Never Count a Good Chicken Out.

She's back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok. She’s back in the club.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrible, Terrible Twos

the chaseI can’t say they didn’t warn us. They did.

“You won’t really know what you’ve got until he turns two.”

Those simple words from our wonderful friends at Freedom’s Song Wolf Rescue have stuck with me for the last 18 months. Now they’re proving a bit prophetic.

And what they meant was, with wolfdogs, you really don’t know whether they will think more like a wolf, or more like a dog until they mature. For some, I guess, the wolf side of the brain can prove to be a bit of a challenge. It’s possible we’re finding that out.

I  can’t say that I didn’t see it…and feel it…coming. Over the past several months I have seen a shift in our wolfdog Kainan’s attitude from time to time. It was subtle at first. You had to pay attention. And it was easy to write it off as just a little incident.

Since joining our family as an adolescent wolfdog in August of 2014, Kainan been remarkably easy-going. Though he dwarfs all of our other dogs – now easily outweighing the largest by about 40 pounds – he has been an affable boy, romping and playing like a gentle giant with dogs half his size or smaller. His current most devoted playmate tips the scales at a mere 38 pounds.

He also defers to our 10-year-old, “top dog” Dalmatian, Howie. He bows down to Howie on a daily basis, groveling at his feet and licking under his chin in absolute submission to the older dog. Howie is very large and in charge in Kainan’s eyes. This behavior is not because Howie is an “alpha dog” who has forcibly rolled Kainan over and asserted his dominance. That theory is tired and outdated. Kainan’s behavior toward Howie is healthy, voluntary submissive behavior and it’s a good thing.

But in recent months I have noticed it, I’ve seen a little shift. Dogs that were once included in Kainan’s merry little circle of playmates, are now excluded. If you know the subtleties of dog to dog communication, you can see the change in attitude a mile away.

Kain and Bernie

“Good play” with Bernie

I think I first noticed it with Bernie, our pit-mix boy. Bernie was one of Kainan’s initial best buddies. They would romp and play like big, goofy puppies. Until one day I saw it.

I looked outside and saw Bernie sitting in the very back corner of the yard, sideways to the house. His body was curved, his back rounded, his head dropped low, his ears pinned back in a worried expression. I could see he was licking his lips and glancing sideways toward the house and then looking quickly away. These are all signs of stress, all signals to another dog that he is no threat, that he is not challenging, and he wants no trouble.

Having never seen Bernie display this behavior, I quickly looked to see what was causing his concern. There, standing tensed and focused between Bernie and the path that leads to the dog door, was Kainan. His ears were pricked sharply forward. His head was dropped level with his back. His body was tensed and in a partial crouch as if ready to spring. His eyes held a hard focus on the worried dog across the yard.

I immediately went out into the yard and called Kainan to me. He did not respond quickly or very willingly. I had to go to him. His focus was intense, but just by breaking the moment, the spell, I was enough distraction to allow Bernie to run to me and then into the house.

What the heck had I just witnessed?

Time to pay closer attention. We had dropped our guard. We had been lulled into a false sense of security by silly, adolescent Kainan. Now mature Kainan had moved in and it was time to take notice.

Kill the wolfdog

“Kill” the wolfdog.

For a bit, I saw nothing further. He was Mr. Frolic. He had a little pack of girls comprised of three Dalmatians, one husky/malamute, and one mixed breed dog who raced and wrestled with him nonstop. Even with his huge size advantage, he was gentle with his girls. In fact, more often than not, he chose to be the prey, allowing them to chase him down, tackle him, and “go for the kill.” It was hysterically ferocious and comical.

And so my guard slipped back down.

Then it happened. Our little whippet girl, Lacy, dainty and all legs and speed, popped out of the dog door with a bunny-like hop and Kainan grabbed her. He reacted as if by instinct. Grab the prey.

Jim was just inside the house and was out the door to break things up in an instant. But it still happened. And our little Lacy got some puncture wounds in the process.

You could explain it away. Lacy moves very erratically and very quickly. If she popped out right on top of him…well…you can almost understand what happened. But still.

So we watched. We redirected Kainan when we felt his focus was inappropriate. We kept a close eye on Lacy.

And then it happened to Nora, our senior Dalmatian. We’re not sure what caused the incident, but Kainan went after her. Again, Jim was there quickly. Nora was not badly injured.

But still.

We had a problem. And it was a problem we always knew might surface. Wolfdogs are not dogs. Wolfdogs are not wolves. And there’s the tricky part.

You don’t know what you’ve got until they turn two.

