Terrible, Terrible Twos

the chaseI can’t say they didn’t warn us. They did.

“You won’t really know what you’ve got until he turns two.”

Those simple words from our wonderful friends at Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue have stuck with me for the last 18 months. Now they’re proving a bit prophetic.

And what they meant was, with wolfdogs, you really don’t know whether they will think more like a wolf, or more like a dog until they mature. For some, I guess, the wolf side of the brain can prove to be a bit of a challenge. It’s possible we’re finding that out.

I  can’t say that I didn’t see it…and feel it…coming. Over the past several months I have seen a shift in our wolfdog Kainan’s attitude from time to time. It was subtle at first. You had to pay attention. And it was easy to write it off as just a little incident.

Since joining our family as an adolescent wolfdog in August of 2014, Kainan been remarkably easy-going. Though he dwarfs all of our other dogs – now easily outweighing the largest by about 40 pounds – he has been an affable boy, romping and playing like a gentle giant with dogs half his size or smaller. His current most devoted playmate tips the scales at a mere 38 pounds.

He also defers to our 10-year-old, “top dog” Dalmatian, Howie. He bows down to Howie on a daily basis, groveling at his feet and licking under his chin in absolute submission to the older dog. Howie is very large and in charge in Kainan’s eyes. This behavior is not because Howie is an “alpha dog” who has forcibly rolled Kainan over and asserted his dominance. That theory is tired and outdated. Kainan’s behavior toward Howie is healthy, voluntary submissive behavior and it’s a good thing.

But in recent months I have noticed it, I’ve seen a little shift. Dogs that were once included in Kainan’s merry little circle of playmates, are now excluded. If you know the subtleties of dog to dog communication, you can see the change in attitude a mile away.

Kain and Bernie

“Good play” with Bernie

I think I first noticed it with Bernie, our pit-mix boy. Bernie was one of Kainan’s initial best buddies. They would romp and play like big, goofy puppies. Until one day I saw it.

I looked outside and saw Bernie sitting in the very back corner of the yard, sideways to the house. His body was curved, his back rounded, his head dropped low, his ears pinned back in a worried expression. I could see he was licking his lips and glancing sideways toward the house and then looking quickly away. These are all signs of stress, all signals to another dog that he is no threat, that he is not challenging, and he wants no trouble.

Having never seen Bernie display this behavior, I quickly looked to see what was causing his concern. There, standing tensed and focused between Bernie and the path that leads to the dog door, was Kainan. His ears were pricked sharply forward. His head was dropped level with his back. His body was tensed and in a partial crouch as if ready to spring. His eyes held a hard focus on the worried dog across the yard.

I immediately went out into the yard and called Kainan to me. He did not respond quickly or very willingly. I had to go to him. His focus was intense, but just by breaking the moment, the spell, I was enough distraction to allow Bernie to run to me and then into the house.

What the heck had I just witnessed?

Time to pay closer attention. We had dropped our guard. We had been lulled into a false sense of security by silly, adolescent Kainan. Now mature Kainan had moved in and it was time to take notice.

Kill the wolfdog

“Kill” the wolfdog.

For a bit, I saw nothing further. He was Mr. Frolic. He had a little pack of girls comprised of three Dalmatians, one husky/malamute, and one mixed breed dog who raced and wrestled with him nonstop. Even with his huge size advantage, he was gentle with his girls. In fact, more often than not, he chose to be the prey, allowing them to chase him down, tackle him, and “go for the kill.” It was hysterically ferocious and comical.

And so my guard slipped back down.

Then it happened. Our little whippet girl, Lacy, dainty and all legs and speed, popped out of the dog door with a bunny-like hop and Kainan grabbed her. He reacted as if by instinct. Grab the prey.

Jim was just inside the house and was out the door to break things up in an instant. But it still happened. And our little Lacy got some puncture wounds in the process.

You could explain it away. Lacy moves very erratically and very quickly. If she popped out right on top of him…well…you can almost understand what happened. But still.

So we watched. We redirected Kainan when we felt his focus was inappropriate. We kept a close eye on Lacy.

And then it happened to Nora, our senior Dalmatian. We’re not sure what caused the incident, but Kainan went after her. Again, Jim was there quickly. Nora was not badly injured.

But still.

We had a problem. And it was a problem we always knew might surface. Wolfdogs are not dogs. Wolfdogs are not wolves. And there’s the tricky part.

You don’t know what you’ve got until they turn two.

I have watched the well-educated, experienced people who run Freedom’s Song. They too live with wolfdogs. I know that not all wolfdogs are social to people. We are very lucky that Kainan is. He is quite friendly and very appropriate around people.

I have also never seen him act aggressively when we see other dogs. He has been out and about with us to a few places where we have encountered other dogs on leash and he has been fine. We don’t let other dogs rush up to him, we don’t ask for trouble, but Kainan has consistently remained calm.

Now, this behavior at home, well, it actually makes sense to me. This is his space. This is his home territory. We have asked him to share it with a number of other dogs. And we have dogs come and go from time to time as foster dogs come in and eventually leave for homes of their own. It’s a busy place, and can be a stressful situation for some dogs, but we are generally good at finding balance and keeping the peace.

So now it appears that Kainan has a little circle of friends that he prefers…I call them his gang. And it also appears we have some dogs that he does not want in his circle. So who makes the rules? Wolfdog or humans?

Calm before the pounce

Still good play…I promise!

Well, it has to the be humans, but we have to have respect for Kainan’s view of the world as well. As I tell every training client who has dog to dog issues in their home, just because YOU like a dog and want to add it to the family does not mean your dog is going to like it as well. Humans don’t like every other human they meet…I don’t. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be asked to live just any other person that comes along.

