Monday, March 31, 2008

Magic moments from today

6:30 AM : Martin, galloping down the path toward me in the early morning light. He had refused to come in from the back of the pasture last night, choosing instead to sleep on the rise, next to the fence, with the two llamas from the next property sleeping just on the other side of the fence. I do believe they were having a sleep-over! Perhaps I should have offered them marshmallows and built them a little fire for their campout?

9:00 AM: Closing the gate across the driveway as I leave for work this morning, I glance back at the piggy yard and see one lone pig, snout pressed against the fence, looking at me with his big round eyes. “Foster Mama, do you HAVE to leave us???? Can’t you stay and play with me????” (Or maybe he was thinking “Hmmm…if I root under this fence, run up the driveway, and root under the gate, I too can take off for the day!!! An Adventure!!!!!)

4:30 PM: Ten piglets racing up the hill to the piggy yard gate when they hear my car enter the driveway. Squealing and oinking and carrying on “Foster Mama! You’re home!!! Come feed us!!! Come see what we’ve been doing in our new field!!! Foster Mama!!!

4:40 PM: Three dogs and one cat, crowding the kitchen entrance as I unlock the back door, waiting eagerly to greet me, tails wagging, paws waving, meows and woofs and yips and yaps. "Mom!!! About time!!! We missed you!!!" – such a great welcome home.

4:50 PM: Sadie, confidently and briskly trotting down the pasture path, nose to the ground following a trail (I swear that dog has some hound in her!), no longer clinging to my side as she did the first week or two. She is no longer afraid that I will disappear if she doesn’t watch me every moment.

8:30 PM: Coyotes howling their song in the pasture just beyond the gate. I quickly run out to check they are not bothering Martin, and find him lying calmly in his pen, not in the least perturbed by these familiar visitors. He looks at me as if to say “I’m fine, mom, really – I’m fine”. It amazes me that they live harmoniously, yet I have seen them lying in the sunshine not ten feet apart, these species that should be predator and prey.

9:00 PM: One little sheltie who comes over to me and puts her front paws on my knees, asking to be lifted up for a cuddle. Though she has always patiently accepted my picking her up, it is the first time Belle has been the one to initiate it. (Eighty-seven pound Sadie, on the other hand, is constantly trying to climb into my lap!!).

Magic moments, mini vacations from the demands of the everyday world. How very fortunate I am to live this life with these critters.

Lessons from nature

Yesterday's entry provoked comments that gave me pause for thought. I was asked if I thought that the spiritual connection I feel to the birds and animals really helps me with the challenges of human interaction. I've already responded in the comments below - a resounding YES - but it got me thinking about how my ideas regarding human's place in the universe had changed over time, and what or who had influenced that thinking.

I grew up believing, as so many do, that humans are somehow superior to other living things, and have the right to rule over them - including the right to destroy them in the name of "progress".

I first began to question this reasoning when I watched a video I was previewing for use in one of my classes years ago. At one point, a First Nations woman is talking about respect for all living things, and she tells a story that I have never forgotten. When she was a little child, she was walking toward her grandmother when she saw a bug on the floor. She stomped on it and killed it. Her wise grandmother did not scold her but merely asked the child "Now who will feed her family?" The young child felt terrible and that simple lesson stayed with her all her life.

Anne Cameron, one of my favourite authors, says in another video that we humans talk about “throwing our garbage away”.... but, she asks, where is "away"? No matter what we do with it, it is still here. There is no "away". That statement, like the one in the preceding paragraph, stuck with me.

Lastly, Vandanna Shiva has had a huge influence on my thinking. She is a physicist, environmentalist, philosopher, advocate for radical economic reform, and feminist. She argues that humans have many lessons to learn from nature. Firstly, it is the diversity within nature ("biodiversity") which sustains nature. In other words, each part of nature helps some other part of nature to thrive. (I tell my students to think of this as your standard "birds and bees" lecture - without the bees the flowers would not be pollinated; and without with the flowers, the bees would not have nectar to sustain them and aid their reproduction. Neither could thrive and reproduce without the other).

All parts of nature are interdependent - they both depend on and sustain other parts of nature. What we have to understand, argues Shiva, is that we humans are part of that biodiversity.

Instead, we have developed a hierarchical and patriarchal system of decision making, and an economic system which measures progress by profits. And yet many of our human decisions and economically "productive" acts (such as clearcutting to get the highest profit for the least cost) is not productive at all, but destructive. It's not creating value, it's destroying what is valuable. It is a strange notion of progress. Far better that progress be measured by the ability of nature (including humans) to be creative and procreative, to live in harmony with one another.

When we start putting a dollar price on nature (such as selling clean water to the highest bidder) we are guaranteeing that some people and some parts of nature will be destroyed in the process - and if we destroy the environment we eventually destroy ourselves.

