Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Gift

I awoke grumpy, achy and bleary-eyed this morning – I’d gone to bed too late, I’d slept poorly, my hip was hurting like h*ll (from an old injury), and I’d forgotten to set the alarm so consequently started my day later than I like.

I stumbled outside with Oliver and Belle, my early risers, and watched as they wandered around the yard doing their morning business. My mood improved as I gazed across the pasture to drink in the ever changing landscape of fall foliage sparkling in the dew and rising sun.

And that’s when I saw him. The lone coyote. On the path in the pasture, just beyond the little creek.

Oh, I’ve seen him before – many times. In fact, he usually visits us twice a day – morning and evening. But this time it was different. He was catching his breakfast. Or perhaps playing with his food would be more accurate. And he was awe-inspiringly, gut-wrenchingly, breath-stoppingly beautiful.

One of my favourite blogs, The Daily Coyote, speaks of the cat-like qualities of coyotes, of how they sometimes seem much closer to felines than canines in their movements and behaviours.

And here I was seeing it first hand. Because, just like a cat with a mouse, he was leaping and pouncing and stalking and batting and prancing and playbowing and yipping and tossing that poor little mouse or vole around in great feline style. He reminded me so absolutely of my Allie when she (thankfully) captures the occasional mouse who finds his way up from the crawl space in this old house of mine.

Coyote was oblivious to me, intent on his work. Or maybe he knew I was there but was not concerned, knowing I have respected his space before and left him time to depart before taking the dogs into the field.

Beautiful is too mundane a word to describe him. The thick salt-and-peppery fur on his torso, his brilliant white chin and chest, his slightly coppery legs shone in the morning sun as he pounced around this way and that, his head tilting at all angles to show off his lovely face topped with those two amazingly large and upright ears. I was mesmerized.

Words simply cannot convey how magical that moment was – the glory of the sunrise, the brilliance of the landscape, the intense pleasure of seeing Coyote at work and play. The scene before me gave life to the cliché “it took my breath away.”

It was a gift like no other. I am ready to begin my day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Frost on the Pumpkin

Or, in this case, on the alpaca! This morning I woke to a beautiful sunrise and a light coating of frost on the pasture. Martin was waiting in his pen for his breakfast of grains, apple, lettuce and zucchini:

But when he turned sideways, I noticed this:

FROST! On Martin's wool! Brrrrr!

The piggies enjoyed a breakfast of their exotic pig feed, fresh strawberries (for which they say "Thanks Auntie Ewwen!"), lettuce, carrots, zucchini and beet tops (a gift from one of our wonderful neighbours). This isn't a very good photo, but Scotch is giving me the BIGGEST smile and "ha ha ha ha" laugh as he munches his goodies.

Then the dogs and I went for our walk. The coyotes have been getting very brazen lately, running only as far as the edge of the pasture when they see me, so first I have to walk the path to make sure all is clear for the shelties, lest they become Breakfast Bites.

No coyotes, but a large pile of fresh bear scat right on the trail.....so that's what all the dogs in the neighbourhood were howling about in the wee small hours of the morning! I came outside around 3 AM and shone my large flashlight into the pasture, to see two shiny eyes reflected back at me. From the location of the bear scat, I think I may have caught that poor bear right in the act. Nothing like having your bathroom break interrupted by a spotlight in your eyes! Sorry, Bear!

Once they had the all clear, the dogs were off and running. Oliver is now completely off leash and enjoying his new freedom to bounce and hop and run and gambol along the path at his own pace. He is one very happy boy!

(Click on this to enlarge it and see Oliver's happy smile! He has the BEST smiles!)

The early morning light on the changing leaves, frosted grasses, and autumn flowers was simply beautiful:

A beautiful start to a beautiful day!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Some advice for Oliver, from Charley

Hey buddy, you’s bin here two weeks today. You’s a pretty good bruver. You fits right in. But, Oliver, there are sum things you needs to learn, ‘cuz I see you doing sum pretty dum things sumtimes. So here's sum advice to make life a bit easier fer all of us.

