I Was A Mom For One Hour, 45 Minutes

Vegas flight

Early morning flight heading into Las Vegas

Last Wednesday I headed out at dark:30 for a quick business trip to Las Vegas. Yes it was business. Really.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 6:15. That’s am. In the morning. Ugh.

What a 6:15 am flight means to me: 1. Need to be at the airport at least an hour in advance of the flight to allow time to clear security, and get to the gate. 2. Need to allow a minimum of 45 minutes to drive from our farm to the airport and find parking. 3. Need to allow 15 minutes to feed dogs and refresh their water. 4. Need to allow 10 minutes to give hugs and kisses to Jim and each and every dog.

Oh yeah. And I need to allow time to shower, dress, and attempt to look human.

My late night math on Tuesday evening before the flight determined that I had to set my alarm for 3:30 a.m.

A 3:30 a.m. wake-up? Inhumane to woman and beast.

I did pull it all off by promising myself that I would get on the plane and immediately fall back into slumber, well aware that my drifting-off head bobs and “sleeping face” (all slack and yes, I’m a mouth breather. Nose doesn’t work well), would provide good fodder for a few strangers’ Facebook feeds. Fine. The promise of extra sleep trumps all vanity.

I was on Southwest airlines, so no assigned seat, and I was in boarding group “C” on a full flight. The dream of prime snooze-worthy seating (toward the front, by the window) was unrealistic, so the next task was to choose seatmates who would be as equally committed to ignoring me as I would be to shutting them out.

About three-fourths of the way back in the plane, I spotted an aisle seat open, with what I thought was a young couple sitting in the middle and window seats. Score.

If I had been a tad more awake, this configuration would have been a red flag. On Southwest, savvy travelers, whether traveling together or solo, fill the window and the aisle seats first, hoping to dissuade people from filling in the dreaded middle seat. But hey, this was, by all appearances, a young couple and the flight was full. They wanted to sit together, right? And they probably wanted to sleep too, right?

Oh, so wrong. So very, very wrong. They were anything but sleepy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I generally enjoy meeting and engaging with people on flights. It’s a fun, speed relationship and I find that people often reveal amazing things about themselves during this brief and temporary bonding time. I swear I’m the bartender of the skies. But at dark:30, no one really wants to forge a temporary relationship. No one, but my row-mates, that is.

Judging by my quick sideways assessments, I guessed the young man next to me to be about 21 and the young lady by the window to be about 18 or so. He was lanky and clean-cut, she was a bit goth in appearance with dyed hair, dark clothing, black nail polish, and heavy black eyeliner – not over the top, but definitely on the moody side.

I initially thought they were boyfriend/girlfriend. And then I stopped thinking about them, closing my eyes in the universal flight language for “I’m not interested in interacting.”

Oh but wait. There was an announcement about a sweatshirt found at the gate. The young couple next to me stirred in excitement. It belonged to her and she was about to vault over me to get to the flight attendant holding it aloft in the aisle.

“They said to just push the call button,” I explained, “They’ll bring it to you.”

After showing them the location of said call button, my first “uh-oh” moment, the sweatshirt was delivered and we settled back in.

Ahhhh. Sleep.


“This is only our second time to fly.”

Huh? Oh…he was talking to me.

“Really? Well, enjoy the flight.”

My eyes remained squeezed shut.

My determined row-mates apparently did not speak airplane-ese.

He: “Have you flown more than twice?”

Me: “I have. Lots more.”

He: “How many times?”

Me: “I really don’t know.”

He: “Where have you flown?”

Me: “Oh, lots of places.”

He: “Like where?”

So I rattled off a few of the more interesting places on my travel list, and settled back in to obvious nap mode once again.

He: “What was it like in Africa?”

Shoot. In hindsight, I should not have shared the more interesting places on my travel list. I should have said Detroit and Burbank. I politely gave some details so we could return to sweet, sweet silence.

He: “Are you getting off the plane in Denver?”

No, I explained. I was traveling to Las Vegas. I learned that he and his girlfriend(?) would be getting off in Denver. I clung to that promise.

The question and answer session continued…where do you live…I learned where they lived. Why are you going to Vegas…I learned why they were going to Denver. I learned again that it was only their second flight.

My brain was fighting consciousness; fighting to not become engaged.

Then it happened. He asked THE question. He found my kryptonite.

He: Do you have any animals?

So yeah, I have animals and I can’t NOT talk about them. It’s physically impossible. Let the airplane relationship begin and get ready to see photos of my very cute animals.