I have watched the well-educated, experienced people who run Freedom’s Song. They too live with wolfdogs. I know that not all wolfdogs are social to people. We are very lucky that Kainan is. He is quite friendly and very appropriate around people.

I have also never seen him act aggressively when we see other dogs. He has been out and about with us to a few places where we have encountered other dogs on leash and he has been fine. We don’t let other dogs rush up to him, we don’t ask for trouble, but Kainan has consistently remained calm.

Now, this behavior at home, well, it actually makes sense to me. This is his space. This is his home territory. We have asked him to share it with a number of other dogs. And we have dogs come and go from time to time as foster dogs come in and eventually leave for homes of their own. It’s a busy place, and can be a stressful situation for some dogs, but we are generally good at finding balance and keeping the peace.

So now it appears that Kainan has a little circle of friends that he prefers…I call them his gang. And it also appears we have some dogs that he does not want in his circle. So who makes the rules? Wolfdog or humans?

Calm before the pounce

Still good play…I promise!

Well, it has to the be humans, but we have to have respect for Kainan’s view of the world as well. As I tell every training client who has dog to dog issues in their home, just because YOU like a dog and want to add it to the family does not mean your dog is going to like it as well. Humans don’t like every other human they meet…I don’t. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be asked to live just any other person that comes along.

But humans ask their dogs to do that all the time and then seem appalled when the dogs don’t agree with the decision.

So what to do?

Well, I jokingly say that Kainan is currently grounded. He is not allowed to play unsupervised with all of the other dogs loose as he once did. We have supervised sessions several times a day with Kainan loose with all of the dogs, and then we give Kainan his own space with his little gang.

Fortunately, our world is physically set up to handle this new routine. We have sturdy dog runs that allow access inside the house and to outdoor space. We have two dog yards. We can allow Kainan to play with his little gang, while keeping the other dogs separate and safe.

And we are dedicated to doing a lot of work with Kainan. Jim and I have worked out a plan for reminding Kainan the benefits of offering desired behavior. We are focusing on spending a lot more one-on-one time with him. We are working to teach him a strong recall – no matter what the distraction in the world around him.

We’re also giving him constant feedback when he is loose with all of the dogs. My own belief, backed by a recent online course presented by Dr. Ian Dunbar, advocates giving dogs like Kainan consistent input. If he’s playing nicely, he gets lots of praise and reinforcement. If we see that he’s starting to be a bully or he’s starting to get too rowdy, we call him, we interrupt the action. He gets told “uh-uh,” and redirected. The moment his behavior shifts back to calm and loose, he is praised.

If he crosses any tiny line, it’s game over. He is removed from play.

There is no hitting. There are no shock collars (and BOY are there a lot of people who love to go there…that’s a topic for another day). There are no harsh prong collars. There is no physical punishment beyond limiting his freedom.

There is feedback. Lots of meaningful, timely feedback. And we are patient. And we are fair. And we are learning.  All of us. Kainan is as much our teacher as he is our student.

We love Kainan and we are committed to his welfare and his well-being. That means it’s our job to understand his way of thinking. It’s our job to help this home and life work well for all of us. We don’t want to “dominate” Kainan, we want to provide leadership. If we are good and fair leaders, then everything else can fall into place.

We will make wise choices too. We may have to rethink what types of dogs and how many dogs we can foster. We can do that. Our own dogs come first.

We hope this is just a phase for Kainan. He is not one tiny bit aggressive. In fact, one stern look from me or Jim sends him sprawling to the ground in an apologetic pile. He is just mature now (and yes, neutered, but that doesn’t change who/what he is!), he has instincts, and he is testing the boundaries of  his world. We hope that with fair, positive-focused training, Kainan will be work through his terrible twos to be able to be free-roaming with the other dogs again soon.

But if he can’t…if living with a number of other dogs is just not right for him…we will deal with that too. We will make sure he has always has a great life that is fair to him, while also fair to the other dogs that share our home. We made that commitment to Kainan when we took him in and we will always stand by it.

We know he is new territory for us. We still have a lot to learn, and so does Kainan. But I know it will work out. Everyone is OK. Kainan is happy and being very compliant. Oh, and he really loves turkey hot dogs for his training treats.

This too shall pass. He is still very much our big, fuzzy, lovable guy who, 9.5 times out of 10, gets along great with our furry family.

But oh the terrible twos. I’m so ready for three.

Kainan and shadow 2

The Secret Lives of Animals

these two too

I admit it. I spy on our animals.

I’m not really trying to catch them committing some doggy crime or horsey misstep, though we have put a hidden camera in the house a time or two to solve a few mysteries. The purpose of my espionage is pure and simple.

I just want to see my animal companions being themselves.

