Wolfdog in the House: My, What Big Feet You Have

Kainan 9 14 14As I stand in the dog room waiting for Kainan to throw up, I have a little time to study his conformation. Oh yes, you read that right. I’m waiting for Kainan to throw up.

Don’t worry, he’s not sick. He’s sneaky…and a thief…and he just stole and swallowed half a bag of large marshmallows…bag and all. Sigh. Mr. Look-what-I-can-do strikes again.

How he reached the marshmallows from their position on our very high, very deep kitchen island is beyond me, but that seals it. There is nothing in this house our wolfdog can’t reach. NOTHING.

Anyhow, as with all stolen items, Kainan raced into the yard with his sugary, fluffy prize. Of course the flap-flap of the dog door inspired our other dogs to give chase, and the chase inspired Kainan to swallow his prize whole, instead of possibly being forced to share it.

And that, my friends is how we arrive at this pre-vomitus moment. Jim and I decided that a potential intestinal obstruction would be a bad thing. A few doses of hydrogen peroxide should do the trick. Yep, he’s drooling and making that funny smiley face that always precedes the “gulping head bob” portion of the about-to-toss show.

A rough price to pay, Kainan…have you learned your lesson? I doubt it. What you likely learned is that you should not get caught when you snag a forbidden prize in the house.

With a little “wait-for-it” time on my hands, I took the opportunity to study Kainan and wonder just how much wolf our wolfie guy is. When we look at him, it’s easy to see that he is part wolf. The physical characteristics are there…but it’s also obvious that he is a mix of parts. Let’s review.

Following are some wolf characteristics I found courtesy of Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary’s website. Let’s see how Kainan stacks up.

  • Wolves’ nails are darkly colored.Wolves do not have clear or pink nails like some domestic dogs do.

10551488_10204877036749359_4110038824873177390_oCheck. All black toenails…figures I’d end up with a teenager who is into the Goth lifestyle. And his nails are sturdy, he is already excavating a new storm shelter in the yard.

  • Wolves do not have blue eyes, this is a domestic dog trait only.

Check. Beautiful, light, golden brown eyes that make all the bitches’ hearts go flutter.

  • Wolves have highly slanted almond shaped eyes with heavy dark eye lining.

Good natural eyeliner. I’m jealous. Almond shaped, yes, but perhaps not as extreme as a wolf’s eyes would be. A little domestic dog showing through there?

  • Wolves have extra large feet, with two protruding front toes. Not smaller, rounded feet like domestic dogs.

Check. His nickname could be Bigfoot. And yes, those front toes do protrude. He could easily wear cowboy boots. He’s a good Oklahoma wolfdog.

  • received_m_mid_1409405286251_621389b0b728bf7396_0Wolves will not have sharply defined white tail tips like many domestic dogs. Most often wolves will have black tail tips.

Check. Looks like he dipped it in a bucket of black paint.

  • Wolves have a caudal mark/scent gland, often called the precaudal gland, (a dark spot positioned a few inches down from the base of the tail)

Well looky there. Check. Some breeds of domestic dogs will have this spot too, so don’t start eyeing your dog suspiciously if you see a black spot on his tail. The hair in this spot on Kainan’s tail is actually different from the rest of his fur. Interesting.

  • Wolves’ chests are very narrow causing their long legs to be close together ending in large feet that are splayed to the side. Shoulders & hips are narrow for faster acceleration.

Check, check, check. See Kainan, you should be proud of your scrawny chest and skinny butt. Someday, apparently after you gain control of those gangly legs, you should be able to run really, really fast. Chin up, big guy.

  • Wolves’ back legs have a significant cow hock (hocks turned in…basically knock-kneed in the rear) look to them when at a standstill.

Um. Yeah. Check. Back to that “scrawny is good” parenting stuff.

  • Wolves have a banded pattern of longer fur ticked with stiff black hairs that creates a v shape draped across their shoulders. This band of fur is called a dorsal cape.

Shadow wolfIt’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superwolfdog!  Yes, he has his cape. It’s really impressive if he raises his hackles. Nifty little sideways Mohawk hairstyle. Check.

  • When they walk, wolves’ tails will not curl up or over their backs like a dogs tail will. Wolves’ tails are extremely straight.

Ok, Half a check. Kainan’s tail does hang straight down most of the time, but if he gets silly he can ring that sucker up over his back in a flash. This is one of the areas where he deviates from his wolf heritage a bit. There appears to be some Husky/Malamute influence popping out from time to time…and yes, we may have proof of that. I’ll explain that in just a bit.

  • Wolves can have many vocalizations, but do not bark like the typical domestic dog does.

So true. He woo-woos, he garumphs, he howls, but he doesn’t bark.

  • Male wolves testicles will be peanut sized all year round (and not fertile) until a period once a year in the winter months that correspond with a female wolf’s estrus. After mating the testicles will shrink down again so as to be barely noticeable, unlike a male domestic dog whose testicles remain the same size all year.

Well, now isn’t this embarrassing for Kainan? And, as I have learned from another blogger friend’s experience, isn’t this blog entry going to accidentally attract a whole new class of readers through the “search” option? Sorry to disappoint, new readers…it’s not what you think. No porn here, just peanuts. And yes, check. Our soon-to-be-huge wolfdog has little nuts for nuts. Sorry Kainan. Hope that doesn’t scar you for life. (Kudos to me…I refrained from adding photographic evidence here.)

  • Wolves have smaller, rounder, thicker, well-furred ears, not larger, thinner, or pointier ears like German Shepherds.

(Insert game show buzzer sound here) Major non-wolf characteristic on the wolfdog checklist. Kainan has lovely, the-better-to-hear-you-with ears that are larger, pointier and a bit less fuzzy than a wolf’s ears would be.

All-in-all, and despite knowing nothing about our foundling’s parents, it is easy to surmise that one of his parents was closely in touch with his wilder roots. But we also know there’s some good old dog in there too. Thanks to the miracle of science, we actually do know that now.

You see, we did a little DNA test on our wolfdog friend. Now, keep in mind, the test clearly states that it is not designed to detect wolf or coyote content, and it’s not likely 100% accurate as it is a home administered test,  but we thought it would be fun to see what dog breeds the Mars Veterinary Wisdom Panel DNA kit might reveal.

The Wisdom Panel home kit claims to identify 200 breeds and varieties of dogs including all breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The Wisdom Panel Professional (a blood test available through veterinarians) recognizes more than 235 breeds, types and varieties, also including all AKC breeds. A complete list of the breeds in each test’s database can be found on the Wisdom Panel website.

It’s an easy little test…you just use two special swaps to gather a little sample from the inside of your dog’s cheek. It’s thankfully not too annoying; it takes just 15 seconds per swab. Dogs seem to tolerate that amount of time with relative good humor.

Our test was conducted and shipped off about three weeks ago. Today, the results are online and…drum-roll…Kainan is likely a mix of Malamute, husky, and stump-the-DNA-testers.

One of Kainan’s parents, according to the test results, appears to have been a mix of primarily malamute and husky. The other parent, well, I bet the fine scientists at Wisdom Panel are still scratching their heads a bit. They tossed some “could be” breeds out there in the notes section of the results, but our bet is that that other parent was a gray wolf or at least high percentage wolf—a species that their test is not designed to detect.

Yeah, we knew that going in. We just wanted to screw with them. Jim and I are fun that way.

So we now have confirmation that our growing larger by the day, comical, in-touch-with-his-canis-lupus-roots pal is likely part husky/malamute, and…wait for it…wait for it…there it is! Part barfing wolf.

20140930_093441revYep, there are those damn marshmallows. Still intact in their fluffy goodness. Still perfectly encased in their plastic wrapper. You know, I could almost…well, no. That would just be gross.

Oh, wolf/malamute/husky dog. Perfectly good marshmallows are now in the trash. And you know, all you had to do was ask. I’d have happily shared them with you, dear boy.

