The Training? It’s Going Really Well. Just Ask the Wolfdog.

Sock thief

The key to any great relationship between a human and a dog is consistent, positive-focused training. Today’s dog trainers work to establish meaningful communication with their students while finding creative ways to encourage desired behavior and replace undesired behavior. It’s a far better path than the old days of correction based training.

I’m pleased to report that I think Kainan has really caught on.

Kainan, the wolfdog who moved into our world just over a year ago, is a smart, sneaky, playful, mischievous, furry force. At about 110 pounds with a reach that would make any NBA player jealous, the boy can wreak a little havoc around the house. Keeping things out of reach of the dogs has taken on a whole new meaning and action plan now that this guy is around.

I swear the other shorter canine residents see his potential and cheer him on.

“Hey Kainan, I think I smell barbecue…yes…check way back there on the counter.”

“Kainan! I think the hu-mom just left her freshly toasted bagel by her computer…unattended!”

“Whoa…do you see that K-man? A whole bag of marshmallows. I can’t reach it, but YOU can.”

Why yes, all of this has happened and then some.

He also steals things. Television remotes. Shoes. Shirts. Door mats. Bowls. Silverware. Pillows.

And lately? Socks.

IMG_5028We are in a huge sock phase. Clean socks, dirty socks, it matters not. He finds them, though I SWEAR I keep my laundry out of reach, and then it’s game on. The sock becomes a toy that he tosses up in the air and then pounces. I’m sure, in his wolf-inspired imagination, instead of a sock, he’s capturing some elusive, wild prey…that happens to smell exactly like my feet.

Far be it from me to ruin his fun, but I’m running dangerously short of matching socks (I just solved one of the great mysteries of the universe for you. Where do all of the missing socks go? The damn wolfdog has them.)

Time to get some training going. Chasing him down, cussing, and scolding just makes it a grand game of keep-away for my big elusive-as-hell-when-he-wants-to-be friend. So how do you turn a sock fiasco into a positive training exercise?

IMG_5030I decided that every time I caught him cavorting with a sock, I would tell him to come and sit. If, instead of bolting out the dog door with the prized sock, he complied with my request, I would offer a trade…a cookie for a sock. Comply, surrender the precious sock prey, get a little treat. Win-win. Right?

And so the training started. Kainan bolted through the living room with a sock, I issued a pleasant “Kainan come! Sit!” Kainan did just that. Nancy retrieved a slightly slobbered sock, Kainan received a yummy cookie. Yes! Good boy.

Mere moments later, Kainan showed up with another sock. Training must be consistent, right? Repeat the above paragraph.

Then Kainan showed up with another sock.

And another.

And another.

Getting the picture here? Pretty soon he was just directly bringing me socks, sitting, and looking expectantly at the cookie jar. Nary a cue from me required.

I’d say our training program is going really well. I know Kainan thinks it is.

He thinks I’m coming along quite nicely.

Sigh.

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A Runny Nose. A New Name. A Second Chance.

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Today I got a great update on Big Paul. The horse, previously known as Asher while at the kill buyer’s feedlot just a week ago, is doing very well. (Original story here) I can see the difference in him just by the way he turns to look at the person taking the photo. No longer is he staring blankly ahead. Now he is engaged, he is looking hopeful. His spirit is restored.

Big Paul’s rescue is the climax to the story of my month-long odyssey as I watched horse after horse featured on a Facebook page dedicated to trying to find last minute buyers for horses purchased at auction and destined for livestock trailers heading to Mexican slaughter houses. Many horses are saved through the efforts of the people pouring information into these posts. Many horses are lost.

In this post, I will not focus on the overwhelming issue of our castaway horses and the battle over what is truly right and humane in dealing with them. It is a topic that cuts through me and one that needs to be discussed, that needs to be faced head on, but tonight, I just want to focus on Paul.

I was drawn heart and soul to this horse the very instant his photo popped up with the label “urgent.” With the encouragement of friends and amazing support from people across the country, I purchased Big Paul and secured his transfer to a short term boarding and quarantine ranch for horses.

Silvermoon TLC is often a stopover for horses rescued from kill buyers and headed to new homes. Because the risk of illness is very high on the feedlots, it is strongly recommended that a horse purchased there go into a 30 day quarantine.

Paul is in the caring hands of Tonni, who together with her husband and son, runs Silvermoon TLC. She has been more than kind in sharing photos and news of Big Paul as he settles into his temporary home. Hopefully this Saturday I will finally get to make the 100 mile drive to thank Tonni in person and give this big horse a huge hug.

Today the veterinarian payed Paul a visit to assess his overall health and to pull a little blood for a few necessary tests. To no one’s surprise, he has developed a runny nose after his time in the stressful environment of the feedlot. It’s all too common. Some horses fall quite ill, some shake it off easily. So far it appears that Paul is going to fall in that latter category. He’s a strong boy.