If we respect the environment, and see ourselves as part of all nature rather than being separate from it or having the right to control nature, then we too are part of creation, and if we see ourselves as part of (and equal to) all of nature, that's spirituality. Shiva says spirituality is basically “a way of organizing life so that there is respect for all life”.

So, do I learn about human interaction from my quiet reflections at the rise at the back of the pasture? Do I internalize useful lessons about human interaction when I sit among the piglets at the end of the day or marvel at a woodpecker in the early morning light? You bet I do. I am far from being perfect, but I am a better person than I was before I started observing and listening to nature and caring for the earth and the animals. I learn about give and take, about respect, about assertiveness, about tolerance and diversity. And I learn about freedom.

In the words of Vandana Shiva:
Simply stated, when each plant in your field is growing and depending on others around it, and providing to others the conditions for their growth, then the freedom of each life form depends on insuring the freedom of others. (Shiva, 1997)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday morning services

The morning light

I left organized religion many years ago. Yet this Sunday morning I find myself standing in a most beautiful cathedral listening to an awe-inspiring choir – a cathedral without walls, a cathedral without a preacher.

No stained glass windows for me – I have the colours of nature to inspire me. The fresh green shoots of grass, the bright yellow of the skunk cabbage, the steel grey of the cascading water in the stream, the periwinkle blue of the sky where the clouds part to reveal its splendor. The daffodils and japonica in my yard are in bloom, and I find a late crocus poking its lavender head through the winter grasses. Ladybugs are everywhere, their tiny dots of red and black covering my bushes and windows like little drops of life-giving blood.

In the distance I hear the familiar woodeling and ki-yi-ing from the dogs of a neighbouring animal sanctuary as they greet a visitor or go for their morning run. And I hear the birds, an amazing array of birds – Northern flickers and sparrows, robins and Steller’s jays and European starlings, mallards and Bewick’s wrens and the tiny black-capped chickadees.

Close by I hear a sound I have only heard once or twice, the loud resonant drumming of a pileated woodpecker. They are large, colourful birds, the ones the famous Woody Woodpecker was modeled after. We seldom see them here – they are a shy bird who quickly moves away when humans intrude. This morning, I am richly blessed with the sight of the bird in a nearby tree and quickly snap a photo before he moves farther afield. I step closer to marvel at the depth of the hole he has drilled in the soft damp trunk.
Pileated woodpecker high in my tree

His morning's work

I hear the piglets happily munching their greens, their soft oofs and erfs and oinks marking their satisfaction. Martin, too, chomps his lettuce and makes a soft high-pitched hum to tell me he is pleased.
Martin in his pen

Piglet guards his carrot

Derby chowing down on greens

A small flock of Canada geese call their greeting to me as they wing overhead. In the distance, I hear the call of a hawk, possibly the first of the Kestrels returning to the area after the winter migration.

The only human- made sound to impinge on this moment is the hand-rung melodic bells of a nearby monastery echoing off the hills and across the valley, complementing the sounds of nature and reminding me that we, too, are part of nature and that all life must live in harmony.

Tomorrow, my introductory sociology class discusses religion. It is always a challenge explaining to my students, many of whom have very strong ties to organized religion, that a sociological examination of the institution of religion is not a challenge to their faith. Many are unable to understand the difference between spirituality and the social structures in which our society packages and presents it.

I hope there are times in their lives when they too experience moments when the heart is full of joy and peace, moments when their connection to the earth and all creation feels complete.

For me, those moments come when I am standing on a hillside at the break of day, drinking in the beauty such as I have been blessed to taste this morning. For me, that is spirituality. That is my faith.

Sadie sharing the morning's beauty

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Marvelous Macy and the Three Stooges

This is actually two stories, not one. The first is about my afternoon with Macy, one of Caleb’s littermates who is currently looking for her forever home with the help of BullyBuddies rescue. The second is about my three nutjobs who are having about as much fun as three senior collie-type breeds can have without having their sanity questioned (collies and shelties are supposed to be dignified, after all - especially in their senior years!). They never fail to make me laugh when they play together.

But first, Marvelous Macy:
Macy on the dike

Since I’m not in a position to adopt Macy, I’ve opted to help out by taking her on outings, to the vet, to meet potential adopters, etc. until she finds her perfect-fit forever home. This was my second outing with Macy (See my earlier entry entitled “Meeting Macy”), and this time it was just Macy and me.

First we went to the Serpentine wetlands to walk the dikes. It was very quiet there today, so we met only a few other people during our hour's walk. I put her on a 30-foot training leash so she could roam, and she was very excited to be "free", sniffing every blade of grass, alternatively dragging behind and running ahead. She was such a busy girl she paid absolutely no heed to other dogs, people, or the many ducks and other birds in the wetlands. She had a blast!

