0

PB, Hold the J

M girlsDog training is not about following rules. It’s about understanding that each dog is different, each a little puzzle waiting to be solved.

Well I now have four very intricate, spotted puzzles and I’m determined to solve them.

Meet Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo. These girls are just nine months old and were recently liberated, in a coordinated effort by a rescue village, from life in a puppy mill. If you’re not familiar with puppy mills, think of a little doggy concentration camp where the dogs are kept in small cages and pens solely for the purpose of breeding. They crank out as many puppies as they can and that’s their life. Litter after litter until they can’t produce any longer or the “miller” decides to close out a specific breed.

That’s how these girls came into our  rescue. The puppy mill operator who had them decided to get out of Dalmatians…likely in favor of something smaller that would take up less space and eat less food. It’s all about the almighty dollar right? Ah, but that is a soapbox for another day, another post.

Back to my four M-girls.

These sweet dogs were born in a commercial breeding facility and grew up there. They have likely lived together the whole time, sharing a pen. They have never been someone’s beloved little puppy. They have never known soft blankets, cushions, squeaky toys, or belly rubs. They had each other and likely someone who came along to toss food at them and clean their pen from time to time.

All of the key socialization periods that help puppies learn to live happily with humans were ignored. Afterall, these girls were not to be pets. They were to be breeders. And that cycle would have started right about now as two of the girls popped into their first heat cycles before I could get them spayed.

But thankfully for my M-girls, they are no longer in a puppy mill. Nope, instead they are in our home, currently living in one of our indoor/outdoor dog runs (this allows us to safely contain them while getting to know them and making sure they are healthy). Jim and I spend time with them every single day, several times a day. I’ve even found Jim reclining in the run taking a little cat nap just to give the girls a chance to get  used to him. Our immediate goal is to simply teach them that humans really are a good thing.

So far, they’re not convinced.

Molly is the most willing to learn. She now greets us with a hopeful look (gained through SO many cookies!) and a  wagging tail.  Oh sure, at the slightest “wrong” move she’ll still scramble away from us, clawing her way out the dog door, but then she comes right back. She’s very close to deciding we might be worth getting to know a bit better.

MacKenzie is right behind Molly. She’s interested in the crazy humans who coo to her and promise her all kinds of good things. Margo is thinking it over from a distance…peering through the dog door flap. Poor Mabel, however, is still terrified, huddling in the corner with a blank stare on her face.

So we have a heck of a puzzle here. How do we get these girls to look forward to seeing us instead of fleeing everytime we step in their run?

Tonight my latest/greatest training tool is a jar of cheap, gooey peanut  butter. Yes, PB. No J. Too sticky.

Three of the girls (not Mabel…yet) have been darting in to grab cookies from us, but they take the cookie and run. Dine and dash at its finest.

But peanut butter on the end of my finger? That’s a different story.

To enjoy the peanut butter the girls have to stretch their sweet little necks out and lick it off of the ends of my fingers. And while my hands are a bit scary, they really LOVE peanut butter.

I’m accomplishing a couple of good things here. First, positive association with Nancy. Second, can’t grab the treat and run (hopefully!). They have to stick around a bit to enjoy this treat. And most importantly, my hand reaching toward them isn’t quite so scary now. In fact, it’s delicious!

I do need you to understand this  is taking some dedication on my part because I HATE peanut butter. I do. I know. I’m weird. It’s almost un-American. I can’t help it. Even the smell of the stuff repulses me. So actually wearing it…and that smell sticks with you…is true dedication to the cause.

But it’s worth it. They’re worth it. And someday Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo will go on to new homes to enjoy very good lives. The lives they should have had all along.

I think I can tolerate a little eau de peanut butter to help that happen.

(Stay tuned for progress reports!)

 

Advertisements
2

Never Count a Good Chicken Out.

She's back

It is highly possible that my hen has access to the Internet. Wait. It’s got to be the Internest. (Cracked myself up right there!)

The very day after I shared a post voicing concern that my injured hen, Eggatha Christie, would not recover enough use of her leg to be able to rejoin our little flock of chickens (didn’t read it? It’s here), I walked into the garage/chicken hospital to find her perched rather defiantly on the edge of her pen. And there was an obvious “I know what you’ve been saying about me” gleam in her beady little eye.

This is something akin to a patient pulling his own IV catheter and waltzing out of the hospital ward with his butt hanging out of those open-in-the-back gowns they force you to wear. My hen’s balancing act should not have been possible with her injured ligament. I really didn’t think she could possibly perch on anything let alone that narrow strip of metal fencing.

But there she was. Her butt (sans gown) hanging on my side of the pen  sending a definite poultry kiss-my-tail-feathers message.

“Ok Eggatha,” I thought, “I’m game if you are. Let’s see how this works out.”

I took my ginger hen back out to the community coop late in that evening. Chickens, you see, become helpless little zombies at night. Not the Walking Dead type of zombie that stumbles after anything warm-blooded, but rather the nearly comatose type of zombie that just stares blindly ahead. Dark + chickens = helpless. This was the opportune time to slip my hen back into the coop after her month-long convelescense. They would all awake the next morning and hopefully believe she had been there all along.

I got up early to go out to check on the situation. My greatest fear was that the other chickens might still see Eggatha as a weak link. They might reject her or, worse, attack her. Chickens can be zombies…and they can be bullies. Complex little critters.

What I found was a coop full of relaxed chickens ready to come out to run around the yard chasing bugs.

Ok. She’s back in the club.

Fear number three was that she would not be able to run if she needed to escape a predator. Her left leg had a pronounced limp and speed might not be a possibility for Eggatha. So I waited, watched, and then went out to call the girls and their rooster to me (yes, they DO come when they are called!).

All of the chickens held their wings out to their sides and came scurrying toward me in funny, waddling little sprints. They run like tiny dinosaurs and they can really move when they want to.

Cluck Norris lead the pack followed by Henelope Cruise, Donna Chicken A La King, and lo and behold, Eggatha Christie.

Eggatha can’t run like she used to, but that feisty little redhead has adapted and she can most certainly keep up with the “herd.”

I can best describe her new gait by harkening back to my elementary school days when all of the horse-crazy little girls would gather on the playground to pretend we were riding…or that we actually were…horses.

Do you remember doing that? Anybody else? You would hold your arms curled up to your chest and you would kind of skip along, one leg leading the other in a mock, rocking canter.

And THIS is how Eggatha has regained her place in the coop with the rest of the flock. The determined little hen, who is one heck of a survivor, has adapted. Maybe she doesn’t get around quite like the other chickens, but she is out there living her life, earning style points, perhaps starting a new chicken trend.

Life lessons in the chicken coop. Way to prove me wrong Eggatha.

Now…where the heck do you store that teeny tiny laptop?

2

Today.