Overall, the veterinarian declared Big Paul to be in good shape. She recommended worming him and giving him some supplements to help strengthen his system. All easy steps that the good people at Silvermoon TLC are willing to take for Big Paul’s welfare.

The vet, who said this is the horse she’d want to take home with her – high praise for his disposition, indeed – estimated Paul’s age to be around 16 years. With good care, he should have many good years left. Belgians have a life expectancy of about 30 years. I’m so pleased that this beautiful, impressive horse will now have the chance to enjoy a full and happy life.

faceThis is just one horse saved out of the thousands and thousands that are in danger every day, but as many people have reminded me, that’s how change happens. One at a time. And right now, I’m going to focus on making sure this one horse, who has a new name and a new chance in life, has “he lived happily ever after” at the end of his story.

He deserves that. They all deserve that.

While Big Paul rests and regains his health at the horse hotel, I’m going to sit down to write thank-you notes to all of the amazing people who put their faith in me and donated to help with the expense of his purchase and immediate care. The expenses would have overwhelmed me and I’m grateful beyond words for the assistance that continues to come in daily.

This one horse has quite a following of wonderful, compassionate people now. Somehow, by the relaxed, gentle expression on his face, I think he knows he is safe. I think this one horse is quite thankful for all of his new friends. I know I sure am.

Hello. Goodbye. But Most of All, Thank You.

10307421_10204007447570173_2652448704952831572_nWas it really just one year, four months that we had together? It seems like more. Maybe that’s because you should have been our dog all along.

Gus came into the Tulsa Dalmatian Assistance League and into our home for foster care on May 15, 2014. He was an older gentleman, thin, and very quiet. His tail didn’t wag. His eyes didn’t connect with us.

The old guy had been hurriedly shoved from a pickup truck that barely bothered to stop in front of the Mannford, OK fire department. If you need to abandon a Dalmatian, you should do it at a fire station, right? Fire fighters are required to take in spotted castaways, aren’t they? Isn’t that in the fire fighters code?

Oh wait. No. No it’s actually not.

The old dog was transferred to the Mannford animal shelter – a very small, no frills kennel building. The animal control officer knew this dog would not do well there, his prospects would be grim. Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, a photo of the dog made the rounds quickly. I think Jim and I saw it simultaneously. I didn’t have to wonder if Jim would drop everything to rush to get the dog. Of course he would and did. He’s cool that way.

10314473_10204009012089285_6869658229491597238_nThe old dog, who Jim named Gus, was whisked from the shelter straight to our vet for a check-up and shots, and then home for a good meal, a bath, and some TLC.

The age guess on Gus was somewhere around “older than dirt.” No need to be too specific at some point in the game of life, right? Both of his ears were crinkled and scarred, likely from past hematomas caused by ear infections. He had a pronounced heart murmur that required three different types of medicine, and he was malnourished. Nothing we couldn’t deal with.

Gus adjusted to life at Tails You Win Farm very quickly. His needs were simple…give me a soft place to lie down, give me two good meals a day, give me my medicine, and give me a little attention every day.

An unusual dog, Gus wasn’t very responsive to things that make most dogs giddy. None of the “who wants a treat,” or “who wants to go for a walk” banter broke through his fog. Toys fell untouched at his feet. For a long time we didn’t see him wag his tail. Sometimes he would look right through you, almost as if he were blind, but he was not. He didn’t bark. He didn’t play. He did, however, enjoy a good back rub.

He loved routine. He loved his meals. He loved any treats offered and might accidentally take the tips of your fingers along with a cookie if you weren’t careful, but that was just enthusiasm and bad aim. He truly didn’t have a mean bone in his body

I jokingly called him Raymond, based on Dustin Hoffman’s character from the movie Rainman.  I don’t know if dogs can be autistic, but on many levels, Gus seemed to be in his own little world most of the time.

10670240_10205049726746501_8603863501253669833_nEvery now and then, we would see a glimpse of personality in Gus. He’d find his way to you, just to lean against your leg, to fall asleep on your foot, to have his little ears rubbed. He’d come to you quietly, his eyes suddenly alert and connected. These moments with Gus were always special.

I don’t know what might have caused his unusual demeanor. I often wonder if he just lived his life very alone with little opportunity to connect to humans. Or perhaps he had a puppyhood illness that left him compromised. Or maybe it was just Gus being Gus. We’ll never know. It really doesn’t matter. His eccentricities really just made him charming in his own odd way.

Gus slipped into our home and lives quite easily. And yesterday we helped him slip out of this life. Weakening legs were failing him. His aging brain was starting to play tricks on him. His old heart was beginning to struggle despite his six pills a day.

Gus, like all of the senior foster dogs we have known through the years, reminded us that there is joy in loving dogs in all stages of life. You don’t have to get a dog as a tiny puppy to bond with that dog, to cherish every moment with that dog. You don’t have to spend a dozen years with a dog for him to be a special part of your life and family.

