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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!)

 

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Oh, For Freckles’ Sake.

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Ok, let’s air this out right now. This post may seem a little defensive to you. I don’t intend it that way. I really don’t, but you may feel I protest too much. Frankly, I don’t care. This post has been brewing for a lifetime. So here we go.

I have freckles. Tons of them. I always have.

As a youngster, I was that little freckle-faced kid that adults proclaimed “so cute” and other kids might have teased. And when I say the freckles were everywhere, I mean everywhere.

They covered my face, my torso, my arms, and legs. I had freckles on my lips. I even found freckles between my toes.

I never really gave much thought to them. They were just part of me. They showed up when I was just a kid of five or six and they’ve been part of “my look” ever since. I have never spent time hating them because really, what’s the point in that? I have also never tried to get rid of them, even though I have had creams and voodoo “cures” shoved my way. And for the record, if you are a truly freckled person, they can fade, but they never truly go away.

In fact, while growing up bespeckled, my sweet mommy told me that freckles were angel kisses. This is the same mom who told me that thunder was just the angels bowling. So here I am today, comfy in my spots, in love with thunderstorms, and extremely fond of angels. Score one for good parenting.

As I have “matured,” however, some people have tried to suggest that my beloved freckles are not just my skin type, but rather caused by sun damage and age. You know, the dreaded age spots.

What?

Um, well, if they are caused by sun damage, then my sainted mother, whom I just so thoroughly praised just 1.1 paragraphs above, was apparently terribly negligent. I was at my most gloriously freckled as a pony-tailed elementary school kid. Did my mom set me outside to bake as some bizarre form of punishment for failing to eat my vegetables? (And for the record, I HATED vegetables as a kid, but fortunately, Skippy, the family dog, loved them and sat discreetly under the table with her head by my knee…)

Admittedly, we did not do much in the way of sunblock in those days. A smear of gooey, white zinc-oxide on the old nose and maybe some Coppertone tanning lotion on the bod–you were good to go. And sure, my freckles intensified in the summer sun and faded with winter pallor. But damage? Premature liver spots at such a tender age?

Nope. It’s blaspheme. And I have proof.

In an article in Women’s Health Magazine (7-2016) written by my new best-friend-who-doesn’t-know-me, Jessica Chia, the myth about freckles is smashed. Freckled friends, take heart! Here is the REAL story about those precious brown dots:

If you have ephelides, as they’re known medically, you’ve got Mom and Dad to thank. Freckling is a recessive trait, so both parents have to be carriers and pass the tendency on for it to show up, says Amit Sharma, M.D., a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, who researches dermatologic genetics. The so-called gene for freckling is actually a benign mutation of the MC1R gene, which regulates pigment.

Take that freckle-haters…age-spotist proponents! Or is it that you are just a tad jealous of my leopard-esque complexion? Because, you know, according to Ms. Chia’s article, freckles are in. (If you’re freckled and you’d like to read the whole article, it’s right here.)

Yup, freckled faces are being hidden no more. They’re on prominent display in high fashion venues, make-up artists no longer get asked to make them disappear. It’s somewhat of a freckled revolution and I’m proud to be a part of it.

I have freckles that are longtime friends. There’s right thigh freckle that was used to measure the length of my mini-skirts in the 70s. No skirt could be shorter than that one perfectly positioned mid-thigh freckle. Still there today, though my skirt hem modestly hides it these days.

Then there was lip freckle that family and friends were constantly trying to wipe away as if it were a stubborn little spot of chocolate. I squirmed in protest as many an adult licked a finger (ew!) and tried to scrub lip freckle into oblivion.

Cut. It. Out.

Of course now my freckles on my face have faded. I am diligent about using sunblock and though freckles are NOT sun damage, they do require sunlight to emerge. Think of it as tanning in tiny baby steps…though they never really do connect to give you that fantastic golden tan your friends achieve each summer.

But my arms and legs? Still a challenging game of connect the dots (and yeah, as a freckled kid, you are subjected to that particular torture by your older siblings at some point). And if you look really closely you’ll still see the spots that decorate every bit of my face.

Here’s a fun freckle fact: You won’t see a freckled baby…freckles emerge later much like a Dalmatian puppy is born all white and the black or liver-colored spots emerge over the course of the first few weeks of life. Well come on, you KNEW I had to work dogs into this post somehow, right? And I do have an Appaloosa horse…so there’s a definite theme going on in my world.

So here’s the sum-it-up-and-tie-it-in-a-speckled-bow truth: I turned into an adorable freckle-face when I was about five, I’ll still have my freckles when I’m 85, and I love me just the way I am. Talk about the perfect way to keep a youthful appearance. You’re cute when you’re five, you’re cute again when you’re 85. Works for me!

So let’s cast the freckles-are-sun-damage stigma aside and celebrate my little spotted self and all of my ephelide-covered brothers and sisters. You freckle-challenged people out there just might have to turn to teeny little tattoos spattered all across your cheeks and the bridge of your nose if you want to keep up with the fashion trend. But please don’t hate those of us who are naturally freckled or try to make us feel bad about them.

The angels are watching…

nan and pup

4

One More Glance.

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I look in the rear view mirror and see his wide smile filling the frame. Another happy car ride for you. You have no idea that life is about to change.

A car ride! This is the best. Of course, any time I get to spend with her is the best. Except maybe that time she took me to the funny-smelling place where I took an unexpected nap and woke up missing some pretty important body parts. But that aside, car rides are great!