Wolfdog in the House: Seeing My Muse Through Responsible Eyes

Shadow wolfIt’s easy to forget that this relationship could ever be anything but wonder-filled and fun. Kainan the wolfdog is out in the yard with my other teenager dogs, gallooping about in a silly, carefree morning melee that resembles tag-you’re-it.

Why yes, I did make that word up.  “Gallooping.” Just the way it bumps off your tongue perfectly describes Kainan’s unique gait as he works to control those gangly legs and big feet. Guh-LOOP-ing.  He is on the cusp of graceful…I give him a few more months.

I think it is fairly clear that Jim and I are completely in love with this boy as we help him live out his wags to riches story as a member of our family. He is so charming; he has become my most generous muse for story after story. His distinctive howl serving as my new morning alarm clock has been the most natural fit in the world.

However, as I tell stories about him, as Kainan gains a bit of a following, I have to wonder if I am painting a clear picture about life with a wolfdog. Have my stories to date have created an all-daisies-and-sunshine image of life with this boy? Do I even fully understand what the realities of life with a wolfdog may be? After all, Kainan kind of just dropped into our world. We didn’t exactly plan to acquire a wolfdog.

For many people, these wolfdogs are beloved companions and I totally understand it. There is something so amazing about having a creature living in your home that is beautiful, loyal, and, at the same time, inherently mystical.

Whether or not you agree with the concept of crossing a domestic dog with a wild animal to create a species that lives in the gray area between the two (and I actually don’t agree with the concept on many levels…but we’ll chat about that another time), there is no doubt that people are fascinated by wolfdogs. In the right hands, these animals can be incredible teachers and are undeniably appealing. Ah, but there is that tricky “in the right hands” thing.

It reminds me of the late 1980s/early 1990s when Disney started the Dalmatian frenzy. Now, for all of my friends who adore Disney, I am not taking the dear man’s name and namesake empire in vain. I’m just stating fact. The re-release of the original animated 101 Dalmatians, quickly followed by the live-action version, and then the make-Dalmatian-fanciers-pound-their-heads-against-a-wall 102 Dalmatians movie had everyone seeing spots. People rushed to own their own little cartoon puppy. Lots of people. In response, lots of people happily created supply to meet demand. It was a catastrophe.

The dogs in the movie were charming. The Dalmatians snoozing all around my desk right now are also charming, beautiful canine characters. I can’t imagine my life without it being full of spots. They are affectionate, smart, athletic, and…well…hysterically fun. If ever a dog was born with a sense of humor, it is the Dalmatian.

But are they the right dog for everyone?  Most definitely not. No breed of dog is right for everyone…just as wolfdogs aren’t right for everyone.

Despite what I would like to believe about my own popularity, truth be told, my stories about Kainan haven’t likely thrust wolfdogs into the spotlight (oh…I made a funny!) in a Disneyesque manner. My blog is just a few billion followers shy of Walt-status. However, I am speaking out…people are reading…asking questions…and a few have expressed a desire to live with a Kainan of their own. Who wouldn’t want one?  How cool is it to share your home with the big, not-so-bad wolf? Right? Right?

PlayingAs I watch Kainan gallooping (you’re starting to like that word, aren’t you?) from the yard, through the dog door, and into the house to collapse in a happy, panting puddle at my feet, I wonder if I just might be Nancy Disney? (Ok, that does have a nice ring to it.)

Uh oh. Time for Responsible Nancy to put on her educational hat.

Admittedly, life with Kainan so far has been pretty smooth. Ah, but Jim and I are not average dog owners. We are Crazy Dog People. Yes, I’m going to own that and make it a formal title. We take in dogs of all shapes and sizes. We train dogs. My business is dog-centric. We have even helped rescue wolfdogs in the past. We are not rookies.

However, all the experience in the world does not a good, responsible decision make. Anytime anyone is thinking of adding an animal to their world there are many factors to be considered.  Homework must be done. Most importantly, you have to be willing to walk away if the animal in question is not a good fit for you.

I think anyone considering adopting a wolfdog should have to read Living with Wolfdogs, An Everyday Guide to a Lifetime Companionship by Nicole Wilde, author and canine behavior specialist. (Best last name EVER for someone who is a wolfdog expert.)

I have long admired Nicole Wilde as a dog trainer and I have been fortunate enough to attend dog training seminars she has conducted. She knows her stuff. Let’s pretend she is our retroactive adoption counselor.

Nicole (I decided we are on a first name basis) would say something like, “So…you think you want a wolfdog? Let’s have a chat about that idea.”

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Brave Kainan…who stands several inches taller than any dog in our house…falling to the ground and making himself very tiny when our two in-charge Dalmatian boys even look at him.

Nicole: Why do you want a wolfdog? Do you think you’re getting the ultimate watchdog?  Wolves are actually very shy by nature and would rather retreat than confront an intruder.

Nan/Jim answer: I can tell you first hand that when our dogs go charging into the yard to scare off what they would have us believe must be an eight foot tall cyclops, brave Kainan is more than happy to hang back with the humans…perhaps standing behind the humans. It’s not a problem. We feel certain we can protect Kainan from the boogeyman.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are highly social, pack-oriented animals that require a lot of time, attention, and socialization. Are you willing to make that commitment?

Nan/Jim answer: Party with the wolfdog! Yay! He will likely have a better social life than we do.

Nicole: Wolves are very social creatures and don’t care to spend a lot of time alone. If the humans can’t be home most of the time, the wolfdog will need a canine buddy. Can you provide adequate companionship for a wolfdog?

20140930_092423Nan/Jim answer: I’m sorry. Can you repeat that question? The 20-someodd dogs in this house all decided to lick a body part at the same time. Alone is not an issue here. Space on the bed is. Kainan is already tickled pink with his ready-made family.

Nicole: Do you have neighbors? Do you like them? Do you want them to like you? If the sight of something that resembles a wolf in your yard doesn’t put a strain on your relationship, then the wolfdog’s howling just might.

Nan/Jim answer: Neighbors? What neighbors? We live on 72.5 acres of country bliss. Ok, we do have some friends who live to the west of us. While they have been very patient about marauding donkeys and pigs, we do have a secure dog yard and will see to it that Kainan does not make any unscheduled visits to their home.  Any howling will just blend in with the resident coyotes.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are known to be amazing escape artists. Most require six foot fencing…and even a fence of that height may not do the trick. Just how secure is that secure dog yard?

Nan/Jim answer: We have indoor/outdoor runs in our house that keeps Kainan safe and comfy while we are away. We supervise him when we are home. So far he has shown no desire to test any physical boundaries because there are no couches visible on the other side of the fence. We will, however, modify our fencing if necessary. We hear that maximum security is the new landscaping chic.

Nicole: How do you feel about digging, chewing, and relentless curiosity? (Relentless curiosity…her words and they describe Kainan PERFECTLY.)

Nan/Jim answer: This one seems a bit redundant to the Crazy Dog People whose two darling Dalmatian girls have tunneled an underground condominium in the yard fit for the Royal family. “Curiosity” is not a problem. We have already been introduced to Kainan’s incredible ability to reach anything on any surface. Oh, and the wall in the upstairs hall is apparently quite tasty. As is the corner of one ottoman. And the magazine that just came in the mail today. And still, we wouldn’t trade him for all of the intact drywall in the world.

Nicole: Wolfdogs are very intelligent, can be quite independent, and do not respond to harsh training methods. Are you willing to learn about wolves’ vocalizations and body language? Will you explore alternative training methods essential for successfully living with and training a wolfdog?

Nan/Jim answer: We embrace the opportunity to learn more about our new friend. Obviously, your book is a great resource (no, we are not just sucking up!) and we are lucky to have great support from our friends at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue. Our training methods are already centered on reward-based techniques, so you are preaching to the choir on that front. Kainan already knows sit, down, shake hands, speak, and sit politely while I deliver your dinner. Our wolfdog is smarter than your honor student.

Nicole: Last, but not least, have you checked to see if it is legal for you to own a wolfdog in your area? They are illegal in many cities.