Whatever Gus’ life lacked before coming to us, I think, I hope, Jim and I more than made up for it in the 16 months we got to love him. And in the end, Gus had two people with him reminding him that he was an important, handsome, well-loved boy.

In return, we were treated to a last little wag of his tail.

Thank you sweet Gus. We love you.

Can You Love A Horse You’ve Never Actually Met?

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Big Paul relaxing at Silvermoon TLC, his quarantine hub after leaving the feedlot.

The answer is yes. A firm, loud, resounding YES.

I am in love with a tall, strawberry blonde guy that is now named Big Paul. Big Paul, a Belgian draft horse, came into my consciousness via a post on a Facebook feed highlighting horses purchased at auction by “kill buyers,” and in danger of being shipped to Mexican slaughter houses. It’s a grim, sad business that often inspires great debate, anger, and frustration.

But falling for and subsequently rescuing Big Paul has really opened my eyes even wider to the situation. While people argue back and forth about the morality of the whole issue, I’m just firmly rooted in the one thing that should really matter in any discussion of the topic.

The horses.

And for me, Big Paul.

I have a lot to think about. It’s one thing to know that something like this goes on, that animals who have been our trusted partners for centuries are allowed to meet such a horrific fate. But where is the crime? Is it in slaughtering horses? Is it in being the middleman whose job it is to purchase the horses? Or is it rooted in the hands of the people who let their horses go to the highest bidder in the first place? For some in other countries, horses are a commodity, a business, a food source. And here, we have a surplus of horses that are seemingly cast aside. As wrong as that feels to me, it is reality.

Are we right or wrong to ban slaughter houses in the United States? If you had asked me that question a month ago, I would have been firmly on the “not in my backyard” bandwagon. But is it better to have these innocent horses endure the agony of a long journey across borders to meet an unregulated, often inhumane demise?

Or would it be better to have well-regulated slaughter houses here, in the Unites States, where horses would have a shorter trip, less holding time, and we could work to ensure a swift, humane end? I don’t like the idea any more than most horse lovers and animal welfare champions do, but if you really stop to consider the horses, which is the most humane option?

We see cats and dogs euthanized in shelters all across the United States every single day. It’s not right…we don’t like it…but it’s reality. We don’t ship them away.

I have a lot going on in my brain right now. I have a lot of questions. I don’t have a lot of answers. I’m not sure what is right and what is wrong. But I know one thing for sure. I have a horse that was once named Asher on a feedlot in Oklahoma, who is now safe and has been renamed Big Paul.  He is my focus right now. He is counting on me to make good decisions for him.

Like many horses that go through auctions, then onto feedlots where horses are constantly coming and going and stress is high, Big Paul has developed a runny nose. It’s not too serious at the moment, and the very nice woman who is providing his quarantine at the “horse hotel.” Silvermoon TLC, is watching over him carefully. But it’s still cause for concern. Big Paul will get checked over by a veterinarian tomorrow.

I’m hopeful that his “shipping cold,” as it is commonly called at the feedlots, is minor. He could have nothing more than a mild, runny nose. He could develop a fever and a cough. We just don’t know. Feedlots are a breeding ground for illness in horses.

11062041_681469195287763_5327904129611822887_nWhatever Big Paul needs, we will see that he gets it. Thanks to an online campaign by my friend, author Jon Katz (www.bedlamfarm.com) we have received an amazing outpouring of compassion and concern from people from all across the country, many I don’t even know. Through the kindness of friends and strangers, I am receiving donations to cover Paul’s purchase and immediate expenses. It is a blessing to not be worried about the vet bills. Paul will receive good care. I am incredibly grateful for this gift.

I was hoping to go meet Paul in person today, he is currently staying a couple of hours to the southwest of my farm. I wanted to hug his huge neck and tell him that everything is going to be ok. The weather didn’t cooperate, however, so our meeting will have to wait for next weekend. Hopefully he’ll be feeling well by then.

Once Big Paul is healthy and able to leave quarantine, I will make plans for his “happily ever after.” I will also continue to think about the bigger picture. The other faces that stare out from behind the feedlot fences every single day, all across the country.

Big Paul has stolen my heart and given me a lot to think about. I hope his story makes other people stop to think too.

Stay strong, Paul. Get some rest. Eat your hay. Take your medicine. Know that you are loved.

Lost. Found. Never Really Lost In The First Place?

Jerry is backJerry Swinefeld, the 700ish pound Hampshire hog that calls Tails You Win Farm his home, is a bit of a Houdini hog. Seriously. Yesterday he vanished into thin air. And this morning?

Yep, snoring away in his stall, right where he should be.

How the hell does he do that?

This creature is larger than my smallest horse. Larger than my miniature donkeys. Big enough to command a little respect from even our big horses and mule. He sends coyotes running in terror. And yet, he can just seemingly pop in and out of existence on a whim.

Maybe he really is a magical pig. Maybe I’m actually a witch and I just don’t know it! It’s my own little Harry Potter world. Harry Potter had an owl as his special, magical companion. Figures I would get a giant, lumbering hog.