(I askt Mom to help me wiv the spellin’ cuz I’s neva bin to schooooool, well, ‘cept to mom’s office at the unidiversity place).

1. When mom disappears inside the barn to feed the piggies, she does not have a secret tunnel back to the house. Standing at the door of the house barking incessantly to be let in does no good whatsoever when there is no one inside.

2. When you finally get the opportunity to run off leash in the pasture, don’t screw it up by making a bee line for the five-strand-wire fence at the very back of the property, causing mom to race all over the hill with her cotton pj bottoms flapping through the soaking wet grass. Not funny. At least, she didn’t think so. The neighbours had a good laugh though.

3. Lying in the bedroom doorway at night is the favoured spot of ALL the dogs in this household. If you get there first and stake a claim, expect to get growled at by the others. But hold your ground –they will go away and find a more comfy place to sleep. Even me.

4. And when you do lie in the bedroom doorway at night, expect mom to stumble over you when she blunders her way to the bathroom during the night. It’s dark, she’s not wearing her glasses, and she’s not awake!

5. If you walk away without finishing your breakfast or dinner, the other dogs will finish it for you and you will have to wait until the next meal for more food.

6. Lying behind mom’s office chair with the rolling wheels is NOT a good idea. When she tries to stand up, she pushes the chair back, you will get run over, and the wheels will steal some of your fur. That hurts. Just HOW many times do you need to have that happen before you learn to stay beside the chair not behind it?

7. If you pull back the shower curtain with your long sheltie nose when mom is in the shower, you’ll likely get a face full of water.

8. The cat is not a toy. Chasing her will only get you in trouble – with mom, with me, and with the cat. Cool it.

9. Any aggravation you cause can be instantly eradicated by putting your head on mom’s knee and looking up at her with a soulful expression in your big eyes. Mom’s a marshmallow inside.

10. If you lie directly behind the back door when mom is at work, and you sleep like a log, it is REALLY hard for her to open the door when she gets home.

11. And speaking of mom’s return from work - when you sleep so soundly that three other dogs prancing around you barking their welcome will not wake you from your reverie….well, you are likely to give mom a heart attack, or at least a few moments of extreme anxiety until she can ascertain that you are, indeed, still alive!

12. Stay away from MY crate. It’s MINE and nobody gets to nap in it ‘cept me!

Well, that’s all I kin think of fer now, 'cept to say “welcome to the pack”. We all thinks yer kinda nice.

Yer pal, Charley

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pawprints on the heart

Today I wept as I read the Turtle Gardens blog – Laddie, a wonderful old collie who was adopted by Kate, has passed away.

There are some dogs who, from the moment they walk into our lives, leave huge pawprints on the heart. I know Laddie did that for Kate, just as my Caleb did for me. They are our “heart dogs” and as much as we may love all our other critters, they are the ones to whom we feel the greatest connection. They are the ones who fill our hearts and souls with a love so deep that it cannot be described, it can only be experienced.

Kate and I met when I did the homecheck for the very first dog Kate applied to adopt from Turtle Gardens – a lovely little golden-coloured girl named Lucy. I knew in a matter of moments that this was going to be a wonderful home for a very lucky Turtle Gardens dog. A while later, Kate added another TG dog to her family – a little golden-coloured boy named Finn.

And then Laddie showed up on the Turtle Gardens blog. Laddie tore at my heart strings, and I kept going back to his photo, wondering.....is there room here? Can I help him? Could I make it work? And then my heart positively leapt for joy when Kate told me she was adopting him – he tore at her heart strings, his picture spoke to her, and she knew she needed to offer him a home.

And so she drove all the way from the Fraser Valley to Topley, BC, to pick up this dear old dog with the matted fur and skinny arthritic body. And from that moment on, he was “home”.

