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!”

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.

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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.”

Tell Me Where It Hurts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just tell me where it hurts.

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

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

Today. Perhaps today you will start to feel better.

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

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Toby on the job with Jim.

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

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

Record shattered.

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

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

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

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

This time, he did not stick the landing.

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

Everything seemed fine. Until it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently you should not punch yourself in the liver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

419009_3567443188411_1486329491_n   Snow dogs

If I Could Talk to the Turtles

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

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

Lyrics from the theme song to Dr. Doolittle 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tootsie

A-one, a-two…CRUNCH…a-threeeee.

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

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

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

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

“I might need your help with something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s madness, I tell you.

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

turtle pond

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

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

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

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

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

Tutle and my feet

Nancy, Turtle Whisperer.

Talk to the Animals? I’d Rather Listen.

Toby boss 2

There is a lot of talking going on in this moment…but not a sound was made.

As humans, I think we are a rather arrogant species.

We are!

We spend a lot of time talking about how to train animals, to make them understand our language. We come up with all sorts of tools and gadgets to make animals do our bidding. Sometimes we yell, we bark out commands like a drill sergeant. And all of our efforts are often met with confusion and stress.

Boy. We’re really missing out.

Animals of all species have rich language. They communicate subtly and effectively. The twitch of an ear. A glance. A flick of a tongue. The curve of a back.

If only we could just hush for just a bit. If we could just learn to stop filling the silence with a lot of words that are often not given the chance to have meaning, we could learn so much. We could work together with our companion animals so much more effectively.

The horse trainer who understands an ear turned one way or the other, or the message of a horse making chewing motions and licking his lips, is the trainer who will work with a horse fairly and without force to form a meaningful bond.

A dog trainer who understands a deliberate glance away, a quick sit, a dropped head, or a big yawn, is a dog trainer who can work to make a huge difference for a stressed dog.

A human who understands what it means when a wolfdog gets up from his spot by the desk, walks all the way downstairs to find “something,” and returns just a few moments later to place a dog food bowl in said human’s lap…well…

Yeah. I got up from my desk and fed the dogs breakfast.

Sometimes animal communication is anything but subtle. Sometimes the language gap is bridged rather brilliantly.

Well done, Kainan, you clever boy. I heard you loud and clear.

Interested in learning more about how dogs communicate? This is a brilliant article written by Turid Rugaas on calming signals. She also has a great book entitled “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals.” Anyone who wants to learn to work with dogs…or just improve your relationship with your own dog should read this book.

Wolfdogs in the House: And Then There Were Two

2014-10-18 23.22.50The sound emanating from the dog room had a mournful timbre—an intense, beautifully eerie vibrato. Kainan’s head swiveled with ears riveted as he listened intently. Then he threw his head back to answer the tenor’s cry in his own rich baritone.

If I had heard this duet while walking through the woods at night, well, I would have been entranced and in need of new undies all at once. I would love to book this act for Halloween night. There are no sound effects in the world to rival this hair-standing-on-end opera.

So yes, the title of this piece reads “Wolfdogs in the House.” Yep. You read that right. WolfdogS.

Just over a week ago, my Facebook feed started blowing up with people sharing a photo of a dog that was at the animal shelter in Owasso, a nearby town. The dog had a certain “look,” if you know what I mean. And because of his look, he was deemed illegal within the city limits. He was in trouble.

When it comes to rescuing animals, the Facebook alert system can have the same effect as the beam of bat-infused light that prompts Bruce Wayne to squeeze into his tight, abs-built-right-in suit and then bolt off to once again save the city of Gotham. My slightly less theatrical bat signal came in the form of a private message from my friend Stephanie at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue.

10726645_766054940121746_1459711085_nThe question seemed almost tentative and was followed quickly by a pleading-eyes photo. I could imagine Sarah McLachlan crooning in the background, “…in the arms of the angel.” I could even feel Stephanie holding her breath as she awaited my reply.

“You got room and willing to do it again?” She asked.

I understood her hesitation. It was just over a month ago that Jim and I welcomed Kainan, our resident wolfdog, as a permanent member of our family. Right after that yes-he-can-stay decision, Kainan started stealing everything. He developed a taste for sheetrock. He took it upon himself to join our rank amateur dogs in redesigning the landscape of our backyard.

Oh yes. I understood her hesitation all too well.

But one look at that photo and of course I agreed to go get this boy out of the shelter. I am admittedly an easy mark. We agreed that I would spring him from the shelter, get him checked over by my veterinarian, and then house him for a few days until I could deliver him to Stephanie’s house.

