Merry Monday. Wonderful Wednesday.

MerryAs I was making the drive to work today in the predawn gray, I couldn’t help but scan the roadside. It was a habit several months old. It was going to be a hard habit to break.

It was my daily routine of keeping watch for Merry and Nick, two stray dogs that have been living on their own along our country roads near Mounds, Oklahoma. I’ve been watching for Merry since late summer (original story here, follow-up here). Nick joined the party just over a month ago when he apparently fell head over heels in love with Merry. They made quite the pair – a frustrating pair because, despite repeated attempts from numerous people in the area, they constantly eluded all who tried to rescue them.

And SO many caring people were trying to help them. Almost every time I stopped to try to sweet talk the dogs, another car would stop, another person would tell me about how they had been feeding them and trying to catch them. It seemed everyone within three square miles, and even beyond, had been keeping an eye out for the dogs.

At times, it seemed a little futile. When Merry was traveling solo, she would recognize my Jeep, as well as the cars of her other “regulars.” She would perk up, come close, even wagging her tail a bit as she stretched her neck out to accept food. Then she’d dance nimbly out of reach. Merry was a streetwise young lady. She knew how to survive.

When Nick started roaming with Merry – the two were rarely more than a few feet apart – things changed. Nick seemed even more fearful and uncertain than his partner. The moment I tried to step out of my Jeep to offer the dogs a snack, Nick would immediately retreat, glancing over his shoulder suspiciously. When Nick ran, Merry ran. She was a loyal girl.

Loyal to a fault. Loyal to a cold-of-winter-lots-of-predators-out-here fault.

The dogs’ pattern stayed pretty consistent until about a week ago Monday. It was then that the two dogs started coming an extra mile south to actually visit our house. Yes, they actually came straight to our doorstep.

I would like to tell you that our mad animal communication skills brought Merry and Nick to us, convincing them to trust us. But that would be a lie.

In reality, I’m fairly sure our latest little Dalmatian mix foster dog, who popped into her heat cycle just after we agreed to take her, was the grand attraction at Tails You Win Farm.

imageWhile Nick was obviously devoted to Merry, he was also unable to resist the scent of another lovely lady. The weird part of this new development was their routine. Nick and Merry visited our house every day between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Our security cameras don’t lie. You could almost set your clock by them.

Of course our foster dog was always safe and secure in the house where the temptation of intact boys could not reach her. But sequestered as she was, Nick still knew she was here and remained hopeful that he might add another lovely to his little harem.

Jim and I decided this was just the break we needed. While out for a run one day, Jim had met Tony, a man who had a large live trap he was using to see if he could catch the strays. Jim called Tony and offered to let him place the trap by our house to see if we could lure the dogs in during one of their treks up our long drive.

On day one, the dogs somehow managed to grab the bait without springing the trap. Day two, the dogs visited while we were still home. Our dogs raced into the yard, sounding the alert, and sent Nick and Merry scampering back toward the road.

This bring us to Merry Monday.

It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and I was racing home from work after receiving a text photo from Jim showing several of our horses on the wrong side of our pasture fence. I hurried to the farm in case our little herd decided not to cooperate for Jim and his bucket of feed. Thankfully, I didn’t see one horse out of place as I pulled through our gate. What I did see as I rounded the curve to the house? Two dogs huddled together in the live trap.

TrappedTWO for ONE! Nick and Merry couldn’t resist the temptation of the latest bait I placed in the trap and somehow went after it in tandem.

Relief. Oh what a loaded word that was on Merry Monday!

I was relieved we caught both dogs. I was so afraid we might catch one and not the other. That would have been a tough situation.

I was relieved that these two dogs would never have to spend another day fending for themselves, finding meals where and when they could.

I was relieved that Nick and Merry would never have another night out in the cold where dogs easily become prey for coyotes.

I was relieved I would never find either dog on the shoulder of the road after a run-in with a car.

All of the worries I had pushed to the back of my mind flooded out and flew away at the sight of those two scared dogs who had no idea their lives just took a huge turn for the better.

Jim was beside the crate, feeding the dogs yummy treats through the wire as he worked to calm them and gain their trust. Growling and cowering just moments before, Nick was now eagerly accepting scraps, licking every last bit from Jim’s fingers. Merry was quiet and stressed, but seemed approachable.

