Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion: God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.


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The Porcupine Adventure

When our neighbour left for his week-long holiday trip to Europe, he had youngest son take care of his house and young dog, leaving a page of instructions for Fred’s care, including the address and phone number for his veterinarian. I looked at it and thought, “It’s good to have that information, but we won’t be needing it.”

I was almost right. Everything went well until the afternoon before our neighbor returned. Youngest son finished work early and decided to take the three dogs for a walk in the warm autumn sun. As a rule, he walks the dogs unleashed, but takes one leash in his pocket just in case. Yes, we live in town, but  our home is right next to woodland space where energetic pups can roam and sprint and wrestle freely.

Wednesday afternoon they all set off and I began canning applesauce. Thirty minutes later the back door opened. “Mom,” youngest son said. “I need you to stay calm and come out here.”

Can I just say that  “I need you to stay calm” may not be the best way to introduce a  dog emergency? I wish he’d told me first that the pups—our dog David, along with Fred—had been quilled by  a porcupine, because every scenario I imagined as I walked to the door was worse than the reality.  Because, you know, as alarming as it is to see your poor pup’s face full of porcupine quills, a good quilling won’t kill him.

So there they were: David on leash, with clusters of quills poking from his cheeks and nose and one piercing his tongue, standing beside youngest son and our old golden retriever, who was unleashed and unquilled. My son had to bike back with a leash to retrieve Fred, who’d been so intent on the porcupine that he’s refused to follow the others home.

Somehow Fred ended up with only 4 or 5 quills in his face, and if he’d been our dog, we might have just pulled them out with a pair of pliers—you can do that, if there aren’t too many—but he wasn’t ours. And there’s no way we’d be pulling David’s 30 quills from the face of an unsedated dog, so we dropped them both off at veterinarian’s to be sedated and dequilled.

By now the two seemed to have forgotten that there was anything at all wrong with them. I wish I’d taken pictures, but in all the activity, I didn’t remember my camera. I can tell you this: There’s nothing so cute as a rambunctious pup with white spikes protruding from his face. They’d had, we thought later, a fashionably tribal look. We were the afternoon’s amusement for those in the clinic waiting room, who found our situation funny, at least until our dogs tried to sniff the others.

Two hours, one batch of applesauce, and $500 later, the vet called. “Hello Rebecca,” she said. “The boys are good to go.”

David’s quill removal had been straightforward, but Fred had several unseen quills broken in his foot requiring surgical incisions for removal. In the end, they’d decided to leave a couple quill tips where they were, giving instructions for his owner to remove them as they worked their way out.

And that was that. We spent the evening with two groggy dogs, and by the next day, things were back to normal. When I was cleaning on Saturday, I found an “unused” quill on the kitchen floor and later the neighbor had youngest son hold Fred down while he took a pair of pliers to a quill head protruding from the top of his right foot.

Right before I published this, I pulled a black quill tip from the top of David’s nose with my fingers.

Did you know?

  • Porcupines don’t shoot their quills, but they do thrust their back end into a curious dog’s face.  According to youngest son, that’s exactly what this porcupine did. It kept pushing its quilled body toward the dogs, who, at the start, were simply sniffing it.

  • The quill I found on the kitchen floor looked like the ones in the photo to the right. The black pointy tip is the end that sticks in and the white tip is the one that was attached to the porcupine. The quills are very light and not rigid. They’re not hollow, either, but filled with something a bit like styrofoam packing pellets.

  • Porcupine quills aren’t barbed. Instead, they are covered with scales that act a like little barbs, pushing the quill points forward and in, and making them more difficult to remove than if the surface were smooth. You can see a magnified quill tip here.

  • While I’ve filed this post under Yukon life, our experience is certainly not unique to this area. Porcupines are common everywhere in Canada and throughout the north and west of the United States, and porcupine quill removal is one of the more common reasons for veterinarian visits by dogs. (The itemized bill for our pup’s vet visit included one unit of quill removal for $44.00.)

  • Porcupines are rodents, and rodents of rather unusual size. Only beavers are bigger, as rodents go. Porcupines are rodents of unusually long gestation, too. Mamma porcupines carry their young—just one at a time—for 210 days. They have one baby per year, meaning, if I’ve done my calculations correctly, that they are pregnant for 7 months out of every 12.

  • Porcupines are born with spikes which harden within an hour of birth. I suspect little porkies get their only cuddling from momma during the 210 days they live in the womb.

  • Young dogs are quilled more often than older dogs, two dogs together are quilled more often than one alone, and September is the most common month of the year for quillings. We hit all three dead-on.

  • Dogs don’t necessarily learn from their experience with porcupines. A dog who’s been quilled once is more likely to be quilled again. Which goes to show that age and experience don’t necessarily bring wisdom, especially in dogs.

  • It is true that quills don’t kill dogs when there is a vet or owner to remove them, but wild dogs can die from porcupine quills if they stick in the dog’s mouth or tongue, preventing them from eating or drinking. Charlie Lehardy says that veterinarians “honor God by showing kindness and love for God’s creation.” I’d add that they are, like God, workers of mercy, mitigating—and even preventing—some of the natural results of the fall.

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    Response: Tuesday Highlights
    Good morning.The upside to the reaction to TARP, which I think is naive in that the negative reaction will not last long enough to serve as a moral hazard.What.
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    Good morning. The upside to the reaction to TARP, which I think is naive in that the negative reaction will not last long enough to serve as a moral hazard. What COIN looks like up close. Jews and Nebraska. Defending Ms Rand.

Reader Comments (4)

Oh, I'm glad you did a full post about this. After I read about it on Thursday, I was wondering what the details were.

$500... ouch!

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim in ON

The $500 dollars was for both dogs. $237 for ours and $280something for Fred, who needed antibiotics and 2 units of quill removal. None of it ended up coming out of my pocket, since neither dog is mine. David belongs officially to my son.

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

I've never seen a porcupine around our neighbourhood. Thanks for posting!

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeandering Michael

None of it ended up coming out of my pocket, since neither dog is mine. David belongs officially to my son.

That is good, considering you just had to buy a new dryer. When we took our Sally in for her inner ear problems, it was $150 or so, just for a couple of injections, the visit and a nights' stay.

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim in ON

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