But humans ask their dogs to do that all the time and then seem appalled when the dogs don’t agree with the decision.

So what to do?

Well, I jokingly say that Kainan is currently grounded. He is not allowed to play unsupervised with all of the other dogs loose as he once did. We have supervised sessions several times a day with Kainan loose with all of the dogs, and then we give Kainan his own space with his little gang.

Fortunately, our world is physically set up to handle this new routine. We have sturdy dog runs that allow access inside the house and to outdoor space. We have two dog yards. We can allow Kainan to play with his little gang, while keeping the other dogs separate and safe.

And we are dedicated to doing a lot of work with Kainan. Jim and I have worked out a plan for reminding Kainan the benefits of offering desired behavior. We are focusing on spending a lot more one-on-one time with him. We are working to teach him a strong recall – no matter what the distraction in the world around him.

We’re also giving him constant feedback when he is loose with all of the dogs. My own belief, backed by a recent online course presented by Dr. Ian Dunbar, advocates giving dogs like Kainan consistent input. If he’s playing nicely, he gets lots of praise and reinforcement. If we see that he’s starting to be a bully or he’s starting to get too rowdy, we call him, we interrupt the action. He gets told “uh-uh,” and redirected. The moment his behavior shifts back to calm and loose, he is praised.

If he crosses any tiny line, it’s game over. He is removed from play.

There is no hitting. There are no shock collars (and BOY are there a lot of people who love to go there…that’s a topic for another day). There are no harsh prong collars. There is no physical punishment beyond limiting his freedom.

There is feedback. Lots of meaningful, timely feedback. And we are patient. And we are fair. And we are learning.  All of us. Kainan is as much our teacher as he is our student.

We love Kainan and we are committed to his welfare and his well-being. That means it’s our job to understand his way of thinking. It’s our job to help this home and life work well for all of us. We don’t want to “dominate” Kainan, we want to provide leadership. If we are good and fair leaders, then everything else can fall into place.

We will make wise choices too. We may have to rethink what types of dogs and how many dogs we can foster. We can do that. Our own dogs come first.

We hope this is just a phase for Kainan. He is not one tiny bit aggressive. In fact, one stern look from me or Jim sends him sprawling to the ground in an apologetic pile. He is just mature now (and yes, neutered, but that doesn’t change who/what he is!), he has instincts, and he is testing the boundaries of  his world. We hope that with fair, positive-focused training, Kainan will be work through his terrible twos to be able to be free-roaming with the other dogs again soon.

But if he can’t…if living with a number of other dogs is just not right for him…we will deal with that too. We will make sure he has always has a great life that is fair to him, while also fair to the other dogs that share our home. We made that commitment to Kainan when we took him in and we will always stand by it.

We know he is new territory for us. We still have a lot to learn, and so does Kainan. But I know it will work out. Everyone is OK. Kainan is happy and being very compliant. Oh, and he really loves turkey hot dogs for his training treats.

This too shall pass. He is still very much our big, fuzzy, lovable guy who, 9.5 times out of 10, gets along great with our furry family.

But oh the terrible twos. I’m so ready for three.

Kainan and shadow 2

Where Sunflowers Grow

Run in Peace Big PaulThe patch of broken, brown earth stood out in sharp contrast to the surrounding blanket of green dotted with splashes of colorful wildflowers. This was the first time I had ventured out to visit this spot in the pasture since the day it happened more than two months ago.

I looked at the packets in my hand, eight in all. There were two each of four varieties of sunflower: Mammoth, Moonshine, Autumn Beauty, and American Giant. The promise of the massive flowers seemed a fitting tribute to my big boy. Soon, I hoped to see a small forest of sunflowers covering the bare spot in the earth that marked the place where Paul, my big draft horse, was buried.

It was a gorgeous spring day. The perfect day for a walk in the pasture. Life was erupting all around me. The trees were covered with tender, brilliant green leaves unfurling to greet the changing season. The birds darted about, busily tending their nests. Insects flitted lazily about from blossom to blossom, finding nourishment as the warmth of the morning sun fueled their meandering mission.

Hi there NanYet I stood oblivious to the spring parade. I was fixated on that one patch of cracked, clumpy earth that represented the beautiful ghost still testing my heart.

I’m no stranger to loss. We live with lots of animals…all lives more temporary than our own. We’ve said our share of goodbyes and we always find a way to celebrate the beings that have shared their time here with us. Each has taught a lesson, each has been a blessing.

But, Big Paul. I just wasn’t coming to terms with his loss. The stately Belgian horse who won my heart from one photo on a Facebook page. Our story was supposed to roll gently toward a very distant sunset. It was not supposed to be a short story, over in just a couple of chapters.

So my morning visit to Paul’s piece of earth was to find resolution. It was my private ceremony. I was going to welcome closure.

gogo 2016Standing clutching the seed packets in my right hand, I heard a quiet shuffling behind me. I turned to see GoGo, our old appaloosa mare, with her nose to the ground as she followed my trail through the pasture as surely as a faithful tracking dog.

GoGo is a special girl. She is 30 years old. She has lost her vision. But she doesn’t hide in the barn, she doesn’t beg for special care. In fact, she won’t tolerate being kept in a stall or safely confined to a paddock. She is, despite the toll advancing years have exacted, strong-willed and determined to keep pace with the rest of our horses. Where one sense has failed her, others have grown stronger. She is a survivor.