My new, temporary, too-early-in-the-morning best friends were Zach and Heather (I might have made these names up. It’s not to protect the innocent, it’s that I don’t remember names easily with a wide-awake, first-dose-of-caffeine-on-board brain, so a dark:30 brain doesn’t have a prayer).

I was asked to guess their ages. I said I had no idea but tossed out my 21/18 estimate. I learned that he was 16 and she was 12. So much for any subconscious dreams of joining a carnival as the “guess your weight/age” person.

Wait, thought sleepy brain. TWELVE? Who lets their 12-year-old wear make-up like that? Did you put that on in the airport bathroom after your mom left you at the terminal? And please tell me you are brother and sister, not underage boyfriend running off with way underage girlfriend.

Whew. Brother and sister.

Let’s see…it was their second flight, but their first flight without an adult along for the trip. They were going to see their uncle who lived in Colorado Springs. They were going to climb a mountain, but they weren’t sure which one.

Zach was in ROTC in high school. Heather liked music and staring at her tablet and/or phone. Zach was excited about climbing a mountain. Heather did not like to be outside. They lived with their mom and stepdad and two step-siblings.

The family had two chihuahuas, a dachshund, and a Rottweiler, but Zach really wanted a dog that was his own dog.

Zach worked at the Taco Bell. His father and grandmother had worked there once as well. Heather liked to make (and wear!) lots of bracelets. She did not yet have a job because 18-year-old-in-appearance Heather was really only 12.

And somehow, through all of this back and forth, I became their surrogate mom.

They: “Do the drinks cost anything? What do they have? Can you ask for us? Can I have two drinks? Will they charge for the extra drink? What should I do with my gum? How much longer do we have before we get there? Can you hold my sweatshirt? How high do you think we’re flying right now? Can I have your peanuts? Can we get more peanuts? Can I get another drink? Will you ask for me?”

kid on planeI took care of my adopted kids and exchanged weary, knowing glances with the frazzled dad across the isle who was trying to wrangle two wide-awake young boys. This was a first for me. Having never had kids of my own, until Zach and Heather, I was never inducted into the Paternal Order of Bone-Tired Moms and Dads.

But now I had a little taste. A tiny little 105 minute taste.

We landed in Denver and I helped my kids gather their belongings, I told them to check the seat-back pockets, I asked if they knew where to meet their uncle.

While I stayed put for the next leg to Las Vegas, I sent “my” kids on their way with well wishes, while playfully admonishing Heather to turn off her phone and enjoy her hike up the mountain. Oh yeah, I was in mom mode, though I did stop short of telling Heather to immediately wash that crap off her pretty face.

As it turns out, when I set my dreams of a nap-time flight free, I actually enjoyed my gregarious temporary kids. They don’t live too far away from me, and sometime in the near future I may wander into the Taco Bell where Zack works to see if I can say hello.

Or maybe not. That might be a tad stalkerish. In the real world, he is not really my kid at all.

Not having kids was not so much a conscious choice on my part as much as it was a never-got-around-to-it thing. During my married years, well, it just wasn’t something that interested us. Had I met Jim during my childbearing years, I suspect we might have decided to have a kid or two, but who knows. When I had anything that resembled a nesting instinct, I got a puppy.

I have honestly rarely, if ever, regretted my decision to remain childless.

I am an aunt and a GRRRRREAT aunt (I do require you say that in Tony the Tiger style) now that my nieces and nephews are starting families. I have wonderful, beautiful kids in my world. I do not have to pay for their college education, I do get to enjoy them and spoil them. Eventually, I think they’ll be willing to look in on me now and then when I grow old.

Have I missed out on a huge life experience? Obviously, yes, but I have had other experiences that mommies and daddies don’t get to have. We all walk our own path.

One thing I do know, if I did have kids of my own – the permanent kind, not the flight-to-Denver-kind – my son would absolutely have a puppy, or three, of his very own and my 12-year-old daughter would not be allowed to wear heavy black eyeliner, but I would cave to allow a bit of light lip gloss and maybe a touch of mascara from time to time.

Hope you had a great trip, Zach and Heather. I hope you climbed the heck out of that mountain. I hope your temporary mom or dad on the return flight learn a lot from you too. You probably won’t remember our 105 minute relationship, but I sure will.

On This Day.


Toby…it seems like yesterday. Photo by Jim Thomason

There’s a nifty little feature on Facebook that gives you a recap of the things you shared on on this day in years past. For those of us who have a tendency toward being memory-challenged, it’s really a fun daily reminder.