When we adopt seniors, and especially ones with health problems, we know we may only have them for a short while; sometimes they prove us wrong and live for a long, long time. When I adopted my Caleb, who was only 5 or 6 years old and appeared in excellent health, I thought I would have him for many years; yet eight months later he was taken from this earth by cancer. There are no certainties. If we listen with our hearts we know which dogs need us and just as Caleb needed me for the little time he had left, Laddie needed Kate. Kate provided him with all the love and care and warmth he could ever ask for. And just as he lived a good life for these past few months, he died a good death, in his home, in his bed, with Kate’s hand on his beautiful face. Thank you Kate for loving him.

I believe that those who have left this earth still reach out to us. I often feel Caleb’s presence near me when I am in the pasture, or wake to the sense of his big cuddly body on my bed, head on my pillow, just as he used to do in life.

I know that Kate is grieving today, and I can only glimpse how deeply she feels this loss. Kate wanted so much to see Laddie running in the fields near her home. He made it as far as the edge, but always turned back too tired to go on. One day soon, when Kate takes her “goldens” to the field, I suspect that Laddie will finally be there, running free at last. And quite possibly there will be a brindle boy named Caleb running right along with him.

Run free, Laddie, and let your heartmom know you are but a kiss away. Your spirit will always be as close as the love that lives on in her soul.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

And one more for piggy fans

This was what I saw when I closed the barn door tonight (Click on photo to enlarge) - a pile of piggies who had put themselves to bed, blankies, teddy bear and all! What the pictures don't tell you is the noises I heard - SSNORGK..SSNOOORRKKKKK....SNF..SNF..SNOOOOORKKK - PIGGIES' SNORES!!!

Piggy Fix!!

Some days ya just gotta post pics of those smoochy piggy snouties for all the readers who need their piggy fix, so.........

Got dirt?

A little too close, Derby!

Fizzy's sweet snoutie

That's better, Derby. Good pig!

(Note: If you click on the photos in this blog, they will come up larger on your screen)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Campfire Tales

I had an overnight guest from Vancouver Island staying here last night and my friend Ellen was also here with her whippets, Cisco and Kinley, for our usual Friday night beer and dinner. We decided to light a campfire in the regulation pit (for which I finally got around to getting a permit!) and we spent the evening sitting around the fire with the dogs and our drinks, telling stories of the animals (my guest is a cat rescuer) and sharing some laughs. It was a great way to spend a Friday evening.

Most of the dogs were more interested in the food we were eating than sitting nicely in a circle around the fire for a photo op (and of course, I didn't want any of the dogs to get too close to the pit). Oliver and Kinley thought the camera might be edible, though, so they both got their pictures taken:

Oliver thinks we should make S'mores!

Kinley was more interested in BBQ ribs and fries

In other news, Oliver had his meet-and-greet-and-check-me-out with my vet yesterday. After the appropriate reactions of "Isn't he lovely" and "Oh! What a beautiful dog!" and "What a sweet boy!" from staff and clients in the waiting room, we got down to business. He was as good as gold while they drained half his blood (Oliver, you exaggerate!!! ) for his geriatric panel so we can get some baselines on his liver and kidney functions, white cell count, thyroid and so on. He was very good while the vet checked his heart and lungs (which are in excellent shape) and examined him from head to toe. Surprisingly, he ran and hid at the little light that the vet uses to look in the eyes and flatly refused to cooperate with that test. That's okay, Oliver, we'll leave it for another time.

We did find two problem areas that we are going to fix: he has several badly abscessed teeth (including a very wiggly front tooth, and a big gap beside it where his others have dropped out - he looks like a six year old kid!) and others that need a good cleaning. Getting the dental done will also help with his - ahem - halitosis.

The other problem is at the other end: I knew he had a history of chronic anal gland problems, but these are also very badly infected, swollen and abscessed and leak fluid while he sleeps. After a lengthy discussion and a look at his records, we have decided to have the glands removed. Hopefully this will resolve the problem, though there is a slight risk that he may become fecal incontinent. We will cross that bridge if we come to it. Meanwhile he gets the canine version of sitz baths - hot compresses with epsom salts three times a day - and antibiotics while we wait for the results of the geri panel to make sure he is a good candidate for surgery. Fortunately both ends of Oliver can be done at the same time, and will be scheduled for a time when either Ellen or I can be with him for several days post-op.