I stroked the sweet mare’s neck as she sniffed the seed packets, perhaps checking to see if I might be holding a carrot or a horse cookie. I was immediately thankful GoGo decided to join my private memorial service. The mare who had graced our farm for such a long time, joining me as I paid respect to the horse who touched my life so profoundly in such a short amount of time. Perfect.

I opened the packets, one by one, and sprinkled the contents across the bare earth, watching as the small seeds bounced and tumbled into the cracks and crevices. Soon they would find purchase, sprout, and spring back up toward the sky, strong, tall, and golden. Just like Big Paul was.

Job done, GoGo and I retraced our steps and headed back to where the rest of our little herd watched in seemingly silent homage. Did they know I needed some space? My very spoiled animals are not known for restraint, especially when they see a human that normally has pockets filled with cookies. But somehow, today, they showed quiet respect.

As I moved closer to the barn, the truce was broken and my herd surrounded me, snorting and sniffing. I looked into a half dozen pairs of soft, hopeful eyes as impatient noses pushed at my hands and nudged my pockets.

In that moment, it hit me. Just as surely as the sunflower seeds would sprout roots in the fertile soil and grow to fill the cracks and gaps in the broken earth, these silly horses and donkeys, in the here and now, would help fill the cracks and gaps in the fertile ground of my heart.

I would always remember, and I would always be grateful for what was, but I could also let go. It was time to stop replaying the pain of loss and instead focus on the good times I had with Big Paul. And it was also time to simply allow myself to appreciate what was standing right in front of me.

Just like that, a spring day became a gift. The sunflowers to come became a promise. A ghost became a beautiful memory. A heart was allowed to begin healing.

Oh…and yeah…a little herd of horses, donkeys, and one fine mule got to eat cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once a Year…

MotherYou know that old saying…you don’t know until you try? Well, several years ago I wanted to do a Mother’s Day giveaway at my dog care business. I had seen a cute doggy floral arrangement online and asked a local florist if they could make one. They made one for me…and it was adorable…and it was EX PEN SIVE.
 
Hmm, I thought. I looked at the arrangement. Hmmm.
 
So the next year I dove in and decided I could make one myself. Oh, mine are not perfect, but they make people smile and I think I love creating them just as much as I love giving them away.
 
Once a year, I become a florist. Once a year, I fill a shopping cart with bundles of beautiful flowers. Once a year I pick and choose just the right bloom here, the perfect bud there.I make a terrific, colorful, aromatic mess of my kitchen. And, when I’m done, I step back and laugh.
 
Pictured are this year’s creations. The “leftover” flowers (I buy WAY too many on purpose!) will be crafted into beautiful bouquets to honor my mother, grandmother, and sister.
I’ll go sit in the peace of the cemetery and tell them all about my funny dog arrangements as I carefully place just the right bloom here, the perfect bud there, in a heartfelt attempt to make the world just a little more beautiful on a very special day.
 
Happy Mother’s Day!

So, About Those Chickens…

Family portrait

Holy cow. Or should that be holy chick? Either way, I have really neglected my blog. Shame on me. But the old “life has been a tad busy lately” line rings very true in my world.

Right around the end of last year, in addition to the dog care business I co-own with a great friend (that would be Pooches in Tulsa), we opened a little dog/cat supply boutique because, because…we needed more to do?

But it’s been fun to get Wagology Shop (naming things is fun!)  up and running, and it’s also been time consuming and a bit tiring. But ALLLLLLLL good.

In there somewhere, Jim and I added a little flock of chickens to the farm because, again, we apparently needed more to do. The chickens, however, will be the one species of animal at Tails You Win Farm that is actually productive. There will be eggs. There will NOT be fried/grilled/baked chicken. There will be eggs.

Of course with the amount of money we have invested in said flock, as my savvy business partner pointed out, it may well take about five years of busy egg laying for the chickens to actually pay for themselves. But hey, who said life on an e-i-e-i-oh farm had to actually make sense? Certainly not Jim or Nancy. Nope.

Chick NorrisBut the chickens may redeem us. They will eat bugs. They will fertilize the grass. And yes, they will lay eggs. Maybe they will lay golden eggs and prove said savvy business partner wrong? Highly unlikely, but a girl can dream.

Go chick-ens! Go chick-ens! Go chick-ens!

Of course the egg laying won’t start for months. They are just baby chicks, and quite honestly, we’re not yet sure who is a he and who is a she. We obviously hope for more shes than hes.

One outgoing little guy has identified himself as all rooster. He struts his stuff. He is confident. He has prominent wattles (the little red things under his beak for my non-chicken-farmer friends).

We have named him Chick Norris. Chick Norris is so tough he can kill two stones with one bird. Chick Norris is so tough that Colonel Sanders has turned vegan. Chick Norris is THE man.

As for the others, we know that two – our little redheads – are pullets (girl chicks). And we are pretty sure the other barred Plymouth Rock, Chick Norris’ twin, is a hen. We arrived at this conclusion very scientifically…she doesn’t look like Chick Norris, so therefore is a hen. See how we’re catching on to this chicken farming stuff?

13055286_10209585444496610_3658281857654009960_nThat leaves our Polish chick and our little, fluffy cochin as the big question marks in the chicken nursery. The Polish chick has flair. He/she has attitude. He/she has an amazing updo. His/Her name will be Don or Donna Chicken A La King.

(You may have noticed that we like to have a tad bit of fun with the name game on the farm. Let us never forget Spamela Anderson and Jerry Swinefeld the hogs, Ferris Muler the mule, and Harry Ass Truman, the donkey.)

We have names picked out for the other chicks…but I’ll save that reveal for another day, another post, and, well, once we really know who is what.