11705360_10207560189026489_6028331319248977405_nGenerally, as far as my personal On This Day feed is concerned, the posts are funny, lighthearted reminders of events, jokes, and bits and pieces of my life. I try to keep Facebook fairly recreational. No discussions about religion or politics on my page. Nope, just fun and games…and occasionally shared life events.

Today’s On This Day reminded me that last year I was working to figure out what to do with three German shepherd mix puppies dumped along our road (I’m happy to report that on this day, they are happy, healthy and in loving homes).

I was reminded that I had dinner out with Jim at Louie’s Bar and Grill on this day two years ago. I’m sure we had the fried green beans. Yes, fried green beans. Is this just a heartland/southern thing? We take perfectly good veggies and make them ridiculously fattening and delicious by dipping them in batter and frying them.

I was reminded that today would have been my dear sister’s 63rd birthday. Happy birthday Cindy. I love you then, now and always.

And I was reminded that four years ago on this day one of my heart and soul dogs, Monte, passed away at age 15 years, seven months. Ah, Mont-ster Man…I love remembering you.

Next year, On This Day will remind me of the day we helped our Toby escape a body that was swiftly failing him. This day will apparently always be a day filled with emotion.

It’s funny because I am really not the type to highlight sad anniversaries. I don’t focus on the day someone left. I choose instead to focus on special memories and birthdays. I love to celebrate Cindy’s birthday by doing something very fun and nice for myself as well as for others. I think this is the best way to honor her and share my love for her.

But oh Facebook, you are also very good at reminding us of the not-so-joyous anniversaries. And now I will always know the exact day Toby left.

We didn’t know how very ill Toby was until it was simply too late to react. It’s funny, you can start to come down with a simple cold and you know it two days before the full blown cold takes hold. But it seems the big stuff can hit out of nowhere like a train with no working brakes.

WHAM. “Toby has lymphosarcoma,” the veterinarian said. “The cancer is throughout his liver, abdomen and likely other areas of his body.”  Our brains barely had a chance to absorb this reality before the disease started to take its toll.

Within the span of one week, our bold, bossy, clever boy melted into a weak, tired old man. And all surrounding his 13th birthday. We still have the birthday cake he never felt like sampling.

We learned of the diagnosis late Friday evening. We made plans to meet with a veterinary oncologist on Monday morning. We never made that appointment.


A cool cloth and a good friend.

Fate had a very different plan. After holding steady through a week of daily hospital care with IV fluids followed by diligent supervision at home every evening, Toby grew increasingly weak over the weekend and developed a very high fever on Sunday. We raced back to the emergency vet to hopefully get his steadily climbing fever back under control.

I will admit that one look into Toby’s eyes told me that we might not be bringing him back home, but that’s not something you admit out loud when you want to cling to the idea that there is still hope. I think Jim and I were both forcing ourselves to be overly calm, bordering on casual, as we carried our boy into the lobby of the ER vet.

We rattled off his medical history as if we had been awarded doctorates ourselves. He’ll get some fluids, perhaps some antibiotics, we thought. They will give him the little boost he needs to feel better and then we’ll see the oncologist in the morning to formulate a treatment plan.

“Really Nancy?” said the little voice inside my head. “Look into your dog’s eyes. Look into the truth.”

Shut up, my brain said back. They will give him fluids and he’ll be fine. This is Toby. He is strong and bossy and the leader of our pack. Shut up, I said and said and said.

But within just a couple of hours the truth could no longer be silenced.

Next year, on July 19, I’ll see a post about the day we chose to ease Toby out of this life. I will be reminded of the amazing outpouring of love and support from friends who knew Toby or who just know our hearts. I will see photos of my spotted boy and I hope I will smile in remembrance.

His life with us was amazing, though admittedly too short. But what would have been long enough? Fourteen years? Fifteen? Sixteen? Forty? Never enough. A good, good dog always leaves you wanting more.

Jim and I came home from the hospital with red-rimmed eyes, heavy hearts, and Toby’s fur and scent from last goodbyes clinging to our clothing.

We did not, of course, come home to an empty house. We share our home with a great number of wonderful dogs, both foster dogs and permanent residents.

We were swarmed with greetings, then quieter investigation as the dogs sniffed our hands, shirts, and even our salt-stained faces. Dogs, and all animals, seem to understand and accept death with so much wisdom and grace.