But I’m not the one with the magic. It’s all on Jerry. Yesterday, he disappeared; he was no where to be found. He did not answer when Jim whistled, as he normally does (that whistle means dinner). He did not answer when I called out for him, as he sometimes does if he feels like it. He was not napping in any of his favorite hideouts.

However, today when I went to look for him again, I found him sound asleep, back inside his stall, inside the barn, inside his fenced pasture.

Huh.

Well, no harm done (as far as I know). I checked on Jim’s cherished, still-ripening, late-season tomatoes and they were all present and accounted for. Whew.

You see, I wasn’t really too concerned about Jerry being lost. He’s a big boy and can take care of himself. I was more worried what havoc he might be wreaking in an unsuspecting world. One year he took a bite out of every cantaloupe Jim had growing in his garden. He didn’t just pluck one and eat it. Nope, he did the Goldilocks routine: This one isn’t ripe enough, this one is too ripe, this one is just right.

But so far it appears he truly just went on a little walk-about, as one friend suggested. Then he apparently got sleepy and magically popped back inside his fence. Poof!

I suspect his magic has more to do with “hey, look what happens when I shove all 700 solid pounds of myself against this fence” than it does with magic wands and invisibility cloaks. That means I need to head back out to the barn with some tools to see what damage has been done. You’d think a hog-sized hole in the fence wouldn’t be too hard to find, but there have been times when we never could figure out his escape route.

Delta and Ferris

Delta Dawnkey and Ferris Muler on a sleepy Sunday morning.

In the meantime, Jerry got to have a bite of breakfast and I got to enjoy a lovely early morning visit to the barn. My horsey friends will understand this immediately. There is nothing better than visiting with your horses/donkeys/mule in the night or in the early morning. It’s a very serene time in the barn and so very good for my soul.

The flies are still asleep (do flies sleep?), the temperature is pleasant, and everyone still seems a bit drowsy. The start to this Sunday was rainy and gray, no spectacular sunrise to light the day, but that just made the inside of the barn seem even cozier. I spent some great quiet time just moving from animals to animal, saying good morning, and giving scratches in all the right places.

Horse lips quivered in appreciation. Ferris Muler played with the hood of my sweatshirt as he always does. My miniature horse rubbed his head on my hip (I’m a great scratching post). My big red appaloosa, Dublin, put his nose against my cheek for a thorough sniff.

I’m pretty sure I now have horse slobber on my face. My clean jeans are now filthy. My hoodie may have some carrot crumbles hiding in it. And I’m starting the day with a huge, relaxed grin on my face.

All is right in our world today. I got the boost that even good old caffeine can’t deliver. And it’s all thanks to a mischievous, sneaky pig.

Yesterday I believe I ended my post with the worlds “dammit Jerry.” Today I think I’ll end with something a little different.

Thanks, Jerry. (Now stay put, damn you!)

Lost: Large Pig, Answers to Jerry Swinefeld

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What do I do? Do I put posters on street corners? Do I put his picture on a milk carton? Perhaps I should issue a Hamber Alert?

But seriously, somehow we have misplaced a 700ish pound hog.

Lost: One-eared pig that looks like a giant Oreo cookie. Reward offered if you’ll take him to your home instead of returning him to ours.

Yes, Jerry Swinefeld, our resident rescued Hampshire hog, is not where he should be. His stall is empty, his pasture is empty. It appears our hog is on the lam. And we actually do want him back.

I am not entirely sure what inspires a normally lazy, sedentary porcine to suddenly up and abandon his happy home – you know, the one where he receives daily meals delivered wallow-side? Well, actually, I do have an idea. The culprit was likely last night’s rain showers and subsequent cooler temperatures. Nothing inspires a big pig to kick up his heels more than the end of blistering summer heat.

I’ve looked for Jerry. I’ve called for him. Jim has looked in some of Jerry’s favorite nap spots. He is nowhere to be found. You might think we would be terribly worried, but frankly, we have about 75 acres of hiding places at Tales You Win Farm and there are few things that a giant hog with sharp tusks has to fear.

Oh sure, we have a lot of coyotes in the area, but anytime I have seen a hogzilla-meets-scrawny-coyotes encounter, the latter creatures tuck their tails and head for the hills. They truly have no interest in trying to put pork on the evening’s menu.

Jerry at the porch 2It’s not the first time Jerry has made a “run” for it, and frankly he doesn’t usually run very far, or for very long. Meals are not served beyond the confines of his comfy, spacious pasture and true to stereotype, this big boy loves his meals. I expect he’ll find his way back to the barn – or even more likely, my front porch – at some wee hour in the morning. I’ll know when he does because my dogs will explode in a Charles-Manson-peering-in-the-window type of frenzy.

That’s always a fun jolt to consciousness.