On the following Thursday, after his required 72 hour holding period had expired, I made the 30 minute drive to the Owasso animal shelter to liberate our new temporary (picture that word chiseled in stone) boy. The shelter staff…who first reported that it was a female wolfdog and later changed that report to “oh, wait, it’s a male,” (ummm…so girls have…and boys have…yeah) had told us that the wolfdog was thin and very frightened. I was not worried. I have always had good mojo with shy/frightened dogs.

When they first brought him out to me, I could tell that he was nervous and unsure…you know, the old “what the hell now” expression clouding his expression. I sat down in a chair, not directly facing him, and within a few moments, he carefully sniffed me and decided that I might be OK. Considering that at any given moment I probably have the scent of no fewer than 25 dogs wafting around me like the dust cloud that follows Charlie Brown’s buddy Pigpen, I have to believe I’m a tad appealing.

As I helped WD2 into my Jeep I will admit to a tiny “what have I gotten myself into now” moment. Another wolfdog in the house? With all of my dogs? With Kainan? Well, hello hindsight, my taunting friend. You’d think I’d learn, but hey, planning things in advance can be so crazy overrated, right?

First stop with WD2 was a visit to my dear veterinarian friends who have basically grown numb to me walking through their doors, unannounced, with yet another dog or critter, domestic or otherwise, in need of their attention. I believe I even heard one of the staff members close a phone conversation by saying, “I have to go. Gallimore just walked in with another wolf.”

I think I’m becoming a bit too predictable.

WD2 was nervous, but behaved well as Dr. Henson gave him an exam. I remember one moment when the good doctor, who was crouched down directly in front of WD2’s muzzle, said, “Do you think he’ll tolerate a blood draw for his heartworm test?”

“Uh. Sure?”

I’m fairly certain my wishy-washy answer did not give Dr. Henson the rush of confidence he hoped for, but we had one great tool on our side. WD2 was thin and really hungry. I held a piece of food for him to nibble while Dr. Henson aided by Chris, the fearless veterinary technician, quickly drew a small amount of blood from WD2’s front leg. He never knew what hit him.

One hurdle down, it was time to head home and get this guy into the house. By myself. With 20-someodd other dogs vying to be the first to sniff his nether regions. Yay.

In just the span of time we were in the car together, I was already seeing some differences between WD2 and Kainan. They were equally wolf-like in appearance, but behaviorally, Kainan had always been pretty easy going. This might have had something to do with the fact that, at just 38 pounds when we initially rescued him, he was nearly starved to death and very weak. But even with more than 30 pounds gained (and still gaining!), he was still a relatively placid, albeit more playful, boy.

20141018_104434WD2 wasn’t in much better shape at 46 pounds, but he was different. He paced the back of my Jeep. He tried to dig into the floor. He wanted to climb into the front seat. He wanted to climb into my lap. He tried to “borrow” my purse. He immediately started chewing on the tarp that covered the floor of the cargo area (the tarp in place because I learned the hard way that some newly rescued dogs do unspeakable things in the back of your vehicle. The very hard way. )

It was a drive home that required me to watch the road and the rear view mirror in equal parts. Of course I knew that WD2 was stressed, so it was not fair to judge him too quickly, but still, there was just something that felt very different to me about this wolfdog. The old gut instinct was waving a red flag. It wasn’t a fearful feeling, but maybe a feeling that this guy was more of a handful than my sweet Kainan.

More of a handful? Those words struck terror into my heart. While we loved having Kainan as part of our family, living with him had not exactly been a walk in the park. His curiosity, mischievous nature, and propensity for kleptomania required constant supervision. I could not imagine Kainan squared. I could imagine the policeman being interviewed on the evening news, “We’re really not sure what happened. It appears that the house was somehow chewed down from the inside out. We found the human residents just sitting in a corner rocking and babbling nonsense.”

I did arrive home safely and managed to get WD2 into one of the indoor/outdoor runs in my dog room. As my herd of anything-but-subtle dogs flooded in to check out the newcomer on the other side of the fence, he displayed classic, wimpy wolf behavior. If you have read some of my previous posts, I mentioned that wolfdogs are not brave or confrontational. Beyond their impressive appearance, they make terrible watch dogs.

True to his wolf heritage, when confronted at the fence, WD2 pressed himself into the back corner, immediately sat, kept his muzzle pressed down to his chest, and bared his teeth—not in a menacing growl, but in a submissive grin. All of these behaviors were a clear message to the resident canines: Please, oh please don’t kill me.