Nan/Jim answer: While wolfdogs are not legal in the city of Tulsa, out here in Creek County, just outside of Mounds, Oklahoma, pretty much anything goes. We’ve even seen a kangaroo in a nearby paddock. Yep. A kangaroo.

At this point in the interview, I envision Nicole Wilde dabbing tears from her eyes, hugging us, and telling us that we are perhaps the most perfect home in the world for Kainan. And I think we are. We are very committed to him.

Of course a little warning from our friends at Freedom Song keeps bouncing around in my head and it’s the one thing that keeps me from getting too complacent about Kainan. Wolves and some higher content wolfdogs do not really mature until 22 months or older. That means we really don’t yet know how wolfie our wolfdog is going to be. His temperament could change as he matures. It could.

20140901_103907But I also know that Jim and I are prepared for whatever may come. Sweet wolfdog (my bet) or eventual big, bad wolf (hard to imagine)—we’ll stick with our boy.

For now?  Well, Kainan is wonderful, sweet, funny, affectionate, and seemingly quite happy to be with us.  Honestly, it is all sunshine and daisies right now. Well, mostly sunshine and daisies. There is the issue of that one last piece of pink-frosted vanilla birthday cake goodness that, instead of being MY treat, went into Mr. Hey-Look-What-I-Can-Do’s belly.

Still…he’s totally worth it.

Forbidden Love. Furry Romeo Meets Spotted Juliet.

Brooke and KaineIt’s a story as old as time. From Romeo and Juliet, to Jade and David in Endless Love. Star-crossed lovers, denied by family and friends, but determined to be together. Sigh…wipe a tear from your eye.

What is it about THAT boy. You know the one…the slightly rebellious boy who walked into your high school and made teenaged girls’ hearts flutter while the parents of teenaged girls developed creases between their eyebrows and gray hairs at their temples.

Forbidden love. The irresistible, wrong-side-of-the-tracks guy meets the seemingly out-of-his-class girl and beats the odds.

It’s like putting the last yummy piece of birthday cake on the back of the kitchen counter where you think a really tall wolfdog can’t reach it and then telling him not to touch it. I should know. I have that going on…and I have my own little love story blooming.

Imagine Kainan in a leather jacket, collar turned rakishly up, and our little Dalmatian show dog, Brooke, in a cheerleader outfit. I think they would break out in their own howling musical version of Grease if they could. “Hopelessly devoted to youuuuuuuu…”

PlayingOh sure, when we first brought Kaine into this high school…ummm…brought him into our home, Brooke ignored him, as any girl of breeding and privilege would. She turned her head. She told him to talk to the paw, despite his heart of pure gold. And he went about his business, ignoring her right back and playing with the other mixed breed dogs.

Well played, Romeo. Well played.

Suddenly, Miss Brooke only has eyes for Kainan. She is flirting. She is trying to get him to play with her. She wants to lie next to him on the bed and always puts her dainty front legs across his big paws. She licks his face and he very gently plays “bite the muzzle” games with her.

Lawrence winOh yes, it’s love. And OH YES, it’s a forbidden love. I can hear the screams of Brooke’s breeders and co-owners echoing from across the miles. (So yeah, she has co-owners…that’s what sometimes happens when a purebred puppy shows promise for the show ring. I claim her cute little face. They own the tail-end.)

But you know it’s true, animals are not immune to attraction and, given the opportunity, will select specific mates just as humans feel a spark for a certain someone. It’s why male birds puff up and dance about. It’s why elk bash their heads together and lock antlers. They show off…they compete for the affection of the fair maiden.

In the world of purebred dogs, there are arranged marriages…and some don’t work out.  I just finished reading Pukka’s Promise, Ted Kerasote’s follow-up to Merle’s Door. In the book he describes being on the waiting list for a puppy from a breeding between two Labrador retrievers he greatly admired. But when the time came, the female lab refused the attention of the chosen male.In fact, she would have nothing to do with him.

Rather than resorting to less-than-romantic artificial means, the breeder listened to the female lab, waited for her next heat cycle, and found another nice boy that met with her approval. Beautiful, healthy puppies followed.

It’s another somewhat classic boy gets girl despite the odds story.

Alas, dear Brooke and sweet, handsome Kainan. While your affection for each other is charming, I must tell you that…that…well, perhaps I don’t have to tell you right now how your story must end. No…you can enjoy your little dance for now.

Someday in the not-so-distant future, before Mother Nature gives Brooke truly serious ideas, Kainan will have a little appointment with the veterinarian. A simple snip-snip will put a permanent halt to any future plans our little star-crossed lovers may have for creating new designer puppies. Oh the tragedy of it all.

I am fairly sure, however, that while you can apparently cross anything with a poodle and sell it for thousands of dollars (sorry doodle owners, no offense intended to your beloved companions, but it’s true), a wolfdog/Dalmatian cross might not have the same marketing appeal. I challenge my Photoshop expert friends to toy with what that cross might actually look like. Yikes.

So have your innocent fun for now, Brooke and Kainan. No need to run away. No need to hide your crush. It’s ok. For now.

Speaking on behalf of all of the ladies in the world who, like me, have once-upon-a-time-long-long-ago had THAT boy take our breath away…we understand. We understand.

Sigh.

Wolfdog in the House: Outfoxed by a Wolf?

closeupYesterday I was making a grand attempt to do chores. You know, that housework stuff. I truly should have been born a rich, rich woman so I could hire lovely people to do this stuff for me. I am not good at it. So. Not.

And I have this lovely houseful of dogs who truly believe I should play with them instead of sweeping, doing dishes, and folding laundry.

As I was moving through my to-do list (and goodness knows I’d rather be working on my ta-da list!), a certain wolfdog named Kainan kept trying to convince me that it was time for lunch. Because he is still so thin, I’m feeding him three meals a day so we don’t have to feed him too much at once.

He is very, very fond of the phenomenon of regular meals.

Every step I took found him there, underfoot, looking hopefully toward the dog room where he knows I prepare his gourmet delights (HE thinks I’m a good cook…go figure). Repeatedly, I told him, “It’s not time yet, big guy. You have to wait.”

He remained unconvinced.

Finally, as I was standing in the bedroom folding, folding, folding (I believe the neighbors sneak their laundry in with ours…) and memorized by yet another episode of anything on HGTV (my satellite crack), Kainan walked very deliberately into the room carrying one of the metal dog bowls that WAS on the counter…where the dogs supposedly can’t reach.

Houston, we have a tall one.

He walked straight up to me, executed a perfect sit while holding his head very high, and dropped the metal bowl so it bounced, clanged, and landed right in front of my toes.

Subtle. And clever. And correct. It was 1:00 p.m. on the nose.

Oh funny wolfdog. Message received. Lunch was promptly served.

Looking forward I realize that not only do I have a wolfdog who just might outsmart me…I have a wolfdog who just might be able to do my taxes.

This could be the start of a beautiful relationship, indeed.

Wolfdog in the House: He has a Name and a Tummy Ache

Kainan homeLet the trumpets sound, let the chorus sing…Jim and I finally agreed on a name for our wolfdog. It is either the most perfect name in the world, or we just grew very tired of thinking about it.

His name is (drum roll…and if you don’t like it PLEASE don’t tell us…there is no turning back. Seriously. Have mercy): Kainan.

Why Kainan? Well, yesterday (yes, just yesterday) Jim was watching the movie Outlander and the hero in the movie is Kainan.

Haven’t seen it? Well, it came out in 2008 and it’s about a spaceship that crashes on earth during the time of the Vikings, say around 709 AD. Apparently one soldier, Kainan, was the only survivor of the crash. Well, there was also an alien monster stowaway known as a Moorwen who went off on a reign of terror turning the Viking tribes against one another and almost costing Kainan his life because everyone initially blamed Kainan for the death and destruction. Ok Viking guys…do you really think one dude from outer space could do THAT much damage on his own? Clearly the work of an alien monster/dragon thingy.