I’m babbling to him. I’m telling him about all of the good things that are about to happen. “Bruce! You’re going to have your own person to love. You’ll have a real home. You’ll be king of the castle…the only dog. All of the toys will be yours. All of the treats…yours. You’ll be allowed on the couch. You’ll have a yard! You’ll love having your own yard, won’t you boy? Right, good boy?” I think my dialogue is more for me than him. Does he notice the little warble in my voice?

She sure has a lot to say today. Usually she just listens to her books when we ride together. Blah, blah, blah, Bruce, blah, blah, blah, good boy, blah, blah, treats. She sounds kind of funny…WAIT…WHAT? WAS THAT…SQUIRREL! Was that a squirrel? Hey She-person…SQUIRREL!

Here it is. This is the address. I peer out of the window of my Jeep at a tidy little house with a small park next door. This looks good. I feel good about this. I take a deep breath and turn to Bruce, “Ready big guy? Do you want to go see Keith?”

Blah, blah, big guy (I love it when she calls me that). She sounds cheery. Too cheery. Something’s up. She-person smells kind of…what it that…nervous? Excited? Kind of like we all smell when we’re waiting for our breakfast at the place where I live with all of the other dogs. Excited, and a bit worried like maybe today they’ll forget to feed me this time. But they never do. They never forget.

I get out of the Jeep and open the rear passenger door. Bruce is right there to deliver a big sloppy kiss across the middle of my face. “Bruce! Ooooh….that was a messy one, big guy.” I wipe the saliva off my face with my sleeve, hoping there’s not a giant mascara smear to go with it. Bruce is a ninja when it comes to delivering those enthusiastic tongue washes. I snap the leash to his harness and let him jump out of the car.

Wait for it…wait for it. HAH! Got her. She’s so easy…and she acts all grossed out, but I know better. Ha ha ha ha. Got her good. I made that one extra drooly. You’re welcome She-person. Oh! My leash! Yay! A walk!

As we head across the front lawn to the house, Keith meets us at the door. He’s a tall, quiet man whose resting face has a gentle smile, unlike my resting face, which I’m told looks a bit angry. Who knew? I’m going to work on that. A resting face with a faint smile is so much more pleasant. It’s one of the reasons I feel so good about Keith. He’s calm, quiet, and easy-going.

Oh hey! It’s that man I met at the place where I live with all the other dogs. He’s nice. He took me for a walk yesterday and he knows all the good places I like to be scratched. How cool to get to see him again. This place smells like him all over. I think this is where he stays. We go inside and She-human takes my leash off. Permission to explore granted! Let’s get busy nose!

It’s a great sign. Bruce seems to remember Keith and seems very relaxed here. He’s off snooping around and Keith seems equally relaxed about it. It’s a nice home, but not too fancy. That’s good. I like homes where no one freaks out if the dog jumps on the couch or sloshes a bit of water when he laps with that wide grinning mouth. Oh hey, Bruce’s resting face is a smile too.

The humans follow along with me as I follow my nose. So many new smells! Oooo…this is a food room. I like the smells in here for sure. And this door seems to have a whole other world behind it. I press my snout hard to the base of the door and snort a bit as I inhale everything concealed on the other side. It smells wonderful! Someone needs to open this door for me. Oh, thanks He-human Keith…

We follow Bruce who immediately finds the kitchen and then the door that leads to the backyard. I tell Keith I’d like to see the yard, so he opens the door and Bruce rushes out with a quick swish of his tail. He’s in his glory trotting quickly around the perimeter of the fenced area. He stops to sniff, hike his leg, and take a quick back-scratching roll. Then he finds a spot a bit away from us and relieves himself. Well, I guess he’s not nervous. All systems seem to be working just fine. Make yourself at home Bruce. Finally. Make yourself at home.

Oh…grass! This is wonderful grass. And this huge tree! Oh, I know squirrels live in this tree. They have a real surprise in store for them if they come out right now. I’m pretending I’m not watching…but I’m watching. Oh yeah, I’m watching. This is great. I’m going over here to leave a little present. You know…the kind She-human seems to love to collect in little plastic bags. Humans are so weird.

After a few minutes, we call Bruce and head back inside. I tell Keith that everything looks good to me. He smiles and says he’s very excited and that he thinks Bruce will be a perfect fit. He’s really missed having a dog in the house since his old pit mix passed away at 17 glorious years of age. I agree…this feels like the perfect fit. I squat down to talk with Bruce for a moment.

“I love you, Bruce. Be a very good boy for Keith. This is your perfect home, big guy.”

With a quick kiss to his nose, I stand and turn for the door. In more than 25 years of fostering dogs and placing them in new homes, I’ve found it’s best to just go quickly. No prolonged goodbyes, no emotional hugs. Just turn and go, Nancy. You’ve done your job. This is the home Bruce deserves.

She-human and the nice man she calls Keith are talking again, so I’m taking the opportunity to sniff some more. I found a bag sitting by the door that smells exactly like my delicious food. And hey, there’s a plastic bag-not the kind they put my outside presents in, the carrying stuff kind of plastic bag-I think I smell my favorite toy in there and…yes! Some of those chewy things I love so much. Does Keith have a dog? I smell a dog, a very old dog, but I haven’t seen him. I don’t think he’s still here. But that is definitely my food and my stuff. What’s up with that?

I come back over to She-human and she gets right down in easy tongue-to-face range. Silly human! Her eyes seem a little bit wet…not the leaky kind of wet, just the shiny kind…and she’s saying another word I hear a lot from her…love. I understand that word because it makes me feel all good inside and usually comes with hugs and scratches in all the good places. I love you too, She-human. Then she says something about the nice he-human, Keith. I like Keith. His face smiles a lot like mine.

Then, kind of suddenly, she kisses me on the nose and turns to head out the door. I try to go with her, because I guess it’s time to go back to the place where I live with all of the other dogs. But Keith takes hold of my collar and says something about a treat, so I turn to see what he’s offering. I’m always up for a tasty treat.

