Reub's journey

30 April 2009


The ties on this old trestle have spaces between them; it is a long way down.

Psychologists often train animals to learn simple tasks, where the right choice earns them a reward and the wrong one leaves them empty-handed or punished. But real life, of course, is not like that.

Mostly, there are risks and probabilities in lieu of guarantees or right answers. Animals must weigh up the available information, often from multiple sources, and decide on the course of action most likely to work out in their favour.

(from Not Exactly Rocket Science report on decision-making in animals.)

John and I, cameras strapped around our necks, took Eddy and Reuben on a walk in the foothills of the Coast Range. We walked up and up, and then down, down, down until we reached a beautiful little river with a railroad trestle over it. It was a great place to throw a few sticks for the dogs, watch the cold, clear water, and to practice with our cameras. The beams of the trestle were beautiful.

"Look!" I marveled at the blue-black tar on the beams. "It's pretty." John tinkered with his fancy camera and took pictures superior to mine. Eddy fooled around at the edge of the water. Uh-oh. (This happens rather frequently on hikes.) Damn. Where was Reuben? Both of us called and whistled. "REUB! C'MON BOY!" And then John spotted him, but I didn't see him because you had to look up, waaaay up.

Reub is a big dog, but you can barely see him because this old trestle is actually quite high. Trains still use it several times each day. He didn't move, and I stopped laughing, beginning to worry, just a little.

John hurried after him, as I took a quick shot with my little camera, sure that it would all be over in a second."Don't call him," John yelled, "what if he goes over the edge??" Reuben looked down at me, considering and listening, but did not move a muscle. I stopped calling him.

He thought about it, and decided to stay right where he was.

Not gonna move.


Can you even see him? He stood there for a very long time, paralyzed, until John walked out on the tracks, took him gently by the collar and walked carefully back to land.

John is laughing in this photo, and Reuben is running ahead, much relieved. We were all relieved, just after this incident.

Have you ever been paralyzed? Maybe. Probably? This is a feeling that I do not like, and I sympathize with poor Reub, and I am also glad that it was not time for a train.


  1. I was following the scent of a squirrel. Do you not have any idea what that is like? It takes over, and you do not notice things like train tracks, railroad ties, big spaces that look down. Not at first anyway. But then I lost the scent for a second, my foot slipped...and oh. my. god.

  2. Reuben, I can sympathize. One time, when I was just a little older than you, I was playing in the barn. I didn't smell a squirrel, but it looked like it would be a lot of fun to climb up onto those beams in the hayloft. My dad had to come and rescue me too.

  3. I am afraid enough of heights that this would never happen to me, ever. I even let John be the one to walk out on the trestle to coax you back, Reub. Not that I don't love you. And Mary, I am really glad your dad (not me) was there for you!

  4. Excellent story amazingly caught in photographs.

    It reminds me of a time early in my dogs life when we belonged to "puppy club", a Saturday morning dog walking group that used to range along the trails of the Rouge Valley. Taking a different trail one day brought us to a metal bridge that spanned the Rouge River.

    The bridge was a sturdy span for traffic composed to a metal mesh with holes maybe an inch in diameter between the grid.

    Not one of the twenty or so dogs would venture out onto the bridge. The took one look at all the holes and came to a screeching halt.

    With labs and shepherds among the dogs there was no way to carry them over. Crossing the bridge would have saved us about half an hours walk back to the cars.

    But there was no way and, I guess, the additional exercise didn't hurt us any.

  5. Hi Barry! Twenty dogs stopped by a bridge: now that would be a good picture!

  6. Oh both Edward and I feel for poor Reub! What a blasted predicament to find oneself in. Those squirrels. Nothing but trouble.


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