Today.

Amy close-up

Today, I made a tag for Amy’s collar. It has other phone numbers on it. Not mine. Not Jim’s.

Today, little Amy becomes Ruby. They are both fine names. The latter has great implications. It is a name a new family has picked for her. It means today is a great day.

Today a puppy gets to go home. It means another day of change for her, and I’m sure some confusion. But she’ll handle it. I know she will. I have picked THIS home for her and it’s right. It’s wonderful. She’ll have a doggy brother. She’ll have two humans to adore her. She’ll have everything she needs and wants. She’ll have the best life.

Today my heart aches just a bit. So does Jim’s. It’s quite impossible not to get attached. They live in our home. They sleep with us. They play with us. They come here out of need. They leave here with our love.

And yes, today is a great day. Though our hearts pull a bit at goodbye, we are thrilled for what is ahead for this little girl who is so brave and so deserving. No more question marks. No more uncertaintly. No more puppy mill life for you, sweet Amy. Go be the best Ruby you can be!

Today we turn back into the house and look immediately into two new sets of hopeful eyes. My heart swells filling in the tiny cracks that were there just a moment ago.

I think I’ll call you Peanut and Olivia. For now.

Peanut and Olivia

 

 

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.

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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!

 

Lost: Large Pig, Answers to Jerry Swinefeld

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What do I do? Do I put posters on street corners? Do I put his picture on a milk carton? Perhaps I should issue a Hamber Alert?

But seriously, somehow we have misplaced a 700ish pound hog.

Lost: One-eared pig that looks like a giant Oreo cookie. Reward offered if you’ll take him to your home instead of returning him to ours.

Yes, Jerry Swinefeld, our resident rescued Hampshire hog, is not where he should be. His stall is empty, his pasture is empty. It appears our hog is on the lam. And we actually do want him back.

I am not entirely sure what inspires a normally lazy, sedentary porcine to suddenly up and abandon his happy home – you know, the one where he receives daily meals delivered wallow-side? Well, actually, I do have an idea. The culprit was likely last night’s rain showers and subsequent cooler temperatures. Nothing inspires a big pig to kick up his heels more than the end of blistering summer heat.

I’ve looked for Jerry. I’ve called for him. Jim has looked in some of Jerry’s favorite nap spots. He is nowhere to be found. You might think we would be terribly worried, but frankly, we have about 75 acres of hiding places at Tales You Win Farm and there are few things that a giant hog with sharp tusks has to fear.

Oh sure, we have a lot of coyotes in the area, but anytime I have seen a hogzilla-meets-scrawny-coyotes encounter, the latter creatures tuck their tails and head for the hills. They truly have no interest in trying to put pork on the evening’s menu.

Jerry at the porch 2It’s not the first time Jerry has made a “run” for it, and frankly he doesn’t usually run very far, or for very long. Meals are not served beyond the confines of his comfy, spacious pasture and true to stereotype, this big boy loves his meals. I expect he’ll find his way back to the barn – or even more likely, my front porch – at some wee hour in the morning. I’ll know when he does because my dogs will explode in a Charles-Manson-peering-in-the-window type of frenzy.

That’s always a fun jolt to consciousness.

Or I’ll get THAT call from the neighbor. Yeah, historically, he HAS made the 1/4 mile trek to see what the neighbors might be offering up for a midnight snack. Jerry is not exactly svelte or athletic, so I’m crossing my fingers that the wee hour in the morning wake-up call doesn’t happen on their front porch instead of ours. Any hopes of winning that neighbor of the year award would certainly be dashed.

I’ll keep an eye out tonight. Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll find my naughty teenager-equivalent passed out in the barn after a night of rowdy fun. When I do find him, I’ll scold him and I’ll send him straight to bed, but not without his breakfast. Dear lord, you do not deny Jerry his breakfast.

Then I’m pretty sure fence repairs will be at the top of my to-do list. Again.

John Denver fibbed. Life on the farm is NOT “kinda laid back.” But then again, I’m guessing John never lived with the likes of Jerry Swinefeld when he decides to test his boundaries.

Dammit Jerry.

365 Days Later: Bigger, Not Badder.

goofy Kainan

It has officially been one year since the day a scrawny, malnourished, exhausted stray wolfdog stepped foot into our home.

He did not huff and puff to gain access. He did not stalk us in the woods while we were on any sort of journey to visit aged relatives. He simply looked into our eyes and we threw the door wide open.