In the meantime, the next big milestone is getting the new chicken coop all fixed up and ready for move-in day. Our young feathered family should be old enough to move out of the garage nursery and into their new chicken condo in a week or two depending on Mother Nature’s whims. What an exciting day that will be. I know you’re all on the edge of your seats.

The girlsWhat I can tell you about my chicken adventure so far is that I’m head over heels in love with these crazy little dinosaurs (Hey…google it. Chicken = tiny T-Rex). I think we might just be able to sell the television once they move into their fancy new digs outside. I’ll just want to watch them doing their crazy chicken things all the time.

Well, except for when House Hunters International is on. Or Fixer Uppers. Or anything on HGTV. Oh…Walking Dead next fall. I’ll definitely want to see that.

OK, the t.v. stays, but I do anticipate lots of great fun watching the Home Chicken Network (HCN). Stay tuned for new episodes!

 

The Dangers of Shopping at Tractor Supply in Springtime

our babies

Let’s be 100% clear. This is not totally my fault.

Yes, I have been known to bring home stray dogs. Even stray donkeys. And yes, I have purchased rather large horses without consulting with Jim. Guilty.

But this time, I’m not to blame. Not totally.

We stopped at Tractor Supply on Sunday JUST to grab a bag of horse feed. That’s all. Quick stop. In, grab the feed, get back out. Simple.

Let me preface the rest of this story by telling you that Jim happened to bring home a flyer all about raising baby chickens. Odd, but they were handing them out at check-out last time he was there. Yeah. He just picked it up and happened to bring it home. He wasn’t suggesting anything.

OR WAS HE?

So back to Sunday.

We were heading back to the stacks of horse feed…which happen to be directly adjacent to the area where they keep baby chicks every spring. Little tiny peeps popping into the air were like the magnet of a siren song. My feet made a beeline.

“Awwwww…look. Jim. LOOOOOOK.”

He was looking. And looking. And I was looking. And looking.

And we looked at each other.

Were we about to be really spontaneous? It’s really not a great idea to decide to add an animal to your world on a whim. It’s really not. I tell people that all the time.

But Jim and I are admittedly not normal people. And we’ve been pondering the idea of adding chickens to the farm for some time now. There are perks.

Eggs.

Weed control.

Bug control.

Justification. BAM.

Our “in the door, out the door” quick stop into Tractor Supply turned into an hour-long shopping extravaganza (would eggs-travaganza be too cute here? Perhaps).

We bought a stock tank to serve as a nursery. We bought a heat lamp, chick feed, a feeder and special water bowl. We had to have wood shavings for bedding. Oh, and a book all about raising chicks.

And yeah, we bought chicks. Jim let me pick them out. One because it was pretty. One because it was spunky. Another because it wasn’t doing well and I couldn’t bear to leave it there with the other chicks stepping on it. Two because I loved the white spots on their little black heads. Two more because they were sexed pullets so we would be guaranteed at least two hens. The rest could be roosters, or they could be hens…a total gamble. Fingers crossed for more girls than boys!

We raced home, laughing at ourselves for our spur-of-the-moment new farming enterprise. We set up the nursery in our garage with a heater to keep the air warm and the heat lamp affixed to one end of the trough. Nursery complete, we introduced the little peepers to their new digs.

Six of them immediately started investigating. Our little quiet one just sat in the warmth of the heat lamp. Sadly, despite our best efforts (and we did try!), the tiny little guy, who was struggling when we bought him, didn’t make it.

We kind of knew that was going to happen. But hey, he got to be loved for just a little bit there.

The remaining six were still doing quite well. They were active, they were eating and drinking, and they were pooping. In fact, some got a little poop stuck to their tiny, fuzzy bums. But…um…it would fall off, right?

After arriving at work this morning, I checked in with my co-worker and resident chicken expert, Lindsay. She informed me that poopy chicken butts must be cleaned immediately or the babies could get sick.

Huh.

So I called Jim. Here’s how that conversation went…

Me: “Hey, you know how some of the baby chicks have poop stuck to their butts?”
Jim: “Yeah…”
Me: “Well, Lindsay says that’s bad and needs to be cleaned off asap.”
Jim: “So you’re saying you want me to go out and wash chicken butts?”
Me: “Yes. Yes I am.”
Jim: “Don’t you want me to wait so you can video that for Facebook?”

Oh Jim. You get me. You really get me.

And yeah…I sort of DID want to be able to video that little feat of chicken grooming. But the need for clean butts trumped my desire to have him wait the eight hours so I could document it. Plus, I’m guessing we’ll have another opportunity…or six.

All in all, I’d say we’re off to a great start as chicken farmers at Tails You Win Farm. Especially if I arrive home to nothing but shiny, clean chick tushies.

You’re on that, right Jim?

Jim?

 

 

The Night Shift.

Home from the hunt

If you look closely, you will see what Kainan sees. One to the far right, one to the far left. The night shift is heading home.

The young couple heads home from the night shift. Traffic is light. Most of the world is still stretching and shaking off the last fog of sleep.

They have had a busy night. They always have a busy night. Their work follows routine, familiar trails where the likelihood of finding field mice, bunnies, and other small prey is high. It’s hard work, especially in the winter, but now the days are a bit longer, and the warmer temperatures mean bounty. Their full bellies will now provide sustenance for the warm, squirming secret they have tucked safely in a deep burrow by the big pond.