Amy close-up

Today, I made a tag for Amy’s collar. It has other phone numbers on it. Not mine. Not Jim’s.

Today, little Amy becomes Ruby. They are both fine names. The latter has great implications. It is a name a new family has picked for her. It means today is a great day.

Today a puppy gets to go home. It means another day of change for her, and I’m sure some confusion. But she’ll handle it. I know she will. I have picked THIS home for her and it’s right. It’s wonderful. She’ll have a doggy brother. She’ll have two humans to adore her. She’ll have everything she needs and wants. She’ll have the best life.

Today my heart aches just a bit. So does Jim’s. It’s quite impossible not to get attached. They live in our home. They sleep with us. They play with us. They come here out of need. They leave here with our love.

And yes, today is a great day. Though our hearts pull a bit at goodbye, we are thrilled for what is ahead for this little girl who is so brave and so deserving. No more question marks. No more uncertaintly. No more puppy mill life for you, sweet Amy. Go be the best Ruby you can be!

Today we turn back into the house and look immediately into two new sets of hopeful eyes. My heart swells filling in the tiny cracks that were there just a moment ago.

I think I’ll call you Peanut and Olivia. For now.

Peanut and Olivia

 

 

1

It’s Possible I’m Just Plain Crazy.

As I kid I was known as “horse crazy.” My parents swear that my first word was not mama or dada, it was horse.

Then, as I grew physically, my crazy factor also grew to encompass all animals. There really wasn’t a critter that couldn’t tug at my heartstrings and make me want to give it a hug and a happy home. This infatuation earned me the broader title of “animal crazy.”

I have to say I worked diligently to deserve that title. Once, when I was about eight, I sat for hours on end babysitting a mole who had been washed out of his burrow in heavy rains. I would not abandon my vigil despite repeated assurances from my parents that the pesky…um…adorable animal was fine, and that he would soon move along to build a new home. I remained there until darkness and parental insistence required me to head reluctantly inside for the evening.

The next morning I rushed out to check on my patient and found that he had indeed made a miraculous recovery overnight because he was nowhere to be found. And trust me, I looked.

In decades-later hindsight, I believe Mr. Mole may have actually been quite dead (What? You knew that right away?). Yes, I may have sat for HOURS watching over a deceased mole. I can just imagine my parents not having the nerve to break the news to me for it most assuredly would have resulted in tears and the need for a burial. With flowers.

Much as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were able to slip in and out of the house undetected, the Mole Fairy was able to come whisk the body away without young eyes bearing witness. Bravo, Mom and Dad.

As I have matured (though the eight-year-old caring for a dead mole is still alive and well in my soul), my tendency toward crazy has not slacked off even one tiny bit. In fact, now that I’m adult-ish and free of parental “my-house-my-rules” constraints, my craziness has flourished with a farm full of animals and a house quite literally full of dogs. And so I wear my Crazy Dog Lady, Crazy Pig Lady, Crazy Donkey Lady, Crazy Horse Lady, and Crazy Chicken Lady sashes simultaneously and with great pride.

But…It actually doesn’t stop there.

You see, I might (do) believe that maybe (absolutely) plants and various inanimate objects have feelings. There’s actually a name for this “disorder” that pops up in Google: Animistic Thinking. It’s defined as a mode of thought in which inanimate objects are imagined to have life and mental processes. Take the words “are imagined to” out of that sentence and BINGO. You’ve nailed it.

Let’s be honest here…I still have my teddy bear from childhood and though he is stored away on a closet shelf, I still see to it that he is always comfortable and has other stuffed animals to keep him company.

I have a hard time breaking it to my faithful old cars when I am trading them in for a newer model. I also pretty much refuse to have houseplants because I did not inherit my father’s green thumb and I’m terrified I will cause them pain and suffering.

Yup. This is my brand of crazy.

So this brings us forward to a point about a month ago when, on my drive home to the farm, I passed by what had once been a wooded parcel of land to see that it had been completely bulldozed…you know, in the name of progress. Hundreds of trees were shoved around in cluttered piles like a giant game of Pick-Up Sticks (Yes, kids used to be entertained by repeatedly picking sticks out of a pile only to re-jumble them and start over. No batteries or power cord required.).

It was heartbreaking to see these once sturdy trees, still sporting their vibrant spring leaves, uprooted, discarded, and left to die. I had to speed by as quickly as possible as I was certain I could hear them screaming. Or maybe I was the one screaming. Hard to say.

I passed by the trees daily as I drove back and forth to work. After a few days with trunks splintered and roots exposed, the leaves on the trees withered and died. It soon became a field filled with endless bonfire potential…with the exception of one determined tree.

There, in the middle of all of that soon-to-be firewood, one tree, despite its very horizontal predicament, was still in full bloom. This one tree was desperately hanging on to life. A soft green oasis in a branch-filled sea of despair.

And that darn tree was haunting me.

Every time I drove within a mile of the tree I came to know as Twiggy, I could hear her calling to me. “Nancy…save me! Naaaaaancy! Can you see me? Help me!”

And so, as any logical person trying to save a tree on the side of the highway would do, I posted a question on Facebook.

“How do I save a tree that has been bulldozed and have it transplanted to my front yard?”

Here’s the cool part, I apparently have a lot of similarly crazy friends! Because I got answers. I got offers for help. I found that other people were almost as disturbed by this tree’s bleak destiny as I was.

So this past Sunday, bolstered by the support of my kindred, tree-hugging friends, I decided to pull off the highway to visit my tree, offer it some reassuring words, and see if there truly was any way to save it.

Yes, I really did.

As I picked my way through the mud and “fallen soldiers,” I realized my tree was no little sapling. In fact, my tree fell into the category of “darn big.” (That is a technical forestry term. Trust me.) And then I saw the nail in Twiggy’s coffin–a shattered, splintered trunk.

Even if somehow I had raised the funds to hire a fancy tree relocation service, Twiggy was only hanging on by a toothpick. I walked over to pat the doomed tree and offer a few words of comfort. It was then, as I was standing there by the busy highway, talking to the dying tree (What?), that I saw them. Scattered in the mud around the base of the tree’s trunk were teensy seedlings. A quick comparison of leaves told me that these lime-colored minions were actually Twiggy’s offspring.

Hooray! I might not be able to spare the mighty tree from certain death, but I could certainly rescue a couple of her tiny babies.

Carefully I dug around the base of two of the treeletes, extracting their roots and a good little chunk of soil to protect them. Then I speed-limit-raced to get them home because “…but officer, I have to rush home, I have babies in the car that need to get into potting soil right away or they will surely die…” not only wouldn’t get me out of a speeding ticket, but just might land me in a padded cell.

I am proud to report that I did get the baby trees safely home. They are now carefully potted and residing on my front porch where I tend to them multiple times a day and move them in and out of the shade to allow them just the right amount of sunlight. Whatever that amount is. I’m totally winging it here.