If you have not read my early posts about Kainan the wolfdog, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version. Kainan was found stray in Tulsa, OK (where wolfdogs are not legal to own/house/wander) by friends of a friend. Said friend somehow thought (not a huge stretch) to contact me, my most significant other, Jim, and our equally-bleeding-heart veterinarian/friend, Lauren. That put the wheels in motion to get the young wolfdog quick care and boarding at the animal hospital while we all worked on the “what’s next” portion of this tale.

I went to visit this boy while he was boarding. Past experience in working with wolfdogs at our city animal shelter told me that he might be very stressed, fearful, and filled with mistrust. Wolfdogs don’t do well in kennel situations; wolfdogs often don’t warm to strangers very quickly.

20140901_103907What I found, when I approached his kennel run in the hospital ward of the clinic, was a calm, tired, pup with sores on all of his paws and a soft, trusting glow in his eyes.

Little did conscious Nancy know, but subconscious Nancy was already head over heels in love.

Fast-forwarding through the ensuing events, a local group, Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue, had seen photos of this boy, agreed he was a dog with wolf content, and were making arrangements to take him into their foster program. He would need to board for about a week before they could take him.

Jim and I agreed we would sponsor his boarding at the vet where he could also rest and recover from his days trying to survive on his own.

We agreed on that until Jim had a better idea.

10628313_10204848789243189_794661893457081233_n“I’m going to pick the wolfdog up and bring him home for a few days until he leaves for the rescue.”

It was that simple. We were going to temporarily foster a wolfdog that we knew little to nothing about. Well, sure. Count me in.

So the young wolfdog came home and moved into one of the indoor runs we have in our house. This house was built for our serious dog habit, so we were well equipped to keep him comfortable, safe, and separated from our own herd of dogs. Because we should keep him separated, right? Big, bad wolf?

We agreed on that until Jim and a better idea.

“I’ll just bring him out on leash to see how he does with everyone. He’ll be more comfortable on the couch.”

2014-09-01 10.42.34And he was. And we all were quite comfortable. And that’s when subconscious Nancy peeked out from the depths of my brain to suggest that maybe this could work out. Then she skittered right back into hiding.

Seed planted.

We were to meet the fine folks from Freedom’s Song (say that three times fast!), on a Sunday afternoon to turn the wolfdog over to them. In talking with them on Saturday to plan a place and time for the next day’s transfer, I learned that our boy…um…the boy…would be going to a very good foster home near Oklahoma City. He would be housed in an outdoor pen and introduced to another wolfdog buddy. There he would gain weight and strength while awaiting adoption.

“Outdoor pen?” subconscious Nancy queried. “This boy has been lounging on your couch in air-conditioned comfort. He melts in the heat. It’s in the 100s right now.”

“But I’m sure he’ll be fine…” and with that she disappeared back into the nether regions of my cranium once again.

JIm and I talked about it extensively, for like, oh maybe five seconds.

10551488_10204877036749359_4110038824873177390_oSend our…um…this boy to live outside while he is still recovering from severe malnutrition? Oh hell…um…I mean…oh, maybe no.

Definitely no.

So I called the lovely representative at Freedom’s Song back and suggested that instead of him moving to another foster home right away, Jim and I could foster him until he was a healthy weight and ready to acclimate to the heat.

I heard a long pause on the other end of the conversation. And I knew what she was thinking.

Her inside voice was saying that these people have no idea what they are getting themselves into. And as any good rescue person does, she was running through a mental checklist of reasons why we might not be suited to keep a wolfdog and working to say the words as nicely as possible.

We talked about containment. We talked about our other dogs. We talked about the fact that we had no idea how he would behave once he was no longer weak and starving.

10678831_745359785524595_8164635533662719818_nThe Freedom’s Song folks are good at their work. Not once did they tell us we couldn’t do this. They simply told us all of the “what ifs” and the potential truths of life with a wolfdog…even just a temporary one.

“Temporary?” Oh shut up, subconscious Nancy.

We met with them, we listened to them, and we promised them we would not let them – or the wolfdog – down.

After a couple of agonizing weeks of debate and just referring to our boy as Big-Bad, Jim and I finally named our new foster friend Kainan. Don’t ask me how or why…it’s an entire story. You can read it here if you want to know the painful truth of how hard we find it to name something. Human parents, how do you do this? What a responsibility.