Now it is time to rest. Time to recover. Time to enjoy the safety of their haven. Tonight, when the moon peeks above the treeline, it will be their cue to clock-in once again. They will announce the start of their work night with a mellifluous chorus and the neighboring workforce will answer. It’s an ancestral ritual, passed through generations. It is a confirmation of life, of boundaries, of territory.

On this morning, just as at sunrise yesterday, the young coyotes dart carefully and purposefully from the cover of the trees across the open pasture. It is this last part of their path that leaves them open, vulnerable in the morning spotlight.  But they are not afraid. They know this place; they know the others who share their home.

The dogs come rushing out of the house, but the coyotes know they will stop. They have a fence they will honor. The wild ones pause, sitting to watch the silly dogs racing up and down the fence shattering the early morning peace with their frustrated cries. The coyotes know the dogs will soon become bored with this game. They will go back to the house to do whatever it is domestic dogs do.

But they know one will remain. He is different. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t race around aimlessly. He just watches with quiet intensity. This one both fascinates and unnerves the coyotes. There is something about him that is like them, but also very different. He is huge and powerful in comparison to their lithe, agile frames. Even from a distance, they are able to meet and hold his gaze, for just a moment, before moving on. They know this one.

Often, during their night shift, they sense him there. He lies in the big yard, but he does not sleep like the other dogs do. He watches. He samples the wind with his long snout. His ears remain alert and pinpointed to their every move.

Yes, this one is different. He seems to understand the need that drives the coyotes every single night. He will sit and watch them in rain, snow, or cold. On some level, he seems a part of their world. But no, he is on the wrong side of the fence. He lives in the house.

The big wolfdog watches. Every morning he sees the coyotes cross the field. Part of him wants to race the fence and bark at them with his housemates, but he never does. He sits back and studies. He knows by the scent on the wind that this pair has young in a burrow just behind the big tree on the north side of the pond. He knows they work long nights. It is a job called survival.

On some deep level he is drawn to them. Sometimes he adds his deep howl to their evening chorus, speaking a language that was born to him. He could go. The fence that separates his world from theirs is not insurmountable.

But he doesn’t go. The other half of his brain always wins. He watches as the coyotes disappear into the camouflage of dense brush that leads to their home. Then the big wolfdog turns back toward the house, where he hears the call that puts his wild side to bed for the day and summons the playful dog.

“Kainan! Breakfast!”

Romp in Peace.

Run in Peace Big Paul

A Haiku for Big Paul

His shell rests in peace
Beneath the disrupted soil
But his spirit soars

I looked at out toward the pasture at first light to find that all color had been replaced by the sun’s golden glory painted on a canvas of rolling fog. Nature was welcoming the day with spectacular enthusiasm.

Then my eyes fell on a dark, slightly mounded patch of earth out near a small evergreen tree. One of our horses was standing near the spot, sniffing the clumps of dirt, then grazing nearby. Did she know? Could she tell that her fallen friend was buried there?

I suspect yes. Since the moment Big Paul stretched out on the ground and his beautiful heart gave one last beat, it has been interesting to watch the reaction of the other animals. When Paul went down, the entire herd, five horses, one mule, one miniature horse, one standard donkey, five miniature donkeys, and one sheep, stayed nearby, on watch at a seemingly respectful distance.

Paul died next to the opening in the fence that allows the animals to pass from our smaller pasture out into our big pasture. Paul’s body was not blocking the path, but not one of the horses or donkeys was willing to pass through the gate. Each came, in turn, to sniff Paul, to understand that he had made his transition. And then they all returned to the small pasture to munch on hay and bask in the early morning sun.

It was comforting to me to watch them slowly approach him, to see how they very carefully, but without caution or fear, stretched their necks forward to inhale Paul’s scent. Stepping all around him, but not disturbing him, they learned what they needed to know, seemingly paid their respects, perhaps said their farewells, and then moved forward.

Each animal moved forward. It was simple, it was respectful, and their acceptance of this change in their herd was beautiful. While none of the horses lingered directly with Paul’s body, they also seemed reluctant to move away from him. It wasn’t until Jim moved Paul out to the spot in the pasture where he would be buried that the horses left the small pasture and returned to their normal routines.

It occurred to me that animals may know something we do not. I have come to believe it is their gift to see a natural death as a gentle friend, rather than a great unknown. Perhaps they have a more pure, unbiased understanding of what comes next than their human counterparts do.

I know it is customary to bless the departed with the words “rest in peace.” I appreciate the sentiment, and I am grateful for those who so sincerely wish peace in a time of grief. But I have never felt comfortable with the idea that when we die, it means eternal rest. It does not fit the story that plays in my mind about what I hope comes to pass in the ever-after. If I have learned anything from living on our farm and watching animals in this moment of ultimate grace, then I think it’s time for a new saying.

So I say romp in peace, Paulie. Race in peace. Buck, roll, leap, and play in peace, big guy. This is how I will picture you. That place in the pasture where the earth is broken only covers your body, the shell that housed your incredible spirit. But I know you’re not there.

On this golden morning, I know you are finally free to do as you please. And while everything in my world still feels a bit broken, that’s not on you…it’s all about me. I will miss you. I will miss standing at your side and feeling so tiny next to your massive frame. I will miss the warmth of your neck when I reached up to wrap my arms around it. I will  miss your deep, rumbling greeting at the pasture gate.

Right now I am sad for me, sad for my loss, but I’ll get better. I will learn from your herd-mates and I will move forward. I will step into this perfect day with a mortar mixed of memories and gratitude carefully bonding the cracks in my heart.

And maybe someday, if I am very lucky, my ever-after will include that ride you and I had always planned. That, my giant friend, would be Heaven.