So now I have a new title. I’m the Crazy Tree Lady. And don’t think for a second that my don’t-have-Dad’s-green-thumb phobia hasn’t surfaced to poke at me as I care for my two leafy charges. This is a weighty responsibility, but I’m going to do my best.

Dammit, these little trees WILL live. They WILL grow tall and strong. One fine day they WILL  have sturdy branches like their mommy did. And, someday, my dogs WILL pee on their trunks.

It’s the least I can do in memory of dear Twiggy.

(Yeah. I know. Crazy.)

1

Asking for Directions

first look 3

Eggatha Christie is not well.

No, not Agatha. With all due respect, Agatha Christie is several steps beyond “not well.” I believe she passed away in 1976.

Her somewhat namesake, Eggatha, however, is quite alive, but struggling. She has an injured leg and in the chicken world, that’s a very bad thing.

While chickens generally seem all innocuous and flock-devoted, let one of them get a tiny bit sick or suffer the tiniest of injuries and the whole dang flock will turn against them. I guess it’s that weakest link thing. Who knows.

All I do know is that just about five weeks ago, Eggatha did not raise her wing and say “here” during roll call as I was tucking everyone into the safety of our coop for the night. Our chickens get to free-range around our yard and barn during the day, and that covers a good bit of territory, so chicken hide-n-seek can be a challenging game. Chickens can be pretty good at the hide part of the game.

Eggatha’s truancy was  more than a bit concerning. My chickens come when called pretty well, actually really well. (DOGS…you might want to take note here. The CHICKENS come when they are called. They don’t pretend they can’t hear me to enjoy five more minutes of bird chasing.) Finally, as I continued to call for Eggatha, I did get a little clucking response from the direction of the barn.

There I found my ginger-colored girl S L O W L Y making her way toward me. I immediately feared that something had attacked her–the undeniable risk of allowing hens their freedom. Upon quick examination, I could find no visible injury, but her right leg was basically useless.

I carried her carefully to the coop and tucked her in with her chicken family for the night. I was sure they would rally around her, pull the literal or metaphorical thorn from her foot, and help her return to her normal sassy, strutting self by morning.

The next morning, what I found instead was dear Eggatha cringing in the corner of the coop pen while some of the other chickens, Cluck Norris, Henelope Cruz, and Donna Chicken a la King, were darting in and pecking at her. So much for feathered family values.

I rushed to the hen’s defense sending her traitorous feathered friends scurrying away in a flurry of flaps and squawks. After checking her over and finding that she was no worse for the wear physically, I moved a distressed Eggatha into one of our large dog crates with comfy bedding, and food and water in easy reach. But what to do next? Do they make tiny chicken crutches?

EggathaSo here’s the deal. It’s a chicken. I probably paid two bucks for her as a hatchling. She does not cuddle on the couch with me. She does not hop in the car with tail feathers wagging in anticipation of a grand adventure. She scratches around the yard, poops an astonishing amount, eats non-stop, and gives us eggs (bonus prize…the pet that feeds you breakfast and helps you make cakes!).

If this were a working farm, incapacitated Eggatha might truly become the pet that feeds us, if you know what I mean. And while I’m not a vegetarian, I would NEVER, NEVER…well, you know.

My next course of action was to call one of my trusted veterinarians who, I discovered, holds a master’s degree in  poultry science.

And so I whisked my two dollar hen off to the veterinary hospital where she then sat in a hospital cage adjacent to a variety of dogs, cats, and one young pig, awaiting her turn to be examined by the specialist.

Did you know that chickens have a ligament in their leg that can slip out of place and render that leg pretty much useless? I did not know that either, but I sure do now.

So Eggatha got some x-rays (you could see a soon-to-be-layed egg on the films…hysterical for some reason), had an exam, had a little acupuncture, got a fancy bandage on the upper part of her leg just above that backwards knee. Then she was discharged with strict instructions for rest and daily supplements to hopefully help her ligament get back in line and back to work.

Basically, my hen was on bed rest for 30 days.

The bandage helped support her weakened leg and she did start walking better almost immediately.  I grew hopeful that we would soon return Ms. Christie to the coop, to her normal do-as-you-please life of leisure.

After 30 days and some change had passed, we removed the bandage to see if Eggatha’s leg was once again a working drumstick.

But as she took a first tentative step, my heart fell. Her leg had not healed, and, in fact, without the bandage offering support, her limp was very pronounced.

So what now?

At the same time I was pondering Eggatha’s future, I read an article written by a friend. As fate would have it, this was the last article he would write…a small anecdote capping off a lifetime of articles, columns, books, screenplays, and several books that went on to become movies.

The author, Jay Cronley, was a Tulsa treasure. Long known for his humorous, to-the-point writing style, his recent contributions to a local pet magazine were quick, fun reads detailing the author’s life with and love for his dogs. Just days after he turned in this article, he quite suddenly and unexpectedly left this world.

When the new magazine came out, I flipped to the back column with a bit of a lump in my throat. It’s still so hard to believe Jay is gone. The article, a story about one of Jay’s beloved springer spaniels and the lengths he went to in an effort to save the dog from crippling hip dysplasia, was yet another colorfully told gem of a read.

And then I got to the last paragraph. Did Jay write this just for me? It is perhaps my favorite paragraph he has ever written. It was–and is–the best thing I could have read…the best gift Jay could have left for me and certainly for Eggatha.

“If you’re a real dog person, if the dog is a member of your family, you don’t ask how far it is to the hospital where they might save your pooch, or how much; you simply ask directions.”

Ok. Yeah, he was writing about a beloved dog. The cuddle-on-the-couch variety of animal companion. But who is to say where the line is drawn?

I raised Eggatha from a chick just days out of the shell. I have watched over her, fed and watered her. I have sat watching beautiful sunsets with her perched on my knee. I have tucked her in safely at night. Is she any less deserving of special care than our aging dog Virgil? Our blind mare GoGo?

In truth, it is up to each person to draw “the line,” to decide what is possible and what is best for the animals in their care. A chicken farmer would not likely have a special condo set up in his garage for one handicapped hen. Or maybe he would. It’s all in how each individual looks at things.

For me, well, Eggatha is not in pain and she does not seem to be unhappy. She eats, she still scratches around, she still poops an astonishing amount, she still gifts us with a daily egg, and her chicken mafia family has visitation through the fence. She seems content with that.

I think I’ll look for a smaller, chicken coop and yard that can sit alongside the main coop. It will serve as a private condo where Eggatha can live on safely for as long as she likes.

Was there ever any question? Really, I just needed directions to the nearest farm store. (Thanks Jay!)