So anywho, Kainan proves what a great, loyal, good-at-everything guy he is—it helped that he killed a giant, ferocious bear that was about to munch on the lead Viking guy—and is accepted by one of the Viking clans. I didn’t watch whole movie, but I am fairly sure that Kainan went on to face near-death, slay the alien dragon, and win the heart of the fair maiden. What wolfdog wouldn’t want to be named after this guy?

In reality, we didn’t so much name Big-Bad after movie version Kainan as much as we said, “Hey, cool name,” but I felt the need to tell you how we got there after all these days of uncertainty.

So then I Googled Kainan to see what other meanings it had out there. You know, you want to be sure there was never a mass-murderer named Kainan. Alien-dragon-slaying-space-traveler-soldier Kainan? Yes. Psycho mass-murderer Kainan? Absolutely no.

Ok, there were no “100 unmarked graves in the vegetable gardern” Kainan headlines. Whew.

It is the name of a restaurant in Virginia Beach. The restaurant gets good reviews—especially for their 25¢ lumpias. For the record, I don’t have a clue what a lumpia is, but I feel certain that wolfdog Kainan would be more than happy to tear through the buffet of “his” restaurant. We’re good with this use of his name.

Kainan is also the name of a city in Japan and the name of a university in Taiwan. Interesting note here, despite the fact that the city of Kainan was founded in 1934 and played some role in World War 2, and Kainan U was established in 1917, These two Kainans come up after Kainan the restaurant and Kainan the space-traveling hero in a Google search. Our priorities according to Google are: Food and entertainment followed by history and higher education.

Finally, I visited the “name the baby” websites to see what meanings the name held. Kainan means beautiful (yes, he is!), honor, and tribute. Well that sounds lovely. It is also a name that describes someone who is dynamic, of good energy, and one who holds freedom dear. As long as he doesn’t take that freedom thing too seriously, all of the meanings seem very nice and fitting.

For those of you who are still snickering about the fact that it took us more than two weeks to come up with a name for our wolfdog, I want you to know that I blame my parents. It’s a genetic defect.

I know this because it took my parents eight days to come up with a name for me after I popped into this world. Yep. Eight days. They—in a pre-ultra-sound era—were somehow 100% convinced I would be a boy. This after having previously produced two daughters. They were so convinced that the only name they had pre-selected was Jeffrey.

Well didn’t I just ruin their plans by not having a stem on the old apple? This was back in the day when hospitals didn’t cut the umbilical cord and toss new parents out to fend for themselves within a day or two of experiencing the miracle of birth. My mom was in nooooooo hurry. She kicked back and let the nurses take care of her…and me. It was a sweet deal. This meant that they were also in no hurry to figure out what the heck to call me. Baby Girl Gallimore suited them just fine and dandy. Finally a family friend said, “Oh good grief, just name her Nancy.”

A poetic start to life, don’t you think?

Ok…you’re really here for an update on Big-Bad…ummm…Kainan. He is doing well. He has settled into our home and into our hearts with amazing ease.

Feet

His feet at about 10 days of healing and now.

The sores on each of his big pads that caused him initial lameness have almost completely healed. He has gone from an emaciated 38 pounds to a respectably scrawny 54 pounds. In another 15 to 20 pounds he’ll just be slender. We look forward to hitting that goal.

He continues to play extremely well with our dogs and he gives the grumpy older guys their space. He is so very appropriate in his interactions with his canine cousins. While we will not take him for granted, we do not feel the need to monitor his every move at this point. He is really just a big sweetheart.

Mealtime is still a huge deal for him, starvation will do that to a carnivore. Initially he showed a few signs of resource guarding over the old food bowl. I’m happy to report that with some simple training and patience (I outlined that in a previous post), he now allows me to pet him while he is eating without any signs of concern, even wagging his tail as I wish him bon appetit.

The only true problem we have been having has nothing to do with behavior. Kainan’s tummy has been in a bit of an uproar since his rescue from the wild and wooly streets of Tulsa, OK. It’s not surprising. When we found him he was burdened with a load of hookworms.

Add to that the fact that he obviously had not been enjoying many good meals as a nomadic wolfdog in the city. I’m not entirely sure he inherited any of the mad hunting skills of his wild ancestors. This is likely good news for the squirrels, bunnies, and other small furry creatures that crossed his path. Frankly, with the temperament he has displayed to this point, I think he might actually enjoy having a kitten of his own to cuddle.

After a couple weeks of non-stop diarrhea (sorry…I have warned you in the past that you probably don’t want to risk reading my posts while trying to enjoy a meal), non-stop dialogue with our veterinarians, and input from our friends at Freedom Song Wolf Rescue, we may finally be on the path to getting Mr. Touchy Tummy under control.

Things came to a head last Thursday night when Kaine (see…it has a great shorter nickname version too) gave us a bit of a scare. He had experienced several bouts of bad diarrhea and he was lethargic, uncomfortable, and actually had a fever of at least a couple of degrees.

We took him to the veterinarian the next morning for blood work and to rule out niggling concerns that he might have some sort of foreign body hanging out in his stomach or intestines.

His blood work came back normal (yay!) and the vet did not suspect any foreign body or obstruction (double yay!).

We decided to approach his stomach issues from a twofold approach, change his diet and give him medications prescribed by our trusted veterinarians to sooth his stomach. Based on recommendations from the Freedom Song experts, we have pulled kibble dog food from Kaine’s diet. Even though we feed our dogs high quality kibbles from Fromm (Gold and Four Star varieties) and Wellness (their limited ingredient Simple formula), apparently some wolfdogs do not tolerate commercial dog food diets.

Kainan’s menu was initially switched to some cooked chicken we had on hand (two paws up on the Kaine scale) and we have been gradually introducing a raw diet (an enthusiastic four paws up). At this point we are using prepared frozen raw diets from  the Nature’s Variety Instinct line of dog food. These diets have been well researched, offer a complete diet, are easy for us to use, and get great ratings on the Dog Food Advisor ranking system (if you want to see how your dog food measures up visit www.dogfoodadvisor.com). As we move forward, we will likely also give him some raw turkey necks and chicken parts so he can have the benefit of chewing up some raw bones.

Don’t panic here…cooked bones splinter and are dangerous, raw bones (though never pork) can be chewed and digested well and provide many benefits. Yes, raw diets can be controversial, but I’m not going to debate that here and now. It’s really something each individual must research. There is a lot of good information out there about raw diets and right now it appears the best route to take for the welfare of our wolfdog.

I’m pleased to report that our new regime is having great effects. Kainan’s “output” is starting to firm up and look much better (why yes, I AM a poop expert). He is feeling much, much better too. He is bright, happy, and frisky. We saw him lope across the yard in playful pursuit of foster puppy Piper yesterday. That was a beautiful sight to see.

10628313_10204848789243189_794661893457081233_nKainan’s body is healing. He has energy. He is relaxed and happy. He finally has a name. It appears he also has a home.

Welcome home, Kainan. We love you, big guy.

How I May Have Stolen a Donkey. And How He Stole My Heart

ImageI have been participating in a rather hysterical online conversation about kissing donkeys. The thread has been playing out in the Open Group for Bedlam Farm, an online community comprised of creative souls who also have wicked senses of humor. Come on now…it’s nothing kinky. We do not need to ask said donkeys to show us on the doll where the human touched them.

It was just a funny conversation inspired by a photo of people…well…kissing a donkey on the nose. This was followed by author and group mentor Jon Katz making a public proclamation that he is, indeed, also a donkey kisser. He kisses his donkey Simon on the nose every single day.

I too am very fond of donkeys. Jim and I share our world with a menagerie of animals and prominent among them are five miniature Imagedonkeys, one standard donkey, and one fabulous mule. All are very kissable. Jim might argue this point—the donkeys can be a tad mischievous and occasionally destructive—so let me rephrase that, “I” find them all very kissable.

Anyhow, all the talk about the smoochability of donkeys made me reflect on how my love of long ears was born. And it’s a bit of a tale.

Many, many, oh-so-many years ago, I lived on just three acres with just one horse and a rational number of dogs. It seems like that was a lifetime ago. In many respects, it was.

