You might remember from a prior posting that there is quite a lot of wildlife in the woods near our house. On December 12, we encountered a critter we hadn’t seen before: a porcupine.
The stinkers were on the first sledding mush of the season. We had received a few inches, then a few more, than a nice 6-8″ snowfall. It was time to get off of the ATV (with 14 dogs), and onto a pair of sleds. Greg was in the lead, with 8 dogs: Phanty+Stella, Ted+Medusa, Capella+Zeus, and Bear+Jack. Ilana had the second sled, with Wayne+Siren, Mo+Dru, Kraken+Recluse.
We were out just after sunset, heading for a 7-mile loop. The trail had not yet been groomed by the snowmobile club, so it was heavy and slow going. Then, around 2/3 of the way to the turn-around, we passed two parked snowmobiles, which had made a trail coming from the other direction. So, from then, it was easier going.
Then, another 1/4 mile or so ahead, suddenly there was a loud squeak and ruckus at the front of the gang line. At first I thought Medusa had collapsed and been run over. I quickly stopped the sled, and by then the creature had been passed from the front of the sled, to right next to Jack, in wheel position. He had his paw on it and grabbed it with his mouth, and was trying to shake it.
I saw immediately that this wasn’t a dog, it was a porcupine! It was fairly big, and low to the ground. Bigger than a typical cat, and perhaps the size of a small dog: 15 pounds or so. You can see what Wikipedia says about Canadian porcupines, though this critter seemed bigger, and was splayed out close to the ground. I didn’t get a photo.
Jack had pounced the porky, and the team was stopped with the back of the sled right next to Jack and his prey. The rest of the team was starting to come back towards me. I reached down (while standing on the back of the sled to keep it from being pulled ahead) and grabbed Jack by his harness, and lifted him up off of the porcupine. The critter then quickly moved away a few feet. All of this happened in just a few seconds.
I had Jack by the harness, but he wasn’t that interested in the porcupine any more. He was squirming and yelping and starting to bat and chew at his face & paws, which were full of quills. At the front of the sled, Phanty was crying and rolling in the snow. He had a snoutfull of quills, and his left leg was also full of them.
The encounter only lasted a few seconds from beginning to end. Phanty and Stella saw and pounced the porcupine, with Phanty getting the worst treatment. The team advanced a few more feet, going right over the porcupine, and Medusa and Ted got their snouts briefly into the action. Capella had a small encounter, and by then I was stopping the sled, and Jack got a firm grip on our Erethizon dorsatum.
Once I had pulled Jack off, and ppine waddled slowly a few feet away, the team was stopped fully. I set my snow hook, but at least 4 dogs were entirely preoccupied with their individual pain (Phanty, Stella, Ted and Jack).
The porcupine did not make it very far. He was, I believe, mortally wounded. Eventually he got close to 20 feet away, and none of the dogs were interested in investigating further.
By then, Ilana’s sled had pulled up. I yelled back, “Porcupine!” I took a quick look at the dogs, saw the condition of Phanty and Jack, and knew we would be hurrying home and then going to the vet. I trotted back to Ilana’s sled, gave a brief summary, and said we would need to turn the sleds around and go home. She called our local vet’s office, which was still open (they close at 6pm) to say we had to make an emergency visit, and would be there in 90 minutes or so. They said they would be there.
At that point, Ilana hooked her sled down, and we started trying to tend to my team. Jack was frantic, and managed to pull himself out of his harness and ran away. Phanty was yelping and crying. The other dogs were not in such bad shape, but by then the team was in a ball of gangline, tug lines, neck lines, and harnesses. We started trying to turn the sled around, and then the two snowmobilers came up.
We explained the situation, and they stayed for the 25 minutes or so it took to turn around the sleds, and get Ilana heading home, and then me. Ilana’s team was also in a ball, by the time they were turned around, mainly because her lead dogs wouldn’t hold the team out. I fetched Phanty for Ilana to carry, and we tried to get him snugged into Ilana’s sled bag. That sort of worked, but he was very squirmy.
