Getting Down and Dirty

When my parents named me Alice, I don’t believe they had Lewis Carroll’s heroine in mind. Nevertheless, I find myself disap-pearing into holes from time to time—courtesy of my Beardies rather than white rabbits.

Most memorable was the time Piper went missing on the day she was due to have pups. My frantic calls were finally answered by a muffled bark from underground. Behind a large bush, I found a tunnel whose dark recesses disappeared down beneath a concrete slab. Perhaps her feral ancestors raised pups in dens, but there was no darned way Piper was having her brood below ground!

Grabbing a slip-lead and a flashlight, I stretched my arms forward Superman–style and started to slither down a hole no wider than my shoulders. In retrospect, it might have been wiser to enlist assistance or at least let someone know of my intentions, especially when I realized the tunnel was more than eight feet long and I was entirely engulfed within its Stygian depths.

Finally the flashlight’s flickering beam focused on Piper perched on a slightly raised shelf at the end. Operating in incredibly cramped quarters, I managed to toss the slip lead over her head. Now to back out. That’s when I made the distressing discovery that the tunnel was too nar-row to allow me to bring my arms back to propel myself backward.

Thank doG I’m not claustrophobic — however, I admit to some morose mutterings as I pondered the predicament. But Piper had a date with the stork, and I had to get her out. So, firmly grasping the lead with one hand, and using the other hand, my hipbones, and my toe-tips, I began to laboriously inch in reverse.

Slow going. Dislodged dirt sifted down the neck of my shirt and the waistband of my jeans, but cleanliness was not a concern at this point.

Eons later we emerged into the light of day, and Piper was treated to a bath.

Four hours later, her pups were born in a cozy whelping box in my bedroom.

My current crew has installed a veritable subway system in the front yard amid the roots of a plant that started life as a bush and has grown into a 30-foot tall tangle of trunks and branches. One day I heard a plaintive cry from Derry, my 15-year-old suffering from doggy dementia. She had descended into one of the subterranean sectors and couldn’t figure which way was out. She wasn’t all that far down, but far enough that I had to go in partway to extract her. The catch was, the dirt was very dry and crumbling wherever I touched to brace myself. Images of the whole works collapsing on us tiptoed through my mind.

Derry seemed to be wedged in place. A soft, wide slip-lead came to the rescue (thank you, Purina). Looped around her hind legs, it made it possible to pull her far enough for me to get a grip on her. She wasn’t happy about being unceremoniously dragged out, but I was relieved.

The gang has a tunnel that descends in one place and comes up in another. Friday, my youngest Beardie, thinks it’s great sport to plunge underground and bark a few times before reappearing. I think she likes the acoustics. Maybe it’s like singing in the shower.

By the way, have you ever tried singing with your head in a VariKennel? Fabulous acoustics! It makes scrubbing them inside almost enjoyable.

One of the dangers of these tunnels is in not knowing exactly which direction they go underground (and I thought moles were bad!). One day, a fellow Beardie owner who was spending a few days at my place washed her vehicle and then offered to scrub my van. She drove it behind that front yard bush/tree, got out, walked around it, and disappeared into the ground. Well, actually she only went into the newly opened hole up to her waist. She was most chagrined the ground hadn’t given way when the van drove over the tunnel, but dropped her in the dirt when she walked over the same spot!

I wisely refrained from comment.

Do you suppose there’s some terrier blood in Beardies?

— Alice Bixler

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