There’s No Place Like Home. Just ask Boog.

 

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Adorable pic of Boog by Kara Hamilton. Mad photos skills.

Please, take me home.

I could hear his voice as clearly as if he suddenly had been granted the gift of human language.  However, the voice I was hearing was not audible, but rather coming from the pleading look in his tired eyes.

I need to g20180528_130955o home. 

Looking down at my boy, hooked up to all kinds of monitors, IV lines, a feeding tube, and a catheter, I knew it couldn’t happen. Not right now, Boog. You need to be here for now. I would not tell him no. Instead, I would tell him, and myself, soon. Soon, Boog.

Boog’s journey to this place, to the intensive care unit of a well-respected specialty veterinary hospital was brief and terrifying. On Sunday morning when we woke up, he was just a little off.

He didn’t want his breakfast – something that hasn’t happened in the nearly 10 years he has lived with us. He went away to a quiet part of the house to rest by himself – also not normal for our always-where-you-are, busy little cattle dog.

I had to leave the house to run a few errands, so told Jim about Boog’s odd behavior and asked him to keep an eye on him. So far, his breathing was normal, his gums and tongue were a good pink color, and he would get up and move around if asked. But a niggling little fear was bouncing around inside my gut.

Watch him. Don’t leave him alone.

Within a couple of hours Jim called to say that he was rushing Boog to a nearby vet that thankfully had Sunday hours. Boog had grown very weak…our boy was crashing. Already in my car heading home, I spun the wheel in the direction of the veterinary hospital to meet them.

The little fear that had been whispering inside me was now yelling at me, especially when I saw Boog again and could see how pale the pink areas of his lips and gums had become.

“Check his spleen,” I asked the moment we saw a veterinarian. Experience with so many dogs, especially the seniors we have taken in over the years, has taught us valuable lessons about the warning signs of several common, but deadly afflictions that can plague our dogs.  Older dogs are prone to tumors forming on their spleens. You won’t have any warning unless you happen to do x-rays or an ultrasound for some other reason and are lucky enough to find it. Most often a splenic tumor isn’t found until it ruptures and makes itself known with frightening, grim certainty.

My fear was quickly confirmed and our sweet boy was raced into surgery as we settled in for one very hard waiting game.

Boog came through surgery well enough, but during recovery his heart rate jumped to a concerning level. Instead of bringing Boog home to recover, he had to be transferred to the specialty veterinary hospital for 24-hour care.

“It’s just for the night, buddy,” Jim and I told him. “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

But tomorrow came and went with little improvement. Then another tomorrow. We visited our boy, we sat with him, watching for any little signs that he was turning that all-important corner. We knew there were a lot of hurdles in his future, the largest one being the question of the still-pending results of the biopsy on his tumor, but despite everything looming around us, despite all the what-ifs tapping us on the shoulder, we stayed focused on one thing. Boog needed to come home.

20180515_194301At the end of day three, as Boog flipped his tail against his bedding in greeting and we were starting to feel he was showing signs of improvement, one of the veterinarians stuck a pin in that little balloon of hope we were desperately trying to inflate.

“I don’t think Boog will be able to leave the hospital.”

Now, if you digest that statement for a moment, you pretty quickly realize she is suggesting that your dog should be euthanized. This was not the news we were prepared to hear. More importantly, it was not the message we were hearing from Boog.

The veterinarian had very valid concerns. Boog’s breathing was labored. He wasn’t showing a desire to get up…to try to move around. She and her collegues feared issues with his lungs that would lead to certain suffering and death. They had an educated hunch. But so did we.

Jim and I are very rational people. Because of our rescue work, we have loved and cared for more dogs at the end of their lives in the span of a few years than most people have in a lifetime. We do not let our dogs suffer. We do know when it’s time to let go.

But still…all I could hear was that quiet, insistent voice in my head.

I need to go home. Please, just take me home.