One warm spring day I received a call from a friend who lived on a horse property not far from my place. She was on a mission to save an injured donkey and the donkey needed to enter the witness protection program.

She believed he actually belonged to a neighboring ranch, but the donkey knew no boundaries and easily scooted beneath pasture fences in search of a better life. The little guy, a bit starved for attention, had always spent more time at my friend’s ranch where her daughters would hug him and where he knew he would be offered feed and carrots.

On this particular day, the little donkey needed help. He had shown up a couple of days earlier and had a very swollen, painful back leg. My friend (yes, names are being withheld to protect the not-so-innocent-but-very-caring) had called the ranch where she believed the donkey lived and left messages that he was injured, that he needed immediate help. There was no reply. There was no donkey ambulance dispatched.

At this point she believed the donkey was abandoned. If not abandoned, certainly neglected and she did not want to see him returned to his former home where his injury might be left untreated.

Would I rescue a cute miniature donkey? Do I really need to tell you my answer?

Of course nothing is really simple, is it? You see, neither of us had a horse trailer. And there were several miles betwixt point A and point B.  And the donkey’s leg appeared to be broken.

Ok. We were intelligent donkey thieves rescuers. We could figure this out.

So, we called a friend who had a small pickup truck. We backed the truck into a ditch and lowered the tailgate as a makeshift ramp. Perfect! What donkey wouldn’t want to hop right in to head off to a new and wonderful life?

This donkey.

Apparently an open-air ride in the back of a truck was not on this little man’s bucket list. So we slowly convinced (aka: pushed and pulled…ok, my friends pushed and I pretty much fell in the bed of the truck laughing hysterically), our little friend to make his way into the truck and quickly shut the tailgate.

Of course the donkey would not move to the front of the truck bed and instead insisted on leaning precariously on the tailgate. Could this be how you guys got a reputation for being a tad stubborn? You think?

We obviously couldn’t risk having the donkey flip out of the back of the truck as that would certainly defeat the purpose of rescuing him, so my friend sat on one corner in the back of the truck and I sat on the other. She sat on the corner with the butt-end of the donkey. I got to laugh a whole lot more from my vantage point with the front-end of the donkey (there is no photo evidence of this event…so it may or may not have happened).

You see, as our other cohort gingerly inched the truck onto the road, the donkey, feeling the motion, decided that he should sit down. And he did. On friend one’s lap.

Now, let’s paint this mental picture once again…we have a small pickup truck. We have a tiny donkey sitting on a woman’s lap in the back of said truck. We have another woman holding the donkey’s head with tears born of unrestrained laughter streaming down her (my) face.

Add to this little calamity the fact that we wanted to circumvent the ranch where our little runaway donkey may have (did) actually belong. Though the probable (actual) owner had been given every chance to claim his donkey and failed to do so, we still thought it might be a bad idea to parade directly in front of the ranch.

So yeah, we had to go a few extra miles out of our way with friend one’s legs losing all feeling. Miniature, yes, but he still weighed 250 to 300 pounds. This is kind of like Santa Claus deciding he should change things up and sit on the kids’ laps to hear Christmas wishes.

Oh and we could only drive about five to 10 miles per hour because in reality we (one partially paralyzed person, one sobbing with hysterics person, one very content, enjoying-the-ride jack) were all still in danger of flipping out of the back of the truck.

A drive that should have taken 15 minutes took well over an hour. It might have felt like five hours.

And we got looks. Lots of looks. It was not exactly a subtle getaway.Image

But we did get our little donkey buddy to his new/my home. I had a veterinarian out to check his indeed-it-was-broken leg. I gave the little guy a comfortable place to rest while his leg healed (which it thankfully did!), and so a new love for long-eared, loud yodeling, heart-stealing little equines was born.

So how did I end up with five more miniature donkeys? I bought him a girlfriend, of course. I’ll let you figure out the rest from there.

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Donkey Dad meeting his first son, Harry Ass Truman. To give you perspective, these babies weight around 30 pounds and can easily be held. They are the size of a medium sized dog.

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Lulu with Stormin’ Norman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: In the event that you are reading this and find the story familiar…in fact feel sure I may have absconded with your miniature donkey…I assure you this is just another exercise in fiction writing. Yes. Fiction. And I’m pretty sure they don’t hang people for stealing broken donkeys these days.   

Happy Tink Day!

Tink loving life...even during an ice storm. Most excellent photo by Jim Thomason

Tink loving life…even during an ice storm. Most excellent photo by Jim Thomason

Today is the fourth annual national…

no…

Worldwide, Universal TINK DAY!

You do know what Tink Day is, right?

No? Seriously?

Ok. Twist my arm. I’ll tell you.

The tale of Tink actually started on Saturday, May 1, 2010. I was off running errands. Jim was off running errands. The weather was gorgeous, spring was in the air, and it was a busy, get-things-done kind of day.

Just as I was getting down to the business of checking things off of my to-do list, my phone rang and Jim uttered those telling words, “Where are you?”

Now that may sound like a really innocent question, but in Nancy-Jim speak, the actual translation generally is: I have found an animal of some sort and I need help.

My immediate response was, “Why? What did you find?”

While cutting through the back alley of a strip mall (note: MALL, not CLUB), Jim caught a quick glimpse of a small dog sniffing around a dumpster. OF COURSE he stopped to check on her.

When he parked the car and got out to call to the little dog, she took one look at him and shot immediately under another nearby dumpster; this one a giant compacting dumpster.  Not the type to just shrug and go on his way (yeah, another one of the million reasons I love this guy), Jim stopped to investigate.

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Our first glimpse of dumpster dog.

On hands and knees to look under the dumpster, Jim could just see, in the small, filthy space, a tiny face peering back. Well out of his reach, Jim tried to coax the dog into coming out to see him. He even bribed her with some dog treats he had in the car (doesn’t everyone always carry a few emergency dog treats?). Dumpster dog, however, was having none of it.

This is where Jim hoped I could step in. Sometimes a dog will be wary of a man, but might respond better to a woman. You see it all the time.  Jim also suggested that I run to the store for something a bit higher value than dog treats. Yes, it was time to break out some stinky lunch meat.

So I ran to the nearest convenience store (my regional favorite, Quik Trip—and yes, I will continue to plug them until they decide to sponsor my blog and/or give me free fountain drinks for life). There I found what would surely be Dumpster Dog’s olfactory siren song.

Bologna. I really can think of no better purpose for the stuff than bribing a dog away from a dumpster. Stinky bologna in hand, I rushed to meet Jim in a back alley. He takes me to all of the nicest places.

There I found my partner, sitting on the dirty pavement, appearing, to the unknowing eye, to be talking to a dumpster. Further proof that public appearance means NOTHING when trying to save a cute little dog.

Jim stepped back while I, confident of my dog magnetism (especially when wearing Eau d’Oscar Meyer perfume), plopped down on the warm pavement to work my charm on what was sure to be my new little bestie. I talked to her in my best soft, reassuring voice. I offered very lovely, stinky, slimy bologna. I gave it my very best shot. And I was shot right down.

In fact, I even thought I heard a little growl. But not really a growl. A moan? A groan? Maybe more of an audible sneer? Whatever the sound, it did not convey an oh-yay-the-human-of-my-dreams-has-arrived message.

Ok. Plan B.

It was apparent to both of us that Dumpster Dog was no stranger to this way of life. The space under the dumpster was obviously her current home. She felt safe there. Nothing could really touch her there.

So we decided to back off for that moment and visit her the following morning. It would be a Sunday morning, so the strip mall would be quiet and we would surely convince this little darling to run into our waiting arms.

Sunday morning dawned and we were in the car, on our way to claim our newest foster dog. When we pulled to the stark space Imagebehind the building, Dumpster Dog was actually resting in the shade of the one tree planted in the middle of the one small patch of grass adjacent to a loading dock. One glance at our slowing vehicle and she was once again a white blur darting beneath her dumpster fort.

