I Wouldn’t Trade My Life. Or Would I?

Sunrise dogsThis morning, the alarm on my phone went off at 5:20 a.m. My entire body finds that time of day VERY alarming. In a numb haze of sleepy denial, I reach for the phone to hit snooze. Five more minutes. Five more blissful minutes.

In what SURELY was only 30 seconds, the annoyingly diligent alarm sounds again. I reach toward it aiming for that lovely snooze feature “just one more time.” My attempt is efficiently thwarted by a rather large, insistent paw planted firmly in the middle of my chest. Fifty-plus pounds of reality shifts her full weight onto said planted paw and proceeds to lick my face into consciousness which in turn awakens my often impatient bladder. God forbid those 50-plus pounds shift the pressure from chest to lower abdominal region.

I’m up. I’m UP!

Twenty-someodd tails wagging in approval, I stumble to the bathroom knowing I have a moment of solitude before the avalanche that is also known as my normal day starts rolling around me.

My own “pressing need” attended to, I start the routine I can thankfully move efficiently through in an I’m-not-a-morning-person-by-choice zombie state. Dogs rotate out to potty. The foster puppy pen gets cleaned while delighted puppies wiggle exactly in my way at every turn. Water buckets get filled. Ears get scratched. My feet get trampled a hundred times. Somewhere in there I mumble a good-morning to Jim and stop to give him what he may perceive as a hug, but I actually know I have collapsed against him for momentary support. He’s strong in the morning.

Dogs are pottied and as several of them annoyingly return to MY bed for a little extra slumber, I climb the stairs for a life-giving shower and five more minutes of warm, steamy solitude. Well…sort of. There will be noses poking through the shower curtain in ongoing wonder at my willingness to get drenched and shampooed without being forced. There will also be two dogs reliably curled on the bath mats outside the shower, forcing me to step barefooted on the cold tile floor instead of on fluffy warmth. Brooke and Stormy are always there waiting for me. You may think it a sweet gesture on their part. I’m fairly sure they’re just on assignment to make sure I do not escape the house without feeding everyone breakfast.

For the record, I never fail to feed them breakfast or dinner, but they are ever-skeptical.

Shower complete, I come back down the stairs a tad more sturdy on my own feet. I rotate dogs out for another romp in the yard while I make my breakfast smoothie and head back to do damage-control on my face and hair. I may not FEEL awake and raring to go, but I need to look the part. Maybe it’s ambition, maybe it’s Maybelline.

My morning routine does not take long because I eventually look in the mirror and say, “Oh, screw it. That’s good enough.” I then get dressed in my finest professional attire (thank GOD that’s jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and running shoes). It’s a huge plus to glance in the mirror and see no pre-existing slobber smears glistening on my clothes in the flickering light of the bathroom (flickering because I need to change some bulbs and keep telling myself to do that when I have a minute…and I religiously forget until the next morning’s routine).

Dressed and presentable, I turn to face the herd of expectant faces at the baby gate that steadfastly guards our shoes and clothing from the creativity of canine family.

Group of dogsTime for breakfast. Stand back, don’t try this on your own, I’m a trained professional. I can feed 20-someodd dogs in 10 minutes or less.

I stack the bowls in the unique order that makes perfect sense to me, but to no one else on earth. I sling the right food in the right amounts into each bowl. I add warm water because, gravy. The salivating dogs move in eager, choreographed groups as each bowl is placed in each specific dog’s eating spot in exactly the same order as the day before. They know when and where they eat, they know “bowl-diving” is not allowed. It all goes smoothly in a fashion I lovingly call controlled chaos.

As the satisfying sound of 20-someodd dogs slurping up water-logged kibble surrounds me, I make another pass to fill water buckets. I re-clean the puppy pen (this happens a lot). And then everyone else goes outside to potty once again.

I say my goodbyes to Jim. I deliver pats and “be goods” to all the dogs, stooping to give my boy Howie a kiss on his forehead. I grab my stuff and head out making sure no furry bodies slip out the door with me.