Oh, and he is sooo funny with his compresses. He takes the word "sitz" very seriously - when I hold the warm wet cloth to his butt, he "sitz" firmly down on it!!! Funny boy!!

And one last tale - this one for Charlie. Not Charley-the-dog, but my friend Charlie-the-man who I have known for - ummmm - too many years to count. Charlie-the-man came for a visit last Christmas and was constantly freezing in my house. Okay, yes, I keep my house very cool and anyone who comes to visit me and is NOT a menopausal woman with hot flashes better bring a warm sweater with them. But Charlie-the-man would have laughed at what I saw when I arrived home from work on Thursday.

It appears that Charley-the-dog absolutely agrees this house is much too cold. This is what I saw - all of her own doing. That blanket is supposed to be for her to sleep ON, not UNDER!! I still can't figure out how she managed to wrap it around herself like that .

So Charlie-the-man, these are for you:

And both Charlie-the-man and Charley-the-dog will be pleased to know I have someone coming to fix the natural gas fireplace on October 6th. It only took me two and a half years to make the appointment. :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I absolutely love that moment when you know for sure that a new animal in the household is okay with his changed circumstances.

Oliver has been so quiet since his arrival, I thought perhaps I had just adopted the ONLY non-barking sheltie on the planet. Not so. Today when I arrived home from work, all four dogs tumbled out the back door and much to my surprise, it was Oliver who jumped all around me, with a happy upturned face and shining eyes; then he proceeded to play bow and bark, bark, bark at each one of us in turn.

"C'mon Charley, play with me! C'mon Mama Jean, PLAY! Belle, Sadie, mom's home, let's PLAY!!!! " And then he raced around the yard (he's going to give our whippet friends, Kinley and Cisco, a run for their money) and bounced and jumped and barked and twirled around in front of us as he joyfully announced his presence to the whole neighbourhood.

The little guy is just fine. He knows that he belongs. My heart is singing tonight.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Magic Moments

I love those little magic moments that happen when I am rushing around trying to get everything done, mind zooming ahead to the next task, and suddenly --zing! - something catches my eye that stops me in my tracks, makes me exhale with awe or laugh out loud with joy.

Today had many such moments. Just before I was to leave for work, I took the dogs out for one last pee. I was rushing them through their business and a little frustrated with how pokey they were. Oliver, for one, was more interested in something he had found in the grass, and so I went to hurry him along.

Zing! It was a beautiful dew-soaked dragonfly, its gossamer wings so fragile and silver. Oh, Oliver, I don't blame you for stopping to watch it. Thank you, for if you had not been taking your sweet time, I would not have seen such an amazing sight.

And then I looked around me and saw more of them - wings all soaked with dew - on the scarlet leaves of the Virginia creeper, on the bird bath, on the blackberry bushes. Magic - like dozens of Tinkerbells sprinkling fairy dust in my garden.

I was home from work in time to let the piggies out into the pasture. Between work and this weekend's commitments, they haven't had much pasture time lately. The pigs always have access to their pig yard with bushes and bamboo and grasses, but the pasture has so much more for them.

I took the dogs for a run first, and as we came back down the path I heard it. Zing! Little piggy voices squeaking and squealing and oofing and oinking - twelve piggy snouts pressed tight to the gate. Somehow they KNEW, even though most days after work they don't get to go in the pasture, they KNEW that today was the day. And out they came! They pawed and they munched and they smiled and they kneaded and then they munched some more. Their tails were flying and their snouties were wiggling and their bristles were standing up in excitement and happiness. There's few things more fun that watching a herd of happy pigs!

As I sat in the pasture, watching the pigs and singing to them and giving them belly rubs, I glanced over my shoulder to the gate that leads to the main yard where I'd left the dogs and - Zing! - my heart positively leapt at what I saw through the wire. All four dogs, lying on the warm afternoon grass as if they had lived together for their whole lives. How quickly they had become one family!