So we sat and talked to her. We reached as far under the damn dumpster (it was swiftly earning that name) as our arms could reach to offer bits of turkey, chicken, and hot dogs. While she would stretch her neck to pick up offerings tossed her way, she was not budging an inch.

That’s ok. She was just not ready. And she was still making that weird noise that we couldn’t decipher. We left a bowl of water and a bowl of dog food. If Dumpster Dog needed us to work a little harder to gain her trust, then work a little harder we would.

And so our lives as part of a bizarre dumpster sit-in commenced.

Between the two of us, I would say we visited Dumpster Dog around five or six times throughout the day, for the next four days. Fortunately we were having a run of gorgeous, mild spring weather, so sitting in the middle of a sea of concrete chatting up an invisible dog was not a completely unpleasant task.

We got to know the UPS guy who said he had been tossing food to the little dog. We learned from the employees of Bed Bath & Beyond (anyone else pre-occupied by this company’s decision to eschew not only the Oxford comma, but all forms of punctuation? Only me?) that our little dog had been sharing their dumpster’s address for around six to eight weeks. They too had been tossing her some food, but gave up when the dog refused to warm up to their attention.

Gave up? Blasphemy! Heartstrings twanging at the thought of this little creature surviving on her own for such a long time, our determination to win her over doubled.

I went by on my way to work. I spent my lunch hours with her. I stopped by after work every day. I ran over to Dumpster Central every chance I could.

I read books to her. I sang to her. I shared my lunch with her. I made her all sorts of crazy promises. Had she crawled her way to me on visit four of day three, I believe she would have been the lucky winner of a BRAND NEW CAR! (Price is Right Voice…Bob Barker version. No offense, Drew, it’s just not the same.)

Meanwhile Jim was putting in an equal number of visits. We were nothing if not determined and Mother Nature was brewing some incredibly good inspiration.

Spring in Oklahoma. Yes, it can be quite lovely, and in the click of the minute hand, it can turn quite nasty. The forecast for the coming weekend promised strong thunderstorms and heavy rain. We could not stand the thought of this little, lost dog left to ride out storms of that magnitude by herself. We also did not relish the thought of huddling under umbrellas (AKA: lightning rods) to keep her company through it all.

Dumpster Dog had to surrender.

Friday rolled around. I visited in the morning. Jim visited later in the morning. I visited at lunch. I begged the little dog to come to me. I desperately wanted to be able to call Jim to tell him that she was safely tucked in my car.

Instead, I was the one to receive that delightful message—live and in person.

Right after work I headed over to my now-favorite dumpster in the world.  Just as I was rounding the corner for yet another visit, there was Jim, walking toward me, cradling a small white dog in his arms. OH happy day!

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Jim and Tink. The first of many selfies.

I will admit that I just burst into tears. Finally, this precious little dog was safe. I believe my first words were, “I love her! We’re keeping her!” Oops. Did I say that out loud? Yes, over the course of the week, this dog had become more than just someone’s dog. She was our dog—in my heart and mind. I just failed to mention that concept to Jim…until I saw him holding her.

Laughing and hugging in relief, Jim told me that in desperation he finally just stretched out on the pavement and shoved himself as far under the dumpster as he could fit. Let’s consider this visual for just a moment:  A man flat out on his back in an alley who, to the unknowing eye, likely appeared to be half crushed by a huge dumpster.  Thank goodness for seldom traveled back alleys and a few I’m-not-getting-involved passersby.

Jim just stayed right there. He shut his eyes and pretended to nap. He became one with the damn dumpster. For 45 minutes.

Eventually, he felt a cautious sniff at the top of his head. He still didn’t move. Slowly, a little white dog with faint black spots moved to Jim’s side to curl up with him. And so a beautiful and devoted friendship was born.

Upon finally meeting her up close and personal, it was immediately clear that the little creature who had seemed so very shy while in her hiding place, was actually a very friendly, fun dog. The odd not-exactly-a-growl sound that she emitted from her dumpster fort (where Jim swears she lorded over an army of minion mice) now seemed to be from some sort of congestion, so off to the vet we ran.

This is where it is a very good thing to have a best buddy who is also your awesome veterinarian. Stick around after hours on a Friday to see our latest foundling? Well, sure she would.

A quick exam revealed a basically healthy five to six month old puppy that just seemed to have a really stuffy nose. We headed home with antibiotics and very high spirits.

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First visit with Dr. Lauren. She’s really nice.

We got to know our new puppy and found that she was one huge character packed into an 18 pound body. Her small stature combined with her huge spirit quickly earned her a pixie-inspired name…Tink.

Now properly named and in procession of two completely love-struck humans, Tink should have been ready to just live out her happily-ever-after, but following a full week of antibiotics, her cute little nose was still doing a heck of an impression of the Sleestaks from Land of the Lost. (If you don’t get it, check it out on YouTube…you don’t want to miss out on this slice of pop culture).

So we headed back to the veterinarian, who consulted with another veterinarian. Who then sent us to see another veterinarian with a fancy scope-thingie. Who then found that Tink wasn’t ill at all. Her nose had apparently suffered major trauma, likely as a very young puppy, and both nasal passages were almost completely blocked. The noise we kept hearing wasn’t growling, groaning, moaning, or even a really good Sleestak impression. It was simply a puppy trying to breath.

Well if we didn’t love her madly before, that sure sealed the deal.

With our “free puppy” in tow, we were sent off to a veterinary specialist in another city. He performed a surgery that he hoped would result in a reduction of some of the scar tissue and blockage in Tink’s nose.

A few thousand dollars and six weeks of green tubes protruding from said nose later…we still had a really cute little Sleestak.

ImageSo no, Tink still really can’t breathe through her nose. But she has overcome and we have grown accustomed to her snoring.  Jim says I’m louder anyway. Ironically, I really can’t breathe through my nose very well either. Paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it?

Tink has now been head of our canine household for four wonderful years. She is Jim’s devoted little buddy. Oh she likes me too, but I would never want to ask her to choose between us because I guarantee she wouldn’t give me a backwards glance. Jim is Tink’s prince in this fairy tale. After all, he’s the one who crawled into the dumpster fort to save her, didn’t he?

A couple of years ago we had the opportunity to have Tink meet with our favorite animal communicator, Pam Case. It’s always fun to hear what our furry friends have to tell Pam–she always manages to hit several proverbial nails squarely on the head.

We purposely did not tell Pam any of Tink’s story—nothing about her rescue or her injured nose. Pam and Tink “talked for a bit.” Pam related many stories about Tink’s thoughts on her life with us. She told us many likes…a few dislikes. She did not, however, say anything about Tink’s life before we found her. So I asked Pam what Tink thought about her life before coming to us.

Pam got very quiet and still for a moment as she studied Tink. Tink studied Pam right back for that moment, and then hopped up to go sniff around, as best as a dog with a broken nose can. Pam looked up and said, “All I saw was a heavy work boot coming straight at her face. After that, she said she didn’t want to think about her life before coming home with you anymore.”Image

Well, what a great little teacher Tink turned out to be. The image that Pam related to us (and she had no prior knowledge of Tink’s nose problems), was exactly in line with the type of injury the veterinarians believe Tink suffered. Exactly.

But according to Tink herself, dwelling on the past was wasted energy. That was then, this is now, and now is a pretty damn good place to be. We should all be so wise as to follow Tink’s lead. Leave the past where it is and go sniff something new.

Thanks Tink. Thanks for four great years and many, many more Worldwide, Universal Tink Days to come.

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A Terrific, Radiant, Humble Happy Birthday

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If you had told me 15 years ago that I would someday have a pet hog, I would have…well, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. In fact, I would have likely just said, “Cool! When?”

Yeah, that’s how I roll.

I have always been “that kid,” and now “that person,” earning me nicknames like Horsey Girl, Chicken Girl, Dog Lady, Squirrel Mom, Bunny Mom, etc…so naturally, Pig Mom felt so very right.