Then Kainan came in. He stood very still and erect as he stared at the newcomer. Long lost brother? Grand reunion? Well, initially Kainan seemed kind of excited to see WD2. Excited until the moment I went in the dog run to sit with and sooth my new foster wolfdog. For the first time in our relationship I heard Kainan issue some low grumbles at the fence. Awww…he didn’t want to share his she-human with another wolfdog (come on…just let me have this one).

WD2 started to relax and began sniffing noses with the other dogs and the nose-out-of-joint Kainan.  I believe WD2 really wanted to come out to engage in a rowdier-than-I-was-ready-for play session with some of my dogs. There was play posturing at the fence, but Jim and I decided that since this was just a short stay (seeeeee…we don’t keep them all!), it might be best to just keep everyone separated.

2014-10-23 14.16.19WD2 continued to show me that he might have a bit more wolf attitude in the wolf to dog ratio than I was prepared to handle. I watched him as he tested every part of the fence in his run. I watched him nose the gate latch to see if he might be able to open it. I watched him look up to the top of the six foot fence and I immediately wondered if I would be running out to buy material to add a secure top to his run.

At feeding time, as I entered his pen, WD2…every bit as hungry as Kainan always was/is…immediately stood on his hind legs, putting him easily at eye level with 5’9” me, wrapped a front leg firmly around my shoulder, and, in this secure tango hold, proceeded to grab at the food in the bowl. Nothing about this was threatening to me personally, but he was being very rude. Food spilling everywhere, I wriggled free from his unwelcome embrace and backed out of the run to regroup.

Wow.

I forgave some of this behavior. WD2 had experienced a hard week with lots of change, so stress and starvation undoubtedly played into his overly enthusiastic attitude at mealtime.

But still. There was just something different about this animal. Maybe that word was the key: animal. WD2 seemed more primal than Kainan—a bit more flighty and unpredictable. I never felt he was dangerous, but I certainly believed he could be a great challenge to live with and to keep safely contained.

20141018_104256On the following Saturday, I made the drive to Jones, Oklahoma with WD2 actually relaxing in the back of my Jeep. He was a very good boy for the drive there and when we arrived at his new foster home we were greeted by a chorus of howls from the other residents of Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. It was a beautiful serenade, though it put WD2 a bit on edge.

Stephanie, her daughter, and their young wolfdog Yuma welcomed us. Again, unlike the very gregarious Kainan, WD2 was a bit hesitant during the introductions and took a few moments to warm up. Once he seemed comfortable with his new human friends, I hopped back in my Jeep, happy in the knowledge that I had played a part in saving this beautiful boy, but happier still that he was now someone else’s beautiful boy.

During the 90 minute drive home, I had time to think about my expanding knowledge of wolfdogs. This brief time with two wolfdogs in my care provided some very clear lessons that confirmed everything I have read as well as what I have been told by my Freedom Song friends. First, temperaments in wolfdogs vary greatly. Some—like Kainan—are very tractable and can make wonderful companions, while some display more classic wolf behavior.

Second, had WD2 come into our lives BK (before Kainan), I doubt there would be a wolfdog living in our midst. Though he was sweet, based on our brief relationship, I did not feel I could have successfully integrated WD2 into our home. Third, and perhaps most important, WD2 taught me that we truly won the wolfdog lottery with Kainan…he is smart, affectionate, a wonderful companion, and a great ambassador for his kind.

Of course, as I see him dart out the dog door with something red in his mouth, I am reminded that his lovely disposition doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges.  Ah, and now Jim is yelling something about a favorite shirt. Uh oh. Time to run. Literally.

Heeeeere wolfdog. Gooooood wolfdog. (Really. Good wolfdog.)

2014-10-23 18.03.55

Kainan and our Australian cattle dog, Boog. An easy, welcome fit into our home.

Wolfdog in the House: My, What Big Feet You Have

Kainan 9 14 14As I stand in the dog room waiting for Kainan to throw up, I have a little time to study his conformation. Oh yes, you read that right. I’m waiting for Kainan to throw up.

Don’t worry, he’s not sick. He’s sneaky…and a thief…and he just stole and swallowed half a bag of large marshmallows…bag and all. Sigh. Mr. Look-what-I-can-do strikes again.

How he reached the marshmallows from their position on our very high, very deep kitchen island is beyond me, but that seals it. There is nothing in this house our wolfdog can’t reach. NOTHING.