And then it hit me. Every time Jim and I visited Boog in the hospital, no matter how tired he was, no matter how bad he felt, he always gave us a tail wag. Always. And each time the techs overseeing his constant care would comment, “Oh look, he wagged his tail! He hasn’t done that for us.”

Boog ALWAYS wags his tail. No matter what. This dog is the friendliest, cheeriest dog I know. Not wagging his tail in greeting to the humans caring for him was HUGE. He was sending a message loud and clear.

So I faced the veterinarian who was trying to let us down so gently. I took a deep breath to quiet the huge lump in my throat as I smiled and told her that I thought Boog was depressed. I explained that we fully understood her concerns and that we all wanted what was best for Boog. And on this night, what Jim and I knew was best for our dog was to let him leave the hospital.

It was against the vet’s better judgement. I assured her we would stay with him every minute and if he started to have any more issues, we would have our personal vet on call to end any suffering, day or night. What was important in that moment was to get Boog home in time to watch sunset with us on our own front porch.

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Home, watching the sun set.

And so all of the tubes were unhooked. All of the monitors turned off. Boog was wheeled out to our waiting car on a gurney where one of the vet techs who had been caring for him helped Jim gently transfer Boog into the car, tears pooling in her eyes. In her mind, this was a goodbye. Bless her for caring for each of her patients so very much.

We got Boog home just in time to sit with him while the sun painted the sky in a pallet of colors that wished us a peaceful good night. Together, we watched our boy through the evening. Then Jim kept his special buddy company through the first night, I was on duty the following night.

And so the magic of home went to work. Boog’s eyes grew brighter. His tail thumped more often and with greater enthusiasm. His breathing calmed. He gained strength, step by step. And his appetite gradually returned.

Over the course of one week, with support from our personal veterinarian (how lucky are we that one of our dearest friends is also our trusted veterinarian?), we watched a furry miracle unfold. Boog went from a dog flat on his side with tubes and monitors attached all over his body, to our bright-eyed, bouncy, HUNGRY, happy-to-be-alive boy.

Now, let me be clear, the purpose of this article is not to question the veterinarians who so carefully and skillfully cared for Boog. They do their job well and we are extremely gratefully to have a state-of-the-art emergency/specialty veterinarian nearby.

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Boog, less than one week after coming home, sweet home.

The purpose of this article is to say that sometimes you have to go with your gut, even in the face of questionable odds. If we had just strictly listened to the hard facts on that Wednesday evening, we might have chosen to let Boog go. But sometimes, in the midst of the overwhelming hustle, bustle, black and white with shades of gray world of medical science, you need to mix in a good dose of heartfelt feeling. And so we did. And so Boog came home. And he is very much alive. In fact, just a week following his return to Tails You Win Farm, we celebrated his 10th birthday.

His challenges are not over…remember that biopsy? Well, the news wasn’t good. But my gut feeling is that we do have treasured time to share with our funny little blue dog. My gut says we have today, and most certainly tomorrow. I’ll take one day at a time quite happily and gratefully.

Boog gets to call the shots now. Two weeks ago he almost died. A few days later we almost let someone convince us he needed to die. Almost is my new favorite word. And hey, Dorothy nailed it when she was trying to get the hell out of Oz…there truly is no place like home.

Party on, Boog. Party on.

 

The Little Roomba Who Could. (Or At Least Tries Really Hard.)

roomba 2.5We have a new addition to our home. Jim has named her Robbie (we name everything). I think at first it was actually Robby…but then I heard her distress cry and realized he was a she. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Robbie is a Roomba. You know, one of those nifty little iRobot sweepers. The one that miraculously clears dust and debris from your floors whilst you sit on the couch eating bonbons. Except no. That’s not how it goes here.

In our household, a nifty little robotic floor sweeper has to run a terrifying obstacle course in an effort to perform its pre-programmed mission. And it must also have a chaperone. A diligent, mindful, always-aware chaperone even more dedicated than a teenage girl’s dad supervising his precious child’s first date to a school dance. Scary stuff, people.