 

0

Oh, For Freckles’ Sake.

puppy nora

Ok, let’s air this out right now. This post may seem a little defensive to you. I don’t intend it that way. I really don’t, but you may feel I protest too much. Frankly, I don’t care. This post has been brewing for a lifetime. So here we go.

I have freckles. Tons of them. I always have.

As a youngster, I was that little freckle-faced kid that adults proclaimed “so cute” and other kids might have teased. And when I say the freckles were everywhere, I mean everywhere.

They covered my face, my torso, my arms, and legs. I had freckles on my lips. I even found freckles between my toes.

I never really gave much thought to them. They were just part of me. They showed up when I was just a kid of five or six and they’ve been part of “my look” ever since. I have never spent time hating them because really, what’s the point in that? I have also never tried to get rid of them, even though I have had creams and voodoo “cures” shoved my way. And for the record, if you are a truly freckled person, they can fade, but they never truly go away.

In fact, while growing up bespeckled, my sweet mommy told me that freckles were angel kisses. This is the same mom who told me that thunder was just the angels bowling. So here I am today, comfy in my spots, in love with thunderstorms, and extremely fond of angels. Score one for good parenting.

As I have “matured,” however, some people have tried to suggest that my beloved freckles are not just my skin type, but rather caused by sun damage and age. You know, the dreaded age spots.

What?

Um, well, if they are caused by sun damage, then my sainted mother, whom I just so thoroughly praised just 1.1 paragraphs above, was apparently terribly negligent. I was at my most gloriously freckled as a pony-tailed elementary school kid. Did my mom set me outside to bake as some bizarre form of punishment for failing to eat my vegetables? (And for the record, I HATED vegetables as a kid, but fortunately, Skippy, the family dog, loved them and sat discreetly under the table with her head by my knee…)

Admittedly, we did not do much in the way of sunblock in those days. A smear of gooey, white zinc-oxide on the old nose and maybe some Coppertone tanning lotion on the bod–you were good to go. And sure, my freckles intensified in the summer sun and faded with winter pallor. But damage? Premature liver spots at such a tender age?

Nope. It’s blaspheme. And I have proof.

In an article in Women’s Health Magazine (7-2016) written by my new best-friend-who-doesn’t-know-me, Jessica Chia, the myth about freckles is smashed. Freckled friends, take heart! Here is the REAL story about those precious brown dots:

If you have ephelides, as they’re known medically, you’ve got Mom and Dad to thank. Freckling is a recessive trait, so both parents have to be carriers and pass the tendency on for it to show up, says Amit Sharma, M.D., a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, who researches dermatologic genetics. The so-called gene for freckling is actually a benign mutation of the MC1R gene, which regulates pigment.

Take that freckle-haters…age-spotist proponents! Or is it that you are just a tad jealous of my leopard-esque complexion? Because, you know, according to Ms. Chia’s article, freckles are in. (If you’re freckled and you’d like to read the whole article, it’s right here.)

Yup, freckled faces are being hidden no more. They’re on prominent display in high fashion venues, make-up artists no longer get asked to make them disappear. It’s somewhat of a freckled revolution and I’m proud to be a part of it.

I have freckles that are longtime friends. There’s right thigh freckle that was used to measure the length of my mini-skirts in the 70s. No skirt could be shorter than that one perfectly positioned mid-thigh freckle. Still there today, though my skirt hem modestly hides it these days.

Then there was lip freckle that family and friends were constantly trying to wipe away as if it were a stubborn little spot of chocolate. I squirmed in protest as many an adult licked a finger (ew!) and tried to scrub lip freckle into oblivion.

Cut. It. Out.

Of course now my freckles on my face have faded. I am diligent about using sunblock and though freckles are NOT sun damage, they do require sunlight to emerge. Think of it as tanning in tiny baby steps…though they never really do connect to give you that fantastic golden tan your friends achieve each summer.

But my arms and legs? Still a challenging game of connect the dots (and yeah, as a freckled kid, you are subjected to that particular torture by your older siblings at some point). And if you look really closely you’ll still see the spots that decorate every bit of my face.

Here’s a fun freckle fact: You won’t see a freckled baby…freckles emerge later much like a Dalmatian puppy is born all white and the black or liver-colored spots emerge over the course of the first few weeks of life. Well come on, you KNEW I had to work dogs into this post somehow, right? And I do have an Appaloosa horse…so there’s a definite theme going on in my world.

So here’s the sum-it-up-and-tie-it-in-a-speckled-bow truth: I turned into an adorable freckle-face when I was about five, I’ll still have my freckles when I’m 85, and I love me just the way I am. Talk about the perfect way to keep a youthful appearance. You’re cute when you’re five, you’re cute again when you’re 85. Works for me!

So let’s cast the freckles-are-sun-damage stigma aside and celebrate my little spotted self and all of my ephelide-covered brothers and sisters. You freckle-challenged people out there just might have to turn to teeny little tattoos spattered all across your cheeks and the bridge of your nose if you want to keep up with the fashion trend. But please don’t hate those of us who are naturally freckled or try to make us feel bad about them.

The angels are watching…

nan and pup

4

One More Glance.

smily-bruce-2

I look in the rear view mirror and see his wide smile filling the frame. Another happy car ride for you. You have no idea that life is about to change.

A car ride! This is the best. Of course, any time I get to spend with her is the best. Except maybe that time she took me to the funny-smelling place where I took an unexpected nap and woke up missing some pretty important body parts. But that aside, car rides are great!

I’m babbling to him. I’m telling him about all of the good things that are about to happen. “Bruce! You’re going to have your own person to love. You’ll have a real home. You’ll be king of the castle…the only dog. All of the toys will be yours. All of the treats…yours. You’ll be allowed on the couch. You’ll have a yard! You’ll love having your own yard, won’t you boy? Right, good boy?” I think my dialogue is more for me than him. Does he notice the little warble in my voice?

She sure has a lot to say today. Usually she just listens to her books when we ride together. Blah, blah, blah, Bruce, blah, blah, blah, good boy, blah, blah, treats. She sounds kind of funny…WAIT…WHAT? WAS THAT…SQUIRREL! Was that a squirrel? Hey She-person…SQUIRREL!

Here it is. This is the address. I peer out of the window of my Jeep at a tidy little house with a small park next door. This looks good. I feel good about this. I take a deep breath and turn to Bruce, “Ready big guy? Do you want to go see Keith?”

Blah, blah, big guy (I love it when she calls me that). She sounds cheery. Too cheery. Something’s up. She-person smells kind of…what it that…nervous? Excited? Kind of like we all smell when we’re waiting for our breakfast at the place where I live with all of the other dogs. Excited, and a bit worried like maybe today they’ll forget to feed me this time. But they never do. They never forget.