Anyhow, as with all stolen items, Kainan raced into the yard with his sugary, fluffy prize. Of course the flap-flap of the dog door inspired our other dogs to give chase, and the chase inspired Kainan to swallow his prize whole, instead of possibly being forced to share it.

And that, my friends is how we arrive at this pre-vomitus moment. Jim and I decided that a potential intestinal obstruction would be a bad thing. A few doses of hydrogen peroxide should do the trick. Yep, he’s drooling and making that funny smiley face that always precedes the “gulping head bob” portion of the about-to-toss show.

A rough price to pay, Kainan…have you learned your lesson? I doubt it. What you likely learned is that you should not get caught when you snag a forbidden prize in the house.

With a little “wait-for-it” time on my hands, I took the opportunity to study Kainan and wonder just how much wolf our wolfie guy is. When we look at him, it’s easy to see that he is part wolf. The physical characteristics are there…but it’s also obvious that he is a mix of parts. Let’s review.

Following are some wolf characteristics I found courtesy of Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary’s website. Let’s see how Kainan stacks up.

  • Wolves’ nails are darkly colored.Wolves do not have clear or pink nails like some domestic dogs do.

10551488_10204877036749359_4110038824873177390_oCheck. All black toenails…figures I’d end up with a teenager who is into the Goth lifestyle. And his nails are sturdy, he is already excavating a new storm shelter in the yard.

  • Wolves do not have blue eyes, this is a domestic dog trait only.

Check. Beautiful, light, golden brown eyes that make all the bitches’ hearts go flutter.

  • Wolves have highly slanted almond shaped eyes with heavy dark eye lining.

Good natural eyeliner. I’m jealous. Almond shaped, yes, but perhaps not as extreme as a wolf’s eyes would be. A little domestic dog showing through there?

  • Wolves have extra large feet, with two protruding front toes. Not smaller, rounded feet like domestic dogs.

Check. His nickname could be Bigfoot. And yes, those front toes do protrude. He could easily wear cowboy boots. He’s a good Oklahoma wolfdog.

  • received_m_mid_1409405286251_621389b0b728bf7396_0Wolves will not have sharply defined white tail tips like many domestic dogs. Most often wolves will have black tail tips.

Check. Looks like he dipped it in a bucket of black paint.

  • Wolves have a caudal mark/scent gland, often called the precaudal gland, (a dark spot positioned a few inches down from the base of the tail)

Well looky there. Check. Some breeds of domestic dogs will have this spot too, so don’t start eyeing your dog suspiciously if you see a black spot on his tail. The hair in this spot on Kainan’s tail is actually different from the rest of his fur. Interesting.

  • Wolves’ chests are very narrow causing their long legs to be close together ending in large feet that are splayed to the side. Shoulders & hips are narrow for faster acceleration.

Check, check, check. See Kainan, you should be proud of your scrawny chest and skinny butt. Someday, apparently after you gain control of those gangly legs, you should be able to run really, really fast. Chin up, big guy.

  • Wolves’ back legs have a significant cow hock (hocks turned in…basically knock-kneed in the rear) look to them when at a standstill.

Um. Yeah. Check. Back to that “scrawny is good” parenting stuff.

  • Wolves have a banded pattern of longer fur ticked with stiff black hairs that creates a v shape draped across their shoulders. This band of fur is called a dorsal cape.

Shadow wolfIt’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superwolfdog!  Yes, he has his cape. It’s really impressive if he raises his hackles. Nifty little sideways Mohawk hairstyle. Check.

  • When they walk, wolves’ tails will not curl up or over their backs like a dogs tail will. Wolves’ tails are extremely straight.

Ok, Half a check. Kainan’s tail does hang straight down most of the time, but if he gets silly he can ring that sucker up over his back in a flash. This is one of the areas where he deviates from his wolf heritage a bit. There appears to be some Husky/Malamute influence popping out from time to time…and yes, we may have proof of that. I’ll explain that in just a bit.

  • Wolves can have many vocalizations, but do not bark like the typical domestic dog does.

So true. He woo-woos, he garumphs, he howls, but he doesn’t bark.

  • Male wolves testicles will be peanut sized all year round (and not fertile) until a period once a year in the winter months that correspond with a female wolf’s estrus. After mating the testicles will shrink down again so as to be barely noticeable, unlike a male domestic dog whose testicles remain the same size all year.

Well, now isn’t this embarrassing for Kainan? And, as I have learned from another blogger friend’s experience, isn’t this blog entry going to accidentally attract a whole new class of readers through the “search” option? Sorry to disappoint, new readers…it’s not what you think. No porn here, just peanuts. And yes, check. Our soon-to-be-huge wolfdog has little nuts for nuts. Sorry Kainan. Hope that doesn’t scar you for life. (Kudos to me…I refrained from adding photographic evidence here.)