Check out those ears!

Macy running

Next we headed out to White Rock to visit my 89 year old mother who lives in an assisted living retirement home there. Macy nicely greeted the seniors who ooohed and aahhhhhed over her as we headed to mom’s suite. She stepped into the elevator as if she'd done it all her life (many dogs don't like elevators!), she greeted mom nicely, and then lay down on the rug in front of the fireplace. Macy gently shared bits of ginger crisp cookies with us and in no time at all had mom convinced that she was the cutest, nicest, best behaved dog ever. When I rose to leave, and picked up her harness and leash, Macy jumped up and wagged her tail with a happy goofy grin on her face: “Ahhhh gooood, we’re going back out again!!!!”

I’ve come to the conclusion that Macy is really two dogs in one. The incredibly lucky person who adopts this girl will be getting a happy, bouncy, energetic pup who loves the outdoors, loves to explore, loves to run, loves to ride in cars, and has a grin that stretches from one side of her cute floppy earred face to the other. But that same person will also be getting a sweet, quiet, couch potato snuggle bug who is gentle with seniors, well behaved indoors, happy to curl up for a nap in a strange place, and knows how to give the very best kisses.

She’s pretty good at coming when called (especially if the call word is “treat”!), and knows sit, stay, ride, over there. On the other hand she does NOT understand “Ohhhhh Macy noooooo don’t roll in the smelly dead fish!!!!!!!” (My apologies to her foster mom!!!)

Macy sitting nicely

And then there are my three canine companions - the three stooges. They have decided that the most fun thing in the world is to act like clowns each time we go out in the pasture. Playing leapfrog, rolling, crouching, play-bowing, chasing, sneezing, running, wrestling, dancing, woofing, sniffing, trailing, bumping, barking - there is no end to the antics of Charley and Sadie. And then there is little Belle who mostly just barks, but today decides to chase after her slightly younger but much bigger sisters and to mimic their actions – rolling, running, dancing just out of range of their big clumsy paws. Until, that is, she gets bowled over and rolls “a$$ over teakettle” right into an indentation in the ground and lies there on her back, paws scrabbling at the air like a turtle trapped on its shell, unable to get up.

Belle gets into the act

Princesses aren’t supposed to be laughed at however, so she was quite indignant when I finally stopped chuckling long enough to right her, and she haughtily did her model’s "runway walk" down the path, head held high, feet daintily stepping one in front of the other as she steadfastly ignored me and the others while she made her way back to the house to recover her dignity.

I have no understanding of what it is that people see in the so-called “reality shows” that are so popular on television. Dogs are so much more real and so much more entertaining. I can’t imagine my life without them.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You're only as old as you feel.....

.....and right now Charley (nearly 11), Sadie (8 or 9 ) and Belle (12) think they are puppies! It’s a beautiful evening; the air is crisp, the sky is blue brushed with white and steel grey clouds, the sun sinking on the horizon is once again flooding the hills with light, bringing the bare dark trees into stark relief against the sky. The fresh snow in the surrounding hills reflects back the sunset in hues of pinks and blues.

And so the dogs and I went for our third walk of the day, up to the rise at the back of the pasture. And there, all three of my supposedly-senior dogs were playing and rolling and barking and jumping and chasing and carrying on like two year olds. This was not the first time today – they had gone through the same antics when I had taken them out after work, and on the first walk this morning, too.

And just before dinner, Ellen came over (with the piggies’ weekly supply of greens – thank you, Ellen!) with her dogs Kinley and Toby. While we drank coffee in my kitchen (Ellen and I, not the dogs), Kinley grabbed a stuffed Eeyore that I had bought for Caleb some months ago. None of my dogs play with toys …..or they didn’t until they unleashed their inner pups.

Next thing we know, Sadie and Kinley are having a great game of tug with Eeyore and chasing each other around the house, swapping the toy back and forth and joyfully wrestling with each other! They didn’t stay still long enough to get much of a picture (and my house is very tiny which makes it even more difficult with five furry critters chasing around), but it sure made my heart sing to watch them!

The actual age at which a dog might be considered a senior depends on a number of factors. The rough gauge of “ one dog year equals 7 human years” works to a certain degree, but actual life expectancy varies considerably by breed and size (as well, of course, as breeding, nutrition, environment and so on). Very large breeds live on average only 7 -8 years, breeds like German shepherds about 10-12 years, small breeds often 13-16.

Sadie is a fairly large dog (and not just because she is overweight) so is likely a senior at 8 or 9, Charley and Belle certainly are seniors even though Belle is small.

But I guess no one has told my three girls that they are “old”. I only hope I can act as young as they do when I am the equivalent in dog years.