The household as conquered as it possibly can be for now, I bolt out to feed the chickens and open their run for a little daytime free-ranging. Mental note, must clean the coop later today. Must.  Then I jump in my Jeep.

Guess what? NOW I get to start my day.

But the next 30 to 40 minutes are Nancy-time. Relative peace and quiet with a few hundred other commuters heading my direction. Ahhhhh…drive-time.

I listen to an audio book. Right now I’m addicted to the Andy Carpenter series of murder mysteries by David Rosenthal. Great stories salted with a healthy dose of humor AND there are always dogs written in because, in addition to being a prolific author, Rosenthal, runs a dog rescue out of his home (Hey, me too!). Where he lives with 20-someodd dogs (Hey, me too!). My brother from another mother.

Morning traffic can’t even fluster me when I’m in the oasis known as Duke, my Jeep Wrangler, listening to a good book. It’s 100% rejuvenating.

I arrive at work, the business I have co-owned with a friend for just over 13 years now (and hey, still friends!). Our business is Pooches, a dog daycare and boarding facility. So yeah, I just left a herd of dogs only to be greeted by a few dozen more. There’s a pattern here and it includes lots of pee, poop, and cleaning. I’m good at that and good with that.

None of this is written in complaint. I love my life. I love my dogs, both the on-purpose ones and the fosters, and I love the dogs that come see me at Pooches. I love helping dogs that are not as fortunate as my own. I love Jim and I love/am grateful that Jim shares my passion for dogs and animal welfare. That’s a lot of love right there.

I really wouldn’t trade my life.  I am where I am supposed to be right now, doing what I was meant to do. But you know, if some kind publisher out there somewhere reads this and thinks, “Hey, I think I’m going to give that little blogger a break.” I’d be really good with that too. Especially if that break actually comes with an income.

The thought that I might get paid to work from home by putting words into a document that become a real book (and I’m talking the hard-backed, hold it in your hands variety)…whew…that’s win-the-lottery stuff in my mind. I’d be so down for that. Someday. I really would. Just putting it out there. Surely someone linked to publishing reads obscure blogs from time to time? I would truly love to have one more “hey, me too” to share with David Rosenthal.

And I think I will. Because after all, dreams are just my future reality waiting for me to come up with a plan.

But for now, there is my little blog. And there is my amazing business. And there are dogs looking at me expectantly because it’s walk time. And there is poop to clean up. And dog bowls to wash. And…and…and. And then there’s always drive-time when I can do a little more dreaming/planning before I return home to Jim and our furry family to do the whole process again. And that will be followed by the great play and snuggle time that only 20-someodd dogs can deliver.

Ahhhhhhhh.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madness, I tell you, madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PB, Hold the J

M girlsDog training is not about following rules. It’s about understanding that each dog is different, each a little puzzle waiting to be solved.

Well I now have four very intricate, spotted puzzles and I’m determined to solve them.

Meet Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo. These girls are just nine months old and were recently liberated, in a coordinated effort by a rescue village, from life in a puppy mill. If you’re not familiar with puppy mills, think of a little doggy concentration camp where the dogs are kept in small cages and pens solely for the purpose of breeding. They crank out as many puppies as they can and that’s their life. Litter after litter until they can’t produce any longer or the “miller” decides to close out a specific breed.

That’s how these girls came into our  rescue. The puppy mill operator who had them decided to get out of Dalmatians…likely in favor of something smaller that would take up less space and eat less food. It’s all about the almighty dollar right? Ah, but that is a soapbox for another day, another post.

Back to my four M-girls.

These sweet dogs were born in a commercial breeding facility and grew up there. They have likely lived together the whole time, sharing a pen. They have never been someone’s beloved little puppy. They have never known soft blankets, cushions, squeaky toys, or belly rubs. They had each other and likely someone who came along to toss food at them and clean their pen from time to time.