  • Wolves have smaller, rounder, thicker, well-furred ears, not larger, thinner, or pointier ears like German Shepherds.

(Insert game show buzzer sound here) Major non-wolf characteristic on the wolfdog checklist. Kainan has lovely, the-better-to-hear-you-with ears that are larger, pointier and a bit less fuzzy than a wolf’s ears would be.

All-in-all, and despite knowing nothing about our foundling’s parents, it is easy to surmise that one of his parents was closely in touch with his wilder roots. But we also know there’s some good old dog in there too. Thanks to the miracle of science, we actually do know that now.

You see, we did a little DNA test on our wolfdog friend. Now, keep in mind, the test clearly states that it is not designed to detect wolf or coyote content, and it’s not likely 100% accurate as it is a home administered test,  but we thought it would be fun to see what dog breeds the Mars Veterinary Wisdom Panel DNA kit might reveal.

The Wisdom Panel home kit claims to identify 200 breeds and varieties of dogs including all breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The Wisdom Panel Professional (a blood test available through veterinarians) recognizes more than 235 breeds, types and varieties, also including all AKC breeds. A complete list of the breeds in each test’s database can be found on the Wisdom Panel website.

It’s an easy little test…you just use two special swaps to gather a little sample from the inside of your dog’s cheek. It’s thankfully not too annoying; it takes just 15 seconds per swab. Dogs seem to tolerate that amount of time with relative good humor.

Our test was conducted and shipped off about three weeks ago. Today, the results are online and…drum-roll…Kainan is likely a mix of Malamute, husky, and stump-the-DNA-testers.

One of Kainan’s parents, according to the test results, appears to have been a mix of primarily malamute and husky. The other parent, well, I bet the fine scientists at Wisdom Panel are still scratching their heads a bit. They tossed some “could be” breeds out there in the notes section of the results, but our bet is that that other parent was a gray wolf or at least high percentage wolf—a species that their test is not designed to detect.

Yeah, we knew that going in. We just wanted to screw with them. Jim and I are fun that way.

So we now have confirmation that our growing larger by the day, comical, in-touch-with-his-canis-lupus-roots pal is likely part husky/malamute, and…wait for it…wait for it…there it is! Part barfing wolf.

20140930_093441revYep, there are those damn marshmallows. Still intact in their fluffy goodness. Still perfectly encased in their plastic wrapper. You know, I could almost…well, no. That would just be gross.

Oh, wolf/malamute/husky dog. Perfectly good marshmallows are now in the trash. And you know, all you had to do was ask. I’d have happily shared them with you, dear boy.

Wolfdog in the House: Seeing My Muse Through Responsible Eyes

Shadow wolfIt’s easy to forget that this relationship could ever be anything but wonder-filled and fun. Kainan the wolfdog is out in the yard with my other teenager dogs, gallooping about in a silly, carefree morning melee that resembles tag-you’re-it.

Why yes, I did make that word up.  “Gallooping.” Just the way it bumps off your tongue perfectly describes Kainan’s unique gait as he works to control those gangly legs and big feet. Guh-LOOP-ing.  He is on the cusp of graceful…I give him a few more months.

I think it is fairly clear that Jim and I are completely in love with this boy as we help him live out his wags to riches story as a member of our family. He is so charming; he has become my most generous muse for story after story. His distinctive howl serving as my new morning alarm clock has been the most natural fit in the world.

However, as I tell stories about him, as Kainan gains a bit of a following, I have to wonder if I am painting a clear picture about life with a wolfdog. Have my stories to date have created an all-daisies-and-sunshine image of life with this boy? Do I even fully understand what the realities of life with a wolfdog may be? After all, Kainan kind of just dropped into our world. We didn’t exactly plan to acquire a wolfdog.

For many people, these wolfdogs are beloved companions and I totally understand it. There is something so amazing about having a creature living in your home that is beautiful, loyal, and, at the same time, inherently mystical.

Whether or not you agree with the concept of crossing a domestic dog with a wild animal to create a species that lives in the gray area between the two (and I actually don’t agree with the concept on many levels…but we’ll chat about that another time), there is no doubt that people are fascinated by wolfdogs. In the right hands, these animals can be incredible teachers and are undeniably appealing. Ah, but there is that tricky “in the right hands” thing.