Or I’ll get THAT call from the neighbor. Yeah, historically, he HAS made the 1/4 mile trek to see what the neighbors might be offering up for a midnight snack. Jerry is not exactly svelte or athletic, so I’m crossing my fingers that the wee hour in the morning wake-up call doesn’t happen on their front porch instead of ours. Any hopes of winning that neighbor of the year award would certainly be dashed.

I’ll keep an eye out tonight. Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll find my naughty teenager-equivalent passed out in the barn after a night of rowdy fun. When I do find him, I’ll scold him and I’ll send him straight to bed, but not without his breakfast. Dear lord, you do not deny Jerry his breakfast.

Then I’m pretty sure fence repairs will be at the top of my to-do list. Again.

John Denver fibbed. Life on the farm is NOT “kinda laid back.” But then again, I’m guessing John never lived with the likes of Jerry Swinefeld when he decides to test his boundaries.

Dammit Jerry.

Safe/Sold

Asher

I recently made a huge mistake. I started following a Facebook page dedicated to highlighting local horses in danger of being shipped to slaughter houses in Mexico.

Huge mistake. Their faces call out to me from my computer screen daily. What was I thinking?

And they are all in danger. If the trucks come, there is a certain weight they will want to load. It’s not about individual animals, it’s about price per pound. It’s that simple and to a horse lover, it’s that ugly.

How did these horses get there? They are horses consigned to auction by their owners for whatever reason. Maybe they can’t afford them any longer, or the kids lost interest. Maybe it’s time for a bigger, better, faster, flashier horse. Maybe the horse is lame or injured and no longer useful. Maybe it’s time to reduce the herd number. Maybe the owner passed away and there were no provisions for the horses.

And maybe the previous owners believe their horses will go to great new homes. Perhaps they convince themselves that their old horse will be some young girl’s dream come true. Maybe…but in the fast, get-them-in-get-them-sold environment of a horse auction, it’s very hard to be sure who had the winning bid, who will determine each horse’s future.

If a horse doesn’t catch the eye of a responsible new owner before the gavel falls, then the “kill buyers”- the middlemen between horse auctions and slaughter facilities – will put in that final bid. At the end of the sale, some of the horses head off with individuals or families to personal trailers. They will leave the confusion of the auction grounds to go to new homes where they will hopefully receive good and responsible care.

The other horses are loaded into big stock trailers where multiple horses jostle for space, often injuring each other, their stress and confusion anything but over.  Their future filled with nothing but uncertainty and a potentially tragic end.

Do people realize that many of our once-loved, once-valued horses end up in a battle for the right to life and dignity? Or is it really just an ugly, little-known fact? For most people, it likely is.  I also suspect that a lot of people really don’t want to know the truth.

But here is the truth.

The kill buyer feedlots are filled with riding horses – good strong horses with many years left. You’ll find pregnant mares in the pens. You’ll find frantic mothers protecting beautiful young foals. You’ll find yearling colts and fillies, lost and confused in the shuffle. You’ll find horses, donkeys, and mules that have learned to trust humans, now facing the ultimate betrayal.

And for the horses who truly don’t find their savior, the future is grim. You see, we don’t slaughter horses in the United States. It’s not legal here. Nope, our castaway horses go to slaughter houses in Canada or Mexico, the latter the most common destination for horses in my immediate area.

From there, I don’t really want to discuss what happens. I know enough. I know it’s not well regulated; I know humane treatment of the horses is not a priority. Handling methods and killing methods are not gentle, not reliable. I can’t bear to actually see the images, or to dwell on the full truth.

It’s enough to just see photos of the horses that people are desperately trying to save from the feedlots. Photo after photo. Horse after horse. The plea goes out every single day for people to step forward, pay the fee that the kill buyer will accept to release a horse, to save a life.

Many are saved. Their photos are labeled “Safe/sold.”

Many are not. Their photos are labeled with one simple word. “Shipped.”

I don’t want to keep looking at the photos, but as the saying goes, it’s like a terrible car accident and, try as I may, I can’t seem to look away.

Two days ago, I saw Asher and I truly couldn’t look away.

Asher is the name a big Belgian draft horse was quickly given by the women racing against an unknown deadline in an attempt to find buyers for several horses labeled “urgent” on the Facebook timeline. Photos of Asher showed a big, sturdy, mature horse, perhaps in need of a little weight, with strong legs and a blonde coat that begged for a good brushing.

Asher appeared to be an older horse and marks on his chest indicated that he had likely been used to pull, as many horses of his breed are. I was told he was tired and stressed at the feedlot. You could see it in his stance, in the blank expression on his face. Though my heart ached for every one of the horses pictured that day, Asher had a special hold on me. It’s as if I already knew him, already loved him.

I know my attraction to him is in no small part due to the loss of my beloved spotted draft horse, Scout. Scout had lived a wonderful life with us on our farm. Scout also had a terrible, fluke accident that ended his life far too soon. I could not save Scout.

But could I save Asher?

My life is busy and full, and so is my pasture. My partner Jim and I have a herd that consists of five horses, a mule, a standard donkey, a miniature horse, and five miniature donkeys. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, hooves to trim, shots to give, teeth to care for, and necks to hug. Many of our animals are with us because they, like Asher, were no longer wanted.