Sunshine Paul

 

 

In The South Field

Look south

The big horse, tired and confused, peered out of the back of the trailer. Another new place. More new horses to meet. Another struggle to find his place in the pecking order.

Heaving a deep sigh, the strawberry blonde Belgian draft gelding stepped out of the trailer and into a patch of thick, still-green grass. The fall air was crisp and swirled through his mane, bringing scents of the farm to his flaring nostrils. One step at a time, thought the horse, and he dropped his head to hungrily graze the first green grass he had seen in months.

Ah, what a treat. Enjoy it while you can, he thought, who knows how long this will last. And so he greedily ripped up mouthful after mouthful in case the woman holding the lead rope attached to his halter decided to bring his feast to a sudden end.

Oh sure, with his mass he could easily pull the rope from her hands and run. He had thought about that idea often over the course of the last several weeks. Just run. It would be easy. He outweighed every human by more than 1000 pounds. He could just run and knew he would bolt to the south. He felt sure he would find her there…she was south.

But his years of training and his naturally quiet, gentle demeanor always foiled his plan. You go with the human. You listen to the human. You don’t betray the human no matter what. It was a mandate that was firmly and deeply embedded in his brain. He now honored that mandate as the woman gently pulled his head up and started walking him toward a nearby barn.

“Come on, Big Paul,” she said. Big Paul…she had been saying those words a lot since the moment she came to see him at the last place he stayed. Big Paul.

IMG_5280She led him into a small pasture where he was immediately surrounded by a herd of tiny donkeys. Long ears pricked forward, nose stretched toward him as five pairs of nostrils flared, drawing his scent in. Oh he wanted nothing to do with these little pests. South, thought Paul. Just go south.

The big horse immediately turned and headed to the very far corner of the pasture and stood, his head hanging low as he fixed his gaze on a point over the fence. The woman came and joined him there, talking softly, offering him a delicious, juicy apple. As he crunched the treat, she ran a brush over him, loosening the dirt from his coat. Oh, it felt so good.

The woman spoke words that he didn’t understand. “Safe now.”

“Home.”

“Love you.”

“Forever.”

The big horse glanced at her from time to time, wary of her, yet also feeling a growing sense of trust replacing the unease that had lived in his heart for what seemed like such a long time now. Maybe the words she repeated held some promise. There were no smells of fear here. The other horses and donkeys were calm and curious. Maybe. Maybe this was finally the route to south.

As days passed, Paul slowly settled in at this new place. Each time the woman or the man, who also lived here, would come to the small pasture, his eyes would crease with worry, but each time the people came there were only gentle words and strokes on his massive neck. No ropes. No shuffling from pen to pen. No trailers.

In time, Paul’s worried expression relaxed into a gentle look of expectation. Would there be an apple today? Maybe one of those crunchy cookies? Will you brush me while I eat today? Paul let his guard down little by little and allowed for a new word in his vocabulary: Hope.

Getting to know youAnd so this was his life at the new place he came to understand was “home.” Days were easy and carefree. There was no work, there was only rest, play, eat, sleep. There were friends, other horses, who accepted him. Even the pesky little donkeys were growing on him. There was always hay and fresh water. There was never a lack of feed. The people were always there too, smiling, scratching in all the good places, talking of that “love” thing all the time. Paul was starting to believe every word.

It was good. Very good.

But still, there was south. His heart was always being pulled to the south. She was south. He felt sure that if he just stood and looked hard enough, he might actually see her coming for him.

Months passed at the new place and Paul found that he was indeed “safe now.” He no longer worried about what might come next. He knew what was next and it was pleasant and easy. His life had finally settled into a happy routine.

One bright morning, Paul was taking a deep drink of cool water. The dawn was beautiful, amber colors streaking across the sky with the promise of a gorgeous spring day. As Paul lifted his head and let the water drip from his lips he suddenly felt her presence. She was here!

He left the trough in a hurry, rushing to get to the place where he always looked to the south. In that moment he could hear her, she was calling to him. She was nearby, so close. His heart raced with joy.

“I’m here old friend…I think they call you Big Paul now. I like that.”

“Don’t rush,” she said. “We have all the time in the world. I’m here now. We’ll go to the south soon. Just rest first, just rest.”

As excited as he was to see her, he was suddenly so tired. Each time he lifted a giant hoof it felt as thought it was made of lead. Each step became an effort. He felt unsteady and just so exhausted. The sum of years and years of hard work rushed back to render his muscles useless, his legs weak.

So he listened to her. “Just lie down. Rest in the warmth of the morning light. When you wake up, I’ll be with you and we’ll go. It’s time to go south, my big friend.”

With a deep breath, Paul collapsed to the ground and stretched out on his side. He was so tired that even lifting his head required too much effort. His vision blurred as he drifted away into blissful sleep.

In his last moments of consciousness he could hear the voices calling to him. “Paul? Paul? Oh no. Paulie!” It was his humans. The man and the woman were calling to him. They were petting him, pressing their faces to him. He could smell the salt of their tears.

In that moment, his giant heart wanted to shake off the soft darkness that was pulling into a deep slumber. He wanted to wake up long enough to give these people one last nuzzle, but sleep called. He just needed to rest.

The woman laid on his big shoulder. He could feel her there. She whispered the words that were now so very familiar. “Safe now.”

“Home.”

“Love you.”

“Forever.”

The big horse tucked those words into his heart as he let go. As he let the deep sleep take hold.

HilltopThen, just as soon as they had shut, his big brown eyes blinked open. Everything was perfectly clear now. He stretched his long legs and gathered them under him to push himself to stand. Oh, he felt wonderful! No aches, no pain. He shook his whole body in absolute delight.