I march quickly toward my Jeep. Don’t look back, I think. If he’s watching, you’ll just make it harder for him…and yourself. But I just can’t resist one fast glance over my shoulder. Through the glass storm door I can see Keith smiling down at Bruce, his new dog. Bruce has his back to the door and his tail is wagging wildly as he looks up into Keith’s face. Perfect, I think. It’s the best gift a foster dog can give me. No fuss and worry when I leave.

As I unlock the car door and climb inside, I whisper to the Universe knowing Bruce will somehow hear me. “Have the best life, big dog. Be happy, be safe, but know I’m always nearby if you need me. Always.” With that, I practice my new resting pleasant face and drive away.

Keith wasn’t bluffing! He did have a very nice dog biscuit for me. I crunch it up in two quick chomps. And then I remember…She-human. I turn to look through the door that seems like you can walk right through it, but trust me, you can’t. I’ll only make THAT mistake once. She-human is in the car, starting to pull away without me. It’s funny because I’m actually not worried. Something here feels pretty right.

I raise my most excellent nose into the air and sniff deeply. There it is. That’s her scent. I store the memory of that smell in a special spot deep in my mind. I will never forget it. And somehow, I think I’ll get to see her again from time to time. I think…no, I know. I know she’ll always be nearby. Always.

love-you-bruceBruce was a foster dog at my boarding facility, Pooches, for a long time. He showed up in our parking lot a tired, thin dog wearing a ridiculously thick collar with a heavy, industrial metal clasp hanging from it. It was obvious that Bruce had lived his life on a chain somewhere. Perhaps a guard dog, maybe a pet forgotten in a backyard.

We took him in. We helped him get healthy. We learned to trust each each other. We learned to love each other. Bruce was a very popular guy with everyone who worked at Pooches and everyone who met him on our daily walks. But he and I had something special. He was my big guy.

Bruce and I walked together nearly every day for about three and a half years. To some it seemed his perfect home might never show up…not many people line up to adopt middle-aged, 80 pound pit bull mixes. But I knew it would happen someday.

Bruce’s happily-ever-after finally arrived. It was a great day when I left him in a new, happy home. Oh sure, I miss him. I miss our walks and those big sloppy kisses, too. Every time I pass by the kennel run that was his at Pooches and see a different dog there, my heart tugs a bit. But then I smile knowing that Bruce has a real home and his very own person now.

Love you big guy. Have the BEST life.

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This is our scary face. I think I’m scarier than Bruce.

 

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Good Dog. Seriously. Say It.

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Photo by Jim Thomason

I have a lot of pets. And many of them are pet peeves.

Ba-dum-dum. Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.

But seriously folks, I do have a lot of pet peeves, especially when it comes to the animals that share our world. And hey, one of my first pet peeves is that I don’t call them “pets.” I’m going to admit it. That word annoys me.

Pet is something I do to greet my dogs, to comfort them, to calm myself. It’s an verb for me, not a noun. Using the word pet to describe my dogs actually seems demeaning to me. My dogs, horses, chickens, unintentional house mice, etc., are my companions. They are my animal family. They are not furry/feathered humans, nor are they little slaves sent here to do my bidding. They are animals who are willing and kind enough to abandon a lot of their natural instincts to try to co-exist in our crazy, human-focused world.

That’s pretty amazing to me. I think it deserves a little respect.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the term “fur babies.” Nope. Let’s not go there.

Today’s pet peeve, however, actually focuses on how we speak to our animals, how we choose to try to communicate with them. As a professional dog trainer (fancy certificate, letters after my name and all!), I get a lot of calls about “bad dogs.”

“My dog is stubborn.”

“My dog won’t listen.”

“My dog is out of control.”

I listen. I ask questions. I imagine what I will find when we finally meet. And I’m usually spot on.

What I generally find on  visits with “out of control” dogs is a complete lack of clear, meaningful, and consistent communication. So what I’m telling you is that 98.9% of the time…it’s not the dog’s fault.

And more than a lack of dog training know-how, I have found that it’s actually a mindset issue. As humans, we still feel the need to be very large and in charge when it comes to our animals. And when other people come around, it seems humans often go into hyper-militant mode, as if to suggest that their dogs behave like perfect little angels every moment of the day…except right now. You should see how people act when an actual dog trainer steps into the mix. It’s as if everyone suddenly has something to prove.

“Sit. Bo-bo, sit. SIT. SIT. BO-BO SIT. Sit down. SIT. YOU SIT RIGHT NOW. Bo-Bo…come here. SIT. COME. NO. NOOOOO. SITSITSIT.”

Kind of makes me want to toss an “h” in that sit somewhere.

And then I get asked how to “correct” that. “How do I make him mind?” “See how stubborn he is?”

OK. I can’t give an entire dog training 101 here (because hey, I don’t give that away for free! Bills to pay, people. Dog food to buy), but what I can do is help you get your head in the game. The right game.

First, dogs require constant feedback when they are learning. That means as good as you are at telling them when they are wrong, you need to be equally as good at telling them when they are right. Equally good. Tell them when they are RIGHT. In fact, spend more time doing that than you do telling them how wrong they are.

I’m going to let you think about that one for a moment. Here’s a gratuitously cute puppy photo you can ponder whilst you chew on that paragraph…

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Ok…all done pondering? Great. So here’s my next free tip: Let’s change your vocabulary.

Sometimes changing your mindset is as easy as changing the words you choose. Here are my new training words for you:

  1. Instead of train, use the word teach.
  2. Instead of command, use the word cue.
  3. Instead of correct, use the word redirect.