And our little Robbie is coming of age in a fast, trial-by-fire manner. Bless her little mechanical heart. There was no way to warn her or to begin to prepare her for the challenges ahead.

I remember the day I first saw her there, on prominent display at Target. Oh sure, I had heard about Roombas before and dreamed of having one as my personal slave…um…assistant. But our house? A little robot that would surely be immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dog hair, dirt, and dust that coats our floors? A whirring, erratic machine not much bigger than a Frisbee and certain to be viewed as a new chew toy by the four-legged members of the family?

Madness, I tell you, madness.

At least until I saw the magic word: SALE. Roomba was on SALE. And it was a good sale. And there was only one box left. One. One chance to experience sit-on-the-couch-and-raise-your-feet-as-she-passes-by bliss.

As I stared at the box that boasted the promise, “The helping hand you need to keep your floors thoroughly clean every day–all at the push of a button,” I could feel others lurking behind me. I was certain if I made one tiny move to the left or right, another shopper would swoop in to snag MY Roomba. MY on-sale Roomba.

So I snatched her up, held her close to my chest, and scurried through the store muttering, “Mine! It’s mine! All mine!” There may or may not have been high-pitched creepy laughter involved.

When I arrived home triumphant in my purchase, Jim solemnly shook his head and said something about a mighty pricy dog toy. Oh he of little faith. I would protect her. I would watch over her like the indentured little Cinderella I hoped she would become. Scary how easily I fell into that evil stepmother role, isn’t it?

So with my guarded, unfounded, blind optimism cheering him on, Jim unpacked little Robbie and set her out on her first mission, our herd of dogs paying rapt attention.

One dog (Kainan…110 pound hulk of a wolfdog) ran out of the room, tail tucked firmly between his hind legs. One dog (Tink…20 pound terror) immediately attacked the Roomba. The rest of the dogs just bounced around in front of it, over it, and all around it.

Within no time at all, we convinced Tink it did not need to die. We lured Kainan back into the room and convinced him that HE was not going to die. And the rest of the dogs lost interest. First hurdle cleared, right? Well…sort of.

You see, Robbie Roomba is an intelligent little machine designed to learn the floor plan of your home so that she can clean more efficiently. Problem is that my floor plan is ever-changing.

In case you don’t yet know us well, you need to know that we have a good number of dogs. Enough dogs to classify me as “a” crazy dog lady, but not quite enough to have me charged as “the” crazy dog lady. Once said herd of dogs no longer found Robbie’s presence entertaining, they fell into “ignore it” mode. You know, that same mode they fall into when you beg them to scootch over to give you more than eight inches of space on the bed.

As dear, determined Robbie blindly felt her way around our home, she bumped into a dog here, a dog there, here a dog, there a dog, everywhere a dog, dog. I can’t imagine what she must have thought.

Do these humans rearrange their furniture on an hourly basis just to torment me?

Am I on candid camera and I will soon be rescued, we’ll all laugh, and I’ll move on to a new home where there’s a modest arrangement of furniture and perhaps one quiet cat?

Sorry, dear Robbie. Fate dealt you a complicated hand.

So far, things are going pretty well. For a device no bigger than one of those stone-things they slide around on the ice in curling, Robbie is able to pick up an astonishing amount of dog hair. No, she doesn’t get all of it in one pass, but she works her little gears off in 50 minute spurts, following which she spends her remaining 10 minutes of battery life bumping and limping back to her home base for that all-important rest and recharge period.

Another huge bonus is that Robbie is willing (forced?) to go places that are really hard for me to reach and are therefore often neglected. The first time she dared venture under our king-size bed, well…let’s just say I heard unmistakable gasping, sputtering, wheezing, and, I believe, whimpering.