It reminds me of the late 1980s/early 1990s when Disney started the Dalmatian frenzy. Now, for all of my friends who adore Disney, I am not taking the dear man’s name and namesake empire in vain. I’m just stating fact. The re-release of the original animated 101 Dalmatians, quickly followed by the live-action version, and then the make-Dalmatian-fanciers-pound-their-heads-against-a-wall 102 Dalmatians movie had everyone seeing spots. People rushed to own their own little cartoon puppy. Lots of people. In response, lots of people happily created supply to meet demand. It was a catastrophe.

The dogs in the movie were charming. The Dalmatians snoozing all around my desk right now are also charming, beautiful canine characters. I can’t imagine my life without it being full of spots. They are affectionate, smart, athletic, and…well…hysterically fun. If ever a dog was born with a sense of humor, it is the Dalmatian.

But are they the right dog for everyone?  Most definitely not. No breed of dog is right for everyone…just as wolfdogs aren’t right for everyone.

Despite what I would like to believe about my own popularity, truth be told, my stories about Kainan haven’t likely thrust wolfdogs into the spotlight (oh…I made a funny!) in a Disneyesque manner. My blog is just a few billion followers shy of Walt-status. However, I am speaking out…people are reading…asking questions…and a few have expressed a desire to live with a Kainan of their own. Who wouldn’t want one?  How cool is it to share your home with the big, not-so-bad wolf? Right? Right?

PlayingAs I watch Kainan gallooping (you’re starting to like that word, aren’t you?) from the yard, through the dog door, and into the house to collapse in a happy, panting puddle at my feet, I wonder if I just might be Nancy Disney? (Ok, that does have a nice ring to it.)

Uh oh. Time for Responsible Nancy to put on her educational hat.

Admittedly, life with Kainan so far has been pretty smooth. Ah, but Jim and I are not average dog owners. We are Crazy Dog People. Yes, I’m going to own that and make it a formal title. We take in dogs of all shapes and sizes. We train dogs. My business is dog-centric. We have even helped rescue wolfdogs in the past. We are not rookies.

However, all the experience in the world does not a good, responsible decision make. Anytime anyone is thinking of adding an animal to their world there are many factors to be considered.  Homework must be done. Most importantly, you have to be willing to walk away if the animal in question is not a good fit for you.

I think anyone considering adopting a wolfdog should have to read Living with Wolfdogs, An Everyday Guide to a Lifetime Companionship by Nicole Wilde, author and canine behavior specialist. (Best last name EVER for someone who is a wolfdog expert.)

I have long admired Nicole Wilde as a dog trainer and I have been fortunate enough to attend dog training seminars she has conducted. She knows her stuff. Let’s pretend she is our retroactive adoption counselor.

Nicole (I decided we are on a first name basis) would say something like, “So…you think you want a wolfdog? Let’s have a chat about that idea.”

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Brave Kainan…who stands several inches taller than any dog in our house…falling to the ground and making himself very tiny when our two in-charge Dalmatian boys even look at him.

Nicole: Why do you want a wolfdog? Do you think you’re getting the ultimate watchdog?  Wolves are actually very shy by nature and would rather retreat than confront an intruder.

Nan/Jim answer: I can tell you first hand that when our dogs go charging into the yard to scare off what they would have us believe must be an eight foot tall cyclops, brave Kainan is more than happy to hang back with the humans…perhaps standing behind the humans. It’s not a problem. We feel certain we can protect Kainan from the boogeyman.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are highly social, pack-oriented animals that require a lot of time, attention, and socialization. Are you willing to make that commitment?

Nan/Jim answer: Party with the wolfdog! Yay! He will likely have a better social life than we do.

Nicole: Wolves are very social creatures and don’t care to spend a lot of time alone. If the humans can’t be home most of the time, the wolfdog will need a canine buddy. Can you provide adequate companionship for a wolfdog?

20140930_092423Nan/Jim answer: I’m sorry. Can you repeat that question? The 20-someodd dogs in this house all decided to lick a body part at the same time. Alone is not an issue here. Space on the bed is. Kainan is already tickled pink with his ready-made family.

Nicole: Do you have neighbors? Do you like them? Do you want them to like you? If the sight of something that resembles a wolf in your yard doesn’t put a strain on your relationship, then the wolfdog’s howling just might.

Nan/Jim answer: Neighbors? What neighbors? We live on 72.5 acres of country bliss. Ok, we do have some friends who live to the west of us. While they have been very patient about marauding donkeys and pigs, we do have a secure dog yard and will see to it that Kainan does not make any unscheduled visits to their home.  Any howling will just blend in with the resident coyotes.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are known to be amazing escape artists. Most require six foot fencing…and even a fence of that height may not do the trick. Just how secure is that secure dog yard?