If I join them in the yard or out in the pasture, their games, their focus, and their activities become centered around me. I can’t seem to convince them to ignore the human and go about their business. So sometimes, instead of joining them, I simply watch and photograph them from a second floor window.

This vantage point overlooks the backyard and allows a good view of a majority of our horse pasture, as well. I love sitting up there just after dawn. On a clear day it’s a magical time on our farm and the rosy glow of the sun’s first peek over the horizon serves as a lovely backdrop for our animals, framing them in glowing halos.

This morning I sat shivering a bit in the open window. Our Indian summer has finally surrendered to autumns’s chill. But I stayed perfectly quiet in my “box-seat” perch as I waited for my furry actors to take the stage.

these twoI was soon treated to a play session between Kainan, our wolfdog, and Snowflake, our husky/malamute mix girl. They are the perfect pair. Both are nordic breeds (a DNA test revealed that one of Kainan’s parents was a husky/malamute mix, while the other parent was a wolfdog), and both boast woolly coats that are impervious to the early morning cold.

These two play every day. It actually seems like an elaborate dance that involves much leaping, twisting, rolling, and racing about. If you watch long enough, you will actually see a pattern revealed. Their play is not random. They have favorite games.

Kainan’s personal favorite is the “prey vs. predator” game. Kainan will crouch down, his head level with back, his body tensed, his gaze locked onto his gazelle in dog’s clothing. Snowflake, or any of the other players, will wander innocently past and then WHAM! The giant pounce and take-down.

Calm before the pounceIf the prey happens to be lucky, he or she will escape certain pretend death and then the wild game of chase is on. If the prey is really lucky, the tables will be turned and the hunter will become the hunted. Kainan loves it when this happens. He loves to have the other dogs chase him. He runs away halfheartedly and then falls to the ground dramatically as the smaller dogs pile on. It’s like seeing a favorite big brother in a rowdy play session with his younger siblings.

I’ve also been watching the pasture a lot now that Big Paul, the Belgian draft horse we recently saved from slaughter, is free to interact with the other Tails You Win Farm horses. For more than a month, Paul has shown little interest in trying to fit in with our herd. He preferred to stay shut in his own private little pasture. Now, however, he is free to mingle with the others, or free to be apart. It’s all up to him.

Morning glow

Paulie, far right, still enjoys his personal space, but the gap is closing.

Right now I’d say he prefers to stay on the fringe of the group. He is a very calm, easy-going horse and has not challenged any of our horses, in fact, if any of them give him a hard look, he just moves quietly away.

But as each day passes, as I watch from my vantage point, I can see specific horses starting to warm to Big Paul, in fact, a couple of the mares seem to be a bit flirtatious with Mr. tall, blonde, and handsome. I’d say the ladies have excellent taste and I’d say Paul’s quiet demeanor is serving him well.

I learn so much about my animals by just quietly, unobtrusively watching their natural interactions. I can’t wait to see what game the dogs invent next. I look forward to seeing Big Paul continue to feel safe, secure, and welcome in his new home.

Carry on kids. Pay no attention to the smiling woman watching from the second floor.

Good Morning, Sunshine.

IMG_0882 (2)

How does your day start?

Big stretch as you fix that first cup of coffee? Check the headlines online? Maybe you go for an invigorating morning jog? Or maybe you’re the lucky soul who can find 20 minutes to meditate so you start the day in a calm, focused state?

Yeah. Me? Not so much.

My today started with several of our ever-vigilant dogs thwap-thwapping (trust me on that sound effect) out of our dog door at high speed and in full frenzy. Ahhhhh…the pleasant start to yet another day on Tails You Win Farm.

There are different levels of bark around our place and I know them all well. There is the “I think a leaf just fell somewhere in the back 40 acres” bark. That gets no response from me. We have no neighbors within 80 acres of our dog yard. Bark your fool heads off.

There’s the “HEY, did you know we have horses” bark. Yeah. I know. This bark also gets no response from me.

There is the “I’m barking and barking at nothing in particular” bark. This is generally Bernie, our adorable, but often vocal pit bull mix. He, as my father used to say to me in my babbling youth, is “talking just to hear his own head rattle.” Stellar parenting right there.

This barking gets no  response from me UNLESS it causes the other dogs to also join in the chorus. Then my response is to stick my head out of the back door to yell something along the lines of, “Bernie, shut the living (insert expletive you can only yell when you have no neighbors within 80 acres of your back yard) up!”

Mad dog training skills. I know.

There is, however, one particular bark that will have me bolting straight out of a sound sleep, grabbing shoes and a spotlight. Note: decent clothing optional. No neighbors…80 acres.

