The north central states of the USA, such as Montana and the Dakotas, are farming country and often considered destinations for bird hunters. People come from all around to visit these seemingly desolate farmlands in the fall. Bird hunters bring their dogs. Usually they bring a pair of pliers too.
If you spend much time in these states with a bird dog in tow, one of these days you are bound to run into a cute little animal that is hated by nearly everyone.
Excitedly, I told a farming friend one day, “We saw a porcupine this morning!”
“Did ya shoot it?” was the immediate response.
I had never seen a porcupine before, and I thought it was so cute. I just wanted to pick it up and cuddle it. I could easily have caught it. It wasn’t very fast. But I knew better. They don’t like to be cuddled. They have rather prickly personalities, and even pricklier fur.
The quills in their coat are so sharp they easily stick in a person’s (or animal’s) skin. The points have fine barbs on them that make pulling the quills out quite a nuisance; hence the pliers. And no, we don’t shoot porcupines, but I scooped these quills from a dead one we found.
In the interior of British Columbia, where cougars are plentiful, the young adult cats who are newly on their own, often have a hard time catching their prey. They are still learning hunting tactics and finding out about the world around them.
I heard of one cougar who had to be shot after it lingered near town too often, trying to pick off house cats or little dogs. Upon examining the cougar, it was found that the poor animal was near starvation. Apparently it had tried to bite a porcupine and got a mouthful of quills on the inside of its mouth. It hadn’t been able to eat for a very long time for the pain of all the needles in its tongue and the roof of its mouth. Many quills had even penetrated the skin on the cougar’s chest and had broken off between the skin and the muscle, festering there probably for weeks.
A friend told me that his Labrador retriever had been quilled by a porcupine.
“I bet he never went near another one after that,” I said.
“Aw, no!” the dog’s owner said. “He was so stupid that the next time he saw a porcupine, it made him so mad that he attacked it and got another dose of quills in his face. You’d think he’d learn, but he just goes wild now when he sees them. Dumb dog!”
Porcupines are not mean animals. They can’t run fast, or bite, or scratch (too much). Their only defence is their body armour, their coat of quills. They simply want to be left alone to eat the leaves, twigs, and bark they love. Unfortunately that means that many trees are damaged and will die from being debarked. This makes them unpopular with the farmers who plant the trees as a windbreak.
These little animals don’t go out of their way to harm anyone, but they do have an excellent system of self-defence. Any person or animal who tries to handle a porcupine carelessly will receive a painful lesson they won’t soon forget (except in the case of the lab I mentioned above).
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