Nan/Jim answer: We have indoor/outdoor runs in our house that keeps Kainan safe and comfy while we are away. We supervise him when we are home. So far he has shown no desire to test any physical boundaries because there are no couches visible on the other side of the fence. We will, however, modify our fencing if necessary. We hear that maximum security is the new landscaping chic.

Nicole: How do you feel about digging, chewing, and relentless curiosity? (Relentless curiosity…her words and they describe Kainan PERFECTLY.)

Nan/Jim answer: This one seems a bit redundant to the Crazy Dog People whose two darling Dalmatian girls have tunneled an underground condominium in the yard fit for the Royal family. “Curiosity” is not a problem. We have already been introduced to Kainan’s incredible ability to reach anything on any surface. Oh, and the wall in the upstairs hall is apparently quite tasty. As is the corner of one ottoman. And the magazine that just came in the mail today. And still, we wouldn’t trade him for all of the intact drywall in the world.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are very intelligent, can be quite independent, and do not respond to harsh training methods. Are you willing to learn about wolves’ vocalizations and body language? Will you explore alternative training methods essential for successfully living with and training a wolfdog?

Nan/Jim answer: We embrace the opportunity to learn more about our new friend. Obviously, your book is a great resource (no, we are not just sucking up!) and we are lucky to have great support from our friends at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. Our training methods are already centered on reward-based techniques, so you are preaching to the choir on that front. Kainan already knows sit, down, shake hands, speak, and sit politely while I deliver your dinner. Our wolfdog is smarter than your honor student.

Nicole: Last, but not least, have you checked to see if it is legal for you to own a wolfdog in your area? They are illegal in many cities.

Nan/Jim answer: While wolfdogs are not legal in the city of Tulsa, out here in Creek County, just outside of Mounds, Oklahoma, pretty much anything goes. We’ve even seen a kangaroo in a nearby paddock. Yep. A kangaroo.

At this point in the interview, I envision Nicole Wilde dabbing tears from her eyes, hugging us, and telling us that we are perhaps the most perfect home in the world for Kainan. And I think we are. We are very committed to him.

Of course a little warning from our friends at Freedom Song keeps bouncing around in my head and it’s the one thing that keeps me from getting too complacent about Kainan. Wolves and some higher content wolfdogs do not really mature until 22 months or older. That means we really don’t yet know how wolfie our wolfdog is going to be. His temperament could change as he matures. It could.

20140901_103907But I also know that Jim and I are prepared for whatever may come. Sweet wolfdog (my bet) or eventual big, bad wolf (hard to imagine)—we’ll stick with our boy.

For now?  Well, Kainan is wonderful, sweet, funny, affectionate, and seemingly quite happy to be with us.  Honestly, it is all sunshine and daisies right now. Well, mostly sunshine and daisies. There is the issue of that one last piece of pink-frosted vanilla birthday cake goodness that, instead of being MY treat, went into Mr. Hey-Look-What-I-Can-Do’s belly.

Still…he’s totally worth it.

A Lack of Planning on Their Part…

1304759198858932What we have here is a total lack of planning. Well, I guess they think they planned, but there is a HUGE flaw in their plan and now I’m scrambling to fix things.

The “they” in question here is a couple of barn swallow love birds. The young, starry-eyed couple fell deeply in love this spring (ok, I might be waxing poetic here) and decided to start a family. Barn swallows build nests very quickly. This one went up under the cover of my porch before I could blink. Shelter from the wind and rain. A sturdy foundation. Shade from the hot summer sun. Bird nursery paradise right?

Wrong.

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See the birdie? Brooke does.

This is my porch. My porch in my backyard. The yard that is my dog yard. Where lots of dogs run every single day. LOTS of carnivorous dogs.

Are we beginning to see the problem here? Yes, a lack of planning on their part does indeed constitute a bit of an emergency on my part.

I’ve scolded these birds. “What were you thinking?” I demand. “Just where do you think your little fledgling kids are going to land when they take that all important first hop out of the nest?”

IMG_1402 (2)We all know that baby birds NEVER wait until all systems are go to leave the damn nest. They always get cocky and leap before the net (and by net I mean wing and tail feathers) is actually in place. Then they spend a couple of crazy days hopping and flapping around on the ground while their frantic parents do their best to care for them.

