It was bound to happen and yesterday was the day. Ella is now 3 years old but this is the first summer that she has been off-leash regularly. This summer she has had off-leash encounters with marmots, squirrels, fox, deer, elk and porcupine. The only encounter that I know of that she had with a pocupine was a couple of months ago and ended after a nervous stand-off , but no quills were exchanged. I was relieved.
We were about half-way home on a 3 hour hike. Ella was doing her usual wide-ranging exploring and disappearing into the woods occasionally but mostly being very good. I was calling her when I heard a high pitched screetch I had never heard before. A few seconds later she bolted out of the woods about 50 feet from me. She was wearing her jacket and the first thing that I noticed as she ran towards me is that the jacket had somehow been pulled over her head and she was wearing it like a skirt. As she came closer she was obviously distressed and then I saw them! She had about 10 porcupine needles stuck in her nose and muzzle. Luckily I was with a friend who is also one of Ella's most trusted people. After a moment of panic we got her jacket off, leashed her and began to assess the situation. She did not have quills anywhere else on her body. She seemed uninjured except for the quills on her face. We squated on the snowy ground and while my friend held her I tried to remove the first quill. Ella squirmed continuously and the barbs at the end of the quills made them very tough to remove. We decided we needed to move to more stable ground. We got Ella moving and hiked about 5 minutes to a sheltered area with dry ground and a good place to work. It would take over an hour to hike down and try to get her to a vet and I figured we should do our best to get the quills out ourselves. We tried again and this time I managed to get a few quills out cleanly and had an idea of how hard I needed to pull. Hard! Ella was whimpering and also bleeding slightly as we got the quills out. She had 3 or 4 quills right on her charcoal nose and several others in her lips. After about 5 minutes of work we got the last one out. I unleased her and she began to roll her snout around in the grass and snow and seemed unbelievably relieved.
We continued out hike down home. We met a black Lab on the way down and played and ran with him for several minutes. She seemed fine last night and appears totally normal this morning. I am pretty sure I was more traumatized than she was. I hope this is a lesson that we will only need to learn once.