All of the key socialization periods that help puppies learn to live happily with humans were ignored. Afterall, these girls were not to be pets. They were to be breeders. And that cycle would have started right about now as two of the girls popped into their first heat cycles before I could get them spayed.

But thankfully for my M-girls, they are no longer in a puppy mill. Nope, instead they are in our home, currently living in one of our indoor/outdoor dog runs (this allows us to safely contain them while getting to know them and making sure they are healthy). Jim and I spend time with them every single day, several times a day. I’ve even found Jim reclining in the run taking a little cat nap just to give the girls a chance to get  used to him. Our immediate goal is to simply teach them that humans really are a good thing.

So far, they’re not convinced.

Molly is the most willing to learn. She now greets us with a hopeful look (gained through SO many cookies!) and a  wagging tail.  Oh sure, at the slightest “wrong” move she’ll still scramble away from us, clawing her way out the dog door, but then she comes right back. She’s very close to deciding we might be worth getting to know a bit better.

MacKenzie is right behind Molly. She’s interested in the crazy humans who coo to her and promise her all kinds of good things. Margo is thinking it over from a distance…peering through the dog door flap. Poor Mabel, however, is still terrified, huddling in the corner with a blank stare on her face.

So we have a heck of a puzzle here. How do we get these girls to look forward to seeing us instead of fleeing everytime we step in their run?

Tonight my latest/greatest training tool is a jar of cheap, gooey peanut  butter. Yes, PB. No J. Too sticky.

Three of the girls (not Mabel…yet) have been darting in to grab cookies from us, but they take the cookie and run. Dine and dash at its finest.

But peanut butter on the end of my finger? That’s a different story.

To enjoy the peanut butter the girls have to stretch their sweet little necks out and lick it off of the ends of my fingers. And while my hands are a bit scary, they really LOVE peanut butter.

I’m accomplishing a couple of good things here. First, positive association with Nancy. Second, can’t grab the treat and run (hopefully!). They have to stick around a bit to enjoy this treat. And most importantly, my hand reaching toward them isn’t quite so scary now. In fact, it’s delicious!

I do need you to understand this  is taking some dedication on my part because I HATE peanut butter. I do. I know. I’m weird. It’s almost un-American. I can’t help it. Even the smell of the stuff repulses me. So actually wearing it…and that smell sticks with you…is true dedication to the cause.

But it’s worth it. They’re worth it. And someday Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo will go on to new homes to enjoy very good lives. The lives they should have had all along.

I think I can tolerate a little eau de peanut butter to help that happen.

(Stay tuned for progress reports!)

 

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

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!

 

 

Seeing My Dog Obsession Clearly Now.

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Folly

She was only about four or five years old. Her bouncy, glossy brown ponytails were slightly askew, possibly because Dad had been the one to try to smooth them into place. He led her into the quiet gym and she knew exactly what to do. She immediately ran straight toward the small kid zone in the back of the facility.

“Slow down!” her father called out protectively as he quickly followed her to be sure she settled in with the toys before he started his workout.

Even after she was well into whatever story-line her imagination was spinning, Dad kept a close watch on her, glancing back repeatedly between each set of weights. While it was obvious the small girl was safe-beyond me, there was just one other woman working out on a Monday evening-I understood his watchful concern.

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Five year old Nan

The little girl, who was chatting away with an imaginary friend as she played, was wearing a tiny pair of pink glasses and had a patch completely covering her right eye. I knew this look. I once was this little girl.

My body kept moving through my workout, but my mind hit rewind to a place in time about 52 years ago. Surprisingly, I remember it clearly. I was only two years old and my mother was bringing groceries into our house when she stopped and took a long, hard look at me. “Stop doing that,” she said as she lifted me to sit on the kitchen counter in front of her. “Stop crossing your eyes.”

She thought it was some terrible trick that perhaps my older sisters had encouraged. She thought I was doing it on purpose. My next words were the last words she thought she’d hear, and certainly words she did not want to hear.