And then he remembered.

Looking just to his right, he saw her. To his right, as she had always been. She was basically his mirror image. They had been together for so many years, working side by side. Sleeping side by side. Eating side by side. He on the left, she on the right. She was his partner. She was the horse who made him whole.

He briefly flashed back to the day she had been pulled away from him. She had been limping, her strong front leg injured, and she could no longer work by his side. Despite his frantic calls, she had been taken away and loaded into a big trailer that headed south. It was the last time he would ever see her. Until now.

And suddenly there she stood. She too must have had a really good rest because she looked beautiful and perfect, as she had years ago when they were quite young. She was strong, tall, and shining. She was waiting for him.

He moved to her immediately, pressing his head against her shoulder in greeting as she reached up and scratched her teeth along the top of his withers, just as she had every day for years. He couldn’t believe his luck, she was here too. Did his new humans find her and bring her to him?

Looking around, Paul realized they were definitely at the place called home. He could see the house, the barn, and the pastures with the donkeys and the other horses. Everything was normal, except for one thing. Everything was to the north and Big Paul was outside the fence, in the pasture to the south.

Paul stood watching just as the man and woman came out of the house and walked toward the barn. As he saw them step through the gate leading into the small pasture – the place where he had always waited for his apple and his feed – he gave a low, rumbling nicker, the one that came from that spot deep in his soul. The one that came from the place born of hope.

And in that very moment, the woman looked up, an expression of confusion and then realization dawning on her face. She looked to the south, right where Paul now stood, and smiled as she handed an apple to one of the horses.

With that, Big Paul turned his face into the gentle wind that played through his mane and he followed her, his partner. Together they walked to the south, a team once again. Together they went into the promised place called forever.

 

First morning

Big Paul in his favorite spot at Tails You Win Farm, aka: Home.

 

I have written this story as much for myself as I have as a tribute for Big Paul. Big Paul was horse that captured my heart from a simple photograph. He was featured on a Facebook page filled with photos of horses at a kill buyer feedlot. In the photo, he was standing alone, head hanging down, eyes half shut as if to keep the reality of his situation from piercing his consciousness. 

When I saw his photo, Paul was in imminent danger of being herded onto a stock trailer to begin a grueling journey to Mexico where he would be sold, based on weight, to a slaughterhouse. It is, in my opinion, a torturous,  inhumane demise for creatures who have stood by us for so long, as our partners in work and in pleasure. To me, it is the ultimate betrayal of trust.

But it is a deep and longstanding problem. There are too many horses. There are not enough good homes. People fall on hard times. People look the other way. People are often irresponsible. And we fail our big friends, time and time again.

The topic of horse slaughter will stir up passionate debate and emotion faster than you can blink an eye. There are many sides to the story…many what ifs, and lots of finger pointing. I don’t have answers for the problem. I know what I feel…I know I wish the castaway horses could all find peaceful homes, or at least a humane end closer to home. Sparing them the long trip to an unregulated slaughterhouse in a foreign country seems to me the most important issue to immediately address.

And there are those who say we should not buy horses from the kill buyer feedlots. You’re just giving them money, they say – more money than they would make if the horse sold for slaughter. You are giving them more money to just turn around and buy more horses. I guess that’s true. 

But the reality is that the kill buyers will continue to buy horses. They will continue to sell them to slaughter. It’s their business. I don’t like it, but I also don’t have other answers for the thousands and thousands of unwanted horses that pass through their lots each year. Just as I don’t have a quick fix for the thousands of dogs and cats who die in animal shelters every single day. 

What I do know is that we can each do what we can…what feels right. For me, seeing Paul’s photo and making a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy him and turn his fate around was the right thing for me to do. He was a gentle giant. He had a good heart. Though his faith in humans was obviously shaken, he was willing to trust again and again. 

Paulie was an older guy than we first suspected. It didn’t matter to me one bit. I knew his time with us would be limited…though I really expected years, not mere months. But the reality is this: Jim and I brought Paul to our home to save him from a terrible end, to give him good care, to let him experience a quiet, carefree life, and to just love him. In the months he was with us, I believe we did just that. Mission accomplished.

As for Paul, well, I don’t believe he is waiting anywhere for me now. I sure hope not. I am not Paul’s forever after. Jim and I were just the bridge to his ultimate reward. He spent a lot of time gazing over the fence to the south. He always had an expression of quiet expectation on his handsome, wise face when he did that. 

I’m told that big working draft horses are often a part of a team. They work and live as a pair day in and day out. If one of the team dies, it’s said that the other horse often becomes useless…lost without the constant companionship of his partner. 

I always felt that Paul was looking for his partner. He seemed somehow lost, even in a crowd. He was incomplete. 

Now, I believe with all of my heart that Paul has found her, the partner that stepped into this story from my imagination. I think she is real and I think she came to take Big Paul to his forever. In my mind’s eye, I watched them walk together – two tall, strong twin draft horses – once again a handsome team.

As for me? Well, knowing everything I know now…knowing my time with Big Paul was too, too short, I can honestly say I would buy him again, a hundred times over. He taught us so much in our time together and it was our honor to help him find  his happily ever after.

A lot of people helped make Paul’s rescue possible. Friends and people we don’t even know fell in love with photos of the big horse, and helped fund his purchase and care until we could bring him to Tails You Win Farm. That’s the type of kindness you can never repay, but I hope my expression of sincere thanks makes our gratitude clear. Paulie had a village watching over him at the end of his time here and that love was reflected in his brown eyes more and more each day.