On a plus side for the dogs, Robbie unearths toys long-lost to these dark and distant places. Now, when she dares to go where no human has gone in months, the dogs gather in great anticipation for what little Robbie will shove into the light of day.  Balls, chew bones, and squeaky toys abound! What was old is now new again! All hail Robbie the robot!

On a down side, we have to address the elephant in the room. From poor Robbie’s perspective it might as well be the elephant dung in the room. Back to that number of dogs thing…we foster a lot of dog while they wait to find their adoptive homes. That means we house train a lot of dogs. That means there are accidents. Accidents are no bueno for Robbie.

This takes us back to the need for a chaperone thing. I believe the fine MIT grads who developed Robbie and her kind did so in the hope that floors could be cleaned while humans focused their valuable attention elsewhere. But alas, not in THIS house.

Dare I say I hover over Robbie’s every move? I do. I do so in an attempt to ward off certain disaster. Don’t make me say it. You know where I’m headed with this. There are some things Robbie should most definitely NOT run into.

I would like to tell you that it has never happened. I would REALLY like to. But on day two of this new relationship I turned my head for just a moment. A really important little moment. The very moment when our precious new foster puppy felt nature’s call and answered it…right in the path of dear Robbie.

I will spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that it’s fantastic how easily all of Robbie’s brushes and compartments come apart to be cleaned. And cleaned. And cleaned again for good measure. Kudos to you, MIT grads! Robbie was easily physically restored to her former, ready-to-roll condition. Alas, the emotional scars will likely forever be imbedded in her little artificial mind. A mercy reboot would only thrust her into a cruel 50 First Dates-esque learning curve that would prove too painful to witness.

Suffice it to say that we do not take advantage of Robbie’s ability to be programmed so she may roam the house freely while we are away at work. Nope. Not ever going to happen. I’m back to hovering and obsessively sweeping dog hair into her path.

Today I did learn of a new talent Robbie possesses. She can TALK! She can actually tell you where it hurts!

After surveying the living room for any potential Robbie landmines (and by landmines I mean…), I stepped away to eat a bonbon or something. After a few moments I heard, well, I heard nothing.  No whirring little engine-that-could noise. That is never a good sign in Robbie-land. Suddenly I heard a distinctly high-pitched female voice (hence the he-is-a-she revelation), calling for help.

I think she said something like, “For the love of all that is holy, come find me! I need help! I’m choking! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Ok, it may have been a bit more like a monotone voice asking me to check the sweeping brushes for a clog, but I swear it sounded a tad whiny and offended. The crazy thing is that I don’t recall seeing ANYWHERE on the packaging that she could talk! Should I be nervous here?

Anyhow, I cleared the wad of hair from Robbie’s cute little underbelly (we had moved the couch and uncovered a whole new frontier of hair and detritus without warning her. Robbie was apparently not amused.), and sent Robbie back on her merry way.

You know, once we get a few things ironed out, I think this is going to be a beautiful relationship. In fact, Jim has suggested that we should invest in an army of Robbies and her wet-mopping cousins. Oh the fun we could have watching dozen of the little disks coursing hither and yon through our house and through the legs of any number of dogs. I dare say it would become something of a spectator sport, the iRobot Olympics.

In the meantime we will continue to nurture our firstborn, our Robbie. I will dust her, I will clean her brushes, I will help her avoid disaster, and I will feed her unimaginable amounts of dog hair. We’re in this together, kiddo.

Oh, hey Robbie, not to be rude, but you missed a spot over there. Wait! Come back here young lady! Do NOT turn your back on me! What did you just say?

Never Count a Good Chicken Out.

She's back

It is highly possible that my hen has access to the Internet. Wait. It’s got to be the Internest. (Cracked myself up right there!)

The very day after I shared a post voicing concern that my injured hen, Eggatha Christie, would not recover enough use of her leg to be able to rejoin our little flock of chickens (didn’t read it? It’s here), I walked into the garage/chicken hospital to find her perched rather defiantly on the edge of her pen. And there was an obvious “I know what you’ve been saying about me” gleam in her beady little eye.

