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What's behind the curtain?

Dog Boulder tries to solve a mystery in this week's Off Leash: An unrestrained dogumentary.
A splash of scarlet: A trail of blood begins the mystery.

Word processing by Dan Mills

Fog is spooky. Even for us dogs, this creeping mist that envelopes our environs when the dew point is right is just plain eerie. Even though its moisture makes my nose work even better, its cloaking of my visual world creeps me out. It's like the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho: you can't see what's lurking just on the other side of that foggy curtain.

So the other night, as we headed out into the evening mist for our dog walk, I was already a bit edgy. I could barely see the llamas as we crossed through their pasture. I was able, however, to discern that they were standing unusually close together and all staring intensely off in the same general direction. Yup, even in the fog, my eyes informed me they were a bit nervous. My nose told me they reeked of anxious.

We had just stepped from the pasture into the forest when both Dog Taylor and I picked up yet another nose full of troubling scents: white tail deer, cougar, blood, and fear. Just then my human appeared from out of the fog. I redoubled my sniffing in attempt to alert him that something was amiss up ahead. Kneeling down he saw it, the scarlet spatterings of blood leading down the trail. Then, before he could get back to his feet, a shot rang out. My man stared off in the direction of the blast, gave us the command to heel, and then said, "Come on dogs. Best we go home."

It was still dark and still foggy the next morning when I was let outside to attend to my usual early morning rituals. I had just begun some serious territory marking when I heard the sound of wing beats passing near overhead. Ravens, lots of them, all heading through the darkness as if on a mission. Then my nose picked up the smell of death hanging in the night air and I realized why the ravens were up before the sun. Seems the breakfast buffet had opened early.

By the time my human was awake and moving, the cacophony of rawking, knocking, gurgling and yelling made by the overjoyed ravens was impossible to ignore. Knowing that a large number of ravens – sometimes unkindly called an "unkindness of ravens" – is almost always a sign that a killing has been committed, I was leashed and we went to investigate together.

The dawn had arrived but the fog was still eerily thick. Using my nose I lead the human to a patch of tall thistles where a white ail doe now lay dead and partially consumed. The scene of her demise was less than a hundred metres from where, just last year, a cougar had killed and feasted upon my old friend Kootenay the llama.

Had the doe met a similar fate? Surely it was her blood trail we followed last night. What of the gun shot then? This was turning into a mystery, a regular whodunnit, complete with multiple possible suspects and, of course, the inevitable swirling mist.

Yes, there had been a death but no crime had been committed. Or had there? After consultation with a helpful conservation officer and some of his skilled forensics, it became unclear as to whether this was actually a cougar kill. The way the deer had been consumed pointed the finger at coyotes or maybe even a bear. Could the little doe have been wounded by a hunter, possibly a poacher, and then tracked to her deathbed and made a meal of after the fact?

To make some kind of judgement as to what actually happened out there and what consequences it has for llamas, deer and dogs, would just be a shot in the dark. Or perhaps more accurately, a shot heard in the fog.