Thank you to everyone who cared. Most of all, thank you Big Paul. We changed your life for the better, just as you did ours. 

Nan and Paul 2         Jim and Paul

Seeing My Dog Obsession Clearly Now.

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Folly

She was only about four or five years old. Her bouncy, glossy brown ponytails were slightly askew, possibly because Dad had been the one to try to smooth them into place. He led her into the quiet gym and she knew exactly what to do. She immediately ran straight toward the small kid zone in the back of the facility.

“Slow down!” her father called out protectively as he quickly followed her to be sure she settled in with the toys before he started his workout.

Even after she was well into whatever story-line her imagination was spinning, Dad kept a close watch on her, glancing back repeatedly between each set of weights. While it was obvious the small girl was safe-beyond me, there was just one other woman working out on a Monday evening-I understood his watchful concern.

EPSON MFP image

Five year old Nan

The little girl, who was chatting away with an imaginary friend as she played, was wearing a tiny pair of pink glasses and had a patch completely covering her right eye. I knew this look. I once was this little girl.

My body kept moving through my workout, but my mind hit rewind to a place in time about 52 years ago. Surprisingly, I remember it clearly. I was only two years old and my mother was bringing groceries into our house when she stopped and took a long, hard look at me. “Stop doing that,” she said as she lifted me to sit on the kitchen counter in front of her. “Stop crossing your eyes.”

She thought it was some terrible trick that perhaps my older sisters had encouraged. She thought I was doing it on purpose. My next words were the last words she thought she’d hear, and certainly words she did not want to hear.

“I can’t.”

There are a lot of technical terms that swirl around this condition. Crossed eyes are technically called strabismus. When it occurs in a very young child, it is often accompanied by an amblyopic or “lazy” eye, as the child’s brain works to sort out the double vision and learns to rely on just one, dominant eye. Both issues, as in my case, can be caused by extreme farsightedness and, best case scenario, can be corrected non-surgically with prescription glasses and therapy.

It wasn’t that simple for me. My strabismus had to be corrected through surgery on the muscles that controlled my eyes.

In addition to a clear memory of the day my eyes decided to make my condition undeniably apparent, I remember the day I had my surgery. I remember being in a hospital crib with high bars on the sides. My parents said I was like a little monkey in the bed, so I giggled and gave my best impersonation.

I remember a family friend, who would also serve as my anesthesiologist, coming to carry me to surgery so I wouldn’t be afraid. Then, to aid in my recovery, came the giant eye patch over my right eye and the tiny pair of glasses-mine were pale blue. Finally, there was the therapy that, in my memory, was pure torture.

Because I was so tiny, I had to sit on my mom’s lap to peer into a screen on a machine that was too big to be a comfortable fit for me. It was my job to tell the lady sitting opposite us, my therapist, when the circle on the screen moved inside the square. I had knobs I turned to try to make it happen, but I was so young and so frustrated that most sessions just ended with me dissolving  into  tears. Two to three year old Nancy was not amused.

Through all of the stressful memories, I also have a really great one: Folly. Folly was a large, flatulent basset hound-our beloved family dog. She was always described as a sweet soul; patient, lumbering, and sturdy on stubby legs, her giant, silky ears nearly dragging the floor. Her steady demeanor served her, and me, quite well. Folly stepped in to provide therapy of the canine kind as she quite unintentionally became a toddler’s seeing eye dog.

My post surgery world was still askew and that made being a newcomer to the sport of walking an even more unstable proposition. But according to stories told through the years, Folly came to my rescue. Little flashes of memory provide glimpses of a long, curved tail at just the right height. I can see myself extending a chubby hand to grasp that tail as if it were a handle on a harness, and somehow dear Folly accepted her new “job” with good nature.

My mother always swore that Folly was my furry guardian angel. Folly kept me entertained, staying by my side, leading me carefully around the house, day after day, for weeks that turned into months.

me and Toby 2Is this how a crazy dog woman was born? Was Folly my initiation into the clan of the dog-obsessed? It’s hard to say. I tend to believe my love for animals is hard-wired in my DNA, but I certainly credit Folly for nurturing it at an early age.

From that point on, dogs were a magnet for me. I had a deep connection with every family dog we had, and wanted to take in every stray dog that wandered into our neighborhood. Now, that early spark has been fanned into a full-blown passion; a way of life, and a livelihood as well. If everything does indeed happen for a reason, then my eyes apparently crossed to allow me to actually see my path forward more clearly.

I’m very grateful to Folly for allowing me to cling to her when I really needed a friend. I only have one photo of that dear, odoriferous hound, but I carry her image in my heart and I hope I have repaid her kindness to tiny, wobbly me by becoming the best crazy dog lady I can possibly be.

As I left the weights for the cardio half of my workout, I stopped to talk with the diligent dad for a moment. I found that his daughter did, in fact, have the same issues I had as a youngster. She too had surgery and was now going through therapy. I told him about my journey and I could see him looking carefully into my eyes, confirming for himself that they were straight and normal. He asked how long I had worn my glasses and a few other questions. I answered reassuringly. Then, as I was moving away, I looked back and asked if his daughter had a dog.

“Oh yes, she loves our dog. They’re always together.”

I smiled and told him my childhood dog had been important to me as well. I couldn’t help but laugh a little as I hopped on the nearest treadmill. Oh Dad, I thought, there is no way I can prepare you for what is likely to come next. I hope you really like dogs too.

As I plugged my headphones in, I glanced back at the sweet little girl in the hot pink glasses. “Welcome to the clan, little one,” I whispered. “Welcome.”

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.