This is something akin to a patient pulling his own IV catheter and waltzing out of the hospital ward with his butt hanging out of those open-in-the-back gowns they force you to wear. My hen’s balancing act should not have been possible with her injured ligament. I really didn’t think she could possibly perch on anything let alone that narrow strip of metal fencing.

But there she was. Her butt (sans gown) hanging on my side of the pen  sending a definite poultry kiss-my-tail-feathers message.

“Ok Eggatha,” I thought, “I’m game if you are. Let’s see how this works out.”

I took my ginger hen back out to the community coop late in that evening. Chickens, you see, become helpless little zombies at night. Not the Walking Dead type of zombie that stumbles after anything warm-blooded, but rather the nearly comatose type of zombie that just stares blindly ahead. Dark + chickens = helpless. This was the opportune time to slip my hen back into the coop after her month-long convelescense. They would all awake the next morning and hopefully believe she had been there all along.

I got up early to go out to check on the situation. My greatest fear was that the other chickens might still see Eggatha as a weak link. They might reject her or, worse, attack her. Chickens can be zombies…and they can be bullies. Complex little critters.

What I found was a coop full of relaxed chickens ready to come out to run around the yard chasing bugs.

Ok. She’s back in the club.

Fear number three was that she would not be able to run if she needed to escape a predator. Her left leg had a pronounced limp and speed might not be a possibility for Eggatha. So I waited, watched, and then went out to call the girls and their rooster to me (yes, they DO come when they are called!).

All of the chickens held their wings out to their sides and came scurrying toward me in funny, waddling little sprints. They run like tiny dinosaurs and they can really move when they want to.

Cluck Norris lead the pack followed by Henelope Cruise, Donna Chicken A La King, and lo and behold, Eggatha Christie.

Eggatha can’t run like she used to, but that feisty little redhead has adapted and she can most certainly keep up with the “herd.”

I can best describe her new gait by harkening back to my elementary school days when all of the horse-crazy little girls would gather on the playground to pretend we were riding…or that we actually were…horses.

Do you remember doing that? Anybody else? You would hold your arms curled up to your chest and you would kind of skip along, one leg leading the other in a mock, rocking canter.

And THIS is how Eggatha has regained her place in the coop with the rest of the flock. The determined little hen, who is one heck of a survivor, has adapted. Maybe she doesn’t get around quite like the other chickens, but she is out there living her life, earning style points, perhaps starting a new chicken trend.

Life lessons in the chicken coop. Way to prove me wrong Eggatha.

Now…where the heck do you store that teeny tiny laptop?

Asking for Directions

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Eggatha Christie is not well.

No, not Agatha. With all due respect, Agatha Christie is several steps beyond “not well.” I believe she passed away in 1976.

Her somewhat namesake, Eggatha, however, is quite alive, but struggling. She has an injured leg and in the chicken world, that’s a very bad thing.

While chickens generally seem all innocuous and flock-devoted, let one of them get a tiny bit sick or suffer the tiniest of injuries and the whole dang flock will turn against them. I guess it’s that weakest link thing. Who knows.

All I do know is that just about five weeks ago, Eggatha did not raise her wing and say “here” during roll call as I was tucking everyone into the safety of our coop for the night. Our chickens get to free-range around our yard and barn during the day, and that covers a good bit of territory, so chicken hide-n-seek can be a challenging game. Chickens can be pretty good at the hide part of the game.

Eggatha’s truancy was  more than a bit concerning. My chickens come when called pretty well, actually really well. (DOGS…you might want to take note here. The CHICKENS come when they are called. They don’t pretend they can’t hear me to enjoy five more minutes of bird chasing.) Finally, as I continued to call for Eggatha, I did get a little clucking response from the direction of the barn.