Let’s start with those three and see how it goes. Teach, cue, redirect. Doesn’t that feel better already? Just switching to those words and paying attention to their meaning, their undertone, could make a world of difference in the relationship you have with your dog.

This is not a battle. Dogs have no hidden agenda to overthrow the world. They repeat behavior that gets them attention. They avoid things that are unpleasant (and we wonder why they don’t always come when called…). Let me give you some real-life examples.

I visited a home with an “out of control” dog. The dog was said to have horrible manners when guests came over. The dog wouldn’t listen. The dog jumped all over people.

“He knows better. He’s just being stubborn.”

The moment I hear that stubborn word, I wonder which being in the house it really describes. And then I giggle to myself. Usually to myself.

So I asked my client to show me the dog and let me see how they were dealing with the situation. That’s when I got the SIT-SIT-SIT-NOOOO-NOOOO-DOWN-SIT-OFFFFFF-NOOOOOOOOO routine. I listened to the tone of their voices. I saw the chaos escalate. I saw the humans growing frustrated and more excited. I saw the dog doing the same.

And even when the dog wasn’t actually trying to jump on me, the humans were still barking commands.

So when the dog came toward me and kept four feet on the floor, I quietly said, “Yes! Good boy.” Then I offered the dog a little treat.

I backed a few steps away and invited the dog to follow me. I had his attention now because I was speaking softly, I wasn’t stressed. He liked that. He followed.

When he came to me, I asked him to sit. He did. I said “Yes!” I gave him a tiny cookie. I praised him. Then I backed away and did it a few more times. Pretty soon, every time I cued the dog to “come,” he ran to me and slammed his butt to the ground with his tail wagging happily.

I praised him. And looky there, I used all three of our new vocabulary words.

I taught the dog what I expected instead of just waiting for him to screw up.

I helped the dog learn a cue, one indicating what I expected, and also a word that marked the moment when he did something right. “Yes.” I captured behavior I liked.

And I redirected the dog. The dog was jumping on people because he was friendly and wanted attention. I showed him a proper way to earn attention. He listened. He learned.

Here’s another example. I visited a family who had a dog that would not come when called. The dog would play keep-away, staying just out of reach. The family was frustrated.

So I asked them to show me.

We went out in the yard. The dog chased a bird. When he ran to the other side of the yard, one of the humans said “Fritz, COME!”

Now, don’t think for one second that dogs don’t understand the tone of our voices. They do.

When this person said “Fritz, COME,” the sharp tone me want to back away slowly. Seriously…why do we have to change everything about ourselves when we go into dog training mode?

So Fritz, who was still on the lookout for that bird, did hear his person say COME. And he did look back at us. That glance back was the moment of truth…what would happen next?

Well, the owner repeated his command even more sternly, “FRITZ! COME! COME!” It sounded angry to me. It sounded angry to Fritz too.

“FRITZ. RIGHT NOW. COME HERE RIGHT NOW. FRRRRRRITZ!”

Fritz didn’t come. In fact, he glanced away (which is actually dog-speak for “hey, human, chill out! Let’s all calm down).

“See? He’s stubborn.”

Huh. Ok.

“Let’s try something different,” I suggested.

I went to within a few feet of Fritz. In a happy voice, I said, “Fritz, come!”

The moment Fritz looked at me, I said, “YES! Goood boy! Good!”

Guess what? Fritz came right to me. Because I praised him in the moment he acknowledged my cue by looking at me, I gave him a reason to want to come to me. We communicated. I was teaching Fritz that the cue “come” would be followed by something good/fun/rewarding/calm/happy.

Fritz liked that. I wasn’t scary. I was nice. That made Fritz feel good and want to be near me.

So Fritz’s dad, who was also a really nice person when he dropped his alpha dog trainer persona, gave it a whirl. When Fritz heard the cue “come” and glanced at his person, he was praised. Oh hey, Fritz liked that and came RUNNING on cue.

Just capturing that one little questioning glace back and giving Fritz the promise of good things to come, made all the difference in the world.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? The true key to good dog training is to be a teacher, not a trainer. And to give clear praise when praise is due. And perhaps most importantly to recognize when praise is due. Be in the moment. Your dog is.

OH if only I had a dime for every time I’ve seen people continually telling their dogs what NOT to do, but never capturing that moment when the dog is actually doing what they want. I would be a wealthy, wealthy retired dog trainer.

Think it through. Go talk to your dog. Talk. Don’t holler, yell, get all stern and scary. It’s not about intimidation. It’s about building communication.

Now get out there and play with your dog. Oh, and here’s another gratuitously adorable puppy photo as your reward. Good human. Goooood.

yoga-dog

(Bo-Bo and Fritz are not actual dog names. But the stories above are quite true. So true. Very true. Let’s just let all of my training clients wonder if it’s them…)

0

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night…

jim-storm

Photo by Jim Thomason

It was a dark and stormy night. The bank of clouds that had been building ominously on the west horizon all day had finally spilled across my landscape, churning and flashing with anger. There was no hint of a twinkling star, no sign of even one moonbeam to light the way home.

Is there even a moon tonight? I wondered as I switched the headlights back and forth from high to low beam finding no setting that cut through the swirling foggy mist. Full moon? Crescent moon? I couldn’t even remember. But it didn’t matter. Not tonight. The impending storm owned this night and all I wanted to do was win the race with it to my farm.

The first crack of lightening zigzagged its way across the sky casting an eerie glow just as I pulled through the gate to make my way down the long drive. The dogs were going to be bonkers by the time I finally got inside the house to shoo them outside for a quick potty break. Hopefully we could beat the rain that the impatient cloud bank was soon to release and avoid a dozen muddy paws.