During the same time the great name debate was raging, Kainan gained weight, and strength, and increased energy. Whereas initially he could only sit and watch the other dogs race around him in the yard, after a few weeks of care, he slowly started joining in the games.

Kain and BernieFrom that point forward he has done nothing but thrive. At eight months of age and a frightening 38 pounds in August, Kainan blossomed into a regal wolfdog of 100+ pounds by the following January. From a tired, lethargic boy with sore paws and no stamina, he became the instigator in rowdy games of dog tag.

And through it all, that calm, steady glow in his eyes never shifted.

Did we say temporary? No. He was not to be a temporary guest. Kainan was home to stay. Our home was to be his home forever.

Subconscious Nancy emerges victorious into the light to high five conscious Nancy.

What we have learned in 365 days with a wolfdog in the house:

  1. Guard your television remotes. Your shoes. Your couches. Anything and everything he might be able to reach needs to be locked down or moved out of his reach. Mischief and thievery abound with a wolfdog in the mix.
  2. There is no such thing as “out of his reach” when you have a wolfdog in the house. Maintain a good sense of humor. Scold yourself for not supervising closer. Always remember he is far more important than any “thing” could ever be.
  3. The landscape of your yard will change. If you thought dogs could dig impressive holes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We now have the potential for a multi-chamber, multi-level storm shelter in the back yard should we decide to finish it out.
  4. If your rather large wolfdog decides he wants to sleep on the bed, you will find yourself on the couch. Unless he has already chewed the couch.
  5. Duct tape can repair couches. Sort of.
  6. Wolfdogs are not brave, aggressive, or one bit scary. When our dogs charge into the night, racing to the darkest corners of our yard in full baying alarm, Kainan stands in the safety of the porch light, ready to head back into the house if there really is a boogie man out there.
  7. Wolfdogs apparently don’t bark. Kainan does not have a “bark” but he has lots of other ways of talking. He wuffs, he mumbles, he woo-woo-woos, and he howls. OH how he howls. It’s a more hauntingly mellifluous vocalization than any of our other canines can begin to muster and one that brings the resident coyote choir to a respectful silence.
  8. Wolfdogs are affectionate. They love tummy rubs. They love to have their backs stroked. They love to have their ears rubbed.
  9. Wolfdogs can be very independent. A bit of a split personality? At times, yes.
  10. Wolfdogs love to play. They love to pounce their dog friends. They love to chase and be chased. They love toys. Toys might be your couch…be warned and be aware. Learn from our mistakes, Grasshopper.
  11. Wolfdogs are smart and learn quickly. What you help them learn is important. It is as easy to accidentally teach bad things as it is to intentionally teach good things. I’ll let you mull on that very loaded sentence. (My example would be the people who turn a very wild, excited dog loose at the dog park and only call it to them when they are ready to snap the leash back on to head to the car. Get ready for a grand, 30 minute game of keep-away. They just taught their dog that “come” means “game over.”)
  12. Wolfdogs are amazing, mystical, loving, woolly, gentle, clever beings that are certainly not the right fit for every household, but one of them is very much a grand fit in our household.

Of course I do not speak for every wolfdog here. Obviously, my experience is limited to living with this one very special boy. The grand prize in the wolfdog lottery, in my opinion. Not all wolfdogs adapt to living in a home with other dogs so beautifully. A chewed television remote or two…or five…can be the least of your concerns with some wolfdogs. They are not for everyone, some do not easily adapt to domestic life.

BW Kainan

A wagging tail, a happy wolfdog.

But we have Kainan. Our special wolfdog. Every day I bury my face in the thick ruff of fur around Kainan’s neck and inhale. It’s cathartic and uplifting. There is no musky dog smell. Kainan smells of earth, of fresh grass, of warmth. He looks straight into my eyes with a steady gaze that melts my heart again and again. He gently grabs my hand with his powerful jaws in the role of the playful predator. He’s never left a mark.

There is a connection with this animal that is quite profound and eludes description, but I sure hope every animal lover finds something like it, whether with a dog, a cat, a horse, or…in the right circumstance (Don’t worry fine folks at Freedom’s Song, I listened!)…a wolfdog.

In the meantime, I think it may be appropriate to rethink the fairy tales of my childhood. In my story, the wolfdog is not bad at all. In my story, the three little piggies, the giant wolfdog, and the girl wearing the hoodie all become dear friends who go share some porridge with a blonde girl and some bears.