There I found my ginger-colored girl S L O W L Y making her way toward me. I immediately feared that something had attacked her–the undeniable risk of allowing hens their freedom. Upon quick examination, I could find no visible injury, but her right leg was basically useless.

I carried her carefully to the coop and tucked her in with her chicken family for the night. I was sure they would rally around her, pull the literal or metaphorical thorn from her foot, and help her return to her normal sassy, strutting self by morning.

The next morning, what I found instead was dear Eggatha cringing in the corner of the coop pen while some of the other chickens, Cluck Norris, Henelope Cruz, and Donna Chicken a la King, were darting in and pecking at her. So much for feathered family values.

I rushed to the hen’s defense sending her traitorous feathered friends scurrying away in a flurry of flaps and squawks. After checking her over and finding that she was no worse for the wear physically, I moved a distressed Eggatha into one of our large dog crates with comfy bedding, and food and water in easy reach. But what to do next? Do they make tiny chicken crutches?

EggathaSo here’s the deal. It’s a chicken. I probably paid two bucks for her as a hatchling. She does not cuddle on the couch with me. She does not hop in the car with tail feathers wagging in anticipation of a grand adventure. She scratches around the yard, poops an astonishing amount, eats non-stop, and gives us eggs (bonus prize…the pet that feeds you breakfast and helps you make cakes!).

If this were a working farm, incapacitated Eggatha might truly become the pet that feeds us, if you know what I mean. And while I’m not a vegetarian, I would NEVER, NEVER…well, you know.

My next course of action was to call one of my trusted veterinarians who, I discovered, holds a master’s degree in  poultry science.

And so I whisked my two dollar hen off to the veterinary hospital where she then sat in a hospital cage adjacent to a variety of dogs, cats, and one young pig, awaiting her turn to be examined by the specialist.

Did you know that chickens have a ligament in their leg that can slip out of place and render that leg pretty much useless? I did not know that either, but I sure do now.

So Eggatha got some x-rays (you could see a soon-to-be-layed egg on the films…hysterical for some reason), had an exam, had a little acupuncture, got a fancy bandage on the upper part of her leg just above that backwards knee. Then she was discharged with strict instructions for rest and daily supplements to hopefully help her ligament get back in line and back to work.

Basically, my hen was on bed rest for 30 days.

The bandage helped support her weakened leg and she did start walking better almost immediately.  I grew hopeful that we would soon return Ms. Christie to the coop, to her normal do-as-you-please life of leisure.

After 30 days and some change had passed, we removed the bandage to see if Eggatha’s leg was once again a working drumstick.

But as she took a first tentative step, my heart fell. Her leg had not healed, and, in fact, without the bandage offering support, her limp was very pronounced.

So what now?

At the same time I was pondering Eggatha’s future, I read an article written by a friend. As fate would have it, this was the last article he would write…a small anecdote capping off a lifetime of articles, columns, books, screenplays, and several books that went on to become movies.

The author, Jay Cronley, was a Tulsa treasure. Long known for his humorous, to-the-point writing style, his recent contributions to a local pet magazine were quick, fun reads detailing the author’s life with and love for his dogs. Just days after he turned in this article, he quite suddenly and unexpectedly left this world.

When the new magazine came out, I flipped to the back column with a bit of a lump in my throat. It’s still so hard to believe Jay is gone. The article, a story about one of Jay’s beloved springer spaniels and the lengths he went to in an effort to save the dog from crippling hip dysplasia, was yet another colorfully told gem of a read.

And then I got to the last paragraph. Did Jay write this just for me? It is perhaps my favorite paragraph he has ever written. It was–and is–the best thing I could have read…the best gift Jay could have left for me and certainly for Eggatha.

“If you’re a real dog person, if the dog is a member of your family, you don’t ask how far it is to the hospital where they might save your pooch, or how much; you simply ask directions.”

Ok. Yeah, he was writing about a beloved dog. The cuddle-on-the-couch variety of animal companion. But who is to say where the line is drawn?