All I wanted was to get inside, change into my comfy pajamas and house shoes, start a pot of chili on the stove, and enjoy the drama of the storm from the safety of my living room couch. But no. That’s not how life on a farm works. Even when you’re completely spent from a long day at work, you have to come home to your other job. The animals don’t understand “I’m taking a day off…take care of yourselves.”

Thankfully, the horses would have already been fed earlier in the day. I’d just make a quick run to the barn to be sure our old girl, GoGo, was safely inside so she wouldn’t get drenched in the storm. Then, I’d need to tuck the chickens in their coop for the night. I could surely get all of this accomplished before things got too bad. Surely.

As I put the Jeep into park another huge flash of lightening was immediately followed by a window-rattling roar of thunder that exploded all around me. Great. The storm was sitting right on top of me. Not a minute to spare. I cracked the car door open just a bit. The wind, seeming to sense my arrival, started swirling first one direction and then another as the cold front descended, promising a strong “weather event,” as our forecasters are so fond of calling it.

Taking a deep breath, I darted out of the Jeep and ran for the barn, grateful that I had on my Nikes. I’m no wimp about a little rain, but lightening really unnerves me. I’m not in favor of potentially being a human lightening rod. And right now, that barn sure seemed a lot farther away than it had earlier in the day.

Racing into the shelter, I was greeted by several startled snorts as our herd of horses and donkeys paced around nervously.

“I hear you guys…I’m not happy about this storm either.”

But everyone, including our matron mare GoGo, was safe and inside. The water trough was full. There was plenty of hay in the feeders.

One step closer to those jammies and chili!

Another deep breath and I was off to check on the chickens. No reprieve from the weather this time. The lightening was intensifying and the rain was teasing me with giant random drops hurling down to splat on the top of my head, and trickle down the back of my neck.

The coop was situated near a small grove of trees by our pond. The trees offered the chickens shelter from the hot summer sun and a little camouflage from soaring hawks overhead. Normally, I loved that little grove of trees, but tonight, the gnarled branches appeared to be reaching out to grab me and every little gust of wind crackled through the underbrush like a pack of predators in wait for a tasty meal.

Oh me and my imagination. Sometimes my best friend, but tonight, my worst enemy. Stop it, I ordered myself. Just focus on the chickens. You do this every single night. Focus.

So I peered into the coop and counted heads. As usual, I was one hen short. “Henelope?” I called out as I squinted in the darkness hoping to quickly see where my rogue hen had decided to roost this time. After just a moment, that seemed like an hour, I saw her dark form perched on the far edge of the little pen attached to the coop. Henelope gave a startled little squawk as one of the enormous raindrops beaned her right on the top of her head.

“You crazy chicken!” I said as I scooped her up and tucked her quickly inside the coop. “It appears neither of us has the sense to come in from the rain.” I secured the door on the coop and slid all of the little air vents shut so the chickens could ride out the storm snug and dry.

Another huge clap of thunder had me jumping. Just then there was an unmistakable rustle in the brush just behind me. I laughed nervously to myself. Stop being so silly, I admonished myself. You’re fine. You love storms. Well, you love them from INSIDE the house. Now, stop standing here looking around like the tragic figure in the horror movie who can’t seem to find any of her friends. Get inside to that chili!

Taking a deep breath, and cursing the lightening that still threatened to send silvery fingers down to turn my straight hair into fried curls, I turn and started toward the house, with my shoulders hunched and my head down as the rain intensified, immediately soaking my sweatshirt.

What was that sound? It almost sounded like something growling from the corner of the house. No. Nope. Stop it. Just get inside. You are doing this to yourself. Just go.

Cursing myself for not having the foresight to leave some lights on when I left the house that morning, I made my way gingerly through the inky night toward the front porch, adjusting my course with each flash of lightening.

Suddenly every hair on my neck and arms stood straight up in that moment of premonition. Then he was on me, grabbing me around my waist and clamping a hand across my mouth just as a piercing scream escaped that no one beyond my pack of frustrated dogs could hear.

I struggled, I kicked, I heard…I heard…

Laughter.

Dammit Jim.

Revenge will be sweet.

 

This story was inspired by a little “creativity prompt” that was posted in my online creative group, The Crazy Ones. It was also inspired by the thousands of times I’ve let my imagination get the best of me. And most of all, it was inspired by Jim…who popped out from dark shadows to scare me SO many times that I almost don’t react any longer. Almost. While this story is fiction…well, lets just say there’s a lot of truth in fiction. Thanks for keeping things interesting, Jim. 🙂

2

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!

 

1

All That Matters.

Brother DakotaI get yelled at.

I get called names.

I get cuss words thrown at my face, and I’m sure behind my back.

I had one man try to intimidate me physically. (For the record, it absolutely did not work.)

I’m told I’ve made children cry. (Umm…no, that would be the parents who make premature promises.)

And all of this because of my chosen “hobby.” Or passion, more accurately.

Jim and I rescue and re-home dogs. If you’ve been reading along, you know that. Formally, together with a good friend, we are the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc. But we don’t limit our love to only our spotted dogs…we’ve opened our home and hearts to any number of dogs in all shapes, sizes, colors, and breeds. It’s our thing. It’s a life we love.

Of course with taking in a good number of homeless dogs, comes the need to find new homes for said dogs because, as I always say, it’s a fine line between rescuer and hoarder. We want to stay on the right side of that line.

1924925_10208602696168516_4029565097214493627_nSo when we foster a dog, it’s our job to get to know that dog really well, to work with the dog to teach it some manners (manners may or may not include sleeping in our bed and learning to take food gently off of an offered fork), to teach good potty habits (outside being preferable), and to provide socialization so we know how our dogs react in different situations and to different people. All of this is to prep a dog to find a perfect “happily-ever-after” home.