Kaine and meAnd they…we…live happily ever after.

Happy one year Kainan. Jim and I look forward to continuing this real-life fairy tale for years and years to come.

‘Tis the Season.

IMG_3208No, I’m not one of those people.

Christmas-countdownThis post is not an exclamation of growing excitement over the fact that Christmas is just over 138 days away. I freaked you out a little there didn’t I? Only 17 more Fridays until THE Friday.

But no. We are not going down that path strewn with twinkle lights and elfin magic. Far, far from it.

And, before you dare to read on, this is the point where I must give a TMI warning. This post will be filled with too, too much information about animal husbandry. Actually, more appropriately, this post will be filled with information about avoiding animal husbandry.

If you follow along, or if you care to glance back even one post, you realize that Jim and I rescue animals. Yes, bring us your broken, your old, your castaways. At Tails You Win Farm, we love them all the same.

But damn it, don’t bring us your “in season.”

Yes, for today’s slam-my-head-against-a-wall purposes, the word “season” refers to that lovely period (pun intended?) when a female dog is in heat, estrus, oestrus, “a delicate way.” Call it what you will, it means she’s feeling frisky (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, boom-chicka-wow-wow) and any boy dogs within a five mile radius will be feeling even friskier.

The “lady in waiting” is our foster puppy, Hannah. She is now about eight months old and is experiencing her first heat cycle, therefore we are all experiencing her first heat cycle.

Why, you ask, did I allow enough weeks to pass to allow THIS to happen?

Yeah. I messed up.

I had fully planned to have her spayed well before we had to experience the joy of Hannah’s maturing sexuality. It appears I planned it about a week too late.

You know, things got busy. I lost track of how old she was. She’s just a cute, playful little puppy. I had no idea I should be reading the canine version of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to her.

While we are not in immanent danger of creating little Hannahs – all potential male suitors in our home are neutered – we still have to keep a close eye on our little Lolita in dog’s clothing in the event that her siren scent carries on the wind to any passing stray dogs. Oh yes, they will show up, and they will try to breach our fortress.

To add to that fun, our resident neutered boys seem, well, quite interested. In fact, I’d describe them as willing and apparently able to introduce Hannah to the world of safe sex. Yes boys and girls, neutered male dogs CAN still perform the act of breeding. I found that out the hard way once upon a time.

I’ll give you a quick mental picture of my champion Dalmatian show dog out in the middle of my yard “tied” in a compromising position (Yes, tied. Dogs get stuck for a bit, for lack of a more charming way to explain that.) with our neutered, smiling mutt of a foster dog. This was back when I lived in a neighborhood. With other houses in sight. And families. Did I mention that this is the vision that greeted the neighbor kids as the school bus dropped them off on the corner?

Yeah. I was the popular neighbor. The red-faced one standing out in the yard with my naughty, naughty “we just need a few minutes to calm down” dogs while impressionable, wide-eyed children passed by. You see once they are tied…well…you just have to wait it out. “Ummm…hi kids…the doggies are fine! No, they can’t play right now. Scoot on home!”

(WARNING: Do not Google “tied dogs.” Just don’t.)

Hey, the parents of those kids should have thanked me. I opened that awkward “we need to have a talk” door that so many parents dread. You. Are. Welcome.

The point is that I thought it was safe to let my in-season girl out in the yard for a quick potty break with a neutered boy. He wouldn’t have any interest. He shouldn’t have had any interest. Oh, but he did. And he did. (Boom chicka-wow-wow)

IMG_0732So now, back in the lovely present, we are in the middle of three weeks (yes, THREE weeks…it lasts 1, 2, 3 weeks) of joy, rotating Hannah and our neutered, though quite amorous boys in and out of crates and runs.

Howie, our senior ranking male Dalmatian, has taken the high road. He seems to understand that it’s pointless and is not interested in Hannah. But the younger guys? Oh lord.

Boog the cattle dog, Bernie the pit mix, and Kainan the wolfdog all have a shiny, hopeful gleam in their eyes and big dopey grins on their faces.

Safe or not, my answer to each and every one of them is HELL NO.

The moral of this story is, mark your calendar with a big red X on the date when you plan to have your female puppy spayed. Six months is a great target date. I missed it…learn from my folly.

We have another 10 days, give or take, to go in this less-than-merry season. We will survive. Hannah will have an appointment with our veterinarian as soon as doggedly possible.

