How The Hen House Turns: Poncho’s Guilt

Poncho, a dog with too much conscience. Courtesy photo

By CARY NEEPER
Formerly of Los Alamos

Our dog Poncho came to us as a six month old puppy from the shelter in Santa Fe.

His eyes locked onto mine as he sat wagging his tail, and the deal was made. He kept his side of the bargain: watching over the chickens, chasing crows out of the yard, and eating no more than he needed — until one day when we came home to find him acting very guilty.

How can I describe that? He didn’t jump all over us as usual, as we came in the door. He slunk away and kept looking up at us — no tail-wagging, no eager jumping around or sniffing grocery bags. He knew he’d done something wrong, and so did we.

Then we realized that the package of steaks set out on the kitchen counter (to thaw while we were shopping) were not there. We showed Poncho the empty steak wrapping and acknowledged his guilt with a stern “no”, then took away his supper dish for the evening.

I remember only my impression that our reprimand cleared the air. He quit slinking and settled down on his bed for the night. He was acting normal the next day, and we returned his supper dish to its usual place.

Recently two other examples of undeniable animal emotion came to my attention. One was a wonderful video on PBS of a male lion playing dead after his cub climbed onto his neck, tugging and pulling ferociously.

Triumphantly, the cub walked away over his fake kill, who stayed limp with closed eyes, looking dead … until the cub was gone.

Another video showed a dog suddenly growling and raising his hackles as he looked out of a kitchen window. When the dog’s human owner came to see what was out the window, the dog snatched a bit of meat from the human’s dinner plate.

I doubt that Poncho would have pulled such a risky trick. He had too much conscience.

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