And then there is the people part of this whole process. While we are getting to know the dogs, we are also beginning the process of screening homes for each of them. Honestly, the dog part – complete with accidents in the house, shoes and furniture chewed, non-stop barking in the crate training process, mounting vet bills, etc. – is far, far easier than the people part.

For me, anyhow. (And I’m betting 99.9% of all people involved in animal welfare feel the same.)

So here’s how it works. We take in a new foster dog and start the “getting to know you” process. After a few days, we post the dog on a website called PetFinder, as well as on our Facebook page. Soon, the people part starts to roll in.

We get inquiries about our dogs. We send them adoption applications and answer any and all questions they may have. I always, ALWAYS explain that our placement process is based on “best match” for each individual dog. Best match means that I take what I know about my foster dogs and compare that information to the answers given by prospective homes on our adoption application.

We can weed through applications fairly quickly this way. For example, a four-foot fence won’t work for a dog that can jump everything but a six foot fence. A dog who is scared of little children won’t fair well in a home with a toddler or two. An elderly dog may not be a good match in a home with a six month old Rottweiler. You get the idea.

And to that end, the questions on our adoption application are fairly open-ended. We need an accurate picture of your home, your hopes for adding a dog, your family dynamic. Then we can work with you to hopefully find a good match. Or not.

Some people really, really have issue with the “or not” part.

I turn down more homes than I allow to adopt one of my dogs. I don’t do it because they are not potentially good homes for a dog (though admittedly some people seeking a dog aren’t even equipped to care for a goldfish), I turn them down because they are not the right match for one of my dogs – the dogs Jim and I know really well.

When I inform someone that they will not be adopting the dog they fell in love with from a static photo on the Internet, I get some interesting reactions. I try very hard to let people down gently and explain why I do not feel my dog is a good match for their situation. Some people are very understanding and accept my redirection toward a different dog…or perhaps a nice houseplant.

Others, however, immediately make it their life’s mission to change my mind. They plead. They promise to change whatever it is that got them rejected (you’ll place your toddler in a new home until he/she reaches the age of 18?). They assure me that I’m quite wrong and that they CAN make things work with the exceedingly active puppy they have their hearts set on despite the fact that they have no fenced yard and work a 12 hour day.

One woman recently yelled at me as she informed me they HAD to have my puppy and if I require a fenced yard, I should spell out the rules for adopting right from the start. I tried to nicely explain that my rules are different for every dog I place. There is no one definition for a perfect home. Plus, if I toss my open-ended questions aside and make it really clear exactly what I’m looking for, people…ok, SOME people…will simply lie.

Yes, they will give me the answers I want to hear so they can adopt that dog with the cute black patch over his eye. Shocking, I know. People lie.

And then some of them tell me how messed up my system is. How terrible I am. How I should be jumping at the chance to place my foster dog with them because their home is surely better than no home at all.

Um. No. No it’s not. MY HOME is better than no home at all. My foster dogs are not in danger. They are not suffering. They are not lacking anything. What they are is waiting for the chance at the very good, very perfect life each and every one of them deserves. And if that means I have to upset a few humans along the way? Well, I just don’t care.

I really, really don’t care.

Go ahead. Yell at me. Tell me I’m crazy. Call me a b*tch (umm, yeah. It’s been known to happen). I’ll smile through it. I’ll wish you luck in finding the right dog. I’ll turn the other cheek. I can do that because when I get it right, when I do find that match made in Heaven, it makes all of the rough stuff dissolve away. It makes everything worthwhile.

Pepper and Kane

Photo used with permission.

I’ve had some great placements lately. Summer brought a little flood of puppies in need, Dalmatian and otherwise. It has been a busy few months and some of my applicants have been unusually “inventive” and, shall we say, pushy. But on the flip side of that coin, many of my applicants have been absolutely amazing.

One woman inquired about a specific dog and I told them she was not right for their family for various reasons. They thanked me for my honesty and asked if I had another dog that might be right. And I did. And she is. And now a darling five year old boy has the best friend of his young life. The dog he will remember with a happy heart forever. Best match.

Cinder and dad rev

Photo used with permission.

Another young couple wanted to get their first dog together. No, no fenced yard. An apartment, in fact. But they were both active hikers and runners…did I have a good fit for them? I did. And she is spectacularly happy with them. Best match.

And then there were the guys who lost their beloved Dalmatian of 15+ years. Their hearts still very tender. Were they ready for a new friend? Did I have one special dog that might be their new beginning? I did. And he is. And when this precious puppy met his new person, he never looked back at me because I got it right. Very right. Best match.

Dakota and LouisSo here’s the deal. You are more than welcome to apply to adopt one of my foster dogs. Jim and I have taken in some GREAT dogs. You can ask all the questions you like. You will answer the questions I have on my application. I will likely ask you some more questions. I’m going to be nosy. I’m going to check your references. I’m going to want to see your home. I’m not alone in this process, most good rescue groups will do the same.

And then I’ll tell you whether or not I have a dog that would be a good fit for you. If I tell you no, you can accept that, you can listen to my rationale, you can choose to accept my help in finding a better match for your family. Or you can get mad at me. By getting mad, you only confirm for me that you were truly not the right match. I thank you for that, and trust me,  your angry words slide right off me.