I think our dogs knew, well before we did, that Toby was leaving. I believe the scents we carried home told them the final chapter to his story. I know they could sense our sorrow.

I don’t think either of us quite knew what to do with ourselves after the week of giving Toby constant care came crashing to a halt. We wandered about the house, going through “normal” motions. We talked here and there about Toby and the funny things he did in life, how well he bossed the other dogs around, how much we would truly miss him despite the herd of dogs still gathered around us.

Toby was a big presence in our world. His void would not be lost in the crowd.

As exhaustion claimed Jim, his best-buddy-in-training, Bernie the pit mix, stretched out by his side on the couch for a nap. I sat and stared at the television, though I can’t really tell you what I watched. Our other dogs were in various stages of settling in for the night, scattered around the family room and overtaking our bed in the adjacent room. The comforting sound of contented snores eclipsed the volume of the TV.

bed partyJust then Kainan, our resident wolfdog, appeared right in front of me, breaking my unfocused stare. In his mouth he carried a large red Kong, a sturdy rubber dog toy that is shaped like a beehive.

This toy was not one of Kainan’s normal favorites. But there he stood, offering the toy to me. I reached out and took it, he backed up few steps with an expectant look in his wise, captivating eyes.

Kainan has never played fetch with me one day in his life here on the farm. Never. But tonight, when my heart needed a little Super Glue, here was my big boy, teasing me out of my funk.

I tossed the toy just a few feet and it bounced crazily on the hard floor. Kainan pounced on it in delight and immediately brought it back and shoved it in my hand.

I tossed it again, giving it a little spin so it would hop and dance away from the wolfdog’s big feet. Again he chased it, pounced on it with great theatrics, and brought it straight back to me.

This game went on for about 10 minutes until the smile on my face, and in my heart, could not be suppressed. Finally I grabbed my big dog and gave him a huge hug, burying my face in his thick woolly coat.

A game never played before, perhaps never to be played again, but just the medicine I needed on this day. Wise Kainan reminded me that where one great story ended, there are others waiting to begin. My heart is certainly big enough and strong enough to embrace them all.

On this day, I am grateful – grateful for the story played out by a spectacular Dalmatian dog named Toby, as well as for the many stories yet to come.

To our dear Toby. You came into our lives during a time of change, uncertainty, and upheaval. You were the perfect dose of spotted joy to help heal our hearts, to help us look forward instead of backward.

90273524.cdPiKRSfYou were the dog who figured out, all on your own, how to use the ice maker in the door of the refrigerator (see video here). You were the clown who tried valiantly to balance on a big rubber ball. You were the flying dog who would leap in the air to bite at a stream of water shooting from the hose.  You were our unfailing foot-warmer every single night. You were the big tough dog who could never hold his licker, washing our faces thoroughly given the chance. You were our resident, unflappable boss dog, even exercising your authority over the wolfdog that was twice your size and a fraction of your age. 

You were, quite simply, our best boy. 

11263005_10153097727529422_2025888387682140569_nI don’t really believe that you are sitting at the edge of a rainbow waiting for us. Instead I believe you are running and leaping right over rainbows, tracking down our loved ones who left before you.

Hey, on this day, wish Cindy a very happy birthday for me, will you? And unleash that tongue of yours to give her face a good wash. Thanks Toby. For everything.

Trying to Find Right When Reality Seems So Wrong.


Resting. Recovering. Blissfully unaware.

I feel a bit like a truculent five year old today. I didn’t get the answer I wanted and now, like a cranky kid denied one more hour of television before bedtime, I’m throwing a bit of a tantrum. The inside my head kind. Not the kicking and screaming on the floor kind.

Not yet, anyhow.

Last night we got the news that our 13 year old Dalmatian, Toby, doesn’t just have an infection in his liver and abdomen, as we hoped. Odd thing to hope for, right? But it beat the hell out of the alternative.

The answer we did get was the wrong answer. The very wrong answer.

Toby has lymphosarcoma. It is one of the most common cancers to strike dogs. How dare it strike MY dog.

And now my inner five year old is running amok. What is it? How did it happen? How do we stop it? What can I do right now?

Our veterinarian, Dr. Dennis Henson, in the role of patient parent, will answer my flood of questions as best he can. He’s amazing that way. Calm, compassionate, brilliant, and so very well-versed. He will handle my barrage of why-why-how-how-why-when-why-how questions. We are so lucky to have him as our veterinarian, advocate, and friend.

Toby is so lucky to have him.

