branch to distract Finn and slow him down, while running after him through the deep water as if we were both moving in slow motion, I reached out...and...
"You little shit!" was all I could think to say. Mike cheered from the shore, with Alice barking her approval. I pulled out my leash and attached it to Finn's collar. His ribcage was heaving with labored breathing. He had the eyes of the possessed. That look frightened me more than anything, realizing that his obsessive focus on a duck could become so dangerous.
So. Finn and I have got some work to do on "Leave it!" I'll be putting him on leash when we near Round Lake and other lakes for the time being. At least until baby ducks are fledged for the year.