I raised Eggatha from a chick just days out of the shell. I have watched over her, fed and watered her. I have sat watching beautiful sunsets with her perched on my knee. I have tucked her in safely at night. Is she any less deserving of special care than our aging dog Virgil? Our blind mare GoGo?

In truth, it is up to each person to draw “the line,” to decide what is possible and what is best for the animals in their care. A chicken farmer would not likely have a special condo set up in his garage for one handicapped hen. Or maybe he would. It’s all in how each individual looks at things.

For me, well, Eggatha is not in pain and she does not seem to be unhappy. She eats, she still scratches around, she still poops an astonishing amount, she still gifts us with a daily egg, and her chicken mafia family has visitation through the fence. She seems content with that.

I think I’ll look for a smaller, chicken coop and yard that can sit alongside the main coop. It will serve as a private condo where Eggatha can live on safely for as long as she likes.

Was there ever any question? Really, I just needed directions to the nearest farm store. (Thanks Jay!)

 

A Sheep by Any Other Name

meeting-bobI stepped outside to breathe in the fresh cool air of an Oklahoma Indian summer evening possibly, maybe, kind of surrendering to fall weather. The sky held a hint of  blush still highlighting the horizon before the darkness settled in. It was peaceful. And it was quiet. Very, very quiet.

Too damn quiet.

What was missing was the serenade of our old ram. Every evening prior to this for the last decade, if you stepped outside within sight of the pasture just to the south of the barn, you would be treated to a hopeful…no, that’s not the word…a demanding, somewhat plaintive one-note song.

Baaaaaaaaaaahb. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb.

Ok, when you attempt to say that, be sure to make the “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” part sound as if you are gargling when you say it. Then you’ll nail it.

This cry was so distinctive that said troubadour earned his name because of it.

Bob.

Ok, I would have typed it the way it was really spelled, but in print, well, you would have ended up saying “boob” in a warbling voice and…no. Nope. Wrong on so many levels.

But back to Bob.

On this evening, Bob did not call to me. Bob was not with us any longer. It’s simple really, Bob got old and needed to move on to the big pasture in the sky.

bob-baby

Baby Bob

I remember when Bob first joined the Tails You Win Farm family. He came to us via a friend who found a stray little lamb. Yes, a stray baby lamb. It was right around Easter time in the spring. Perhaps Bob was an overzealous parent’s version of gifting the kids a bunny (please don’t do this) or a baby chick (even more of a don’t do this!). Or perhaps poor little Bob just strayed from the safety of his flock and apparently met up with a not-so-sheep-friendly dog or coyote. Bob had some wounds, a sore, swollen leg, and he was scared.

Fortunately for Bob, he found a very sheep-friendly human and she immediately starting doing her best to care for him. Ok, the one thing she did wrong? She actually named him Lambykins. Yeah. No.

She also immediately started looking for a safe haven for Lambykins-soon-to-be-Bob.

So yadda, yadda, yadda (do I REALLY have to explain that Jim and I jumped at the chance to have a baby lamb join our four-legged family?) and tiny, scared Bob-no-longer-Lambykins was secure in our horse trailer and headed to the farm. At the time, we had a llama that would be the perfect woolly companion and protector for our dear little lamb.

Now, when I say “lamb” you likely picture a precious, fluffy, white little creature with big brown eyes and an undeniably innocent, sweet nature. That’s what I pictured too.

But Bob was different. He was a black sheep. And when I say black sheep, I mean it in every sense of the term. I think Bob could have been considered cute and sweet for maybe one month of the 120 months that he shared our home. After that, especially after shearing time, he looked somewhat like a prehistoric alien and we had to start using adjectives like ornery, stubborn, thick, and not-the-sharpest-crayon-in-the-box to describe him.

bob-and-scoutBob got rather big, rather quickly. And Bob was pushy. Especially at mealtime.He wanted his supper and the supper of every single animal in the barnyard. So, at feeding time, Bob morphed into a black, fuzzy missile charging from feeder to feeder, pushing even the biggest of our horses off their grain so he could nibblenibblenibble it up at an alarming rate. The horses would stamp, snort, bite and kick in protest, but Bob in his woolen suit of armor was seemingly oblivious.

I recall Jim and I commenting to each other on more than one occasion, “This can’t be good for him.” You see, sheep really aren’t supposed to eat horse food. Sheep are supposed to eat sheep food.

So we tried to sequester Bob at mealtime. We tried to convince him to eat his special sheep food. He, in turn, discovered how very hard the top of his head was and tried to butt us into the next county.

Oh. Hell. No.

Picture Nancy, with a feed bucket swinging like a medieval flail, yelling and chasing after Bob (perhaps with a slight limp after having Bob’s helmet head meet squarely with my hip joint) while threatening all means of bodily harm if he EVER did that again. For the record, the threats were empty, Bob evaded me with great ease, and we never cured him of his exceedingly poor mealtime manners.

Oh sure, we could have put him in a separate pasture. And we tried that. We put Bob in Jerry Swinefeld the hog’s pasture (nobody, not even Bob dare steal food from Jerry!). The result? Well, where there is a will, there is a way, and where there is a way, there is a Bob. If Bob wanted to get out of a pasture, he got out. Add to that the fact that when Bob moved into Jerry’s domain, Jerry was not amused and moved right out. Yes, 700 pound hogs CAN somehow crawl under a pasture fence. Who knew?

Jerry vacated his comfy pig pasture and took up residence in our front yard and in the shade of the trees alongside the pond.

You know. Loose. Able to amble over to see what was going on at the neighbor’s house.

Now we had a large ram and a really large hog on the lam.

Back to plan A. Good luck horses. Duke it out with him. We surrender.

Then there was the time that we presented Bob with his first round bale of hay. If you are not familiar with “farm stuff,” a round bale is a large – generally five feet in diameter and four feet wide – roll of hay. You set it out to feed groups of animals during the fall and winter. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for pasture dwellers.

Jim carried the heavy bale into the pasture via our trusty blue ford tractor and set it down about 20 feet from Bob. Bob stood staring at this new feature to his pasture and instead of saying “hooray, lunch!” Bob screamed “INTRUDER!” as he reared up, tucked his chin to his chest, and charged head-first into the side of the 900-ish pound bale.

WHAM.

Bob rebounded off the bale and landed firmly on his backside. And you know what happened next? He repeated the charge. He landed on his ass-end again. And then he repeated this feat no fewer than 10 times.

Oh Bob. It’s food, not foe. Bless. Your. Heart.

img_5683

Young Bob and our mini horse, Trigger

All in all, I think we gave Bob a pretty good life. He had plenty of room to roam. He had horses who tolerated him, he had donkeys and one fine mule who protected him from the coyotes (because yes, there was that one time the coyotes tried to lure Bob away to certain demise and Ferris Muler saved the day).

Bob always had fresh water to drink. He always had shade. He had several bad haircuts to help him stay cooler (and no, we never did master the art of keeping his wool clean or finding ways to spin it into woven tributes to his life here). He had shelter in bad weather and cool breezes on beautiful days.

And he seemed happy. He liked to have that tough spot on the top of his head scratched. He liked carrots and apples. And when he surveyed me with his funny, alien-looking sheep eyes, I think I saw a flicker of affection from time to time. Maybe ours was a bit of a love-hate relationship, but love won out. I admit it. I think Bob would admit it too.

bob-and-nanBob was our first sheep. Bob was most definitely our last sheep. But hey, Bob, I’m sure glad YOU got to be our one and only. You were an experience from start to finish.

Now get out there and enjoy stealing from all of the other animals’ feeders in sheep heaven, you big woolly bully. We’ll miss you. We’ll miss hearing your name.

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahb!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!”