It was May of 2002 when I got the call from Dave, a good friend who worked at the City of Tulsa Animal Shelter. I volunteered at the shelter on a regular basis at that time and Dave knew I was “that person.” He called with a special request for a foster home. Three pigs had just come to the shelter…yes, the shelter set up to house dogs and cats, but NOT pigs…and one was very young and very tiny. Dave was afraid the piglet would not survive if housed in the shelter.

Would I provide a foster home for a baby pig? Well, hell yes! There really wasn’t even a moment of hesitation. My only questions were:

  1. Where is she?
  2. When can I pick her up?

I would figure the rest out as I went along. A lack of plan seemed like the perfect plan.

Now, let’s set the stage here. At that time I did live on a small acreage that boasted a barn where my horse, a llama, and my growing donkey family lived. I also owned 75ish acres that I had hoped to move to. Hoped. But at THAT time I was in the middle of a divorce and everything seemed way, way up in the air. I wasn’t sure where I would be living over the course of the next six months. I wasn’t sure if I could keep my animals. I wasn’t sure about anything.

Was it a good time to take on a baby piglet? Well…sure! She was just a foster pig, right? (Yeah, I’m laughing too.)

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So skinny at first! It didn’t last long.

The piglet had been transferred to an area veterinarian for a checkup. Beyond being a bit malnourished and having a case of pig lice (ewwww!), she was proclaimed healthy. I did quickly learn that pig lice are species-specific and that they had treated her for them, so I parked my heebie-geebies at the door of the vet hospital and rushed in to claim my new little charge.

I believe I heard her before I actually laid eyes on her. Squealing all the way into the exam room, a tiny pink bundle was delivered into my waiting arms.

Oh my. She was adorable.

Big ears, a wrinkled little snout, button eyes and a pricelessly curly tail—it was love at first snort. She was truly no bigger than a football (forgive the cruel comparison!). She walked on tiny, cloven high-heeled feet. She loved to snuggle. She was all personality. I was completely smitten by my first pig encounter, beyond the destined-to-be-bacon pigs at the state fair.

I quickly ran to the feed store to purchase some appropriate food and then also hit the produce stand to buy some fruits and veggies I knew she might like—nothing but the best for my little bundle of joy.

I bedded her down in my spare bathroom because that somehow made sense at the time. The dogs met the pig and miraculously made friends. They even played together. It was quite a sight to see my Dalmatians racing around with a little pink bullet at their heels.

Within 24 hours I knew this pig would NOT return to the shelter. If the owner of the pigs returned to pay the fines and claim them, I knew she would be destined for slaughter. If she remained unclaimed, she would be sent to auction where her fate would likely be—you guessed it—slaughter. That was just not going to happen.

So I called Dave at the shelter and told him the pig was staying put and he needed to figure it out on his end. His answer (God love this man…I know I caused him stress) was to list the piglet as deceased. Yes, he wrote on her intake card that she had been too young and malnourished to survive. (By the way, names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent…) We joked for years afterward that Spammy was the healthiest dead pig anyone had ever seen.

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A girl and her pig.

Now I had a pig. Wow. Now I had a PIG. My up-in-the-air plans officially needed to accommodate a pig that would swiftly turn into a full-fledged hog. A lack of planning on my part perhaps not such a good idea? Perhaps.

Meanwhile, the piglet continued to charm everyone she met. Jim (who was not my partner quite yet, but soon would be—lucky, lucky me!) named her Spamela Anderson within the first few minutes of meeting her. GENIUS. A quick, quick wit. Just another reason why I fell for this man.

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Spammy and Monte demonstrating a good “stay.”

Spamela, affectionately known as Spammy, quickly became a beloved fixture in my home…well, actually in my barn. The “let the piggy live in the house” idea changed pretty quickly. Did you know that pigs like to back up against the walls of your bathroom to poop? Yeah, I didn’t know that either.

Creating poop art on the walls issues aside (and in her defense she DID “go” on the papers we put out…well, her feet were on the papers), Spammy was clever. She learned tricks and behaviors just as easily as the dogs did. She liked to play, she liked to eat. Oh she really liked to eat. My tiny pink piggy swiftly grew into a beautiful, huge hog.

Now fast-forward 12 years.

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Spamela Anderson napping with Jerry Swinefeld. Friends at last!

Spammy and I have been together through a lot of life changes. Well, life changes on my side of the board, anyway. Her life, on the other hand, has been fairly stress-free and even keel.  She has always had a comfortable barn to snooze in. She has always had lovely mud to bathe in when the weather gets warm. She has always had plenty of good food to eat. She has always had room to roam and graze. She even eventually got a younger adopted brother that she wasn’t too sure about in the beginning, but grew to enjoy his company (except at dinner time—he’s such a pig!).

Spam and Monte

Spamela and Monte were best of friends. They played together until I decided she was just too big and might hurt him accidentally. It was sure fun to see them romp. Interesting side note, Monte would never accept one of those pig ear chews. Turned his nose completely up. What a loyal friend!

All these years later, we get to celebrate Spamela Anderson’s 12th birthday. So few pigs live to see this milestone, so it’s special. All the more special because, after a bit of research, I found that the average lifespan for Yorkshire pigs, who are actually allowed to live, is listed as six to 10 years. You go, Spammy!

This little piggy has lived a very good, long life. Together, we survived divorce, we survived figuring out where and how to live, and we survived changes in family, career, and lifestyle. Through it all, Spamela has been blissfully unaware, but she did play an important role in swaying many a decision and I am grateful for her not-so-silent influence (have you ever heard the noise a 600-plus pound hog can make at mealtime? Think roaring lion.).

Now Spammy’s years are showing. Her once impressive bulk has faded. She is a little slower to rise and enjoys naps a good deal of the time. She still meets each meal with the enthusiasm of a young porker and she still loves a good wallow in the mud. I know we don’t have a lot of time left together, but whatever time she graces us with, will be wonderful.

To borrow words from another famous pig story in which a clever spider named Charlotte documented the attributes of her porcine friend within her web, I would have to say that Spamela is, indeed,

“Some Pig,”

“Terrific,”

“Radiant,”

and

“Humble.”

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Portrait of a senior pig.

After all, she was a bit famous in these parts with articles documenting her life in magazines, newspapers, and even on the news. Through it all, she remained unaffected, and slightly mud-caked.

I would have to one-up dear Charlotte’s list, however. My last web-message for Spamela would have to be “Much-Loved.” And she is.

Wishing the happiest of birthdays to our dear Spamela Anderson. You are one very fine pig.

 

Following are more photos from the life and times of Spamela Anderson. Here’s to hoping we get to add many more.

 

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Yes, she would let me ride her. Sort of.

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We were our own little side show.

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She could heel better than most dogs.

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Hanging out with her horsey friends.

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Carrots. Always a favorite. She loves all fruits and veggies, but does not like cake…especially stuff like Twinkies. This could be a key to her long life.

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Spammy, at her full size, enjoying a visit from friends. She was quite impressively large in her prime.

Saving Nadia

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Nadia has made herself right at home now.

I woke up this morning with a little black nose pressed into my neck. Nadia, my new foster puppy, apparently decided it would be a great idea to sleep in the human bed last night. I hug the puppy to my chest and she sighs in contentment. With her sigh, the sweet, distinctive aroma of puppy breath fills the air around us and I breathe it in, cherishing the scent that will turn into dog breath all too quickly.

It was only about a month ago that this happy, cuddly pup was just a small, dark shadow standing lost in the middle of the road.  The moment my Jeep made the turn toward home, the shadow darted away to hide in the bordering brush and trees. I barely saw the movement, but I knew. I knew it was a dog.

I’ve seen it too many times—a dog or cat blindly bolting for cover because this unfamiliar situation into which it has been plunged seems to be filled with nothing but danger and fear. This road, the peaceful country road that takes me home, is apparently a favorite spot for people who want to abandon unwanted animals. It’s a quiet, somewhat hidden side road, but it has just enough homes along the way to pacify guilty minds…to allow the “I found him a home in the country” lie to have a hope of validity.