Ooooops, too late for that – I’m already over 8 in dog years. I think I’ll go play tug with Sadie and Eeyore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More scenes from today

Daffodils in snow

Old horse-chestnut tree against a snowy sky

The last crocus of spring

Charley checks coyote trail

Sadie and Charley wandering together

Snowfall on a spring day

Belle in snow



Sheltie tracks in snow

Hey, what happened to spring?????

This is the scene that greeted me this morning. It may be pretty but it is darn cold and sloppy!!! Twelve paws covered with slush and mud traipsing across my clean kitchen floor, three long haired dogs coated with melting snow which they generously shake off all over the house, twelve piggies who don't want to go outside to do their business so make lots of mess in the shavings in the stall........S i g h .....gotta have a sense of humour around here, that's all I can say this morning!

On the plus side, the contrast of one large, dark, graceful coyote against the white of the pasture made a beautiful sight when I opened the back door. I only wish I had been able to grab the camera quickly enough to share it with you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Learning to Fly

"When we walk to the edge of all the light we have, and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly."
Patrick Overton

Tonight I am celebrating a journey I have taken this past year. It was one year ago today that I lost something that was precious to me, something I thought gave my life purpose and meaning and deep, deep joy. A year ago today, my ties were severed with a place I cherished, a community of people whose company I enjoyed, and an assortment of animals that I deeply and passionately loved.

I won’t get into the reasons for that rift – that is the past and although we may learn from the past we must also put it behind us and move on. But I do want to mark the occasion and to celebrate my journey.

My devastation on that fateful day was profound. I felt I had lost my very soul. Slowly, with help, I unraveled the myriad of emotions and thoughts that threatened to choke me. And gradually I began to carve out a little world for myself which combined the two things that bring me the greatest pleasure, the greatest sense of fulfillment and serenity: my love of the outdoors and my love of animals.

As I began to identify my strengths and my limitations, the things that bring me joy and the things that cause me grief and stress, I also began to make peace with myself and my world. I began to write again, to see the intense natural beauty around me, to laugh with the animals in my care, to give of myself as before, to delight in the little things that happen each and every day……and to take care of myself again.

There is a fine balance needed to live a life of service to others, whatever their species, while maintaining one’s own sense of self. If we overextend ourselves, we not only shortchange those we have committed to help but we also do not leave time to feed ourselves healthy foods, to invest time in activities that restore our energy, to benefit from the love and laughter that comes from sharing good times with family and friends, or even to just reflect on all we are learning and how we might become better people and leave the world a better place.

And when we get too embedded in one place or one person (or group of people) or one activity, then we risk devastation if that person leaves, or if we are forbidden access to the place, or if the activity is changed through someone else’s decisions.

I still miss that place and those people and the critters I worked with. The fourteen months I spent there was a time of tremendous growth, a time when I was filled to the brim with the joy that comes from service to others and hard physical work and beauty and challenge and sorrow. It is a time I will never forget, and it changed the whole direction of my life.

But since that time, I have come to realize that my greatest satisfaction, my greatest sense of peace and serenity and selfhood comes not from a place but from a combination of factors that can be recreated virtually anywhere – animals to care for, nature to revere, solitude to treasure, friends with whom to celebrate, work that challenges both body and mind. I can have those things anywhere I choose to go. I am the creator of my own happiness.

I am, in many ways, more of a loner now, less social than I was before, but I am also more complete. I create my own bliss and none can change that. In many ways, the pleasure I find in life now is different from the pleasure I experienced during the time I spent at that special place; but the life I have now is satisfying, it is fun, it is fulfilling, and it is wholly mine. And there are none who can destroy it or take it from me.

I do believe I have learned to fly.

Sadie and Belle at the dike

Today I arrived home from work fairly early, and quickly contacted my friend Ellen to see if she was up for a walk on the dikes in a nearby community.

Charley, who hates car rides, raced back into the house at the sight of the open car door and stubbornly refused to come, but Sadie and Belle are always up for a car ride, so off we went.

I hadn’t been to the dikes since Caleb passed away. Our last trip was in January, a short walk with an arthritic Belle and an ever-weakening Caleb. Since then, Belle’s health has drastically improved and she now shows little evidence of the arthritis and muscle wasting so apparent three months ago. Sadie, as my newest addition, had never been to the dikes as she needed to build a bond with me before venturing into new territory where reliable recall amid distractions is essential.

Today was the day to test my girls out. By the time we arrived it was starting to drizzle and was a bit colder than I anticipated, but Belle and Sadie were excited to see their friends Kinley and Toby, and off we went.

They sniffed the ground and checked out rotting fish, and Kinley (a young whippet) entertained us all by racing hither and yon – down through the reeds, up across the path, back to us, on ahead, back again……can that boy run!!!

Belle and Toby trotted along side by side, two well matched seniors out for a stroll.