Did we have room for one more? It really didn’t make sense. Life is quite busy enough and beyond our barn animals, we actively participate in fostering and placing homeless dogs and have a houseful. But even with logic trying to take control of my brain, I still could not shake the image of Asher. The big horse who was described as gentle and quiet. The big horse who watched other horses leave and just stood with his head hanging in a corner of the feedlot pen.

Then I talked it over with some amazing friends.  Renown author Jon Katz (www.bedlamfarm.com) and Pamela Rickenback, the co-founder and driving force behind Blue Star Equiculture (www.equiculture.org), learned of my concern for Asher and I shared my internal debate with them. They each listened so patiently, they responded so wisely.

The reality that kept playing over and over in my mind was that saving one horse doesn’t put much of a dent in the big-picture problem. One horse saved, but thousands more in danger.  Asher was just one horse.

Then a funny thing happened. Both Jon and Pamela, in separate conversations, told me that they both felt this horse would somehow make a difference. They both felt that Asher was speaking to me for a reason beyond just saving one horse.  In fact, they both felt he might be reaching across the miles to them as well.

“Save the horse,” Jon said. It was really just that simple. Save Asher and the rest of the puzzle pieces would come together.

And so, racing time as the trucks arrived at the feedlot, I sent the online funds that would save Asher’s life.

Payment made, I still had to hold my breath for a few hours until I received confirmation that Asher had escaped the feedlot and was safely moved to his new temporary “horse hotel.”

Then something truly incredible happened. Thanks to a touching blog post by Jon (read it here), people from across the country started offering financial support for this one horse. Five dollars here…ten there…even donations of $50 and $100 started coming in.

This amazing support will help cover the fee I paid to secure Asher’s safety. It will help cover the expense of his 30 day quarantine, necessary because feedlot horses are often exposed to illness. It will help cover his veterinary expenses and hoof care. This outpouring of kindness will prepare Asher for a new, secure life. Any funds donated beyond what we need to for Asher’s initial care will be donated to Blue Star Equiculture where it will be put to very good use.

Now that the dust has settled, I’m not really sure what will come next, but I know it will be good. I now have 30 days to figure it out. Whatever next is, Jon, Pamela, and other friends have all said the same thing: “I have a really good feeling about this.”

I do too.

Jim and I will talk. I have to admit that I may have purchased Asher without exactly consulting him. Oh I may have mentioned it…I may have showed him a photo or two. In fact, I did say, “I might rescue a horse today” as I ran out of the house yesterday morning. I doubt he is surprised. Actually, I know he’s not. This is not the first time I’ve pulled a stunt like this. Jerry Swinefeld, the giant hog living in our barn that I took in “temporarily” from a rescue group comes to mind. And Delta Donkey who popped in one weekend and never left. Oh, and Bob the sheep…I can’t remember. Did we discuss that one?

Thankfully, Jim is a good, good man with a huge, compassionate heart. (Did you read that sweetie? Jim?) I think this idea will grow on him.

My hope is that we can keep Asher ourselves, as a new family member at Tails You Win Farm. (Picture Jim shaking his head, sighing, and saying “I knew it.”)

But to be fair, if Jim and I don’t feel we can keep Asher here, he is a much larger horse than we have ever cared for before, then Pamela has said she will help us find him a good sanctuary where he can live his life with security, good care, and in peace.  By buying Asher from the feed lot, I made a promise to him that he will never again face the uncertain future that comes with the bang of an auctioneer’s gavel. I fully intend to keep that promise.

And maybe this is the start of something bigger. Maybe Asher is the horse that will get some great and compassionate minds thinking about ways to make humane, compassionate treatment of horses a priority in our world – especially for the horses that are seemingly cast aside so easily. Pamela has already dedicated her life to that very mission through her work at Blue Star Equiculture. I urge everyone to go to their website to read their mission statement. It is truly inspiring.

Asher’s plight, along with that of the other horses at the feed lot, makes me determined to spread the word about the right of all horses to receive humane treatment. This is not about vilifying the “kill buyers.” While I do condemn the way some of them treat the horses in their care, the reality is that they are doing a job. They are in a supply and demand business. I may not agree with their chosen profession, but this is a bigger issue than just pointing a finger and placing blame on the middleman.

The issue goes much deeper. It speaks to the flawed way some people perceive horses and their role in our lives. Horses are not a throw-away commodity. They are our partners in work and in pleasure. Treated properly, they thrive in our care and in the jobs we have for them, whether it’s to give a little girl a dream come true, to proudly carry a police officer, to work in partnership with a rancher, or to take tourists on a carriage ride through the park in the heart of New York City. They deserve our protection, our respect, and the right to dignity in life, and in death.

