THROUGH THE WOODS: Our porcupines

Baby porcupine. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

AN AWFUL, PAINFUL, HAZARD FOR DOGS is a porcupine. Some of our farm dogs were wary and some had very terrifying experiences. Christie, the border collie, would pile into anything and guard the property. One night she was howling pitifully and was found with a face and legs full of porcupine quills (a porcupine can have up to 30,000 quills).

Fortunately, there was a veterinarian on duty, and she was rushed in for treatment. I wasn’t with her, but the process is tedious and under sedation. The quills should not be pulled out. Never attempt this because there is a barb at the tip that holds the quill in the flesh and the dog will probably bite you out of pain. It is somewhat like getting the barb of a fishhook stuck in your hand. If not removed asap the quills can move deeper and possibly enter an organ causing death. A quill in an eye requires immediate emergency attention to save the eye. Christie recovered and was a much happier and wiser dog.

To prevent these incidents dogs must be confined to avoid porcupine contact. Do not walk dogs at night and never off-leash. Porcupines are generally nocturnal, are our state’s second-largest rodent (the beaver is bigger) weigh up to 30 lbs., and love access to garbage and open dumpsters. Good wire fencing down to the ground can usually keep them out. Actual contact with a porcupine must be made to receive their quills. They do not throw quills. When a porcupine is born the quills are soft. Within minutes the quills begin to harden, and the baby is protected.

A few weeks ago, I was traveling on a dirt road north of Chatham and saw a small dark animal in the ditch. I drove slowly so to cautiously get a better look, thinking it might be a young skunk. What a surprise when it turned toward me and was a baby porcupine munching on green coltsfoot leaves. It showed no concern or fear when a car passed us. I had my camera, and it was very cooperative turning this way and that and then slowly walking into the woods and up onto an old fallen log. Its den may have been in or beneath the log.

Porcupines can climb and sleep in trees and may make a den in a tree crevice, or almost anywhere. Lumbermen dislike porcupines because they eat bark and can girdle and kill trees. This little one was so cuddly and cute looking you really wanted to pick it up. I resisted especially when it looked me in the eye with a head and body of white quills. No messing with this baby.

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