And Sadie had a blast, sometimes trotting quickly with Kinley, checking out smells and interesting “things” (arrrrghhh!), sometimes walking sedately at my side, always obeying each time she was called.

We overestimated Belle’s ability a little, and by the return trip she was really dragging, and so we took turns carrying her for short distances. We joked about the new “doggy strollers” on the market and wondered what colour Belle would like. Of course, Princess Belle thinks a doggy stroller is a great idea and informed me she would like royal purple, with a nice canopy please.

I think future walks on the dike will have to alternate between long ones for Sadie and Charley, and shorter ones for Belle. However, as I now watch her Hoovering around the kitchen floor just in case I have dropped a tasty morsel somewhere, I have to conclude that she can’t be too tired from her day’s outing. I suppose the test will be how well she moves in the morning – if she can still beat me to the door, the food bowl, and the pasture gate I will conclude that her arthritis is far less bothersome than mine!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

All in a day's work

The piggies’ new yard is complete!!! At 8:00 this morning, the handyperson I occasionally hire to help me with the bigger tasks around here arrived and together, in the pouring rain, we more than doubled the size of the piggies’ personal playground. We had put the posts in place several weeks ago but busy schedules prevented us from finishing the job.

So today we cleared away the old bamboo stalks and other debris, attached the 2x2 fencing wire to the posts, fastened the 2x4s to the base to prevent little piggies from digging their way out or getting their trotters caught in the wire, built a new gate that gives me access from the piggy yard directly to the pasture (allowing me two points of access in the event of an emergency), took down the old fence and used it to reinforce the existing fence between my property and the neighbour’s driveway, tacked, hammered, drilled, sawed, and..oh yes…slopped through the mud since one corner of the new yard is rather swampy. Hmmm, methinks that’s an understatement.

Being a rainy day, the piggies stayed inside the barn where it was warm and dry. When we began to dismantle the existing fence, I closed the barn door to ensure no piggies were underfoot until the yard was fully secured again. However, they do have a little piggy door that leads to a very small secure outdoor potty area. At one point, just as we removed the old fence, I noticed Tom, the largest of the piglets, peering out from the burlap sacking that covers the piggy door. He did a double take, and then ventured to the edge of the potty area to get a closer look. Moments later he scampered back into the barn and this is what I heard:


Rough translation: "Oh my goodness, you should see what they're doing, they've taken down the fence, we have a HUGE yard now, oh oh oh oh oh this is soooooo exciting!!!!"

A whole chorus of piglet voices filled the barn, rivalling the Tabernacle Choir on Easter Sunday. Several more piglets ran to the piggy door and peered around the burlap sacking to check out Tom’s story. The squealing continued for a good fifteen minutes before slowly things settled back down.

Mark and I stopped only briefly during the day - once for coffee and once for lunch- and at 4:30 the last board was in place, the last wire was tacked down, the last hole was filled, and the piggies were let out to explore their new territory.

They were hesitant at first – or rather, they were more interested in knowing if I was going to give them their dinner now. So I had to grab a handful of cookies and before long I was the Pied Piper of Piggies, leading them down to their new field, one happy marching procession.

And then the fun began! They suddenly realized they had access to new roots, fresh grass, blackberry bushes and room to run and run and run. From a piggy yard about 50x 50 feet, they now have one about 70 x 120 feet. I wonder how long it will take them to clear that land until it looks as barren as the space they had before?

Hopefully spring will produce some new shoots, and will certainly provide privacy, shade and beauty as the bamboo that lines the fence between the pigs' yard and the neighbour’s driveway fills back in. And I think planting some nice hazelnut trees, on the outside of the piggy yard but close enough to provide shade and treats, will be next on the agenda.

It is great to see them rooting and chomping and running and playing in their new playground. Happy Easter, little piggies. Enjoy your new field.

And now I think I deserve a glass of Chivas, a bowl of seafood pasta, and a warm bath.

It was a very good day.

Piglets emerging from the barn

Scotch and Tom discuss the new field

Trio of piglets checking out the spring grass

Two piglets chowing down

Dont' disturb us, Foster Mama, we're busy!

Piglets in their new field

Friday, March 21, 2008

Beautiful faces

I think some of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen are the faces of the elderly. Full of lines carved from years of work and joy and sorrow, full of character and grace and softness yet strength, framed in grey hair, pale sometimes watery eyes full of wisdom – these are the faces of people who have lived life to the fullest, who have survived, loved, been loved.

The faces that come to mind when I think of beautiful faces are those of my mother, my aunts, my grandmother. I think, too, of a woman who blessed me with her support when I was a struggling single parent at university and who at age 95 was still delivering meals for Meal on Wheels, and of another who in her 90s is still an activist for women's equality. These seniors have faces full of character that reflect their many and varied lived experiences. They have beautiful faces.