The magic of Merry Monday did not stop there. Jim called Tony, the man who loaned us the trap.  Tony had been working with an area veterinarian to try to catch the dogs. Dr. Corrina Tressler, of Green Country Animal Hospital, also lived in the vicinity and had been on the lookout for the dogs. A few quick phone calls later we learned that Dr. Tressler would welcome our little couple at her hospital.

HOORAY! Merry and Nick had a temporary place to stay where they could receive excellent care. All we had to do was get them there.

Working slowly and cautiously to avoid startling the dogs and potentially allowing them to escape, we opened the trap and got a slip lead on Merry. She was scared, but easy to handle and came out of the crate. One down, one still to go.

Nick was no longer growling, but he was also clearly not convinced  he was ready to trust these humans no matter how enticing the bribes, so he pushed himself into a ball at the back of the trap. At the same time,we weren’t yet convinced that we could just reach in to slip a lead on Nick, so we just loaded the whole heavy trap, dog and all, into the back of my Jeep.

Merry and I hopped into the back to stay close by Nick, the dogs really did not want to be out of each other’s sight, and Jim chauffeured us on the eight mile trip to the dogs’ “hotel.”

On the ride there, I noticed Nick starting to relax, accepting my fingers petting him through the wire crate. It was becoming clear that Nick was falling into the “all bark and no bite” category.  He may have put on a bit of a show initially, but he would soon prove that he was just a sweet, silly boy.

12522950_10208784371390283_7577128543902788784_nUpon arrival at the veterinary hospital, Jim and I decided we could let Nick out of the crate while still in the safety of the Jeep. It was time for all of us to learn to trust each other. Jim opened the trap door and I reached inside to slip a lead around Nick’s big bully head.

The leash seemed to flip a switch in Nick’s brain and he came straight out of the crate with a wide smile on his face and a wagging tail. Jim helped Nick hop into the parking lot and I followed with a still nervous Merry. Where Nick led, Merry followed, and Nick led with great enthusiasm. Suddenly Jim and I, along with everyone he met at the vet hospital, were Nick’s new best friends. Quite a change from the fearful, skittish stray we had been following for weeks.

Once inside, the dogs got a quick check-up, vaccinations, and heart worm tests. Nick received a clean bill of health, while Merry, not surprisingly after months with no proper care, came back heart worm positive. Not the best news, but with Dr. Tressler on her side, Merry would receive the costly treatment she needed to clear her system of the parasites and ensure her good health going forward.

12540767_10208784371550287_251190651360046121_nThe dogs were settled in comfortable kennels with soft blankets, clean water and bowls full of good food. It must have seemed like paradise to the road weary pair.

Jim and I left the hospital laughing and celebrating on a “rescuer’s high.” From the viewpoint of a longtime dog rescue volunteer, there are few feelings that rival the moment when you finally help an elusive stray get to safety . This was a day to celebrate. Merry Monday will go down in Jim and Nancy history as a favorite new holiday.

And now for Wonderful Wednesday. Today after work, I returned to the vet to visit Merry and Nick.

Nervous and unsure no more, I found both dogs resting comfortably in their kennels. When I let them out for a visit, they both greeted me like a dear best friend, taking turns hopping in my lap and covering my face with excited kisses. It was a grand welcome.

I shared some yummy treats with my new friends and I gave each a nice new chew bone to enjoy. They both returned to their kennels, relaxed and secure. Happy sure suits them.

Tomorrow, Merry, who has obviously already been a young mother, will be spayed and Mr. Nick will be neutered. Once Merry has recovered from her surgery, she will begin treatment for her heart worms. I have no doubt she’ll come through the lengthy process with flying colors. She deserves nothing less.

Jim and I are going to stay in close contact with the dogs and with Dr. Tressler. We’re going to help raise donations to cover their expenses. We’re going to work to help them find a great home – hopefully one home for both dogs. They are very bonded and would obviously love to stay together. There’s so much good ahead for these two.

So yes, through force of habit, I’m sure I’ll continue to scan the roads for Nick and Merry on a daily basis for some time to come. And each time I catch myself looking, I know I’ll smile and celebrate all over again. Thanks to so many caring people, Nick and Merry will now have their happily-ever-after.