The bark that gets my blood racing faster than even a double dose of caffeine can accomplish is the bark that signals a barn security breach. All of the dogs will be out sounding the alert. All of the dogs will be racing up and down the fence. All of the hairs on my neck will stand right up.

A barn security breach generally means that the miniature donkeys have once again found a minuscule hole in the fence. Or that Ferris Muler, the giant Houdini mule, has pulled another how-the-hell-did-he-do-that escape.

A barn security breach also means that our distant neighbors may have had wee morning hour visitors. OR it may mean that Jim’s beloved garden may have been raided. This is probably my greatest fear. Neighbors be damned, but God save those animals if they wreak havoc with Jim’s late season tomatoes and still vine-ripening cantaloupe.

By now you have guessed that this morning’s bark-fest was the latter. BARN SECURITY BREACH. This is a five-alarm, get out the door to assess the damage before Jim finds it emergency.

It was still dark:30, so spotlight in hand, pulse racing, I stepped out on the porch. Morning moment of gratitude: tomatoes and cantaloupe all safe and still snoozing.

An eerie calm had descended on the farm as I rounded the corner of the house to see who the latest escapee might be. Did the dogs REALLY rouse me so they could go steal my spot in the bed? Apparently.

Just as I was about to call false alarm and head inside I heard a rustling sound. I called out a tentative hello into the pre-dawn gray. Nothing. I called again. “Hellooooo?”

And I got a hearty roar in return.

Yup. A roar. A friendly, happy, whatcha-got-for-me roar followed by a pleasant snort, snort, snort.

Jerry at the porchToday’s escapee was none other than Jerry Swinefeld, our resident 800ish pound hog. Finding Jerry roaming the space between the house and the barn was actually a relief. He is truly the lesser of the evils once you have determined the garden is still alive. While the donkeys and the sneaky mule might stubbornly opt for the grass-is-greener wrong side of the fence option, Jerry is generally more than happy to follow me to the barn on the promise of an early morning snack.

I called out to him just as my mom called out to wake me me every morning of my childhood, “Good morning, Sunshine!” I probably just grunted at her too.

My big piggy ambled over to me, gave me his special “uh, uh, uh” greeting and followed me like a happy puppy. A really big, muddy, drooling, happy puppy.

Oh hey…the gate to his pen was standing wide open. This was not an escape mystery to be solved, this guy had an open invitation to roam. Oops. (For the record…Jim was the last being with latch-capable thumbs in the barn…just saying.)

I gave Jerry a little snack. I said good morning to the assembling horses, donkeys, mule, and Bob the ram. I returned to the house victorious, relieved, and ready to face my day.

And yes, the dogs had indeed overtaken my spot in the bed. Hope you’re comfortable…hey, did I just hear a leaf fall? Psych!

I hope you, my loyal reader, got to enjoy your coffee and muffin. I hope you had a leisurely shower. I hope your day got off to a good start. All possibilities considered, mine sure did.

Good morning to you too, Jerry Swinefeld. Hope you have a nice day.

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.

I’ll Find You.

20150718_145536“I’ll find you again someday, buddy. I promise.”

The old dog looked intently into the man’s eyes, silently returning the promise. With that, the man gave the dog a final hug as the veterinarian quietly administered the injection. And then everything just faded away.

Within what seemed like just a moment, or it could have been hours, the dog’s eyes blinked open. The fluorescent lights of the veterinary hospital had been replaced by the glow of a beautiful early morning sun.

The blanket on the floor of the exam room had been replaced by a soft bed of fragrant green grass.

The old dog sat up, feeling no confusion despite the unfamiliar surroundings.  Everything should have felt new, and the dog knew he should feel lost, but instead he had the same feeling in his heart as he felt when he was at home, the place where he lived with the man.

Nearby he saw a gathering of dogs, humans, cats, horses, and other animals all waiting together, facing a stand of tall trees. The foliage was so dense that he couldn’t see what secret attraction drew man and beast to the small path that parted the formidable stand.

“You’re here!” a cheerful voice exclaimed. “We’ve been expecting you. You’ll want to head straight over to that line to be restored. You’re in for quite a treat.”

The old dog looked up into the face of a kind woman who reached out to stroke one of his silky ears. She seemed somehow familiar to him, but at the same time he was sure they had never met before.

With a long, lazy stretch, the old dog got up and joined the others in line. After a time, it could have been a minute, it could have been an hour, the dog emerged from the trees.

A treat, indeed. The dog was old no more. He was restored to peak physical condition, with a spring in his step, muscles strong and firm, eyes clear and sharp. His coat was a field of pure white adorned with glossy black spots. He shook his body from nose to tail tip in delight.