The good thing that came out of this was the realization our other teenager, Cupcake (CC for short) was also coming of age, so we rushed to the vet to have that potential train wreck derailed. She now sports a lovely little spay scar (which if you say that fast and out loud sounds like space car and that never fails to make me laugh).

Very soon, we can get Hannah a space car too. Hannah will stop whining and yipping from her temporary confinement. The boys will stop whining and pacing and, in Kainan’s case, howling in mournful lust. Peace will return to the farm.

Lawrence winEverything will be just fine and dandy. Until our current Dalmatian show dog, Brooke, decides to “celebrate the season” again. And let me check my calendar…yeah, that could happen just about any day now.

Hey, Jim, aren’t we done showing her now?

Maybe the lovely Champion Brooke wants a fancy space car too…

Tag

Hopefully, soon they’ll all be back to happily romping in the grass instead of wanting to roll in the hay.

If I Could Talk to the Turtles

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

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

Lyrics from the theme song to Dr. Doolittle 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tootsie

A-one, a-two…CRUNCH…a-threeeee.

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

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

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

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

“I might need your help with something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s madness, I tell you.

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

turtle pond

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

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

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

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

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

Tutle and my feet

Nancy, Turtle Whisperer.

The Definition of a Good Man

Gus and JimI write a lot about the animals at Tails You Win Farm. The dogs, the horses, the hogs, the donkeys, the mice…the what?

Yes, you read that right. The mice. Well, the mouse. We’ll get to that.

I realize I don’t often write about the humans at Tails You Win Farm. There are only two of us and we are seriously outnumbered, so it’s understandable that we don’t get a lot of press.

But I live with a really great human who deserves a little recognition and the dogs, horses, hogs, donkeys, and a mouse play right into my definition of a good man. Let me explain.

I love this crazy place I call home. It’s a place where I have the room and ability to pursue my lifelong love of animals and my dedication to their welfare.

Now take that those two previous sentences and replace every “I” and “my” with “we” and “our” in a manner that would make your grade school grammar teacher proud (or relieved, as the case may be).

My definition of a good man is one who knows how to dismantle a tractor, put it all back together again with NO mystery parts left over, and have it actually run and run well. Then take that same man and watch him gently care for a senior dog in the throes of congestive heart failure…a dog that hasn’t been his long term companion, but receives the same love and care as if he had been born here umpteen years ago.

It’s a guy with a heart big enough to share his home with a rotating pack of rescued dogs who come and go as need arises and good homes are found. It’s a guy who will help you chase down your rogue pig in the middle of the night.

My definition of a good man is one who greets you on a Sunday morning, looking a tiny bit sheepish, as he says, “I might need your help with something.” Please note: Might means HELP!

I had the pleasure of waking to that very statement this past weekend. At the same time I was wrapping my sleep-addled brain around Jim’s words I noticed that all of my wildlife rehab supplies from my days of raising orphaned squirrels and bunnies were sitting on the kitchen cabinet. And there was Jim holding a little plastic food storage container with air holes punched in the lid.

Uh oh.

The story according to Jim is that Kainan, our resident wolfdog, was “on point” in one of our closets. A side lesson here is that if you see your giant wolfdog standing like a statue and staring intently into a corner, well, chances are you should check it out.

Micely 2Jim did just that.

Good thing for Micely Cyrus.

Yes, you read that right. Micely is a teeny, tiny, days-old baby mouse. And yes, Jim saved her. And yes, we are working together, around the clock, to help her survive.

A mouse. Yes, yes we really are.

Now I know a lot of you are out there thinking that the only good mouse is a dead mouse. In fact, I recently wrote a post about Kainan the wolfdog’s prowess as a mighty hunter of tiny rodents (you can read it here…don’t tell Micely!). And yet…when faced with a tiny,  helpless baby…well…you break out the formula, the syringe, and the smallest nipple you can find and you become a giant, clumsy surrogate mom to a mouse.

We may be hypocrites in the eyes of the resident rodent community, but we are really compassionate hypocrites.

And now, add to my definition of a really good man a guy who will somehow cradle a tiny orphaned mouselet in his big hands and coax it to drink a little formula.

Let it be known, far and wide, that a guy named Jim, who is likely sleep-deprived and covered in dog hair, is a really good man.

Isn’t Micely lucky?

Isn’t Nancy lucky?