Because when Jim and I select a home, when we have no more questions to ask, it’s usually very right and it’s a lasting, forever kind of match. We owe that to our foster dogs. They’ve already had their lives disrupted in one form or another, we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“Best match” is apparent when a dog greets his new owner for the very first time like a long-lost friend. Best match is when the foster dog that slept with his head on my shoulder the night before, gives me a quick kiss goodbye and trots off looking up adoringly at his new human. Best match is getting a photo of a precious five-year-old watching cartoons with his new dog stretched out contentedly by his side.

You can like me, or not. You can listen to me, or you can be angry. This isn’t a popularity contest. In the end, it’s about a wagging tail in a safe, happy, perfect home. And we’re always willing to wait for the right one.

That’s all that really matters. Plus, the really cool people we meet far outweigh the negative-Nancy types (Oh WHY does my name have to be in that phrase?).

Now, on to the next dog!

JIm and buddy don rev

 

 

0

How We Do It.

Jim and Skip 2“I don’t know how you do it,” a friend exclaimed as she watched me send one of my adorable little foster puppies off to a new home. “This is exactly why I don’t foster dogs. I could never let any of them leave. Seriously, how do you do it?”

I get this comment a lot. And I mean A LOT. Jim and I have fostered many, many dogs. We have placed many, many dogs. And we have loved each and every one of them.

It’s what we do. But how do we do it?

Well, interestingly enough, the very person who posed this question to me was a mom about to send her child off to college for his freshman year. She raised this child. She loved him dearly. She gave him everything she had to give. And now she was about to let him go.

This week Facebook has been filled with similar stories. Parents dropping kids off for that first day of kindergarten. Nervous parents seeing their youngsters smile and wave as they hop on a bus for their first solo ride to school. Moms forcing eye-rolling kids to pose in front of the very same tree they’ve posed in front of at the start of every school year for…can it be eight years now? Nine? Ten?

I’ve heard tale after tale of parents nervously adding as many home touches to a cookie-cutter dormitory room as their eager-to-spread-their-wings college students will tolerate before saying goodbyes.  Then, of course, while driving away with suppressed tears springing free, they think of a hundred more things they should have said.

So how do I do it?

I think it boils down to this, you love, you nurture, you teach, you shelter. And then, there comes a day when love means knowing it’s time to let go. It’s time to trust that you did your job and that there is a perfect home out there for that puppy…that there is an amazing life ahead for that child.

Do I dare compare a human child to a foster dog? Well…I do because it’s what I’ve got. And really, loving and letting go tugs at your heart, regardless of how many legs your kid has.

But I do have to give the nod to you parents to actual human children. Seriously, you take your child, whether born from your body or born in your heart, and you set him or her free to explore this thing called life. Maybe it’s just for the school day, or maybe it’s for an entire semester or longer. That takes some serious faith and amazing strength.

So how do I do it? How do Jim and I take dog after dog into our home, treat them and care for them as if they are our own, and then let them go to another home,  to a new life?

I think I can answer that question best with a question of my own.

How do YOU do it?

Because really, you moms and dads out there, bravo. Well done. I think you really know the answer to your own question far better than I do.

Brother nap

0

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.

2

Sleep-In Sunday. Who Needs It?

sleep Kaine 2

I’ll admit it. I was a tiny bit giddy when I tucked myself into bed last night. It was Saturday night and I had NOTHING to do Sunday morning. Nothing. Nada. Nil.

And so I drifted off to sleep with visions of a lazy morning dancing in my head. I would sleep in. Not the 7:00 am kind of sleep-in. Not even the 7:30 kind of sleep-in. I was going for the gold. I was shooting for 8:00 am sleep-in glory.

That rarely gets to happen.

It still rarely gets to happen.

Several factors conspired against my lazy, stay-in-bed Sunday. If you know me at all, you might think that some of those factors were the members of my four-legged family. You would be right, but in their defense, it was the two-legged inhabitants of the farm who really stirred the pot.

“Stirred the pot” may be an unfortunate phrase choice, because the two-legged creatures I am referring to are our little flock of chickens who decided that a rainy, gray, perfect-for-sleeping morning was, instead, the perfect morning to crow repeatedly (that would be Cluck Norris testing his new-found skills as a young rooster), and run hither and yon across the yard. In front of the windows. The bedroom windows. Where the dogs WERE sleeping with me. Until they were not.

windowBarking, pawing, and whining incessantly at the windows became the new order of the day. I tried desperately to press my eyelids tightly shut and pull the blankets over my head in an effort to block the dogs, who were ping-ponging across the bed as they vaulted to the windows and back to me in a HEY-DID-YOU-KNOW-WE-HAVE-CHICKENS frenzy.

Yeah. I know. Chickens.

And then the lead two-legger came in to crash my slumber party once and for all. He released THE hound. Yep, I believe his words were, “If you’re not going to come see him, he’s going to come see you.”

With that, approximately 115 pounds of soggy Kainan, our resident wolfdog, landed squarely on my abdomen.

Chicks in yardOh, and did I tell you that the aforementioned human two-legger also happened to be the one who let the chickens out of their coop at 6 am? On sleep-in Sunday? On a cloudy, rainy, perfect-for-snoozing day? Yeah, I’m not pointing any fingers, but that’s what happened and his name rhymes with hymn. (That reference is going to make all kinds of sense here in a minute and you’re going to look back and you’ll surely think I’m quite clever…)

But the sound that REALLY got me out of my fog and into the day had nothing to do with rogue chickens or bouncing dogs. It was the pitiful, complaining, wail that echoed from the garage, down the hall, through the living room and straight into my pillow-muffled ear canals.

PUPPIES!

Oh yes! My eyes suddenly popped wide open. It was my first morning to wake up to our two tiny spotted charges. Our new little foster babies.

In the garage, you say? Yes. I know. It goes against everything that is Nancy and Jim (hey, that rhymes with hymn…). Our dogs and our foster dogs are in the house. Everywhere in the house. They own the place.