IMG_3483Jim and I are no strangers to caring for special horses who might have otherwise been throw-away horses.  Leo came here as a five month old colt. He has a congenital neurological disorder that results in a lack of coordination in his rear legs. He is what horse fanciers would call a “pasture pet” or “pasture ornament.” He is exceptionally good at that job.

Our mule, Ferris Muler, was bred to be a pack mule, but suffered a compression fraction to his pelvis as a youngster, so instead of sending him to that big pasture in the sky, his owner asked if Jim and I would take him. He cannot be ridden, he will always have a limp, but he is happy and healthy none-the-less and quite a fun character here on the farm.

Cheyenne, our paint mare, came to Tails You Win farm when she was just a few weeks old – a tiny orphaned foal. We raised her on buckets of formula and with our miniature donkeys taking turns keeping her company. She is now a beautiful, healthy girl.

GoGo and Patty, a mom and daughter pair, came to us from a friend who needed to find her girls a new home. Gogo is now about 30 years old and has lost her vision. She gets around just fine with a little help from her friends.

These animals are our companions. Jim and I are very devoted to their care. Their value is in nuzzles, in welcoming nickers, and in seeing them lope carefree across our pasture.

I think Asher would make a fine addition to our family if that is right for him and for us. I have a bit of back-peddling to do with Jim on that topic (insert sheepish smile here). But I do promise this horse safety for the rest of his life. I am committed to him now. I love him dearly and I’ve not even had the chance to stroke his handsome face yet.

So maybe my huge mistake, wasn’t really a mistake at all. Maybe I was supposed to find Asher. If his story touches a few hearts and opens a few eyes, who knows what might come next. If people are willing to pull together to help just one horse, maybe there’s a way to pull together to try to help them all. Maybe that’s what is supposed to happen next.

Waffle 2

First mouthful of hay after arriving at the horse hotel where he will stay until we know he is healthy and able to safely be around other horses.

For Asher, the definition of next is good food, good care, and a new name. It’s time to abandon the memories that come with his feedlot name and focus on his future. “Next” for this horse is bright and now filled with people all over the country who know him and care about him. I am so grateful, and somehow I think he is too.

Every horse should be so lucky. Every horse deserves to live in a world where he can be “safe/sold.”

When Your Horse Is Too Sick To Go To School

Dublin sick day 2

My mother’s words will follow me forever, no matter how old I get.

“If you’re too sick to go to school, you’re too sick to go out to play.”

OH the risk of claiming a tummy ache on a school day. Sure, maybe you start feeling way better about an hour after the school bell rang, but it just didn’t matter. You played the sick card, so you were doomed to a day under the covers with a Sprite and some saltines on the bedside table. If you were lucky, there might be some new comic books included.

And after school? When your friends all came racing home to play and you were feeling much, much, much better? Too bad, so sad. You played the sick card.

Too sick for school, too sick to ride your bike. Too sick to play hide and seek. Too sick to go see the neighbor’s new puppy.

Not fair.

Now, as a living-by-my-own-rules adult, my mom’s rule still has a magical effect. If I don’t feel up to going to work, I’m not allowed to go out of the house that day or that evening. No one is here telling me that, it’s just the dang rule.

But today, my day as the enforcer has finally arrived. I get to impose Mom’s No Go/No Play rule on my horse.

It all started with one simple sentence.

Easter bud 2“You should go out to check on your horse,” Jim said as he came in the house from feeding the barn menagerie. “He didn’t want his dinner.”

Uh oh. Those are the words that make a horse owner’s pulse step it up a notch.

If a human isn’t hungry and skips a meal, it’s no big deal. If your dog or cat seems a little off and skips one meal, it’s not generally a race to the emergency vet. But when a big, stout, never-miss-a-meal horse turns his nose up at a ration of yummy sweet feed? Well, it can be an early indication of colic.

My horse savvy friends just cringed.

For my non-horse-savvy friends, colic in horses is a fairly common disorder of the digestive system. The true definition of the word simply means “abdominal pain,” however when it comes to horses, the term refers to a condition of severe abdominal discomfort characterized by pawing, rolling, and sometimes the inability to defecate. More to the point, suspicion of colic means you call your vet and you call fast.

There are different types of colic, and the severity of the illness varies greatly. Sometimes a horse may have a mild bout of abdominal pain that resolves with a single dose of medication. In other cases, if a horse suffers a displacement, or, in highly technical terms, a twisted gut, emergency surgery is necessary. When blood supply to the intestines is cut off…let’s just say it’s a bad situation. In worst case scenario cases, euthanasia is the only humane answer.

I have seen worst case scenario with one of the best horses I’ve ever loved. I know not to mess around when I see even the most mild symptoms of a potential colic.

When Jim told me that my big boy, Dublin, didn’t want his dinner, I immediately raced out to the barn to check on him. Let’s start a symptom list: 1: Lack of appetite.

When I walked into the barn, Dub was standing quietly watching the other horses finish their grain. Symptom 2: Fat pushy horse quietly watching underling horses eating.

