Cactus Isn’t a Dog Toy

Our dog Dakota was at it again. This time she was after something in the burn pile. It offered the perfect hidey hole for small animals. For several months we’d throw sticks and branches on the pile letting it build up until the Big Burn. It wasn’t uncommon for small animals to make their home underneath the branches.

As intensely as Dakota was pawing at the burn pile, I figured it had to be a chipmunk, turtle or snake. I’d never seen our dog get this excited unless there was an animal involved.


The sun had gone down and it was almost dark. I was up on the deck watching from afar. She grabbed something from the pile and started dragging it out into the yard.

It was no chipmunk, snake or turtle. This was much bigger game. From where I stood it looked like our dog was dragging a dead goose. It was the perfect size and shape and she was intensely excited. I hollered for Bear that I might need help and went running down the stairs. It wasn’t on my agenda to let her play with, or eat, a rotting animal carcass.

It’s hard to spoil the joy of an obviously happy dog. Her eyes were shining over the discovery of a newfound chew thing, and I had to be the bad guy to take it away and spoil all the fun.

As I got closer, I realized that it wasn’t a dead goose that our dog was dragging around, and I revised my guess to some sort of big root from a bush or small tree. There was no telling what manner of yard waste was in the burn pile and big, knotted roots were not uncommon.

At that point I almost walked away to let her play with it for awhile, realizing that there was no danger. It’s a good thing I bent down for a final look, because on closer inspection I realized that it wasn’t a knotted root — it was a very big, very spiny chunk of dead cactus. It was the dead husk of our six foot Madagascar Palm cactus.

We had quite a cactus collection with some towering over our heads. In the summer the cactus garden lived out on the deck. In the winter they lived in the house or garage. At any given time we had dozens of baby cacti growing in little pots surrounding the mama cactus. Sometimes the mama cactus would die as our Madagascar Palm cactus had done.


Dakota had chosen a strange playtoy, carrying this hunk of dead cactus around, pouncing on it and dragging it like it was the coolest new dog toy in the world. Like overprotective parents, we took it away and disposed of it out of her reach, concerned that she’d hurt herself on the spines. If there was a way to find joy in discomfort, Dakota dog would find that way.

Our dog who preferred to jam herself up against a hard table leg rather than laying on a soft blanket, never chose the easy path. She sought out the hardest, most uncomfortable positions for sleep. She regularly went after insects and animals that could harm her, and now she’d added a new dangerous pasttime — chewing on a spiny cactus.

Dakota was not a dainty dog. She was a dog’s dog in every sense of the word, true to her wild ancestry and the two hardy breeds that she was made of: Australian Cattle Dog and Siberian Husky, commonly known as the Ausky breed.

* * * * *

Dakota was a semi-adult shelter dog who was the Queen of Bad Behavior and the Master of Dirty Tricks. Bad Dog to Best Friend takes you from Dakota’s awful beginnings to her amazing transformation.

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