I get out of the Jeep and open the rear passenger door. Bruce is right there to deliver a big sloppy kiss across the middle of my face. “Bruce! Ooooh….that was a messy one, big guy.” I wipe the saliva off my face with my sleeve, hoping there’s not a giant mascara smear to go with it. Bruce is a ninja when it comes to delivering those enthusiastic tongue washes. I snap the leash to his harness and let him jump out of the car.

Wait for it…wait for it. HAH! Got her. She’s so easy…and she acts all grossed out, but I know better. Ha ha ha ha. Got her good. I made that one extra drooly. You’re welcome She-person. Oh! My leash! Yay! A walk!

As we head across the front lawn to the house, Keith meets us at the door. He’s a tall, quiet man whose resting face has a gentle smile, unlike my resting face, which I’m told looks a bit angry. Who knew? I’m going to work on that. A resting face with a faint smile is so much more pleasant. It’s one of the reasons I feel so good about Keith. He’s calm, quiet, and easy-going.

Oh hey! It’s that man I met at the place where I live with all the other dogs. He’s nice. He took me for a walk yesterday and he knows all the good places I like to be scratched. How cool to get to see him again. This place smells like him all over. I think this is where he stays. We go inside and She-human takes my leash off. Permission to explore granted! Let’s get busy nose!

It’s a great sign. Bruce seems to remember Keith and seems very relaxed here. He’s off snooping around and Keith seems equally relaxed about it. It’s a nice home, but not too fancy. That’s good. I like homes where no one freaks out if the dog jumps on the couch or sloshes a bit of water when he laps with that wide grinning mouth. Oh hey, Bruce’s resting face is a smile too.

The humans follow along with me as I follow my nose. So many new smells! Oooo…this is a food room. I like the smells in here for sure. And this door seems to have a whole other world behind it. I press my snout hard to the base of the door and snort a bit as I inhale everything concealed on the other side. It smells wonderful! Someone needs to open this door for me. Oh, thanks He-human Keith…

We follow Bruce who immediately finds the kitchen and then the door that leads to the backyard. I tell Keith I’d like to see the yard, so he opens the door and Bruce rushes out with a quick swish of his tail. He’s in his glory trotting quickly around the perimeter of the fenced area. He stops to sniff, hike his leg, and take a quick back-scratching roll. Then he finds a spot a bit away from us and relieves himself. Well, I guess he’s not nervous. All systems seem to be working just fine. Make yourself at home Bruce. Finally. Make yourself at home.

Oh…grass! This is wonderful grass. And this huge tree! Oh, I know squirrels live in this tree. They have a real surprise in store for them if they come out right now. I’m pretending I’m not watching…but I’m watching. Oh yeah, I’m watching. This is great. I’m going over here to leave a little present. You know…the kind She-human seems to love to collect in little plastic bags. Humans are so weird.

After a few minutes, we call Bruce and head back inside. I tell Keith that everything looks good to me. He smiles and says he’s very excited and that he thinks Bruce will be a perfect fit. He’s really missed having a dog in the house since his old pit mix passed away at 17 glorious years of age. I agree…this feels like the perfect fit. I squat down to talk with Bruce for a moment.

“I love you, Bruce. Be a very good boy for Keith. This is your perfect home, big guy.”

With a quick kiss to his nose, I stand and turn for the door. In more than 25 years of fostering dogs and placing them in new homes, I’ve found it’s best to just go quickly. No prolonged goodbyes, no emotional hugs. Just turn and go, Nancy. You’ve done your job. This is the home Bruce deserves.

She-human and the nice man she calls Keith are talking again, so I’m taking the opportunity to sniff some more. I found a bag sitting by the door that smells exactly like my delicious food. And hey, there’s a plastic bag-not the kind they put my outside presents in, the carrying stuff kind of plastic bag-I think I smell my favorite toy in there and…yes! Some of those chewy things I love so much. Does Keith have a dog? I smell a dog, a very old dog, but I haven’t seen him. I don’t think he’s still here. But that is definitely my food and my stuff. What’s up with that?

I come back over to She-human and she gets right down in easy tongue-to-face range. Silly human! Her eyes seem a little bit wet…not the leaky kind of wet, just the shiny kind…and she’s saying another word I hear a lot from her…love. I understand that word because it makes me feel all good inside and usually comes with hugs and scratches in all the good places. I love you too, She-human. Then she says something about the nice he-human, Keith. I like Keith. His face smiles a lot like mine.

Then, kind of suddenly, she kisses me on the nose and turns to head out the door. I try to go with her, because I guess it’s time to go back to the place where I live with all of the other dogs. But Keith takes hold of my collar and says something about a treat, so I turn to see what he’s offering. I’m always up for a tasty treat.

I march quickly toward my Jeep. Don’t look back, I think. If he’s watching, you’ll just make it harder for him…and yourself. But I just can’t resist one fast glance over my shoulder. Through the glass storm door I can see Keith smiling down at Bruce, his new dog. Bruce has his back to the door and his tail is wagging wildly as he looks up into Keith’s face. Perfect, I think. It’s the best gift a foster dog can give me. No fuss and worry when I leave.

As I unlock the car door and climb inside, I whisper to the Universe knowing Bruce will somehow hear me. “Have the best life, big dog. Be happy, be safe, but know I’m always nearby if you need me. Always.” With that, I practice my new resting pleasant face and drive away.

Keith wasn’t bluffing! He did have a very nice dog biscuit for me. I crunch it up in two quick chomps. And then I remember…She-human. I turn to look through the door that seems like you can walk right through it, but trust me, you can’t. I’ll only make THAT mistake once. She-human is in the car, starting to pull away without me. It’s funny because I’m actually not worried. Something here feels pretty right.

I raise my most excellent nose into the air and sniff deeply. There it is. That’s her scent. I store the memory of that smell in a special spot deep in my mind. I will never forget it. And somehow, I think I’ll get to see her again from time to time. I think…no, I know. I know she’ll always be nearby. Always.

love-you-bruceBruce was a foster dog at my boarding facility, Pooches, for a long time. He showed up in our parking lot a tired, thin dog wearing a ridiculously thick collar with a heavy, industrial metal clasp hanging from it. It was obvious that Bruce had lived his life on a chain somewhere. Perhaps a guard dog, maybe a pet forgotten in a backyard.

We took him in. We helped him get healthy. We learned to trust each each other. We learned to love each other. Bruce was a very popular guy with everyone who worked at Pooches and everyone who met him on our daily walks. But he and I had something special. He was my big guy.

Bruce and I walked together nearly every day for about three and a half years. To some it seemed his perfect home might never show up…not many people line up to adopt middle-aged, 80 pound pit bull mixes. But I knew it would happen someday.

Bruce’s happily-ever-after finally arrived. It was a great day when I left him in a new, happy home. Oh sure, I miss him. I miss our walks and those big sloppy kisses, too. Every time I pass by the kennel run that was his at Pooches and see a different dog there, my heart tugs a bit. But then I smile knowing that Bruce has a real home and his very own person now.