It’s bad enough under normal circumstances, but in my dog yard? Well, I can promise you that my dogs are not staring at the tiny fledglings peering from the nest because they want to hug them, and pet them, and squeeze them and call them George.

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Open this gate. Dammit.

Nope. They want to eat them. Despite all of the wonderful food and treats I dole out daily, they have their sights set on some tiny birdie snacks.

So, I could just turn my head and let nature take its course. It’s the prey/predator story that is as old as time.

Yeah. No. Not going to happen on my watch. (You already knew that, didn’t you?) I’m the woman who held up construction on my house to allow Huey, Dewey, and Louie time to mature and leave the nest. Yes. I really did.

That love-struck barn swallow couple built their mud and grass apartment in the rafters of my new home as it was being framed. I guarded those little guys and warned all of the contractors and workers to be cautious around the little family. I believe many eyes may have rolled behind my back…a few right in front of me…and I just didn’t care.

Then the day came when framing was done, walls were going up, and doors and windows were being placed. WAIT! H,D&L were still in residence! The back door and back window had to remain open. Period.

No, we would not carefully move the next outside. No we could not make them a new fancy nest on the back step. No. No, we would wait.

Yes wait. For three days, I believe. Construction folks LOVE it when the crazy client lady brings everything to a screeching halt so baby birds have time to find their wings. It goes over really well.

Thankfully Jim (that cool, equally dog-crazy guy that lives here too) was the builder on our new home and he gets me. Most of the time. He may have rolled his eyes, but we did wait for the birds to find their way outside. The house did get finished. Three days late. What’s three little days?

IMG_1452 (2)Back to our new state of emergency. Of all of our dogs, our young Dalmatian Brooke is the most avid “bird watcher.” The prey drive gene, strong in this one, it is (Yep…use your Yoda voice there). She is fixated on that darn nest. She stands and stares at it. She leaps up the wall to try to reach it. She bounds after the adult birds as they soar from the cover of the porch.

She is determined. I am determined. The barn swallow parents are also determined.

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Come back here you little #%&*@!

As their family matures, these two little aircrobats (don’t look it up…I made that up…it’s a valid and good word) are going on the offensive. They are darting and diving directly at Brooke every moment that she is outside. They are two, tiny, dark stunt pilots sailing just inches from her snout, risking everything to draw the spotted beast away from the nest that offers such a fragile and temporary barrier between their three babies and the dry land version of Jaws.

And that’s what families should do. They take care of each other; they put everything on the line for each other. I experienced this level of love as I grew up under the watchful eyes of my parents. I see this instinct in the way my sisters cared for their children; and now in the way my nieces race after their babies, guiding them, teaching them, keeping them safe from harm.

My sister Terry and I have been there at the other end of the life spectrum with my parents, with my sister. We were ferocious in our mission to care for those we held dear.

There just are times, regardless of who you are…or what you are, when that mother bear instinct wells up from your heart to give you strength you had no idea you had. Strength that makes a tiny slip of a bird believe it can conquer a mighty Dalmatian.

Well, if these two little birds were going to fight so heroically for their babies’ survival, I was going to be right there with them.

20140706_104843 (2)So far my good intentions have manifested in the form of a box nailed to the wall beneath the nest. At least now if the babies take a premature first leap, they will just fall into the well-padded cardboard nest. That will buy me “what next” time and will allow the parents to still care for the babies in the lower level of their new condo.

I have to believe we have also increased the property value of their home, should they decide to sell. Of course all of the upgrades in the world won’t change the fact that these birds have the nicest nest in a spotty neighborhood (I need a drum effect here…insert rim shot). Dang it birds, ask ANY real estate agent. Location, location, location!

My partners in parenting were not initially impressed with my handiwork, but they did accept my attempt at home improvement. I’d like to think that they understand the purpose of the box and applaud my efforts. Or it’s possible they just see it as another place to poop. Probably the latter. Oh, but my intentions are so good.

If all three little fledglings will cooperate by jumping into my box, I will carefully relocate them just outside the fence of the lion’s den…I mean dog yard. There they can reunite with their doting parents, learn to spread their wings against the lift of the wind, and soar far, far, far away from this porch.

Far.

Please.

Soar FAR.

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Wait for it…wait…

New development…after seeing three growing fledglings still crammed into a too-small next last evening, this morning I ventured out to find an empty nest, and an empty box. I don’t see feathers on the ground. I don’t see smug dogs picking their teeth. I’m going to believe that my…ummmm…the babies made it. I’m going to watch the sky for more beautiful aircrobats.