The next step is to talk with the veterinary oncology specialist we are fortunate to have in our area. Dr. Henson will be calling her to initiate the why-why-how-how-why-when-why-how with her on our behalf.

We will also consult with our friend and veterinarian, Dr. Heather Owen, who specializes in alternative treatments. Once again, fortune is on our side because we have a veterinary practice right here in Tulsa that specializes in acupuncture, rehabilitation and physical therapy services, integrative food therapy, laser therapy, Chinese herbs, massage, and chiropractic care.

Toby is going to have one heck of a great team in his corner.

Of course it’s all going to boil down to choices. Jim and I will have to make some choices on Toby’s behalf. It’s a huge and daunting responsibility we face when caring for our beloved animals.

Toby does have a type of cancer that responds well to treatment. As I understand it so far, treatment could range from management with steroids to a full-blown attack with chemotherapy. There are many things to consider in selecting the right treatment path and we will consider them all carefully.

The most important consideration is and always will be Toby.

This amazing, smart, lovable, loyal, trusting dog does not deserve to suffer one minute. I hate seeing him not feeling well.

Of course, I have to remind myself that he is still recovering from a fall on the stairs, that led to damage to his liver, that led to exploratory surgery and removal of part of his liver, that led to us discovering the cancer.

Can a bad fall be a good thing? In the Olympics, no. In Toby’s case, quite possibly.

It is possible that Toby is still feeling down because of the fall and surgery? Yes. Is it possible that when he recovers from all of that, he will return to feeling pretty darn good? Yes. In that case, he could be a good candidate for chemotherapy. From what I have speed-read online, a good majority of dogs handle the chemo with very minimal to no side effects, and do go into remission.

That would be grand.

But we won’t know any answers right away. And frankly, the answers I am digging up just bring on more questions. Oh Nancy’s inner five year old. Please take a nap.

I need to focus on right now.

me and Toby 2Right now I’m buzzing with the need to do something. I can hug my boy. Jim and I can make sure we’re supporting him as best we can until we can get some answers that will lead to good, educated decisions.

Today, when everything seems to be spiraling a bit out of our control, the one thing I can do is look up the best type of diet to support a dog with cancer. I’m a huge believer in approaching this problem from all sides – dietary, homeopathic treatments, and traditional medicine. So while I wait for the chance to pepper my veterinarians with a million questions, I’m digging through resources to come up with the right menu for our special boy.

It sure can’t hurt. I believe it sure can help. Plus, I need to do something.

Right now.

I need to try to turn this wrong into a right. Jim and I just need to find right.

Tell Me Where It Hurts…

IMG_3423Toby is not well. He had a fall on our stairs, became ill a couple of days later, and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride since. If you’d like the how-we-got-here details, you can read all about it here.

The condensed version is that our spotted boy had to have major, exploratory surgery this past Tuesday. We found that he had damaged his liver in the fall (ouch) and had to have a portion of it removed. We found that he had a very nasty infection raging in his liver and abdomen (big ouch). We found some things we can’t yet explain and are awaiting biopsy results (big ouch in my brain and heart).

While Toby did come through surgery well, he is still not feeling great. His appetite is still off. He only ate a few bites of the very special chicken and rice I prepared just for him. Admittedly, by human standards, I’m no master chef. The dogs, however, seem to generally think I have mad food skills. But last night, Toby just took a couple of bites and asked for a doggy bag.

As I watch him, sleeping now, I wish I could do more to help him feel better. I wish he could just tell me what’s wrong and what I can do to help.

The relationship we have with our animals is a beautifully complex things. Despite the obvious language barrier, some communication is so clear and pure. A wagging tail, a wide grin, licks, wiggles, and snuggles. A sad look, a nervous glance, a silly butt-in-the-air play bow. We hug, we play, we console each other, we share adventures.

And we love. It’s so clear that we love each other.

But then come the times when you wish inter-species communication could be a bit more clear and concise. You wish your best friend could just tell you exactly what he’s feeling. Are you in pain? Is your stomach upset from the antibiotics? Does your incision hurt? Is it something more?

Just tell me where it hurts.

When humans come together to form a partnership, vows are exchanged in a formal ceremony. I have come to believe the same should be true with the animals in our life. It is a profound relationship, when treated and nurtured properly. We should all vow to do our best for the animals that grace our lives.