Love you big guy. Have the BEST life.

scary-nan-and-bruce

This is our scary face. I think I’m scarier than Bruce.

 

0

Good Dog. Seriously. Say It.

11745853_10204634876415871_6407302087695439989_n

Photo by Jim Thomason

I have a lot of pets. And many of them are pet peeves.

Ba-dum-dum. Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.

But seriously folks, I do have a lot of pet peeves, especially when it comes to the animals that share our world. And hey, one of my first pet peeves is that I don’t call them “pets.” I’m going to admit it. That word annoys me.

Pet is something I do to greet my dogs, to comfort them, to calm myself. It’s an verb for me, not a noun. Using the word pet to describe my dogs actually seems demeaning to me. My dogs, horses, chickens, unintentional house mice, etc., are my companions. They are my animal family. They are not furry/feathered humans, nor are they little slaves sent here to do my bidding. They are animals who are willing and kind enough to abandon a lot of their natural instincts to try to co-exist in our crazy, human-focused world.

That’s pretty amazing to me. I think it deserves a little respect.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the term “fur babies.” Nope. Let’s not go there.

Today’s pet peeve, however, actually focuses on how we speak to our animals, how we choose to try to communicate with them. As a professional dog trainer (fancy certificate, letters after my name and all!), I get a lot of calls about “bad dogs.”

“My dog is stubborn.”

“My dog won’t listen.”

“My dog is out of control.”

I listen. I ask questions. I imagine what I will find when we finally meet. And I’m usually spot on.

What I generally find on  visits with “out of control” dogs is a complete lack of clear, meaningful, and consistent communication. So what I’m telling you is that 98.9% of the time…it’s not the dog’s fault.

And more than a lack of dog training know-how, I have found that it’s actually a mindset issue. As humans, we still feel the need to be very large and in charge when it comes to our animals. And when other people come around, it seems humans often go into hyper-militant mode, as if to suggest that their dogs behave like perfect little angels every moment of the day…except right now. You should see how people act when an actual dog trainer steps into the mix. It’s as if everyone suddenly has something to prove.

“Sit. Bo-bo, sit. SIT. SIT. BO-BO SIT. Sit down. SIT. YOU SIT RIGHT NOW. Bo-Bo…come here. SIT. COME. NO. NOOOOO. SITSITSIT.”

Kind of makes me want to toss an “h” in that sit somewhere.

And then I get asked how to “correct” that. “How do I make him mind?” “See how stubborn he is?”

OK. I can’t give an entire dog training 101 here (because hey, I don’t give that away for free! Bills to pay, people. Dog food to buy), but what I can do is help you get your head in the game. The right game.

First, dogs require constant feedback when they are learning. That means as good as you are at telling them when they are wrong, you need to be equally as good at telling them when they are right. Equally good. Tell them when they are RIGHT. In fact, spend more time doing that than you do telling them how wrong they are.

I’m going to let you think about that one for a moment. Here’s a gratuitously cute puppy photo you can ponder whilst you chew on that paragraph…

14370220_10210860223725294_5630181008885323902_n

Ok…all done pondering? Great. So here’s my next free tip: Let’s change your vocabulary.

Sometimes changing your mindset is as easy as changing the words you choose. Here are my new training words for you:

  1. Instead of train, use the word teach.
  2. Instead of command, use the word cue.
  3. Instead of correct, use the word redirect.

Let’s start with those three and see how it goes. Teach, cue, redirect. Doesn’t that feel better already? Just switching to those words and paying attention to their meaning, their undertone, could make a world of difference in the relationship you have with your dog.

This is not a battle. Dogs have no hidden agenda to overthrow the world. They repeat behavior that gets them attention. They avoid things that are unpleasant (and we wonder why they don’t always come when called…). Let me give you some real-life examples.

I visited a home with an “out of control” dog. The dog was said to have horrible manners when guests came over. The dog wouldn’t listen. The dog jumped all over people.

“He knows better. He’s just being stubborn.”

The moment I hear that stubborn word, I wonder which being in the house it really describes. And then I giggle to myself. Usually to myself.

So I asked my client to show me the dog and let me see how they were dealing with the situation. That’s when I got the SIT-SIT-SIT-NOOOO-NOOOO-DOWN-SIT-OFFFFFF-NOOOOOOOOO routine. I listened to the tone of their voices. I saw the chaos escalate. I saw the humans growing frustrated and more excited. I saw the dog doing the same.

And even when the dog wasn’t actually trying to jump on me, the humans were still barking commands.

So when the dog came toward me and kept four feet on the floor, I quietly said, “Yes! Good boy.” Then I offered the dog a little treat.

I backed a few steps away and invited the dog to follow me. I had his attention now because I was speaking softly, I wasn’t stressed. He liked that. He followed.

When he came to me, I asked him to sit. He did. I said “Yes!” I gave him a tiny cookie. I praised him. Then I backed away and did it a few more times. Pretty soon, every time I cued the dog to “come,” he ran to me and slammed his butt to the ground with his tail wagging happily.

I praised him. And looky there, I used all three of our new vocabulary words.

I taught the dog what I expected instead of just waiting for him to screw up.

I helped the dog learn a cue, one indicating what I expected, and also a word that marked the moment when he did something right. “Yes.” I captured behavior I liked.

And I redirected the dog. The dog was jumping on people because he was friendly and wanted attention. I showed him a proper way to earn attention. He listened. He learned.

Here’s another example. I visited a family who had a dog that would not come when called. The dog would play keep-away, staying just out of reach. The family was frustrated.

So I asked them to show me.

We went out in the yard. The dog chased a bird. When he ran to the other side of the yard, one of the humans said “Fritz, COME!”

Now, don’t think for one second that dogs don’t understand the tone of our voices. They do.

When this person said “Fritz, COME,” the sharp tone me want to back away slowly. Seriously…why do we have to change everything about ourselves when we go into dog training mode?

So Fritz, who was still on the lookout for that bird, did hear his person say COME. And he did look back at us. That glance back was the moment of truth…what would happen next?

Well, the owner repeated his command even more sternly, “FRITZ! COME! COME!” It sounded angry to me. It sounded angry to Fritz too.

“FRITZ. RIGHT NOW. COME HERE RIGHT NOW. FRRRRRRITZ!”

Fritz didn’t come. In fact, he glanced away (which is actually dog-speak for “hey, human, chill out! Let’s all calm down).

“See? He’s stubborn.”

Huh. Ok.

“Let’s try something different,” I suggested.

I went to within a few feet of Fritz. In a happy voice, I said, “Fritz, come!”

The moment Fritz looked at me, I said, “YES! Goood boy! Good!”