As I was thinking about this today while I sat on the bench at the top of the rise in the pasture, I happened to catch sight of Charley’s face. And I am suddenly aware of the white muzzle, the white eyebrows that continually give her a slightly surprised expression, the flecks of grey and white fur that increasingly stretch along the sides of her long collie nose towards the eyes and around the ears.

When did my dog get old? Perhaps I just hadn’t noticed it before, but with Sadie's dark black face for comparison it caught me off guard. Did she always have white eyebrows? Did she always have so much white in with the black? And so I started looking back through some old photos – she didn’t have those white eyebrows as a pup. It looks like they appeared some time in the last two years. I wonder if Sadie (who is 8 or 9 to Charley’s almost-11) will develop the same markings as she ages?

Charley really does have a beautiful face, a face full of character, a face reflecting a long life lived well. She has aged just as my mother has aged, just as I am aging. She has a face full of joy and inquisitiveness, a face of acceptance, a face that reflects a mind at ease with her world. And so it is her beautiful face that I want to share with you tonight:

Charley age 3 months

Charley age 7

Charley age 8

Charley age 10

Charley Mar 21, 2008 Age 10 years 9 months

Piggy vid for you, Lou!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Charley and Sadie Part 2

The post below is my first attempt at posting a video on this blog. I wasn't able to upload from my computer for some reason, so did it via photobucket. I would appreciate knowing if anyone is unable to view it. (I wasn't able to add words to the post without losing the video - I am on a steep learning curve here!)

It is heartwarming to see my Charley-girl play like this. She is almost eleven; Sadie (with the red bandage on her foot - she has an owie) is about 8 or 9; and little Ms. Referee Belle is 12 - there is life in the old girls yet!

What really touches me is that this is the first time I have ever seen Charley really play! Although she was raised with a dog just slightly older than her, and later joined by the young pup Emma, she never played with them. She did play-bow to my Caleb and to Isaac (a former foster), but only in their last few days of life when they were too tired to respond. So this is very exciting to me.

I guess she has been waiting all her life for a sister the same breed as she is. If there was any doubt that I would fail fostering and end up adopting Sadie, this seals the deal.

Charley and Sadie at play!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mischievous Martin, Pesky Piggies, and Three Dawdling Dogs


The time was late afternoon. The dogs were standing by the pasture gate waiting to go for their run. Martin, however, was still roaming free in the fields and had no intention of coming back to his pen. While Charley is savvy enough to stay away from Martin (whose very deadly backwards kick can do more damage to the kneecap than a Mafia debt collector), Belle is neither savvy nor speedy and Sadie is too new to the farm for me to know how she might react face-to-face with an agile alpaca.

I can’t say I blame Martin for being reluctant to come in. When one has spent most of one’s 8-10 years living uncared for under a tree at the back of a field (he was abandoned by a former tenant here years ago), this domestication bit must seem very strange to him. He was happy enough to spend the winter nights, and often days, in the newly built shelter and pen behind the barn, with lots of hay and fresh water and grains. But now that the days are longer and there are tasty green shoots shoving their heads through last year’s yellowed grasses, I swear I can almost hear him humming “Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above ….Don’t fence me innnnnnnnn

And so today was one of those days. The dogs kept running back and forth between barn and gate, whining and barking, yipping and yapping, while I was mucking out the stalls and scooping poop in the piggy yard and chatting with the piggies. The piggies gave me a tale of woe about the lack of grasses in their yard and asked WHEN I am going to finish the extension which will make their yard twice its current size . Oh piggies! I need dry weather, a back that doesn’t ache, at least one extra pair of hands, and a completely free day – getting all four necessities on the same day is nothing short of a miracle. Soon, piggies, soon.

Charley and Sadie chat with a piglet

I finished with the pigs, called Martin again to no avail, took the dogs in for their dinner, went back out and called again……nope, Martin wasn’t coming. He had moved closer, but his selective hearing was fully operational and I was being staunchly ignored.
Dusk was falling and so I decided to take the dogs out anyway, with Belle and Sadie on leash. We walked to the rise at the back of the fields, giving Martin a wide berth, Since Martin was now down below, I thought I would unleash the dogs so they could run around and play a bit.

It was a good thing I looked behind me before unclipping the leashes.....there, not ten feet behind me on the path, was Martin, trotting along with the rest of the procession....Charley, Sadie, Belle and me, followed by one mischievous alpaca with a twinkle in his eye and a toss of his head that said “you weren’t going to have a walk without me, were you?”