11742853_10207527920699801_2289692160753238078_nIn good times and in bad. In sickness and in health. I’m right here for you buddy, lifting you up, keeping you comfortable, loving you always. This I promise you. Neither of us needs a fancy dress, a black bow tie or a formal ceremony to confirm this commitment…though I’d sure be willing to share some cake with you right now if you’d be willing to eat that.

Today. Perhaps today you will start to feel better.

Tumbling dogs, Guinness Records, and Birthday Cakes. Oh My.

toby 083009-03 (2)

Toby on the job with Jim.

How long can you hold your breath? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Stig Severensen of Denmark holds the record at 22 minutes. Held it, that is, until I came along.

Step back, Severensen, Nancy Gallimore is on the scene and your record has just been shattered. Twenty-two minutes? Piff. I just held my breath for two hours and seven minutes. That’s 127 minutes. (Mad math skills, right?)

Record shattered.

Of course I had no officials from Guinness hanging around to verify my feat. Lucky for you Stig. The crown is still technically yours.

Stig did a long dive underwater to set his breath-holding record. Well, sure, anyone can hold their breath when there’s no air available to breathe. Isn’t that cheating? I held my breath, completely surrounded by oxygen, from the moment I left my Dalmatian, Toby, at the veterinary hospital until the moment I got the call telling me he was safely out of surgery.

It may have been the exhale heard ’round the world.

Backing up a bit to a point several days prior to this post, our dear Toby took a tumble down the stairs. He’s an older guy and we prefer he wait for us to offer him a little assistance on the stairs, but he has his pride.  The problem is that somehow Toby has decided that when navigating the downward path from the second floor to the first on his own, he should just take a giant leap of faith about three quarters of the way down.

This time, he did not stick the landing.

Jim was home, heard the crash, and found Toby in a crumpled heap at the base of the evil staircase. Initially shaken, Toby recovered fairly quickly and seemed to walk it off like a true Olympian would. We watched him carefully the rest of that day and into the next.

Everything seemed fine. Until it wasn’t.

And then it really wasn’t. Two days after Toby’s “look what I can do” tumble down the stairs, he started acting very disoriented and depressed. He seemed weak and unsteady, his rear legs starting to fold on him. He seemed uncomfortable and Jim and I started running through the list of symptoms with our veterinarian, who is also a dear friend, who is also on speed dial.

Then we took his temperature and it was 104.8. Yikes. Emergency vet here we come. (Because OF COURSE all of our animal related emergencies take place after hours.)

Several vet visits, IVs, x-rays, ultrasounds, blood tests, exams, pokes, and prods from a team of veterinarians later, we came to the conclusion that we still had no conclusion. The problem could be an organ damaged by the fall, or the fall could have nothing to do with it and this could be the manifestation of something far more sinister. You know, that “C” word that we shall not speak of unless we have to.

He had symptoms that pointed to several possibilities, including blood-tinged fluid in his abdomen, but none of the images from x-rays or ultrasounds could pinpoint the origin of the problem. There was only one road to the answer and it involved a scalpel and the mad skills of our very trusted veterinarians.

Toby had to have exploratory surgery to determine what was wrong.

And it required me to hold my breath for 127 minutes.

I have found that when stress hits, I am far better off if I stay very, very, very busy during the “wait and see” period instead of sitting still somewhere waiting. At 7:36 a.m. yesterday morning, I left Toby in the capable hands of our most trusted vets knowing that Jim would arrive in time to be there for his surgery.

Me? I headed to work where I could pace, run around like a mad woman, and keep myself from sitting and flipping through the worst-case-scenario book that is always tucked away in some dark crevice of my brain.

You know, this is the one book that truly should be burned someday. But it’s in my brain.  So, no.


Post-surgery and home for the night. Morphine is his friend.

Finally, at 9:43 a.m. (I might have been keeping track), Jim checked in to let me know that the surgery was over, the very large incision was being closed, and Toby had come through just fine.

So you might think this is the end of the tale and that we have our answer. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

It does appear that Toby injured his liver in the fall. There was a portion of the liver that had died (HOLY COW, portions of organs can die and we keep walking around?), and that had caused the remaining liver and entire abdominal cavity to be very, very angry and infected.

Apparently you should not punch yourself in the liver.

It would be great if this story ended with “injured organ, dead part removed, infection treated, all is well, hooray.” And it may.

But there were a few things in and around the liver that looked suspicious. Those things required a biopsy. So while we all like the idea that this is just a nasty infection caused by a nasty fall, we have to be sure that the nasty fall and subsequent nasty infection aren’t actually secondary to the fact that the C-word could be hiding inside Toby too.