Guess what? Fritz came right to me. Because I praised him in the moment he acknowledged my cue by looking at me, I gave him a reason to want to come to me. We communicated. I was teaching Fritz that the cue “come” would be followed by something good/fun/rewarding/calm/happy.

Fritz liked that. I wasn’t scary. I was nice. That made Fritz feel good and want to be near me.

So Fritz’s dad, who was also a really nice person when he dropped his alpha dog trainer persona, gave it a whirl. When Fritz heard the cue “come” and glanced at his person, he was praised. Oh hey, Fritz liked that and came RUNNING on cue.

Just capturing that one little questioning glace back and giving Fritz the promise of good things to come, made all the difference in the world.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? The true key to good dog training is to be a teacher, not a trainer. And to give clear praise when praise is due. And perhaps most importantly to recognize when praise is due. Be in the moment. Your dog is.

OH if only I had a dime for every time I’ve seen people continually telling their dogs what NOT to do, but never capturing that moment when the dog is actually doing what they want. I would be a wealthy, wealthy retired dog trainer.

Think it through. Go talk to your dog. Talk. Don’t holler, yell, get all stern and scary. It’s not about intimidation. It’s about building communication.

Now get out there and play with your dog. Oh, and here’s another gratuitously adorable puppy photo as your reward. Good human. Goooood.

yoga-dog

(Bo-Bo and Fritz are not actual dog names. But the stories above are quite true. So true. Very true. Let’s just let all of my training clients wonder if it’s them…)

0

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night…

jim-storm

Photo by Jim Thomason

It was a dark and stormy night. The bank of clouds that had been building ominously on the west horizon all day had finally spilled across my landscape, churning and flashing with anger. There was no hint of a twinkling star, no sign of even one moonbeam to light the way home.

Is there even a moon tonight? I wondered as I switched the headlights back and forth from high to low beam finding no setting that cut through the swirling foggy mist. Full moon? Crescent moon? I couldn’t even remember. But it didn’t matter. Not tonight. The impending storm owned this night and all I wanted to do was win the race with it to my farm.

The first crack of lightening zigzagged its way across the sky casting an eerie glow just as I pulled through the gate to make my way down the long drive. The dogs were going to be bonkers by the time I finally got inside the house to shoo them outside for a quick potty break. Hopefully we could beat the rain that the impatient cloud bank was soon to release and avoid a dozen muddy paws.

All I wanted was to get inside, change into my comfy pajamas and house shoes, start a pot of chili on the stove, and enjoy the drama of the storm from the safety of my living room couch. But no. That’s not how life on a farm works. Even when you’re completely spent from a long day at work, you have to come home to your other job. The animals don’t understand “I’m taking a day off…take care of yourselves.”

Thankfully, the horses would have already been fed earlier in the day. I’d just make a quick run to the barn to be sure our old girl, GoGo, was safely inside so she wouldn’t get drenched in the storm. Then, I’d need to tuck the chickens in their coop for the night. I could surely get all of this accomplished before things got too bad. Surely.

As I put the Jeep into park another huge flash of lightening was immediately followed by a window-rattling roar of thunder that exploded all around me. Great. The storm was sitting right on top of me. Not a minute to spare. I cracked the car door open just a bit. The wind, seeming to sense my arrival, started swirling first one direction and then another as the cold front descended, promising a strong “weather event,” as our forecasters are so fond of calling it.

Taking a deep breath, I darted out of the Jeep and ran for the barn, grateful that I had on my Nikes. I’m no wimp about a little rain, but lightening really unnerves me. I’m not in favor of potentially being a human lightening rod. And right now, that barn sure seemed a lot farther away than it had earlier in the day.

Racing into the shelter, I was greeted by several startled snorts as our herd of horses and donkeys paced around nervously.

“I hear you guys…I’m not happy about this storm either.”

But everyone, including our matron mare GoGo, was safe and inside. The water trough was full. There was plenty of hay in the feeders.

One step closer to those jammies and chili!

Another deep breath and I was off to check on the chickens. No reprieve from the weather this time. The lightening was intensifying and the rain was teasing me with giant random drops hurling down to splat on the top of my head, and trickle down the back of my neck.

The coop was situated near a small grove of trees by our pond. The trees offered the chickens shelter from the hot summer sun and a little camouflage from soaring hawks overhead. Normally, I loved that little grove of trees, but tonight, the gnarled branches appeared to be reaching out to grab me and every little gust of wind crackled through the underbrush like a pack of predators in wait for a tasty meal.

Oh me and my imagination. Sometimes my best friend, but tonight, my worst enemy. Stop it, I ordered myself. Just focus on the chickens. You do this every single night. Focus.

So I peered into the coop and counted heads. As usual, I was one hen short. “Henelope?” I called out as I squinted in the darkness hoping to quickly see where my rogue hen had decided to roost this time. After just a moment, that seemed like an hour, I saw her dark form perched on the far edge of the little pen attached to the coop. Henelope gave a startled little squawk as one of the enormous raindrops beaned her right on the top of her head.

“You crazy chicken!” I said as I scooped her up and tucked her quickly inside the coop. “It appears neither of us has the sense to come in from the rain.” I secured the door on the coop and slid all of the little air vents shut so the chickens could ride out the storm snug and dry.

Another huge clap of thunder had me jumping. Just then there was an unmistakable rustle in the brush just behind me. I laughed nervously to myself. Stop being so silly, I admonished myself. You’re fine. You love storms. Well, you love them from INSIDE the house. Now, stop standing here looking around like the tragic figure in the horror movie who can’t seem to find any of her friends. Get inside to that chili!

Taking a deep breath, and cursing the lightening that still threatened to send silvery fingers down to turn my straight hair into fried curls, I turn and started toward the house, with my shoulders hunched and my head down as the rain intensified, immediately soaking my sweatshirt.

What was that sound? It almost sounded like something growling from the corner of the house. No. Nope. Stop it. Just get inside. You are doing this to yourself. Just go.

Cursing myself for not having the foresight to leave some lights on when I left the house that morning, I made my way gingerly through the inky night toward the front porch, adjusting my course with each flash of lightening.

Suddenly every hair on my neck and arms stood straight up in that moment of premonition. Then he was on me, grabbing me around my waist and clamping a hand across my mouth just as a piercing scream escaped that no one beyond my pack of frustrated dogs could hear.

I struggled, I kicked, I heard…I heard…

Laughter.

Dammit Jim.

Revenge will be sweet.

 

This story was inspired by a little “creativity prompt” that was posted in my online creative group, The Crazy Ones. It was also inspired by the thousands of times I’ve let my imagination get the best of me. And most of all, it was inspired by Jim…who popped out from dark shadows to scare me SO many times that I almost don’t react any longer. Almost. While this story is fiction…well, lets just say there’s a lot of truth in fiction. Thanks for keeping things interesting, Jim. 🙂

2

A Sheep by Any Other Name

meeting-bobI stepped outside to breathe in the fresh cool air of an Oklahoma Indian summer evening possibly, maybe, kind of surrendering to fall weather. The sky held a hint of  blush still highlighting the horizon before the darkness settled in. It was peaceful. And it was quiet. Very, very quiet.