“I can’t.”

There are a lot of technical terms that swirl around this condition. Crossed eyes are technically called strabismus. When it occurs in a very young child, it is often accompanied by an amblyopic or “lazy” eye, as the child’s brain works to sort out the double vision and learns to rely on just one, dominant eye. Both issues, as in my case, can be caused by extreme farsightedness and, best case scenario, can be corrected non-surgically with prescription glasses and therapy.

It wasn’t that simple for me. My strabismus had to be corrected through surgery on the muscles that controlled my eyes.

In addition to a clear memory of the day my eyes decided to make my condition undeniably apparent, I remember the day I had my surgery. I remember being in a hospital crib with high bars on the sides. My parents said I was like a little monkey in the bed, so I giggled and gave my best impersonation.

I remember a family friend, who would also serve as my anesthesiologist, coming to carry me to surgery so I wouldn’t be afraid. Then, to aid in my recovery, came the giant eye patch over my right eye and the tiny pair of glasses-mine were pale blue. Finally, there was the therapy that, in my memory, was pure torture.

Because I was so tiny, I had to sit on my mom’s lap to peer into a screen on a machine that was too big to be a comfortable fit for me. It was my job to tell the lady sitting opposite us, my therapist, when the circle on the screen moved inside the square. I had knobs I turned to try to make it happen, but I was so young and so frustrated that most sessions just ended with me dissolving  into  tears. Two to three year old Nancy was not amused.

Through all of the stressful memories, I also have a really great one: Folly. Folly was a large, flatulent basset hound-our beloved family dog. She was always described as a sweet soul; patient, lumbering, and sturdy on stubby legs, her giant, silky ears nearly dragging the floor. Her steady demeanor served her, and me, quite well. Folly stepped in to provide therapy of the canine kind as she quite unintentionally became a toddler’s seeing eye dog.

My post surgery world was still askew and that made being a newcomer to the sport of walking an even more unstable proposition. But according to stories told through the years, Folly came to my rescue. Little flashes of memory provide glimpses of a long, curved tail at just the right height. I can see myself extending a chubby hand to grasp that tail as if it were a handle on a harness, and somehow dear Folly accepted her new “job” with good nature.

My mother always swore that Folly was my furry guardian angel. Folly kept me entertained, staying by my side, leading me carefully around the house, day after day, for weeks that turned into months.

me and Toby 2Is this how a crazy dog woman was born? Was Folly my initiation into the clan of the dog-obsessed? It’s hard to say. I tend to believe my love for animals is hard-wired in my DNA, but I certainly credit Folly for nurturing it at an early age.

From that point on, dogs were a magnet for me. I had a deep connection with every family dog we had, and wanted to take in every stray dog that wandered into our neighborhood. Now, that early spark has been fanned into a full-blown passion; a way of life, and a livelihood as well. If everything does indeed happen for a reason, then my eyes apparently crossed to allow me to actually see my path forward more clearly.

I’m very grateful to Folly for allowing me to cling to her when I really needed a friend. I only have one photo of that dear, odoriferous hound, but I carry her image in my heart and I hope I have repaid her kindness to tiny, wobbly me by becoming the best crazy dog lady I can possibly be.

As I left the weights for the cardio half of my workout, I stopped to talk with the diligent dad for a moment. I found that his daughter did, in fact, have the same issues I had as a youngster. She too had surgery and was now going through therapy. I told him about my journey and I could see him looking carefully into my eyes, confirming for himself that they were straight and normal. He asked how long I had worn my glasses and a few other questions. I answered reassuringly. Then, as I was moving away, I looked back and asked if his daughter had a dog.

“Oh yes, she loves our dog. They’re always together.”

I smiled and told him my childhood dog had been important to me as well. I couldn’t help but laugh a little as I hopped on the nearest treadmill. Oh Dad, I thought, there is no way I can prepare you for what is likely to come next. I hope you really like dogs too.