We just have a couple more chapters of their story to write.







It’s Just a…

Hug Mia

Forehead to forehead. Front legs entwined. It’s just a very special moment.

Take the term “it’s just a,” then fill something in after it. Those little words seem so innocuous, but can really pack a punch depending on how you use them.

We use those words to downplay something that happened. You know, the no-big-deal “just a.”

“It’s just a scratch.” When applied to something that has happened to me, Jim, or one of our animals, this is a good “just a.” Nothing major. Whew.

“It’s just a little ding.” When referring to my beloved Jeep? There is no such thing as “just a.” Get out your insurance card.

There’s the “just a” that forgives.

“He’s just a little kid.” The words many a parent has said to talk themselves down as they stare at the latest crayon wall mural. Or when they find the rotting jack-o-lantern rescued from the trash and stored safely in the corner of the front hall coat closet. (That last one might or might not have been perpetrated by young Nancy.)

We use those words when we put on a brave face.

“It’s just a house.” A friend said that to me after her home burned to the ground. Courageous words, and she meant them. Her family and her animals were all safe. The things she truly held dear did not perish in the fire. A heart-wrenching “just a.”

“It’s just a ring.” Another friend used that one as she shrugged and forced a smile after losing her beautiful wedding ring. That was a “just a” as much for herself as it was to convince me she was OK with the loss. A “just a” with a deep sigh attached to it.

But there is one  “just a” that can get me riled faster than just about anything you can say to me. It’s the “just a” that degrades.

“It’s just a dog.”

What? Just a dog?

Well. Yes. And it’s one heck of a just a.

It’s just a living, breathing creation with a heartbeat, with a brain, with awareness. It’s just a loyal, true-blue being who doesn’t care if your hair is a mess, if your clothes don’t match, or if you put on a few pounds over the holidays.

It’s just a dog. It’s just a soulful creature with feelings and emotions. It has friends. It has ideas – some good, some, by human standards, not so good. But hey, it’s just a shoe…and it was apparently delicious.

It’s just a dog. Just an incredibly adaptable animal that can learn. That can comfort or protect. That can perform amazing tasks.

It’s just a dog who forgives the many times we claim to be the wiser species, but allow our actions to prove us wrong.

It’s just the very best friend you might ever have. The one who is thrilled to see you whether you’ve been gone for five days or just five minutes.

And if you ask me, the relationship we have with our dogs? Their willingness to bridge the gap to exist and thrive in our very human-focused world?

It’s just a miracle. A beautiful, hairy miracle.

Just Another Day?

Pasture spiritI woke up this morning just as I do every day, though admittedly a good deal later than normal. Yes, I slept in. It was nice. It felt lazy and indulgent. I can’t believe all of our dogs allowed it, but God love them, they snuggled in and enjoyed it right alongside me.

When I finally coaxed my eyelids open, it looked like any other day. The sun was up, the sky was perfectly clear. Maybe I should rephrase that, it looked like any other gorgeous day.

Things outside the window looked familiar in the early morning brilliance. The pond had a thin little layer of ice tiptoeing tentatively from one shore toward the other. The frosty dew highlighted the trees better than any strand of Christmas lights ever could. I could see a few of our horses milling around in the pasture behind the house, likely wondering when one of the humans was going to emerge to toss a little hay their way.

I could smell Jim’s first cup of coffee, or maybe his second. I did sleep pretty darn late. I could hear some of the dogs tap dancing up the stairs to join him in our loft office, where a morning newscast played on the television in the background. Jim is always an early bird so these smells and sounds are familiar and comfortable.

Yes, it was by all appearances just another day on the farm. Or was it? Well, I guess that’s up to me.

It really wan’t just any other morning. Last night, in a fit of laughter and good fun with good friends, we said goodbye to a five and welcomed a six. 2016. Twenty-sixteen. Sounds big. Sounds like it could come with change…or should come with change. Sounds promising?

I have to admit that I have never been great with change. I was the kid who cried on the first day of school. I was the preteen who was shocked when her girlfriends threw away the comfort of knee socks in exchange for shaved legs in pantyhose. I was the tomboy who would have been content to just drape myself across my horse’s back to nap in the shade forever and always.