It’s a very crooked world around here while we await results because we are all leaning SO hard toward the just-a-nasty-infection outcome that we can hardly even walk. It feels like a failed attempt at reenacting Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” music video. (Sigh. Younger crowd…You Tube. It was 1986 and showcased really cool special effects for that era. Go enjoy it…or giggle at it. We thought it was genius in the day…and I still do.)  

So now we continue to wait. This is not the first time I’ve had a wait like this. I doubt it will be the last. It’s just part of the deal when you choose to love another living creature, whether it be human or animal. Life can be fragile. Sometimes you stick the landing with a perfect 10, sometimes you don’t.

Jim and I are well accustomed and equipped to take care of Toby. We will always do our best for him, as we do for all of the wonderful animals that grace our farm and our lives. First and foremost in this tale is Toby’s well-being and we will make decisions with that always in mind. We are Toby’s advocates, his guardians, and most importantly, we are the humans who love him dearly.

Sometimes decisions are easy. Sometimes decisions require us to set “self” aside. This is what it is to love animals; to love lives more temporary than our own.

I’ve decided not to hold my breath for the 24 to 48 hours it may take to get the biopsy results back. I don’t want to intimidate poor Stig, and I still can’t get a representative from Guinness book to come verify my world record obliterating attempt.


Yes, we do fix a real cake for each dog’s birthday. This one is lemon. (and yes, we know chocolate is a no-no)

Plus, either way, Toby is surely going to feel better soon and we have a birthday cake waiting to be consumed. Yep, in the middle of all of this trauma/doctoring stuff, Toby celebrated his 13th birthday. Well, I can’t say he celebrated. It’s hard to get too festive when your liver is trying to check out on you, and you’re hooked up to an IV, but that problem is resolved and the big, spotted guy will feel like donning a party hat in no time.

Staircases, infections, and Guinness records, be damned. Let’s eat cake!

It’s ready when you are, dear Toby. We’re saving the first bite for you.

419009_3567443188411_1486329491_n   Snow dogs

If I Could Talk to the Turtles

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An alligator snapping turtle. They will hurt you. Rescue at your own risk!

 “Think of all the things we could discuss 
If we could walk with the animals, talk with the animals,
Grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals,
And they could squeak and squawk and speak and talk to us.”

Lyrics from the theme song to Dr. Doolittle 

Talk to the animals. It’s something many a human strives to do. It’s a tricky undertaking for our species. The first task is to realize that not every creature (or any other creature on earth) thinks and communicates like humans do. And we can be a bit arrogant about it, really. We tend to believe that all creatures do, or should, perceive the world just as we do.

As a professional dog trainer, I can’t count the number of times an owner has presented me with a “problem dog” and, when picked apart, the whole perceived problem centered around miscommunication…on the part of the human. Dogs and other animals communicate very clearly and it’s our job to learn their language and then to work within it to help them understand our language.

sit stay goodThe fun/tricky part is that every type of animal has a different language. I do not interact with my dogs in the same manner as I would visit with my horses. And our sheep, Bob, certainly has a language all his own.

Well, Bob may be in a class all his own. I’m not sure he’s the brightest bulb on the planet. Then again, maybe he’s really a genius among sheep and I’m judging him by my snooty human standards. Maybe. (I don’t think so. Bless his heart.)

Today, if I could wish for the gift of inter-species communication, I would wish for the ability to talk with turtles. Yes, turtles.

I have always loved turtles. When I was a kid, I had a little colony of turtles that I found here and there around an area lake. My patient and wonderful dad even helped me create a nifty habitat for them. They all had names, they even hatched little families. I loved my turtles and I believe I gave them a good life. They were quite friendly. Harriet was my favorite and she would stretch her neck out for a good scratch from any willing human.

I think my turtles and I talked to some extent. Or at least we trusted. We did have a relationship. I would tell you what we talked about, but it was all super top secret. (I was nine or 10…everything was super top secret.)

Boy, could I sure use Harriet’s help as an interpreter right now. We share Tails You Win Farm with a lot of turtles. You’ll find several species of box turtles, red ear sliders, and even feisty alligator snapping turtles. It’s a mini dinosaur paradise around here.

I would love to tell you that we’re all living in peaceful harmony—as we always strive to do with the wildlife that shares our farm—but there’s one ongoing problem. The turtles seem to constantly want to migrate through our fenced dog yard.