As I plugged my headphones in, I glanced back at the sweet little girl in the hot pink glasses. “Welcome to the clan, little one,” I whispered. “Welcome.”

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.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Go With The Flow.

 

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Early yesterday morning- we’re talking pre-first-diet-Dr.-Pepper-o’clock – I heard this sound echoing through my house:

THWAP-THWAP…THWAP-THWAP…THWAP-THWAP

Now, if you are a dog person with multiple dogs and a dog door, you immediately know what this sound is. And you also know that the rapid succession three-peat means that there was a serious game of chase exploding into the house from the back yard.

I glanced downstairs from the loft just in time to see CC (14 month old deaf Dalmatian), Nadia (aka Marylou…if you remember that story), and Kainan (the somewhat famous wolfdog) hit our living room couch at full canine speed.

The couch went skidding a full six feet to the right. No kidding.

Impressive. And, apparently, great fun was had by all. (We seriously cannot have nice things around here.)

Later in the day I headed to a client’s house for a weekly training appointment. We were working to convince her Bichon Frise that unfamiliar humans are not necessarily boogie men and/or chew toys. Fortunately, for the sake of my credibility and my ankles, the little dude truly loves me.

As I stepped inside the home and received an enthusiastic greeting from my little student, I took a moment to look around. This was one nice home. Opulent was the adjective that came immediately to mind.

The furnishings were ornate with rich upholstery and gleaming wood. There were gorgeous, colorful area rugs showcased against a backdrop of polished dark wood floors. There was artwork adorning every wall in sight and I’m pretty sure nary a one was simply a framed poster. Everything was pristine. Everything was just so (and by “just so” I mean perfect).

Houses like this make me nervous. First, I really don’t know how to behave around nice (and by “nice” I mean ex-peeeeen-siiiiiive) things. Second, I am fairly sure that I am to dog hair what Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen is to dust. I believe a thick cloud of various types of dog hair constantly orbits around me like my own personal galaxy. I should likely have been required to don a hazmat suit for the protection of this home and its contents.

As I absorbed the grandeur surrounding me, I couldn’t help but compare it to my own spartan-by-comparison home and the the scene from my dogs’ morning game of tag. Oh the damage Kainan and crew could do in this house. Those thick area rugs would be perfect for a four-legged Risky Business-esque slide down the gleaming hall floor and straight into the giant vase (pronounced vahze in this case) filled with…are those silk peacock feathers?

Oh, I thought to myself, I so do not belong in this house.

We had passed through the formal foyer, the formal living room, the formal dining room, and the formal parlor (see a trend here?) when we noticed that the furry little focus of my visit was suddenly nowhere to be found. As we stepped into the family room, there we found Wallace (yes, Wallace…it fits), his tail wagging in great delight as he stood proudly on what was surely an antique wood with marble inlay side table. I was certain his owner would panic and snatch the little guy, whose backside was wriggling precariously closes to what was surely an antique lamp,  right off that table.

Instead, she just laughed and said, “Wallace, what ARE you doing?”

Then she turned to me, smiled, and said, “If you’re going to have a dog in your life, sometimes you just gotta go with the flow, right?”

Amen and A+++.

Suddenly, this designer showcase home didn’t seem quite so intimidating. I walked over, plopped down into the plush velvet of the adjacent settee – I don’t think you can call it a couch or a sofa in this house – as my cloud of dog hair settled all around me. What the heck? Maybe the hair that would linger long after I departed would provide little Wallace enough of a tempting olfactory distraction to keep any future visitors safe from assault.

Holy cow, these people are going to think I am an AMAZING dog trainer!

Of course this is not to say that you have to let your dogs overrun your home and mangle all of your furniture. (Kainan, take note…you are NOT supposed to mangle the furniture). But maybe the point is that it’s ok to love your dog a bit more than you love your decor. Maybe it’s not the end of the world if your cute little dog stands on your antique table…or your giant wolfdog uses your couch as a skateboard.