Too damn quiet.

What was missing was the serenade of our old ram. Every evening prior to this for the last decade, if you stepped outside within sight of the pasture just to the south of the barn, you would be treated to a hopeful…no, that’s not the word…a demanding, somewhat plaintive one-note song.

Baaaaaaaaaaahb. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb.

Ok, when you attempt to say that, be sure to make the “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” part sound as if you are gargling when you say it. Then you’ll nail it.

This cry was so distinctive that said troubadour earned his name because of it.

Bob.

Ok, I would have typed it the way it was really spelled, but in print, well, you would have ended up saying “boob” in a warbling voice and…no. Nope. Wrong on so many levels.

But back to Bob.

On this evening, Bob did not call to me. Bob was not with us any longer. It’s simple really, Bob got old and needed to move on to the big pasture in the sky.

bob-baby

Baby Bob

I remember when Bob first joined the Tails You Win Farm family. He came to us via a friend who found a stray little lamb. Yes, a stray baby lamb. It was right around Easter time in the spring. Perhaps Bob was an overzealous parent’s version of gifting the kids a bunny (please don’t do this) or a baby chick (even more of a don’t do this!). Or perhaps poor little Bob just strayed from the safety of his flock and apparently met up with a not-so-sheep-friendly dog or coyote. Bob had some wounds, a sore, swollen leg, and he was scared.

Fortunately for Bob, he found a very sheep-friendly human and she immediately starting doing her best to care for him. Ok, the one thing she did wrong? She actually named him Lambykins. Yeah. No.

She also immediately started looking for a safe haven for Lambykins-soon-to-be-Bob.

So yadda, yadda, yadda (do I REALLY have to explain that Jim and I jumped at the chance to have a baby lamb join our four-legged family?) and tiny, scared Bob-no-longer-Lambykins was secure in our horse trailer and headed to the farm. At the time, we had a llama that would be the perfect woolly companion and protector for our dear little lamb.

Now, when I say “lamb” you likely picture a precious, fluffy, white little creature with big brown eyes and an undeniably innocent, sweet nature. That’s what I pictured too.

But Bob was different. He was a black sheep. And when I say black sheep, I mean it in every sense of the term. I think Bob could have been considered cute and sweet for maybe one month of the 120 months that he shared our home. After that, especially after shearing time, he looked somewhat like a prehistoric alien and we had to start using adjectives like ornery, stubborn, thick, and not-the-sharpest-crayon-in-the-box to describe him.

bob-and-scoutBob got rather big, rather quickly. And Bob was pushy. Especially at mealtime.He wanted his supper and the supper of every single animal in the barnyard. So, at feeding time, Bob morphed into a black, fuzzy missile charging from feeder to feeder, pushing even the biggest of our horses off their grain so he could nibblenibblenibble it up at an alarming rate. The horses would stamp, snort, bite and kick in protest, but Bob in his woolen suit of armor was seemingly oblivious.

I recall Jim and I commenting to each other on more than one occasion, “This can’t be good for him.” You see, sheep really aren’t supposed to eat horse food. Sheep are supposed to eat sheep food.

So we tried to sequester Bob at mealtime. We tried to convince him to eat his special sheep food. He, in turn, discovered how very hard the top of his head was and tried to butt us into the next county.

Oh. Hell. No.

Picture Nancy, with a feed bucket swinging like a medieval flail, yelling and chasing after Bob (perhaps with a slight limp after having Bob’s helmet head meet squarely with my hip joint) while threatening all means of bodily harm if he EVER did that again. For the record, the threats were empty, Bob evaded me with great ease, and we never cured him of his exceedingly poor mealtime manners.

Oh sure, we could have put him in a separate pasture. And we tried that. We put Bob in Jerry Swinefeld the hog’s pasture (nobody, not even Bob dare steal food from Jerry!). The result? Well, where there is a will, there is a way, and where there is a way, there is a Bob. If Bob wanted to get out of a pasture, he got out. Add to that the fact that when Bob moved into Jerry’s domain, Jerry was not amused and moved right out. Yes, 700 pound hogs CAN somehow crawl under a pasture fence. Who knew?

Jerry vacated his comfy pig pasture and took up residence in our front yard and in the shade of the trees alongside the pond.

You know. Loose. Able to amble over to see what was going on at the neighbor’s house.

Now we had a large ram and a really large hog on the lam.

Back to plan A. Good luck horses. Duke it out with him. We surrender.

Then there was the time that we presented Bob with his first round bale of hay. If you are not familiar with “farm stuff,” a round bale is a large – generally five feet in diameter and four feet wide – roll of hay. You set it out to feed groups of animals during the fall and winter. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for pasture dwellers.

Jim carried the heavy bale into the pasture via our trusty blue ford tractor and set it down about 20 feet from Bob. Bob stood staring at this new feature to his pasture and instead of saying “hooray, lunch!” Bob screamed “INTRUDER!” as he reared up, tucked his chin to his chest, and charged head-first into the side of the 900-ish pound bale.

WHAM.

Bob rebounded off the bale and landed firmly on his backside. And you know what happened next? He repeated the charge. He landed on his ass-end again. And then he repeated this feat no fewer than 10 times.

Oh Bob. It’s food, not foe. Bless. Your. Heart.

img_5683

Young Bob and our mini horse, Trigger

All in all, I think we gave Bob a pretty good life. He had plenty of room to roam. He had horses who tolerated him, he had donkeys and one fine mule who protected him from the coyotes (because yes, there was that one time the coyotes tried to lure Bob away to certain demise and Ferris Muler saved the day).

Bob always had fresh water to drink. He always had shade. He had several bad haircuts to help him stay cooler (and no, we never did master the art of keeping his wool clean or finding ways to spin it into woven tributes to his life here). He had shelter in bad weather and cool breezes on beautiful days.

And he seemed happy. He liked to have that tough spot on the top of his head scratched. He liked carrots and apples. And when he surveyed me with his funny, alien-looking sheep eyes, I think I saw a flicker of affection from time to time. Maybe ours was a bit of a love-hate relationship, but love won out. I admit it. I think Bob would admit it too.

bob-and-nanBob was our first sheep. Bob was most definitely our last sheep. But hey, Bob, I’m sure glad YOU got to be our one and only. You were an experience from start to finish.

Now get out there and enjoy stealing from all of the other animals’ feeders in sheep heaven, you big woolly bully. We’ll miss you. We’ll miss hearing your name.

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb!