Creative. Life.

Howie and coI’m not going to lie to you…and my blog won’t let me lie even if I wanted to. I haven’t had much time to write lately.

Writing is my therapy. It’s my joy (well, one of my joys!). It’s my me-time. It’s the place where the voices bouncing around inside my head sometimes come together to make sense. It’s an outlet for my good friend, Creativity.

Ah, Creativity. How I treasure and respect you, both in my own self and in the incredible works of others. If I could, I would just bask in your light every day, all day. Just imagine…

But lately, I have been beating myself up because I feel I have been neglecting my best friend. I haven’t made time. I’ve let “life” get in the way.

Life has a way of doing that sometimes. Hustle. Bustle. Ping-pong from one project, one commitment, one necessity to the next. And then, at the end of the day, you collapse on the couch and wonder where time went.

So I thought maybe I should write an apology to Creativity. You know, give my dear friend an explanation. I could list all of the “life” things that have been going on and surely Creativity would understand. Yes. I could tell Creativity I’m very sorry and ask for forgiveness.

So here it goes:

Dear Creativity,

I haven’t been a very good friend to you the past couple of months. I’m truly sorry for that. 

You see, life has been crazy busy lately. My business partner and I opened a second business and getting that up and running…and then working to make it successful has been quite a task. It seems I spend every minute of every day thinking of ways to get customers through our doors. Thinking of advertisements, promotions, posting away on social media. It’s fun, but boy it’s time-consuming.

And do you know that Jim, my friend Lawanna (aka: business partner!), and I run a non-profit organnization to rescue, care for, and re-home Dalmatians? Of course you know. you’ve helped me write about my beloveds spotted dogs often. Well, things have been a tad busy on that front lately too. We’ve taken four additional Dalmatians into our home in the last two months. They’ve each come with their own set of special needs, so they’ve kept us hopping.

13716136_10210354273316850_5128798030219378446_nDottie came to us neglected and with horribly disfigured feet. We’ve been working to keep her comfortable, healthy, and happy. Sweet girl, her tail never stops wagging in appreciation.

Then Brother and Sister came along with several of their litter mates. Just babies, they all had come down with a terrible case of deadly parvovirus and needed our help. Some of their siblings did not survive, but Brother and Sister did. We’ve been nursing them back to health while being careful not to spread the disease to other dogs. It’s been a huge juggling act! And did I mention that we had to set up a giant fund raiser to pay for their treatment? Oh, but how rewarding that has been as we witnessed so many friends and strangers-who-are-now-friends stepping up to help provide the needed funds to see our puppies through to good health. 

Amazing stuff right there.

Almost immediately after we took the puppies in, we got the call about Skip. Ah, Skip. What a little doll. He was born and raised in a puppy mill where his life was restricted to a small cage with no toys, no soft beds, no belly rubs. Then he, his parents, and several other Dalmatians were placed in an auction, to be sold to the highest bidder. Sad, scary stuff for a six month old puppy to endure.

skip crate 2Luckily for Skip, dedicated rescue friends were able to purchase him and asked if I could pick him up from the auction house in Missouri, get to know him, and help him find a REAL home. One with toys, soft beds, and tons of belly rubs. They didn’t have to ask me twice, I’m a sucker for a cute, spotted face. 

Of course that just added a lot more work to the old to-do list, and that darn list was already pretty full anyway.

Because we have our own dogs to care for. There’s chickens to feed and a barn full of animals. There’s laundry  and mowing and a house that always needs cleaning.

There are bills. There are seminars to attend. There are errands to run. There are birthday parties. 

Darn it! When is that doctor appointment?

There are articles to write. Deadlines to meet. More business ideas that need research, thought, and execution. 

The car needs an oil change. My closet is a mess. We’re out of milk. I need to take Lacy the Whippet to the vet for a check-up. 

Creativity, I know I’m babbling here. The point I’m really trying to make is that life has been crazy busy lately and I’ve neglected you. I know I have. I’m truly sorry. You are such a good and loyal friend that you haven’t even complained once. You’ve just been waiting patiently for me to return, haven’t you?

And I will. I’ll be back. I promise. I’m truly sorry.

Love, 

Nancy

As soon as I put my apology out into the universe, an immediate reply filled my heart and mind.

Dear Nancy,

You never left me. I was never neglected. And I certainly never left you. 

I come to you in a lot of forms. I’m not something you make time for, I’m not something that can be scheduled. I’m a lot more than just words on a computer screen.

I’m part of you. I’m with you every minute of every day. I help you make things happen. I help you solve problems. I help you make a seemingly impossible to-do list do-able. 

How in the world do you think you ever get everything done?

We do it together, my friend. 

Love, 

Creativity.

You know, I don’t think I’m going to beat myself up any more. And you know what else? I’m pretty sure this reply wasn’t just to me.  We all have to deal with that life to-do list thing. Nice to know you have a good friend to help you juggle it all, isn’t it?

Thanks Creativity. You’re the best. We’ve got this.

Once a Year…

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

Romp in Peace.

Run in Peace Big Paul

A Haiku for Big Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunshine Paul

 

 

It’s Just a…

Hug Mia

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

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

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

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

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

There’s the “just a” that forgives.

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s just a dog.”

What? Just a dog?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Grown Up…But I Regress.

 

Nan and Skippy

This carefree kid! Where the heck has she gone?

It has been a grown-up kind of week. A hectic, tail-chasing, how-did-I-get-to-this-point-in-life-so-fast kind of week.

I have to confess that I am often just stunned that I’m actually considered/expected to be a full-fledged adult. I swear one minute I was playing in the dirt with my plastic horses and the next minute my alarm clock was propelling me from slumber straight into that rush-hour earn-a-living thing. I just blinked and BOOM.

And bless my heart, I’m nifty-four years old (not a typo…it’s my age, I’ll call it like I see it). You’d think I’d have this grown-up stuff down cold by now, but no, it’s still a shock every time I realize that no one is going to step in to handle my responsibilities for me.

So this week has been romping along – nothing particularly dramatic, just…you know…stuff. Nonstop stuff. Lots of work projects pressing that never seem to get done. Health insurance plan going away AGAIN, so I have to dive back in to pick a new one, AGAIN.

I need to make space in the barn for the 40 bales of hay I ordered to top off our winter supply. I desperately need to clean the barn and try to go knock down the damn cockleburs that are turning the horses’ manes into solid, prickly masses.

Jim's earI had a visit with my dermatologist to pay my annual dues for trying to tan my pale, freckled skin in my youth. The spot he froze off on the very tip of my nose is especially attractive now. I chauffeured Jim for minor surgery to repair his eardrum (ruptured in a fly boarding mishap on my birthday…we both agree it was still totally worth it.) Then I had to play the part of the responsible partner as they rattled off all sorts of post-surgical care instructions.

“Um…what’s that sweetie? You wonder if it’s time for another pain pill? Um…sure, have a pill.”

I picked up my glasses with the new and (sigh) improved lenses.I paid bills. Then, because we love to have things like lights, I paid a few more bills.

I thought about the cards that need to be sent out and holiday stuff that needs to be planned. And oh, birthdays galore. What is this onslaught of December birthdays? (Counts back) Ooooh. Lots of people have really good Valentine’s Days. (I should blush now, but I’m too tired.)

On the home front we have five, count ’em, FIVE animals limping for one reason or another. This is a ridiculous trend that truly must stop.

Let’s see, Cheyenne, our pretty paint mare, got a nasty cut on her heel somehow that has required a visit from the veterinarian for minor surgery and lots of cleaning and re-wrapping on Jim’s part. She is on the mend.

Bob the sheep did something to his back leg that we have yet to figure out, but keeping the leg wrapped for support seems to be doing the trick and he is bearing weight again. He is a less than willing patient, but, as I discovered when shearing him, if you get him down flat on his side, he thinks he is stuck. Bless his heart.

TriggerSnowflake, our husky/malamute mix, has been favoring her front right leg off and on – likely a soft tissue injury. Rest should do the trick. Now Nadia, another of our canine clan, is also favoring her front right leg. No injury to be found, so rest for now, vet visit tomorrow if we don’t see improvement. (Nadia…are you faking it for attention?)

And finally, this brings us to Trigger, our miniature horse. He’s also lame on a front leg. I just noticed a slight limp when I saw him crossing the pasture this morning. At the time, we were already in the Jeep enroute to get Jim to his eardrum surgery,  so I have yet to assess Trigger’s leg.  But there was no visible swelling and he was up, walking around and grazing, so he’ll keep until after the whole Jim/ear thing. Yes, I’ll check on him then.

Well, after I fill Jim’s prescriptions. And after I pick stuff up at the grocery store. And before I feed all of the animals and run a million loads of laundry. Yes. Check-on-Trigger is after grocery store and before feeding and laundry.

Seriously. This grown-up stuff is exhausting. I’m considering running an ad for a nanny. Would it be weird for two nifty-something adults to have a nanny?

To add a little realistic balance to the extreme adultiness of this week, I did myself a favor. I dedicated a couple of hours last night to some serious puppy therapy at a friend’s house. You absolutely cannot feel harried, frazzled, or stressed when you are inhaling that sweet, intoxicating puppy breath while hugging a warm, soft little body to your chest. Lori pups

Six little Dalmatian puppies. Six adorable, waggy, waddling spotted wonders crawling all over me and successfully transporting me straight back to the mentality of a delighted five year old.

Good stuff. Figure out a way to bottle that potion and you’ll be a millionaire.(But don’t bottle the actual puppies. Even five-year-old Nancy knows that would be uber wrong.)

Nanta Claus

Yes. Really. Me.

And the other highlight of my runaway train of a week? I got to play dress-up as Nanta Claus for 25 of my closest four-legged friends. You absolutely can’t be a grumpy adult when donning a padded red suit, a white wig, and a soft, fluffy beard.

Yes, it was Santa photo day at Pooches, the dog care business I co-own with my good friend Lawanna. Ok, technically Santa is supposed to be a he, but we have found that the dogs respond well to me once they sniff past the scary costume to figure out I’m buried inside there. AND I have to brag that I have developed some fairly mad ho-ho-ho Nanta-Santa skills.

I listened to doggy Christmas wishes (I DID!), I got some kisses, I did admittedly get a few nervous glances (what Santa doesn’t make at least one or two kids cry?), and I got coated in dog hair. Gloriously coated in dog hair.

And you know, suddenly, this week didn’t seem so crazy after all.

It’s all about finding a little balance, stopping to smell the puppy breath, and not taking all of the grown-up stuff too seriously. Trust me, inside every adult of any and every age, there still lives the spirit of a little kid, bouncing and bubbling with awe and excitement over the silliest little things. It’s our job to recognize our inner kids and let the little buggers take the lead every now and then.

Today I’m doing adult stuff. The list is long. But I’m also making time to do some fun, just for laughs stuff. I love grown-up Nancy. I love little kid Nancy. They both deserve equal time.

So right now…before I feed the dogs, before I go to the barn to dole out grain, before I doctor whatever is up with Trigger’s leg…I’m going to eat ice cream.

BEFORE dinner. Take THAT adult Nancy!

He Doesn’t Know What Carrots Are.

Meeting eyeI first saw him from across a large paddock. He was relaxing under the shade of a tree on a glorious, sunny fall day.

I’ve been waiting for this hello for four weeks and though I wanted to rush across the grassy space to throw my arms around his neck, I knew better. Just as I know not to approach a stray dog head-on, I also know not to rush straight toward a horse that I don’t know, and that doesn’t know me.

So I approached quietly, talking softly so as not to startle him from his afternoon nap. He turned his head to study me and his sleepy eyes immediately creased with worry.

While I certainly posed no threat to this handsome horse that I have named Big Paul, he had no way of knowing that. His life over the past few months, or maybe years, had really given him no reason to look at an unfamiliar human with anything but mistrust.

Most of this big horse’s past life is and will remain a mystery to me. What I know for sure is that he was sold at an auction somewhere in the United States and then shipped to a feedlot in Oklahoma to await another grueling trailer ride to a Mexican slaughterhouse.

Until his recent life at Silvermoon TLC boarding farm, new people approaching had likely been valid cause for stress to Paul. Horses are not handled gently at auctions and certainly not coddled at the killer buyer feedlots. They are a commodity in both places, nothing more. They are moved around quickly using a horse’s natural flight instinct  as they are  herded from pen to pen, into chutes, and onto stock trailers. Horses are spooked, stressed, jostled and often injured.

It’s no wonder the approach of yet another stranger cause worry to cloud Big Paul’s huge brown eyes.

Meeting 4Sensitive to his concern, I approached with my shoulders rounded and angled away from Paul, my arms relaxed at my sides. I kept my eyes cast down, just glancing sideways at my horse. I spoke very softly to him, calling to him using the nickname he recently earned while I was pouring over photos of him that had been shared with me online.

“Hey there Paulie…hey Waffle boy. Hey big guy. How’s my Belgian Waffle?”

He tipped an expectant ear my way, but as I reached sideways to run a hand along his neck, he still took a few nervous steps away, unsure of my intent. I stepped sideways with him and simply reached up and gave a spot just below the crest of his neck a light scratching. That stopped him in his tracks. No predator in the world knows to scratch this spot so perfectly. I must be ok.

And so we stood together in the cool shade for several minutes, side by side, me telling him how glad I was to meet him as I continued to run my hand along his golden neck. As he relaxed, I turned to face him, using both hands now to reassure him that I was truly one of his best friends in the world.

Then I reached into my pocket, extracted a few little pieces of carrot and offered one to Paul. This gesture would cause the horses, donkeys, and mule that share Tails You Win Farm with me to crowd around and get a tad pushy as they competed to be the first to nab a sweet, crunchy treat.

Paul, on the other hand, sniffed the carrot carefully and turned away. Ohhhhh…a horse who has never had a carrot. Well, Big Paul, I have much to teach you.

After a few minutes, I stopped petting Paul and walked back out of the paddock to retrieve my camera for a little photo shoot. Paul, now relaxed, followed me out of the shade to bask in a little sunshine as he munched on a bit of hay from the giant round bale in his paddock. As he enjoyed his afternoon snack, I had an opportunity to get a good look at my new friend.

I estimated him to be around 17 hands tall, meaning his withers were about as tall as the top of my head, at 5’9″ (one “hand” equals four inches). His coat, a lovely golden shade, was still shedding old, dry hair, a new glossier coat coming in beneath. His tail brushed his hocks with burrs tangled throughout. I was itching to take a comb to those pesky snarls, but that would have been rushing our relationship. We have time.

His pale mane also had a few big burrs in it, I was able to tease those free. His mane was thick, but worn completely off where the collar of a harness would rest – a little clue to his past. We feel sure Big Paul was used as a working farm horse or a carriage horse for most of his life. The general consensus is that Big Paul may have been an Amish work horse, possibly traveling to Oklahoma from as far away as Pennsylvania.

Meeting nose scarHis long face, graying a bit  around his eyes, had a handsome white blaze marred by twin scars on his nose, likely from a halter fitted too tightly, or worn too long. His eyelashes, impossibly long and thick, shaded his eyes as he continued his seemingly shy glances my way.

Big Paul’s hooves, though in need of attention from a farrier, appeared sound. His long legs were straight, and strong with no lameness. One back leg had an impressive scar on the inside of the hock. It would have been an impressive cut, and perhaps the reason Paul was retired from work and sold, though his gait did not reveal any permanent limp or damage from the injury.

I actually believe that Paul’s life was likely upended simply because of his age. The veterinarian estimated him to be around 16 year old. Not ancient by any stretch, but perhaps beyond his peak heavy work years. I’ve been told that the Amish will sell off horses of a certain age in favor of younger horses. I need to do a little research on that, though the whys don’t really matter beyond satisfying my own curiosity.

Meeting followingThe reality is that I don’t care how old Paul really is. I don’t care that he can’t do hard work any longer. I wouldn’t care if he happened to be lame, though I’m quite relieved that, beyond needing to gain a few pounds, he does appear to be very healthy.

All that matters to me is his sweet disposition, his gentle, relaxed nature, and, hopefully, his willingness to accept one more change – the move to Tails You Win Farm.

As I spent time getting to know my “online boyfriend” – we did meet on what could be considered an online dating service for horse-crazy people seeking horses in need of a lasting relationship – I just kept my heart in tune with his. Horses can speak volumes to you if you just leave your own assumptions behind to spend some quiet time petting, brushing, and just being there with them.

What Paul told me was that he is very weary. That he has known great stress. That he has never been considered a companion animal, but instead a tool to be used until it is worn out. He told me that he is willing to try again, that his spirit is still quite strong.

Nan and Paul 2I think this relationship is going to work out very well. While there was no immediate ah-ha moment when we met – we did not rush to each other in cosmic recognition – I could see Paul lowering his guard, growing to trust me, and eyeing me with curiosity instead of fear.

I think that’s a perfect start. I think we’ll become fast friends. I think all of Big Paul’s worries are behind him now.

And I think I’ll teach him that carrots are quite delicious.

Online Love Affair

It’s true. Today is the day. Today is the day I am finally going to meet a man I met through an online matchmaking page.

Are you shocked? I know. You’re thinking, “But what about JIm?” How can you do this to Jim?”

Oh, he knows. In fact, I think he’s coming along with me. He wants to meet this guy too.

Scandalous? Have I lost all good sense? Taking the man who has been my partner for more than a decade to meet a man I recently met online? A tall, strawberry blonde for whom I admittedly have strong feelings?

Well, think what you will, but I feel pretty good about this love triangle. I think my two men will get along just fine.

face

The man we are going to meet is Big Paul, the handsome Belgian draft horse I purchased online from the killer buyer feedlot a month ago. Paul has a lot of fans across the country, many of whom generously donated money to help secure Paul’s safety. Today I finally get to make the trip to meet this special guy.

And I don’t think Jim will mind seeing me give Big Paul a huge hug. I don’t think he’ll mind one bit.

I already even have a pet nickname for him…he’s Waffle. My big Belgian Waffle. ❤ There will be stories and photos to come. Hopefully a long, happy lifetime of them.

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

12049161_681469205287762_5449418029687840239_n

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

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

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

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

The horses.

And for me, Big Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to Find Right When Reality Seems So Wrong.

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Resting. Recovering. Blissfully unaware.

I feel a bit like a truculent five year old today. I didn’t get the answer I wanted and now, like a cranky kid denied one more hour of television before bedtime, I’m throwing a bit of a tantrum. The inside my head kind. Not the kicking and screaming on the floor kind.

Not yet, anyhow.

Last night we got the news that our 13 year old Dalmatian, Toby, doesn’t just have an infection in his liver and abdomen, as we hoped. Odd thing to hope for, right? But it beat the hell out of the alternative.

The answer we did get was the wrong answer. The very wrong answer.

Toby has lymphosarcoma. It is one of the most common cancers to strike dogs. How dare it strike MY dog.

And now my inner five year old is running amok. What is it? How did it happen? How do we stop it? What can I do right now?

Our veterinarian, Dr. Dennis Henson, in the role of patient parent, will answer my flood of questions as best he can. He’s amazing that way. Calm, compassionate, brilliant, and so very well-versed. He will handle my barrage of why-why-how-how-why-when-why-how questions. We are so lucky to have him as our veterinarian, advocate, and friend.

Toby is so lucky to have him.

The next step is to talk with the veterinary oncology specialist we are fortunate to have in our area. Dr. Henson will be calling her to initiate the why-why-how-how-why-when-why-how with her on our behalf.

We will also consult with our friend and veterinarian, Dr. Heather Owen, who specializes in alternative treatments. Once again, fortune is on our side because we have a veterinary practice right here in Tulsa that specializes in acupuncture, rehabilitation and physical therapy services, integrative food therapy, laser therapy, Chinese herbs, massage, and chiropractic care.

Toby is going to have one heck of a great team in his corner.

Of course it’s all going to boil down to choices. Jim and I will have to make some choices on Toby’s behalf. It’s a huge and daunting responsibility we face when caring for our beloved animals.

Toby does have a type of cancer that responds well to treatment. As I understand it so far, treatment could range from management with steroids to a full-blown attack with chemotherapy. There are many things to consider in selecting the right treatment path and we will consider them all carefully.

The most important consideration is and always will be Toby.

This amazing, smart, lovable, loyal, trusting dog does not deserve to suffer one minute. I hate seeing him not feeling well.

Of course, I have to remind myself that he is still recovering from a fall on the stairs, that led to damage to his liver, that led to exploratory surgery and removal of part of his liver, that led to us discovering the cancer.

Can a bad fall be a good thing? In the Olympics, no. In Toby’s case, quite possibly.

It is possible that Toby is still feeling down because of the fall and surgery? Yes. Is it possible that when he recovers from all of that, he will return to feeling pretty darn good? Yes. In that case, he could be a good candidate for chemotherapy. From what I have speed-read online, a good majority of dogs handle the chemo with very minimal to no side effects, and do go into remission.

That would be grand.

But we won’t know any answers right away. And frankly, the answers I am digging up just bring on more questions. Oh Nancy’s inner five year old. Please take a nap.

I need to focus on right now.

me and Toby 2Right now I’m buzzing with the need to do something. I can hug my boy. Jim and I can make sure we’re supporting him as best we can until we can get some answers that will lead to good, educated decisions.

Today, when everything seems to be spiraling a bit out of our control, the one thing I can do is look up the best type of diet to support a dog with cancer. I’m a huge believer in approaching this problem from all sides – dietary, homeopathic treatments, and traditional medicine. So while I wait for the chance to pepper my veterinarians with a million questions, I’m digging through resources to come up with the right menu for our special boy.

It sure can’t hurt. I believe it sure can help. Plus, I need to do something.

Right now.

I need to try to turn this wrong into a right. Jim and I just need to find right.

How to Move a Huge Hog That Doesn’t Want to Move. Riddle solved.

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Jerry…the picture of noncompliance.

Before I tell you the answer to my riddle from earlier this morning (if you missed out, you might want to read here first), let me walk you through the events that left me a tad battered and bruised, but victorious on oh-so-many fronts.

Ok, when I last shared with you this morning, I was looking forward to the prospect of going out to convince one wayward Jerry Swinefeld that he should not be living as a gypsy pig, he should move back into his comfortable digs in the barn. Behind a gate. Behind a fence. Two things I consider essential to responsible large hog/small hippo ownership.

I was pretty convinced that if I just went out, sweet talked Jerry a bit, maybe scratched him in all of his favorite spots (under the jowls and belly being the very favorite), and offered some past-the-point-for-human-consumption strawberries (YUM! A Jerry favorite), my big guy would just haul himself to his feet and lumber along with me back to the barn.

I was sure of it.

I walked over to the spot where I left him last night to find him still firmly, lazily planted in the brush, under the trees on the backside of the pond dam. He even grunted me a little “ah-ah-ah” good morning greeting. I felt this was a positive sign. Was Sir Never Miss A Meal a tad peckish?

I sure hoped so.

I sat down in the tall grass and brush beside him…tree branches hanging low over my head. It did not escape me that I was serving a little round of brunch hors d’oeuvres in prime blood-sucking, mini vampire meets mutant zombie territory. You might know them as ticks.

Since it was Sunday, I took the opportunity to offer up a hopeful little prayer…”Dear God, Far be it from me to question your wisdom. I know everything you designed has a purpose. But ticks? Really? If there is any chance you are feeling up to banishing them from the earth now and forever, I’d be crazy grateful. If that’s asking too much, just banish them from this immediate area, OK? Thank you, God. Amen.

I’m guessing I gave God a good laugh. And the ticks too. Nobody was banished this day.

Anyhow, I sat and talked with Jerry who was more than happy to accept my offering of strawberries. I scratched in all the right places. He closed his eyes and sighed in bliss. I showed him MORE berries in a nearby bucket. He drooled. On my leg.

I hopped up enthusiastically and said, “OK, let’s go to the barn!” And off I went, nearly skipping with optimism.

Jerry? Not so much. In fact, I am fairly sure I heard snoring from the underbrush and possible teeny tiny giggles. Damn ticks.

Ok. Plan…what are we up to here…I think C by now. I decided that Jerry was boycotting his pasture until Bob the ram was relocated. Plan C: Catch and move Bob.

Sounds simple enough, right? You would be wrong. Bob is not a fan of being caught. You can pet him, you can feed him, but put a rope on him? Yeah. Cute little rodeo time.

Lacking a dog in my entire pack with a clue as to how to properly herd a sheep, I was on my own. I took my “sweet talk the hog” course of action and modified it to the “sweet talk the ram” plan of action.

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Farm tip…when a ram holds his head down and eyes you like this, it’s best to not stay in front of him. The’re called rams for a reason. You’re welcome.

I whispered sweet nothings to Bob. I scratched in all the right places (SEE Jerry? You DO have something in common with Bob!). I used mad ninja skills to slip a rope halter around Bob’s neck and up and over his nose.

Ta da!

And now we lead the ram…we lead the ram…oh, the ram leads us in bucking circles. Ok, that’s fun too.

I finally got Bob to the barn and got the bright idea that I should give a couple of long spots on his hooves a trim before moving him to the donkey pasture and releasing him. I called Jim and informed him of my grand plan and asked him to bring the hoof snips to the barn.

When Jim arrived, I had Bob calmly tethered to a post in the barn. This was going really well!

I reached down to pick up a foot and Jim says, “Wait! Give me your phone!”

I look up to see a smirk on his face and a twinkle of mischief in his eye. Oh hell no, Mr. Gonna Hit It Rich On You Tube. Not today.

As you can perhaps imagine by now, Bob was not feeling cooperative about the whole hoof trimming scenario. Someone was going to get stabbed with hoof snips at this rodeo and I didn’t want it to be me.

Plan D: Make Bob lie down.

The easiest way to shear Bob, to trim Bob’s feet, to worm Bob, to do ANYTHING with Bob, is to get him down on the ground. He calms right down and somehow seems to think he’s stuck.

Let me interject here that Bob the ram is not the brightest Crayon in the box. In fact, on the MENSA scale of animal intelligence, Bob ranks on the low end of “bless his heart.” If you’re from any region of the U.S. where you believe y’all should be in the dictionary, singular and plural (all y’all), then you totally understand that.

Not in the mood to wrestle with a ram that is well past the cute little lamb stage, I proceeded (yes, with Jim watching and snickering) to make Bob lie down. You do this by standing facing his side and you reach under his stomach to pick up his front foot on the opposite side. Usually, if you pick that foot up and bring it back, he’ll just fold like a miserable poker hand.

Of course not today. So, I had his far front foot in my right hand and reached across his back with my left hand to tuck his back leg up and ease him down.

That was what was supposed to happen. What DID happen is that we both “eased” down, with a tad more force than I had planned, on top of my left arm.

The good news is that Bob was fine and securely down in the “bless his heart” stuck sheep position. The less-than-good news is that I found out I am not Gumby (younger people, look it up) and elbows are really, really only designed to fold one way.

I am a tough woman, but I will tell you I was in some pain. Oh, but Jim was watching and I was going to suck it up. No wimpy girl moment. No sir.

I did warn him that I might need to cry for just a moment (in case he wanted to do the right thing and look away…he did not), and then I channeled my inner Taylor Swift, decided to shake it off, and started trimming those hooves sticking out from that temporarily paralyzed ram.

Job done, I convinced Bob that he could, indeed, still stand up all on his own and Jim and I marched him from the barn to the donkey pasture—Nan playing the part of border collie, Jim in the part of shepherd.

I can’t say that the donkeys were happy to see Bob back. So if donkeys don’t care for you, and a hog can’t stand you as a flatmate…well, Bob…it may be time to have a little talk about hygiene or something.

Ok, Plan D accomplished, though it was not really the plan I needed to accomplish.

Plan E was to leave a tempting meal in the barn for Jerry, refresh and fluff up his bedding, and leave the gate open. Surely he would get tired of his little camp-out and decide to head home.

Yay Plan E! I would return to the barn after a few hours away to surely find Jerry napping happily in his bed. A simple gate to shut and all would be right on the farm.

I showered, de-ticked myself (nasty little blood sucking bastards!), did the grocery shopping, and headed back out to celebrate Jerry’s return.

Have you guessed? Have you? Yeah. No Jerry.

Plan F: Channel your inner Future Farmer of America kid and MOVE THAT PIG.

You’ve seen them do it at the county fair, right? Kids, little kids, are moving big hogs around with nothing more than a stick in their hand. Hey! I have a stick!

So I grabbed a long crop we keep in the barn and headed back over to Jerry’s nesting spot. In the grass. And brush. Under the low hanging trees. Where the ticks are.

No Ms. Nice Guy now. All business. “Jerry, get up, get up (tap with stick), get up!”

Holy cow, he got up.

I got behind him and started tapping. Just like the 60-pounds-soaking-wet kids at the fair.

“Go to the barn!” (tap-tap-tap his left side) “Go to the barn!”  (tap-tap-tap his right side) “Go to the barn!” (repeat) (repeat) (repeat)

What do you know? He went to the barn. He walked right into his pen and ate a bite of his welcome-home dinner and checked out his bed.

Plan F, I embrace you!

I learned a lot today.

1. You cannot convince Jerry that Bob is a pig in sheep’s clothing. No bromance there.

2. I still really hate ticks. They still really love me.

3. Elbows should only bend the one way. It’s bad if they bend the other way.

4. Ibuprofen is our friend.

5. You CAN move a 700+ pound hog that does not want to move.

I’m not really sure I answered my riddle. Sure, Jerry is back where he is supposed to be, but I didn’t find and repair his escape hatch, so we may be repeating this whole joke-on-me tomorrow. My hope is that with Bob gone from his world, Jerry will settle back into his happy routine of eat, wallow in mud, sleep, wallow in mud, eat again, sleep some more.

20150412_103901And me? Well, I’m giving myself an “atta girl” for tenacity today, and a “bless my heart” for trying to rearrange my elbow.

I can already see tomorrow in my crystal ball…”Hey Nancy, how’d you hurt your arm?”

It could be a long Monday. Hey Jerry…STAY PUT.