What has a long tail and a short temper?
The answer, I learned last week, is the river otter, especially if a curious dog ventures too close.
Last Friday night, my neighbor Serah called – frantically – to ask where an all-night vet could be found.
“Something got Maddy,” she said. “She’s in pain, and bleeding.”
Her Maltese-Yorkie had been let outside just after dark. Moments later, she was squealing in pain at the edge of the pond that separates our homes.
I suspected coyotes, which we see occasionally.
The vet, however, found small, round punctures that were unlike the crushing damage a coyote bite would inflict.
The wounds — about the diameter of a pencil — resembled bullet holes, but the dog had not been shot.
I emailed my friend Dan Eaton, a wildlife expert who owns CSRA Trapping Service, and described the injuries.
“Sounds like an otter,” he replied. “If it was on land and the dog started barking or it felt threatened, it will attack. They don’t back down.”
I’ve always considered otters as playful, tame and cute. And the last time I saw one in out pond was many years ago.
“Don’t think we have otters,” I replied to Dan. “We see a beaver every now and then, but no otters in a long time.”
The next morning, however, as my wife and I sipped coffee at daybreak, we noticed ripples by the dock. It looked like an otter.
As we watched through binoculars, it floated briefly on its back and then clambered out of the water and onto the dam.
There was no question it was an otter – and a large one, too. Then it vanished into the woods.
After letting Dan know he is I did a little research no our long-tailed visitor.
Otters are members of the mustelid family — with formidable relatives that include the badger, wolverine and weasel.
River otters, according to Georia’s Wildlife Resources Division, are common across Georgia and are most active from dusk to dawn.
They are also capable fighters that can readily fight off and sometimes kill large dogs — and even elude hungry coyotes.
Maddy, by comparison, was lucky to have escaped with a pulse.
FORGET, HELL!: Some southerners are still addled about the Civil War.
Closer to home, folks are still stewing over a different battle: the 1987 renaming of Clarks Hill Lake to honor a politician, the late Strom Thurmond.
Although the federally approved name change occurred a quarter century ago, Georgia’s Legislature still doesn’t acknowledge it, and uses “Clarks Hill Lake” on all official state maps and highway signs. South Carolina, by comparison, had little choice but to honor its native statesman.
The issue might be raising its head again. Last week, we updated an Athens company’s plans to establish a new commercial marina at the site of the former Little River Marina.
According to the company’s web site, it will be called “Thurmond Marina,” which of course has already drawn criticism from some of the online commenters who follow our digital editions.
“People over here on the Georgia side of the lake don’t fancy the name Thurmond when referring to the lake,” one commenter said, while another suggested Leah Landing or Leah Marina.
The developer, Classic City Marinas of Athens, will be spending three years or more, and likely millions of dollars on the project, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
So time will tell if the new name survives.
SWAMP RESTROOMS: You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can learn plenty about a place by the condition of its restrooms.
Last week, I visited Phinizy Swamp Nature Park to write a story about a film crew shooting scenes for a new true-crime series called “Swamp Murders.”
On the way out, I stopped at the men’s restroom, which sits at the far end of a gravel parking lot near the trail head.
It was impressively tidy and clean. Thank you.