Yes, every spring and summer, determined turtles somehow get inside our fence and try to make the trek across the yard. This might be ok if they were stealthy, swift, or traveling only in the cover of night when the canine beasts are busy hogging our bed.

But no. They make their slow-mo mad dash in bright daylight, when the dogs have free access to the yard through their dog door. It’s not much of a chase.


A-one, a-two…CRUNCH…a-threeeee.

To the dogs, turtles are just a fabulous, easy-to-catch, great-smelling, mystery of a toy. Parts that stick out, suddenly tuck away, leaving this wonderful chew toy. It’s a bit like getting to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. If you’ve seen the owl commercial, you catch my drift here.

While a turtle’s shell will hold up to some extent when the dogs start to “play,” eventually things will go wrong. And trust me, things can go very wrong. Often times the dogs like to bring the turtles in the house, onto our bed, where they can investigate and, eventually, gnaw on their new-found prize. Yep. On our bed. Lovely.

Fortunately, we tend to discover the captive turtles before much damage is done. The dogs are not subtle. The dogs also compete for and guard these special prizes. So there is generally much barking and grumbling and mayhem to cue us in to the turtle’s plight.

Turtle ERNot all turtles are quite so lucky, though. One day I came home to find Jim kneeling in the driveway, diligently working on some project. There were tools and other stuff that generally lives in the dark depths of our garage scattered beside him. (Jim’s super secret stuff.)

“I might need your help with something.”

If you follow along with my stories, you might start recognizing a pattern when Jim utters this phrase.

These words usually mean that Jim has rescued some sort of critter in need of assistance. He’s a man with a very kind heart. If you are an animal in need, you want to cross paths with Jim.

This day, Jim had rescued one of the turtle toys from the jaws of the big guy, Kainan the wolfdog. Just getting the prized turtle away from our most impressive and playful carnivore was a bit of a trick, and this turtle did not escape unscathed.

“Chip” had suffered a puncture in his shell. Not good.

Dr. Jim was swiftly working to clean and repair the breach in Chip’s mobile home fort. Yes, repair.

The clean and disinfect portion of the operation was complete by the time I arrived on the scene. I was there just in time to assist with the repair mission. Jim was already affixing a fancy epoxy patch to Chip’s damaged shell, carefully rebuilding and sealing the damage.

tutle fixedMy job was to keep Chip from getting his front leg stuck in the glue. Delicate work, but someone had to do it. So I sat and held hands with a turtle.

I will tell you that the operation was a complete success, and the following day, after allowing the patch to completely dry and harden overnight, Chip was released to the wild to go tell his tale of alien abduction to the turtle masses. I’m guessing he became some sort of reptilian hero or god.

turtle dangerToday’s rescue was a large red ear slider who had decided to try to get into the dog yard. My husky/malamute mix and her best bud, Kainan, discovered this turtle before he actually made it through the fence. Lucky for him.

Alerted by the incessant, high-pitched (WHY do dogs go up to ear-bleed pitch when really excited?) barking in the yard, quick investigation showed me the near-error in this turtle’s way. This was a big slider too. They would have had great fun at his expense.

As I moved him to safety down by our pond—red ear slider paradise according to the huge population that suns on the shores daily—I had to wonder, for the thousandth time, why every turtle in the area seems to want to make the “dash” through the dog zone. We’ve even had repeat visitors (a little dog nibble on the edge of a shell will identify a turtle for life). I kid you not. We move them away from the dog yard, they come back!

It’s madness, I tell you.

Is this some sort of hazing dare required to join Turtle Alpha Beta? Is our dog yard smack on an ancient and hallowed turtle migration route? Are turtles filming episodes of Reptile Fear Factor in our yard? Or is this the “drink the Kool-Aid” ritual of some crazy turtle cult? I just don’t know.

turtle pond

Moved to the safety of the pond. He’ll live to race the dogs another day.

I do know that if I could have the gift of talking to animals for a day, I’d gather all of the turtles in the area for an important chat about the dangers of trying to interact with dogs in our fenced yard. Good grief turtles, we have fenced them IN to protect them and you. Please stay OUT.

For now, there is peace in the animal kingdom. The dogs are back to stalking and killing Jim’s socks and the turtles are back to…well…whatever turtles do all day.

“If we could talk to the animals, learn their languages
Maybe take an animal degree.
We’d study elephant and eagle, buffalo and beagle,
Alligator, guinea pig, and flea.” 

And turtle. I’d definitely add turtlese to that list.

Tutle and my feet

Nancy, Turtle Whisperer.