I walked straight to my boy and haltered him. Symptom 3: Dub let me walk right up and halter him without a 15 minute game of keep-away. Yeah, he’s generally naughty that way.

I gave him a quick once-over. He wasn’t sweating, he wasn’t nosing his belly, he wasn’t trying to lie down or roll – all additional sure signs of colic – but his breathing was a bit shallow and rapid, his nostrils flaring with each breath. He was stressed and uncomfortable. Symptom 4: Breathing that would have made an excellent obscene phone call.

Colic symptoms can truly be that innocuous. Someone who is not a horse owner would likely not even notice from these early signs that big trouble could be on the horizon. But with years and years of experience with horses, these quiet symptoms immediately warranted an after-hours on a holiday weekend call to our large animal veterinarian.

Because that’s just about the only time my large animals manage to have an emergency. Talk to me about the once-upon-a-time Christmas Day emergency call. Sorry, Doc.

By about 9:15 in the evening, the veterinarian arrived. Dr. Meg Hollabaugh stepped out of her truck and, without much of a hello or how ya doing, got straight to work. Colic is serious business.

After an initial exam, checking his heart rate, listening to his lungs, listening for stomach sounds, it was time to give the boy a little sedation for “the” exam. The long glove exam. The “just relax” exam.

If you ever thought for a nanosecond that you might want to be a large animal veterinarian, one glimpse of your vet, arm buried to the shoulder in your horse’s backside, just might change your mind. Yup. Don’t try this at home. Leave this one to the pros.

But it’s an important part of the exam because the veterinarian has to check for an obstruction and needs to obtain a REALLY fresh stool sample. Really fresh.

Long exam story cut short, Dr. Hollabaugh determined that Dub had an impaction in his small intestine. Well no…she did not determine that from her arm-length exam. Horses have about 50 to 70 feet of intestines (Really? Really!). She arrived at the diagnosis through what we shall call veterinary detective work based on the appearance and texture of his manure sample, his gut sounds, and his other symptoms.

Dr. Hollabaugh treated Dub by passing a long tube through his nose and into his stomach. This is done for several reasons…in Dub’s case to check for reflux and hopefully help break up an impaction; oftentimes it is to pass oil into the horses digestive tract to help things “move along.” You can’t exactly ask a horse to drink a quart of oil like a good boy.

Finally, with pain meds and sedation on board (for the horse…for me? Nada. Not even anything to help with the pain of the after-hour-holiday-weekend bill), it just came down to a game of watch and wait.

Watch for more signs of discomfort. Wait for my horse to shit. Yes, in this case, poop, and lots of it, would be our friend. Each pile of manure would be a positive sign that Dub’s intestines had dislodged and were on the move.

While the wonderful Dr. Hollabaugh headed out to salvage what was left of her Friday evening (Did you draw the short straw for holiday weekend on-call duty, Doc?), Jim and I secured an unhappy Dub in the barn for a night of observation.

Dub was not pleased. Horses do not like to be separated from their herd mates. And Dub is the leader of his pack (Jim might say bully), so he was raising a bit of a ruckus calling out from his stall into the dark pasture. Honestly, his displeasure was actually a good sign in my mind. He felt good enough to be annoyed. Maybe we were going to skate by with just a mild case.

Finally the other horses answered Dub’s insistent calls and wandered up to hang out around the barn. Everyone calmed down and Jim and I made a plan that we would take turns visiting Dub through the night. I took the first, late night visits, Jim took the wee-hours-of-the-morning visits. Jim is WAY better at the past 1:00 a.m., pre-dawn stuff. (He might be a vampire.)

Dublin colic day 9-5 2 redoBy morning, Dub’s breathing was normal. He was relaxed, no signs of stress. He had pooped a couple of times, though not as many times as we would have liked. But he was interested in the small handful of grain I offered him. Interested to the point that my fingers were a bit in danger.

Good sign, but not out of the woods yet. Jim and I would keep close watch on Dub for the rest of the day, offering small amounts of feed or hay every two hours. If all continued to go well (and that included seeing many more piles o’ pooh), I would let him out of the barn Saturday night when the temperatures cooled. All of these precautions would be enforced despite Dub’s sincere and emphatic protests.

Oh, to be stuck inside on a glorious, sunny day. In Dub’s opinion, he was fine, fit, and ready to head back out to assume his role as boss horse of Tails You Win Farm. But by my rule, if he was too sick to eat dinner the night before, he was too sick to go out to play the following day. And I needed to be sure he was ok. I needed to be 100% worth-pissing-the-horse-off sure.

Oh Mom. You taught me well. I may not have human children to introduce to your old rules, but I have one large pouting horse learning your timeless lesson right now. And maybe I’m learning a new lesson too. All these years I thought you enforced that rule just to thwart and/or punish any feigned illnesses. I’m sure that was part of it. But I also think you needed to be really, really sure your baby was truly ok.

Thanks for that, Mom. Right now, to me, I have the most beautifully sullen, but healthy horse in the world.