By the time Ilana was heading home with 6+1, Jack had reappeared and one of the snowmobilers held onto him. They then got me ready to return. Jack would ride in the sled, and Stella was solo leader: 6 in harness, on an 8-dog gangline. We started heading home, with me often running next to the sled since it was heavy going through the snow. Jack would occasionally stand, yell, and squirm, but luckily he wasn’t trying to escape from the sled. Mostly he stood, and occasionally rolled and tried to bite himself or the various ropes and cables on the sled. Jack is a very strong dog, around 60 pounds. He was a handful.
We had 3 miles or so to home, which took around a half-hour. After the first mile, I saw the eyes of a dog running towards me. It was Phanty. I managed to grab him while he ran by me (where was he going? Who knows…). He was only running on 3 paws. At first I held him mostly up in the air by his harness, so he could partially run on his rear legs (while holding squirming jack + the sled with my other arm, and occasionally pushing the sled. Yes, it was all rather physically challenging).
Eventually I realized Phanty was moving fine on his 3 legs, so I hooked him up to a spare tug line, and had him running next to me at the back of the sled. I would occasionally lift & carry him when he seemed to be getting fatigued or the sled was moving more quickly. Phanty is a bad-ass dog, running all that distance with major injuries.
Phanty had, by far, the most blood loss. Jack had more quills, but mostly in his face and one paw. Phanty had a long series of quills all up his front left leg, and it was quite bloody. I would have preferred to carry him in the sled, but he wouldn’t have it, and had already escaped from Ilana. We’re working on different setups for dog containment for injured dogs. In our past experiences, a dog that needs to be carried in the sled bag is usually fairly docile, due to whatever problem they were having. But Phanty and Jack were extremely agitated and in pain, and did not settle down at all.
Finally, we made it back to the dog yard. We only took a few minutes to call the vet with our ETA, and load 5 dogs into the dog truck (which was ready to go! Our BRT is the Big Red Truck, the Toyota Tundra we drove from Fairbanks to L’Amable. I already had put the dog box onto the truck, to be ready for the winter).
At the vet, the new vet plus junior vet tech were there. The owner vet stopped by to make sure things were ok, and the senior vet tech had been called in, and showed up soon. So, I had a staff of 1 vet + 2 techs, plus me to help with moving the dogs around.
Medusa only had two quills, and he pulled them without anesthesia. I thought Phanty was 10, but actually he was only 8 years old. But as a dog > 5, I opted for pre-op bloodwork, and an IV. They did the bloodwork first, and gave a sedative so he would rest. We then got to work on Stella and Jack, both of whom were anesthetized. Stella had a few dozen quills in her face, plus a few on her arms.
Jack took over 45 minutes of surgery. He had perhaps 200 quills, mostly in his face and also one paw. A few had already migrated under the skin, and incisions were needed to extract them. The vet + tech worked on him together for awhile, and then the vet started with Ted.
Ted was a funny guy. He settled down with the ether mask, and then woke up and tried to escape – twice! What a little faker. Eventually he was knocked out and the quills removed. He had around as many as Stella, but many of them were directly in his snout. A few days later, we found one had migrated, and was emerging from the top of his snout. Probably a few more will spring forth their pointy little heads, during future days.
Phanty’s blood work shows some liver dysfunction, which he is now being treated for. So, he got a different set of antibiotics and painkiller.
All four of the anesthetized dogs got to stay inside that first night. Medusa went back outside with her sister, Siren, and enjoyed dinner. The other four are on a week’s antibiotics, and a few days of anti-inflammatory painkillers. Phanty stayed in a second day, because he was still limping and moping – although it might have been a pity act, to try to move into the house. No such luck for Phanty: we need his spunky leadership this season!
By a few days afterwards, only Phanty and Stella were still limping a bit. It’s possible they still have quills embedded, and they might need to be seen again by the vet.
In Alaska, we had a couple of incidents with porcupines where dogs ran off the trail and got quilled as the porcupine escaped. This time, though, the porcupine was caught by the team, and multiple dogs attacked it. Previously, we never brought more than 2 dogs to the vet in an emergency. This was 5 (though Medusa didn’t really need to go – it was just easier than trying to remove the quills at home). Four got anesthesia, antibiotics, and after-care.
It was a big day for Stinkypup Kennel, and we hope the other porcupines spend the rest of the season far away from the trails.