I sat down on the bench, dogs still on leash at my feet. As we stared out over the valley and over Martin’s head, Martin lay down in front of us and stared back. And so we had a nice little conversation in which I asked for his cooperation as the dogs really like to run off leash and after all, it’s only two or three times a day for maybe half an hour each time. Then the dogs and I got up, and giving him a wide berth once more, headed back to the house. We no sooner reached the pasture gate than….ta-dum ta-dum ta-dum …the sound of hoofbeats on the path as Martin comes galloping along at top speed and heads right into his pen!!! That cheeky brat!

So the dogs and I went back out for a while, off leash this time, but it was almost dark. Two black dogs and one deaf dog in the pitch-black pasture would not be a fun experience. But do you think they would HURRY???? No of course not.....they dawdled here and dawdled there, they checked the creek for fish, they examined the coyote poop, and they dug for field mice.

Then they roamed over to the pig pen, causing the piggies, who were in bed for the night, to stick their little snouties out of the piggy door and squeal “Who's there????? Who's there?????? Did you bring fooooooood?????” And the piggies squealing and squeaking started the dogs next door barking, which started my dogs barking, which got Martin back out of his shed once more.

Rickey checks who's there

But all is well that ends well. Martin is secured in his pen, the pigs are in the barn, the dogs are back in the house, and I have been suitably amused, entertained, and loved by 17 amazing critters.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The rhythm of my day

There is a rhythm to my day that creates a pleasant, predictable structure in which to fit all the unexpected and spontaneous events that come flying at me.

An acquaintance of mine was complaining recently about the “sameness” of the days - tasks done today that will need redoing tomorrow. She commented that the repetitiveness “sucks”.

I admit there are times when I look at the dishes on the counter and think “didn’t I just wash those??”. But as I was going about my morning chores I reflected on her comments and decided my perspective differs from hers.

For me, “sameness” is comforting – it is what keeps me sane. I know that each day when I get up I need to make the bed and feed the dogs, feed the pigs and chop up their veggies and scoop their poop, feed the alpaca and deliver his hay, walk the dogs and tidy the kitchen. Sometimes I have to rush through the tasks, and the days I enjoy most are the ones when I can just plod through them mindlessly – it gives me my “thinking and planning” space. But even on those days when I am rushed, the routine is satisfying to me.

So, too, is the routine at the end of the day – feeding, mucking, walking, tidying. The moment when dusk falls and I close up the barn, and I spend a few minutes sitting in the straw with the piggies, giving them belly rubs and singing Scotch his favourite song, I feel the tensions of the day slip away. I love returning to the house from the barn, turning on lights, pulling the drapes and shutting out the world, knowing that even if I haven’t accomplished all I intended that day, it is time to wind down. It is a time to reflect on what has been achieved and to set the next day’s priorities. I may still do some chores like laundry or returning emails or prepping for classes, but it is all familiar, comforting, repetitive work.

There are times I wish there were more hours in the day or more days in the week or more hands to help, but that is because of all the unpredictable, spontaneous, once in a while, fit-it-in sorts of chores like fences to be fixed and dogs to be vetted and cars to be repaired. The routine, the mundane, the regular, I can handle. It is what holds the rest of the chaos neatly in place. It is the frame to my life’s portrait.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Helping the piggies!

Scotch, Soda and the piglets would like me to tell you about an important fundraiser to help their friends who live at the Hearts on Noses Sanctuary in Maple Ridge.

Next Saturday, March 22nd, a friend of Hearts on Noses is having a garage sale to raise money for the sanctuary. Hearts on Noses is the only potbellied pig sanctuary in Western Canada and survives solely on donations. This is Wendi's second annual garage sale to raise money for the sanctuary.

Date: Saturday, March 22nd
Time: 10:00am- 3:00pm
Where: 3758 Wellington St., Port Coquitlam BC

Janice, the owner of Hearts on Noses, will be there with Casanova, her smooching piggy who travels to schools teaching children about potbellied pigs. You can get your picture taken with handsome Casanova - he may even give you a kiss if you ask nicely!

Even if you live too far away to attend the garage sale, there are other ways to support this great sanctuary. Another animal rescuer, Bev from Parksville, has made and donated an awesome kid's quilt. Hearts on Noses is currently accepting bids on the quilt - you can bid on it by sending an email to, with "Bid for Quilt" in the subject line, or by going here (you will need to register as a member to post a bid on this site, but you don't need to register to go to the last page of the thread to find out what the bidding is at). The bidding is currently at $60, and can be raised by $5 increments. Bidding will end the afternoon of Mar 22nd.

Here's a couple of pictures of the quilt:

And one final way to help Hearts on Noses is to go to their website here and either sponsor a pig or make a one-time donation through paypal. Every five dollars means five pounds of carrots, every fifteen dollars means a bag of feed, every $150 - 200 pays for a spay or neuter.

Scotch, Soda and the piglets thank you for your support of the many pigs already at the sanctuary and those yet to be rescued.