And you know, looking at it now that I’m back home, the couch actually looks better six feet to the right. Well played dogs. Well played.

goofy Kainan

 

Good Morning, Sunshine.

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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.

Soul Dog

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The young black and white dog flitted about the room like a butterfly indiscriminately lighting on flower after flower. There was no rhyme or reason to her choices, just pure joy in welcoming smiles, scratches in all the right places, and hugs and enthusiastic kisses that only a puppy can so freely bestow.

The red dog, on the other hand, sat back thoughtfully, surveying the room. Each visit was granted deliberately, seemingly with consideration and purpose. I had seen the red dog do this before at the same gathering the year before. Politely greeting everyone with a friendly flash of his tail without fault, but very aware of those with whom he chose to spend time. It was as if the red dog had a mission and specifically sought out the people who needed the special attention of a soul dog.

During my visit the previous year, I received a quick and friendly hello from the red dog, but nothing much more. His sites were set on others.

This year, however, as I settled into a front row seat where I could give my full attention to the presenter in a writing workshop, I suddenly realized the red dog had settled in beside me. He materialized quickly, quietly, with gentle purpose. Determined not to seem distracted from the speaker by my very welcome guest, I reached over, somewhat absentmindedly, to rub his soft ears.

After a moment, I pulled my hand a few inches away from the red dog, just letting it rest on my knee as I remained focused on the presentation.

Immediately I felt pressure on my hand and looked down to see the red dog pawing me, gently letting his nails grip my fingers as if to pull me back into his realm. As I looked into his soft brown eyes, I felt a swelling in my heart that was so long buried, but so immediately familiar at the same time.

Suddenly everything else in the crowded conference room melted into a soft fog and only the red dog and I existed. Again I felt the unmistakable tug of an insistent paw on my hand, just as I had felt it for so many years, so many times before. And in the next moment, it wasn’t the red dog at all. As my eyes continued to hold the connection with the dog’s eyes,  I realized I was now gazing into very familiar eyes, into the face of a precious friend more than six years gone.

Monte 4It seemed impossible, but I knew those eyes, I knew that serious, handsome white face with the mahogany brown spots as well as I recognize my own reflection. This was my boy. My Dalmatian, Monte. The dog who was my heart and soul dog for 15 years, seven months to the day.

This was the dog who was always by my side. The dog who was outwardly reserved, perhaps considered quiet and stoic to some, but my perfect match, my fiercely devoted dog who allowed a chosen few to see his silly side. Here was the dog who always made me feel safe, who was always right there when I most needed a friend. Here was the dog who I had the honor of caring for during the long autumn of his life. The one born into my hands; the one who died in my embrace.

I don’t know how long I stared into my dog’s eyes, but I dared not look away. This was a precious gift. One soul dog was granting another soul dog time to sooth my still tender heart, to let me know he will forever be my boy. Time to tell me he’s OK and still a part of my very being.

This was a message I wasn’t even aware I needed to hear until this beautiful, unlikely moment.

A sudden burst of laughter rippled across the room and with it, the fog receded, the room came back into focus, and the spotted dog was once again a handsome border collie. I blinked back the tears that had filled my eyes and allowed the smile that spread across my face to remain in place.

Red 1Carefully, the red dog, still holding me with his knowing gaze, removed his paw from my hand. I gave his shiny coat another stroke as I thanked him. Then he turned to position himself near his person. His work with me was done.

Do you believe in soul dogs? In that powerful connection that you are lucky to find even once in a lifetime? Do you believe in the possibility that a special spirit can return to  visit you through the willing heart of another? Was this a real experience, or just a wish-filled fantasy conjured up by a fanciful, fertile mind?

I hope, in your heart and mind, you will allow for the possibility. But your conclusion matters to only you. It does not matter to me.

Because I do. I do believe.

Thank you, Red.

Thank you, Monte. It was pure heaven to see you again.