Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

The Author Feeds Actual Wildlife

The dog is Doberman in breed and standing in my doorway. He seems good-natured, but he and my cat are looking at each other in the animal kingdom’s version of Are you talking to me?

I am standing in between them in my foyer, holding a bag of trash which moments before I ducked back in to my flat to pick up after opening the door. Since I thought I only had to worry about keeping one animal in my flat, I neglected to worry about keeping another animal out of my flat. But here he is now and all I can think to say is “Hello.”

Growing up in the middle of forests and spending 84% of my childhood in those forests, I saw a lot of animals. Since I grew up in Pennsylvania I wasn’t really concerned about these animals hurting or eating me. There were lots of squirrels, deer, and birds. There was the occasional fox, and the air was often bent with the oddly-pleasant odor of a far away skunk in distress. When we went fishing we might catch a glimpse of an otter, beaver, or a snake.

But if you are not used to it, nothing really prepares you for an unexpected encounter with an animal. So while the Tapetum Lucidum of many deer has glowed in my headlights, I was totally awestruck coming face to face with a massive buck hanging out on my porch one night. Upon my arrival, he bolted and, after three huge bounds, was in the woods across the street. Bats were a common sight on a summer evening, fluttering around in their chaotic manner on the periphery of the treeline. But I will never forget the hilarious terror of the night my dad and I using couch cushion shields and broomstick jousting spears to scare one out of the house.

There are not a lot of animals to worry about in Prague. There’s my cat, who keeps me on my toes. There are also lots of feral cats living around my house, a disturbing number of whom are black. Their propensity for crossing my path forces me to consistently recall the direction of superstition (crossing from the right is good, from the left bad?). It’s tiring. My stairs behind my building is home to a hedgehog I have named Petr. I sometimes see him on the way up to my house from my local pub. He, of course, greets me as all hedgehogs greet their friends, by curling into a protective ball and being scared to death. So you see why we get along. There are lots of swans on the Vltava who can be grumpy if you tease them with the tip of a hotdog bun (for example). Not too much wildlife to worry about.

There are dogs everywhere. The Czech might roll their eyes and glare with hatred at an American, a Brit, a German, someone in a good mood, ducks. But they’ll hand your dog a treat as if they’ve been carrying it around in their jacket just in case. Dogs are welcome in pubs, malls, and shops. While I very much enjoy this Open Canine Policy, there’s something about unexpectedly dealing with, for example, the short-legged aggression of a random Chihuahua at a tram stop that can unlock a primeval instinct of worry and stress.

That instinct is unlocked now, as I say “hello” to a dog who’s in a staring contest with my cat. The dog sniffs my garbage bag and the neighbor brings him gently back into the hallway while offering profuse apologies. I tell her no problem and close the door between us to regain my composure. The showdown is over. The cat retreats to the safety of the bathroom sink. I hold my garbage and slowly uncurl from my ball. When the hallway is dead silent I leave my flat again. I leave the garbage behind on the off chance one of the neighborhood cats is loitering near the cans – it would all be too much. Thank God I am going to the pub. Maybe I’ll see Petr on the way home.

Comments are closed.