Meeting Macy

Macy sitting proudly

I pulled into the driveway of Macy’s foster home just after 1:00. It seemed strange not to have my own dogs in the car with me, but this was to be Macy’s afternoon.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Macy is Caleb’s littermate, taken in the same SPCA seizure and adopted well before I met Caleb. But later she was given up by her adopter and so she is now being fostered under the auspices of Bully Buddies rescue. I met Macy a week or so ago, and she is every bit as sweet as Caleb. There is something about bully and bully/mix breeds that just charms me no end and never fails to make me smile. It has something to do with that solid, serious, quiet, calm character housed in a wiggly-butt, ever-grinning, mushy, kissy, soft old lovebug of a body.

I miss my Caleb, and so Bully Buddies suggested I take Macy for outings – giving her a bit of extra exercise and attention while she waits for the right forever home to come along (or for me to decide that one more dog is not really one too many!).

Macy hopped happily into my car and off we went for an adventure. At first she peered a bit anxiously out the window but a few pieces of dried duck breast and she decided I was an okay person and this was a good place to be.

We met up with my friend Ellen and her dogs and discovered an absolutely wonderful park with tons of great trails, a beautiful creek, tall trees, little wooden bridges, rich green moss, and – best of all – NO people!!! With the exception of a dad and his kids and lab who we saw in the distance at the playground, we didn’t see a soul all afternoon – in fact, the parking lot was empty! What a great place.

Ellen with Macy, Kinley and Toby

Macy had a blast. I suspect she would have liked to run off leash, but that wasn't in the game plan. I forgot to bring my 30’ training leash, but she gamely trotted along on the 6’ leash and even managed to splash in the creek.

She’s a wonderful sweet dog who gets along with other dogs, cats, and kids. In no time at all she was practically dragging me along the trails, head high, tail wagging, nose wiggling, as happy to spend a little time with me as I was with her.

For more information on Macy and other great bully-breed dogs, check out Bully Buddies website – oh, and be sure to check out their new blog!

Happy Macy

Sadie has an owie!

Poor Sadie - she was licking her paw furiously yesterday and when I checked it, I couldn't see anything wrong with it. Some dogs will lick their paws out of anxiety or boredom. I don't think Sadie is bored here, but it is less than a month since her family gave her up so she may well be anxious and wondering where they are.

This morning she was limping and holding up her paw, so I had another look. She has a very raw spot, about the size of a penny, on her pad. I'm not sure if she chewed it during the night, or if it was some sort of blister that popped. So I wrapped it up and then she started licking the other paw!

Thanks to my online friend Nana and her dog MP, we still have some natural salve that they made for Caleb when he was licking his paws, so Sadie has just received a foot massage with the salve and is now resting. And I am off to the drug store for more vet wrap - purple, if they have it. I think Sadie would like purple.

She still ate a hearty breakfast and came on the walk in the pasture, so I don't think she has any deep-seated infection worthy of a long trip to an emergency vet. But tomorrow I will call my regular vet and get her in there - she needs a basic checkup anyway as I don't know if she received one while at the SPCA.

So, the day is fast slipping away. I spent an hour cleaning up piggy poop, another hour feeding and walking the dogs and mucking out the alpaca's pen, and this afternoon I am going over to Surrey to take Macy, Caleb's sister, out for a few hours. The bed's not made, the kitchen's not cleaned up, and of course there's always a stack of marking on my desk.

Oh...and stay tuned for information on two very important fundraisers coming up - a garage sale on March 22 to raise money for Hearts On Noses pig sanctuary, and a fundraiser on April 16 (tentatively) in which some great pitbulls will be helping raise funds for some equally great kids with cystic fibrosis. Even those far away from southwestern BC can show their support! More to follow!

Poor Sadie - no purple vet wrap so she had to settle for blue.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

At the end of the day

My favourite times of the day are sunrise and sunset. There are few times as peaceful, as beautiful, as restful as those moments just before the world awakens or just after it goes to bed. This is especially true on crisp spring or fall days when the air is cool, the ground is damp, and a soft mist is rising from the land just as the first or last rays of sunlight streak across the hills.

Today was a rather dreary day, as far as weather goes – a bit of rain, a bit of sun, a lot of cloud. But just as the day was ending, the clouds suddenly lifted from the horizon, giving egress to a brilliant shaft of light which illuminated the trees and the hills all around my home.

My camera, a simple point and shoot, cannot do it justice (and nor can I as the unskilled photographer). But as I glanced out the window at the darkening world, I could not help but run outside, camera in hand, to capture the images to the best of my ability.

There really was no need, though – because the brilliant colours, the rising mist, the deep blue sky, the animals settling in for the night, the frog chirping his evensong down by the creek, the mallards winging across to the pond – these images are indelibly set in my mind. Would that all could see the beauty that I have had the privilege to see.