But these tiny babies are special. They are two of the survivors from a litter of Dalmatian puppies that came down with the dreaded parvovirus (parvo).

In a nutshell, parvo is a highly contagious virus that attacks a dog’s intestines and destroys the lining that allows them to absorb nutrients and fluids. While there is prevention for parvo – all puppies and dogs should be vaccinated for it – there is no cure for it once a dog or puppy has contracted it. So the only course of treatment is to provide supportive care while the virus runs its course and hope like heck the puppy can rally. It is an aggressive disease and can be deadly.

We learned all too well about the deadly part this week.

Jim and I, along with our good friend Lawanna, run the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to the welfare of our beloved Dalmatian dogs. We educate the public about our favorite breed of dog. We rescue homeless Dalmatians. We foster them. We provide care for them. We find them wonderful new homes. And we love them. Each and every one that passes through our lives.

About a week ago, while on a trip to California for my cousin’s wedding (BEAUTIFUL!), I received word about a litter of 10 Dalmatian puppies that had contracted parvo. One puppy had already died, and other puppies in the litter were starting to fall like a line of teetering dominoes. The litter owners, who had not really planned to breed their dogs, but ooops happened, were overwhelmed and out of resources. Treating one case of parvo can be costly and is a 24/7 proposition. Treating an entire litter was devastating.

Long story short…with lots of texts and phone calls, Jim and I started arranging assistance for the puppies, hoping that a little help would go a long way. Sometimes you can nip parvo in the bud. Sometimes you can’t.

This was one of those “you can’t” times.

Pink 2Once back in town, I met the puppies for the first time at a veterinary hospital that was willing to work with our rescue group to try to save some lives. Three puppies had already left for new homes (and were receiving care from their new owners), one, despite supportive care from the litter owner, had already passed away. We were left with a plastic tub full of six puppies, five of which were showing symptoms.

I won’t give all the details, but of the six puppies, five required hospitalization through the course of the week and in the end, we lost three of them. Overall in the litter, five died, five survived.

It was heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. It was a yo-yoing, emotional, glass half full, glass half empty kind of week. At times, especially in the mornings when I awaited my daily update from the veterinarian, it felt like a cracked glass draining fast kind of week as I received news of loss despite their very best efforts.

But then there was the morning when the remaining puppies made it through the night. That was followed by the call when I could actually hear the puppies complaining loudly as they vied for attention in the background. Then there was the news that the two puppies remaining at the vet were drinking water on their own and holding it down. Soon came the news that they were finally hungry…in fact, hAngry. Finally, we had good, glorious, turning-the-corner kind of news.

These kids were ready to be sprung from the vet and Jim and I were ready to welcome them to our home to recover. Oh…wait. We were anything BUT ready.

Even though they were doing better, the puppies would still be shedding the virus and though our adult dogs would not be affected, we could not let our home environment become contaminated. Parvo can live in your yard for years. It is one stubborn little bastard.

So Saturday morning erupted in a flurry of preparation so we would have a comfortable quarantine space for our new adorable charges. Though parvo is spread through contact, it is not airborne, we still needed to have a good plan and set-up for keeping the puppies isolated.

Hymn, um, I mean Jim, cleared a space in our do-you-really-use-all-of-these-tools garage (and he does. I guess he really does) while I ran out to gather/buy supplies. Supplies included a tarp for the floor, rubber gloves and gowns to wear when handling the pups, blankets, a crate, a puppy pen, oh, and a portable air conditioner. Oklahoma is hot, hot, hot. Recovering puppies needed to be comfortable.

We got everything set up in record time. I went to the puppy hospital, met with the wonderful Dr. Sellers, got all of my instructions, and then loaded a little crate into my Jeep, two sweet, curious faces peering out of it.

13568795_1372346229461358_3022580120059058848_oThe pups settled into their new recovery space nicely. They both immediately lapped up a big drink of water (yay…dehydration is one of the big killers with parvo) and then discovered the pile of new toys we had waiting for them. It was a great feeling to see two puppies who had just a day ago been so ill they could barely raise their heads, pounce on squeaky toys and settle in to gnaw on puppy chew bones.

And so these spotted charmers were the determined little alarm clocks that finally broke through my Sunday slumber fog. They were my reason to bolt out of bed and start my day just a wee bit earlier than I had planned. And I didn’t mind. Not one bit.

It was perfect.

13592266_1372345986128049_2484418169794870042_nGowned and gloved, I sat holding each puppy, thankful for a great veterinarian, thankful for a litter owner who did not give up, thankful for that Jim guy who would never turn his back on a puppy in need.

In our set-up, we had added an old radio in the garage to keep the puppies company. On this Sunday morning before the 4th of July, one of the few stations we could find that would actually tune in was featuring the “Big Country Sunday Morning Gospel Show.”

The old-time hymns (see that…hymn, rhymed with Jim…I brought it full circle!) brought a grin to my face as I sang along to my little patients. Patsy Cline and I crooned “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” I harmonized with the Statler Brothers through “Amazing Grace,” followed by a rousing rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” that reverberated through the garage as two happy, returning-to-healthy puppies squirmed in an enthusiastic attempt to lick my nose.

You know what? Sleep-in Sunday can happily be damned. My cracked glass is now full and runneth right over. I have puppies to hug.

 

There is a fund raiser underway to help cover our mounting expenses for the puppies. If you would like to contribute to the puppies’ care fund, you can find information here: gofundme.com/dalmatianrescue. Donations in any amount are greatly appreciated. All funds go directly to the Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc.,  a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Good thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement are equally valued. We thank you!