But those things had to change. I had to grow up. Through all of my Happy New Years I’ve embraced a lot of really good change. I’ve also had to suck it up through some rough change. It’s that thing called life. We all do it. Some of us do it better than others.

I saw a lot of people I care about go through change  in 2015. It seemed like a year for it. Some of it was amazing – seeing my niece and her husband welcome new baby Grace comes to mind. Some of it was hard – and by hard I mean major life altering stuff. I honestly witnessed a couple of friends have the proverbial everything-I-hold-near-and-dear rug ripped right out from under them.

One friend in particular comes to mind, and I think she will know I’m referring to her when she reads this. She truly had a hell of a year. The triple whammy runaway freight train kind of change that can easily take the strongest of people straight to their knees. You wonder how a person ever stands up again after a year like that.

But my friend did stand up. Oh, don’t get me wrong. She allowed herself to grieve. She allowed herself to fall apart a little bit when she needed to. She allowed herself to feel every step of the way from complete devastation back toward the promise of new beginnings. She put herself right back together with such amazing grace, and charm, and pure strength of heart.

For all of the times I have had to face change, I hope I have displayed even one tenth of her character. I think she is ready to put the trials and lessons of 2015 to good use in building a shiny new 2016. I’m right there with her.

So here we are. Facing another new year. By virtue of a calendar, basically some numbers on a chart, we give this day such great meaning.

I won’t sit here and tell you that I’m going to make a list of New Year’s resolutions. I did manage to stick with a few of those cliche bullet points I scribbled down this time last year. I did actually mail a few Christmas cards this year (if you didn’t get one, it could well still be on the way…I said I mailed them. I didn’t say I mailed them on time.). And I did complete a half marathon (don’t get excited, a friend and I walked it, but we walked really fast). Oh, and I only locked my keys in the car one dang time, but that was great progress over the previous year. Points for effort?

This year, my resolution is to NOT tie myself down to an annual ritual so many execute and so few achieve. But I am entering the new year with some new ideas. Yes, the word idea sounds SO much friendlier than rez-OH-loo-shun.

I’m going to embrace the things that matter most to me. I’m going to focus on Jim. I’m going to focus on our home. I’m going to focus on the animals that are here sharing our world. I will love this man, these creatures, and this place with greater, ever-growing intention.

I’m going to focus on being a true and good friend, sister, and aunt. I have amazing people in my world and I need to always be sure to nurture and honor these relationships with the same care and dedicated attention my dad gave to his beloved, prize vegetable garden. (This may or may not mean I will actually spray water at my friends and family. They’re cool people. They’ll think it’s funny too.)

I’m not going to try to define exactly what these ideas mean. I’m going to let them evolve and I’ll evolve with them. I’ll invent the meaning as I go along. But I will work to keep these ideas top-of-mind every single day.

And I’m going to focus on me. I’m going to believe wholeheartedly in myself. Maybe 2016 is the year Nancy finally realizes what and who she truly wants to be when she grows up. I have a pretty good idea. I learned a lot about me in 2015, and what I learned is that I may be ready for some change. Some good, old fashioned change for the better-for-me. It won’t be anything radical…you might not even notice the change. But I will.

Truth be told, I’m at an age where change happens whether I like it or not. My body has changed, my mind has changed (oh so many times), people around me have changed. And boy has my world changed from where I was during this calendar flip 10…20…30 years ago.

Despite the number of calendars behind me, there is so much great possibility still ahead. Some of it requires leaving old ideas behind, some of it requires dusting off ideas long buried. I believe my mind can follow my heart into some great new chapters.

And I think a little well-nurtured change will be a great thing. I just have to tell first-grade Nancy, who stood sobbing as her mother turned to leave her at school on the first day, that everything truly will be OK. Because darn it, “…you is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  (Oh hey, I may have just realized the answer to the “what is your favorite movie” question that I can NEVER seem to answer. The Help. Such a good one.)

So today, resolutions be damned, I’m coming up with ideas. Brand new ideas and old ideas that need a little TLC. I’m staring possibility in the eye and believing that I’m in for one great year.

After all, it’s either just the act of taking down one calendar to put up another, or it’s the first sunrise of a beautiful new adventure. It’s up to each of us to decide. I know which direction I’m heading.

Hope to see you there.