“Ahhhh, look at you, boy. You’re so handsome.” The dog glanced around to find the kind woman, who knew exactly how to rub his ears, admiring him with a delighted smile on her face. “Oh, but wait,” she said, “you missed one thing…your foot.”

The dog glanced down at his right front foot. The woman was right, this foot had only three toes instead of four. One of his middle toes had become swollen and painful years ago in his life and it had been removed. “Don’t you want your foot restored?” the kind voice questioned.

Looking directly into her eyes, the dog dropped into a playful bow and wagged his tail in the crazy circle wag reserved by dogs for only the happiest of moments. He trotted over to plant his paw into the soft dirt of a nearby trail as he looked back at the woman one last time, and then loped effortlessly down the path toward a new horizon.

The woman watched the dog as he quickly became a speck in the distance. “Well done, boy,” she whispered, nodding in unspoken agreement. “Well done.”

Sometime in the future, it could have been just a few minutes, but it was really many decades, a tall man emerged from the dense forest on a slender, shaded path. He took a deep breath, reveling in how wonderful he felt. “I think I could run a marathon right now,” he said aloud to himself.

“I believe you can too,” a woman with a kind face laughed as she approached the man. “Is that what you’d like to do? It’s completely up to you now.”

The man returned her smile, feeling that he should know this woman, but unsure how. He stretched his long arms, once again firm with muscle as he looked around at this place that was new to him, but at the same time so oddly familiar.

Toby sand-paw-printsJust as he was about to respond to the woman, the morning sun rose just enough to shine beams of gentle light on a nearby path. The man stared down at the soft dirt and saw a set of paw prints – four toes, four toes, four toes, three toes.

With a grin of realization spreading across his face, the man’s eyes locked onto the prints and without hesitation he started down the path, following the mismatched paw prints at a strong, steady jog. “I know exactly what I want to do and where I need to go,” the man called out over his shoulder.

“I have a promise to keep.”

The woman watched in the warmth of the dawning light until the man became a speck on a distant, new horizon.

Tell Me Where It Hurts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just tell me where it hurts.

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

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

Today. Perhaps today you will start to feel better.

The Epic Battle at Tails You Win Farm

20150425_083651 (1)He goes to war with relentless fervor. A solitary mercenary for a cause known only to him.

His enemies, his prey, were, in another time (about five minutes ago), his best friends—this, the cruel reality of the battle.

He stalks. He gives chase. He pounces. His prey is always held fast within his intense focus, whether running away, or creeping up in a futile ambush attempt from behind. Nothing escapes his keen senses, his unwavering instinct.

20150302_191225And there are many, so many foes to slay.  One after another, after another is mercilessly worn down until all soldiers for the cause have fallen into certain, unyielding nap-time.

Then, and only then, the giant warrior succumbs to the need for rest himself.

Sleep soundly, my dear battle-weary soldiers. For you must certainly rise to play-fight yet another day. If not for you, I fear the couch will most assuredly fall victim, yet again, to the wrath of his boredom.

Cinder and Kaine  Kain and Bernie

20150425_083726  bed party

Sharing life with Animals

Nan and Van color 2

This is a photo of Vanny, one of my dear dogs from days past. This photo was taken just before he left this life for his next adventure. He was born into my hands and he left cradled in my hands. What a privilege.

I have loved many lives
far more temporary than my own.
I have looked with awe into the eyes of creation,
I have held steady in death’s unyielding gaze,
always transfixed by the complex beauty of both.

A story just beginning,
The final act coming to a close.
Performers who fast forward through life’s stages,
toddling, racing, bounding, then shuffling,
each stage easing my mind into the inescapable reality.

A glimpse at mortality,
theirs and my own.
An unremitting lesson in love and vulnerability,
but also one of joy, of strength,
of compassion, of acceptance.

My heart swells.
My heart breaks.
My heart heals.
And still, I celebrate the blessing
of embracing lives more temporary than my own.

This poem is a tribute to all of the lives that have come and gone from my world, most recently my hog, Spamela Anderson, and our old thoroughbred mare, Silent. But it’s not meant to be horribly sad, or a post mourning their loss. It’s a post about the beauty of the journey. I think living on a farm in the midst of so many animals, I am not hardened to loss, but rather the animals teach me about accepting the reality of transitions.

When you open your heart to loving an animal, whether a pet farm hog, a horse, or a loyal dog, you are allowing yourself to travel through all life’s stages with that animal. We experience their encapsulated cycle of life while gradually changing and moving through the spring, summer, fall, and eventually, winter of our own existence.

 If we let them, our animals have so much to teach us about grace in the journey.