I kept my eyes focused on the point where I had seen the little ghost dog leave the road. I slowed as I reached the right spot and I scanned the brush for any sign of my new friend. The late afternoon sun slanted bright beams into the camouflage of brown grass, weeds, and trees and as I searched, I finally caught a glint on wide, terrified eyes.

She was crouched tensely against a tree trunk, beneath some fallen branches, her little face and body tight with stress and panic. Her eyes were round with fear and every muscle in her body was ready to bolt if I made one wrong move.

Her soft brindle hued coat allowed her to easily melt into the background shades of grasses still brown from winter and growing shadows. If she decided to move farther into the brush, I would quickly lose sight of her.  Though I wanted to rush in to whisk her away to safety, any sudden movement would have closed the door of opportunity.

There is an art to helping frightened stray animals. A panicked dog or puppy seems to revert to a primal state where raw survival instinct replaces any previously known domestic inclinations and responses. This is the moment when the human has to abandon the notion of how to respond to a pet animal. All of the baby talk and promises of cookies bounce off of terrified ears and a numb heart.

So I parked my Jeep on the opposite side of the road and walked a bit down the road from the puppy, keeping myself at an angle to her, but always keeping her in my peripheral vision. She, still crouched and tense, did not take her eyes off of me…the potential predator.

I reached a spot about five feet down-road from the pup. Her hiding place was about eight feet off the road, so I was far enough away that I wasn’t putting pressure on her. I sat down…in the weeds and gravel, because dog rescue never manages to take place in a comfortable location…and again kept my body at an angle to the puppy instead of straight toward her.

Well-meaning humans really tend to get it wrong when trying to approach a scared dog. We usually go straight at them, looking directly into their eyes. We immediately thrust a hand toward their face. We lean in and push our faces toward them, all the while babbling in a high pitched loud voice. Boy…put yourself in a position that is about a foot or so off the ground and see how that feels to you. Not pleasant.

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Reaching for her first bite of jerky!

Then, we tend to ignore all of their “please don’t pressure me” signals. They glance away. They lick their lips. Their ears will be tense and generally pressed back. The whites of their eyes show. These are all signals that say, please, please back away, but most humans don’t know how to read them. This is how dogs are lost, or worse, how humans end up with a nasty bite.

So there I sat. Glancing at the puppy. Talking in a low soft voice. Tossing bits of beef jerky near her hiding spot (well, sure…I always
keep something enticing in the car!). After about five minutes, the grass rustled and the young dog cautiously reached out to hungrily snap up a bite of jerky.

Ah! Progress.

Very, very slowly, I scooted a little bit closer to where the pup sat watching. Then I just held steady again. Talking softly, glancing casually back and forth. Keeping my body loose and relaxed.  Yawning and sighing loudly—dog language that says “I mean no harm.”

I tossed more jerky…this time not quite so close to where she hid. She would creep out to gobble a few bites and then watch me warily, very ready to bolt if I made one wrong move.

Cars passed behind me. Most ignored me completely, some slowed to see what I was up to. I just sat and prayed that they would not stop. That they would not ask. Any added pressure from the human world would send this puppy racing into the brush.

After about 20 minutes of slow progress toward the puppy with a non-stop shower of yummy jerky (can’t lie…I had a few bites myself), I decided to take the pressure completely off. Crab-walking on my hands and feet, I moved slowly away from her and then got up, still in slow-mo, and walked back toward my car.

What I hoped would happen, did.

Trailing about four feet behind me, a young, thin, frightened puppy followed. She still wasn’t sure about me, but I was the best thing she had found in this big scary world and while she wasn’t ready to run into my arms, she sure wasn’t ready to let me go either.

As long as I stayed steady and didn’t move too quickly, I was about to see a puppy make a very difficult choice. The choice to trust this human.

I looked sideways at my little shadow and asked if she might like to come home with me. Her reply was to crawl underneath my Jeep and plop down. Great. First I got to scoot around in gravel and itchy weeds, now I would know the joy of lying on my belly on the asphalt and gravel under my car. No matter. She was well worth it.

So I stretched out on the road and scootched my way under the Jeep. I would like to say a public thank-you to Jim at this moment for putting a little lift kit on the Jeep. Made the scootching much easier. Scootch, by the way, is a technical term that anyone who rescues animals in the field knows all too well.

Now I’m lying on my belly, under my Jeep on a thankfully not busy stretch of road. I extend my fingertips to offer another little bit of jerky. She gently takes it from me and swallows it without even chewing. This was one hungry puppy.

Then I reached out to lightly tickle the side of her neck with my fingers. At this point I would like to issue another public thank-you for the combination of my mom and dad that gave me freakishly long arms. They come in darn handy.

Finally I saw it. Her eyes softened. Her ears lowered and relaxed. She exhaled with a distinct little sigh. This puppy was making a choice to trust me.

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Safely in the Jeep. Our first photo together.

I will tell you that when I catch a frightened little dog like this, I do initially take hold of them by the scruff of their necks. I have one chance to get it right and I can’t risk a struggle or a bite. Most dogs, especially young puppies, will go very still when you take hold of the loose skin on the backs of their neck. Their own mothers know this. It is not painful and I don’t use this little handle for long, but it is effective for safely scooping up a scared dog.

I rubbed the puppy’s neck and then I took hold of her scruff. Together, we scootched out from the space under the Jeep and I quickly hugged her close, promising her softly that everything was going to be ok now. As with most dogs I have rescued in this manner, she quickly decided I was her port in the storm. She pressed into me without a struggle, surrendering her fate fully into my hands.

The once scared, starving, lost puppy quickly became a happy, secure, friendly, healthy puppy. She has friends that play with her. She has soft beds for snuggling. She has many arms that love to hug her. She has all of the food and treats she could ever hope for—though she still inhales every meal as if it might be her last. She has a foster name, Nadia, earned because she is very agile and loves to tumble.

Most importantly, she has a future.

Nadia is learning skills every day that will insure that she can be successfully placed with a loving family. She is a dear, gentle, smart little girl. Someone will be lucky to love her. I can’t wait to see that match happen.

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Worried expression no longer! Soft eyes, relaxed, attentive ears, relaxed face. Life is good.

In the meantime, I will continue to teach her where she should potty and where she shouldn’t. We’ll talk about Jim’s house shoes and why they really aren’t a chew toy. We’ll go for car rides and walks. We’ll approach new things and new situations together as she learns to be confident. We’ll have great fun together.

I will enjoy our snuggle-time and her sweet puppy breath. And when she places in a new home? Well, I have whispered in her ear every single day since she arrived that even after she finds her perfect family, I will always, always be right here if she ever needs me.

And I will.

Author’s note: I am always told how wonderful it is that Jim and I foster so many dogs. Everyone seems to think we are so selfless, so giving. I have to tell you that taking care of these dogs may well be one of my most selfish obsessions. I love having these little souls come and go from our world. There is no greater high than seeing a dog that was once lost and broken turn into someone’s dog of a lifetime. Trust me, I get more from these animals than I could ever possibly give. It is our honor to be here when they need us.

Little Stray

foursome

Three fosters dogs and one “foster fail.” Left to right: Bernie, Robby, Candy, and our cow dog, Edie. Tonight I hope that the tiny Chihuahua that stood confused and lost in the road by our gate will decide to come in. She couldn’t bring herself to trust me and ran, but later followed my trail up the driveway only to bolt away into the back pasture. Evening is falling and it is so dangerous for her out there. Please come in, little dog.

Come in, little one,
you need not run any farther.
The panic that shows so clearly
in your eyes,
in your stance,
in the carriage of your tail,
can be a thing of the past.

You were drawn here,
to this place,
to me,
for a reason.
Everything you need,
everything you long for,
everything you have yet to know,
is here.

Let your need override your fear.
Accept my outstretched hand.
You are hiding in a world filled with danger,
while I offer a world of safety,
of care,
of soft blankets,
of kind words,
of gentle caress.

Come in, little one,
your journey ends here.
You are already a part of me.
This is your haven,
the place where fear is released with a simple sigh.
In my arms you will learn trust.
In my heart
you have already found love.

Come in, little one.