After dinner, I was sitting at my desk when Oliver and Belle came into the office and started prancing around. Sighing, I decided I better take all the dogs for one last run in the fields even though I had a zillion things to do. We stepped outside and - Zing! - the sky was dotted with pink-capped cloudpuffs, the trees a mere silhouette in the fading light. A beautiful evening that I might have missed, if not for my dogs!

We enjoyed our walk in the pasture, heading back to the house only when the light was almost gone.

As I looked across the road to the fields beyond, I saw the fog settling over the grasses and heard the eerie ki-yi-yiing of the coyotes as they began their evening serenade.

A perfect end to a day of magic moments.

How many is too many?

I was asked today if Oliver would be the final addition to my canine family. In all likelihood, yes – at least for now. Certainly a small home like mine with two big dogs and two small dogs is busy and crowded enough.

I believe that overcrowding animals – be it in a home, a shelter, a kennel or a pasture – is conducive to stress for the animals and exacerbates physical health problems as well as jeopardizing their emotional wellbeing. Had Oliver been a large dog, or a young dog, or a rambunctious dog, I would not have considered offering to take him on even though his situation was fast becoming urgent. As much as I love labs and pittis, pups and active dogs, my environment would not accommodate them at this time. But it is not so much the numbers as the "fit" that determines how many is too many.

I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to decisions regarding how many is too many: time, money, future plans, age and temperament of the dog, age and temperament of the human.

One must have the financial resources to be able to feed the animals a good quality food and address their health concerns appropriately. One must have sufficient time to give each of them personal attention, to exercise them, to groom them, and to teach them manners for living cooperatively with others. One must have a good idea of where one plans to live for the lifetime of the dog and of what one would do for housing if one's present circumstances changed.

One also has to consider age and temperament. My four dogs are all seniors. My two thirteen year olds, Belle and Oliver, are unlikely to be with me for more than five years, though of course it is possible they will prove me wrong. Charley and Sadie, while a couple of years younger, are large breed dogs whose life expectancy is shorter than that of small dogs – thus they are not likely to be around for much more than five years either. And, barring unforeseen terrible accidents or life-threatening diseases, I should be around for at least as long as my dogs, and I know what my finances will be and what my home ownership plans entail.

As for temperament, my dogs are all very easy going sociable dogs who aren’t particularly demanding of their humans – they are not cuddlebugs and seldom crowd me simultaneously (at which point two hands and two feet are sufficient for belly rubs and head pats). They tend to spread themselves out around the house, enjoy their strolls with me in the pasture or on the dikes, and generally ignore each other most of the time. As for my temperament, I’m a pretty calm, easy going, independent person too – a good match for these dogs – and not one to panic or get into a flap in times of crisis. My positive attitude allows me to create a calm environment for my dogs, and so they live their lives pretty stress free.

One day, I shall open my home to another lab or pitti. One day, I might even have more than four dogs (I’ve always thought five was a nice number!). One day, I might only have one or two dogs as the natural life processes take them from me when their earth journey is done.

I know I won’t adopt a puppy or a noisy high energy dog because that isn’t who I am now or what I am like. I will likely stick with seniors, though another 5-6 year old would not be unwelcome at some point down the road. I would love a dog I could do agility with once I retire.

But for me, at this point in my life and for at least the next five years, four is perfect. But not just any four. These four. Charley, Sadie, Belle and Oliver.

The perfect fit.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The first day of the rest of my life

By Oliver

Hi everybody. My new mama said I could use this computer to tell you about my day. I have had a busy weekend - so many new smells, new faces, new routines. But I am doing very well and I do think I like my new home. Here are some photos documenting my first twenty-four hours in my new life.

My new mama took this picture of my boat coming in:

One of my new sisters, Belle, came to the dock to welcome me. Belle thinks I'm kinda yummy:

(Don't tell her, but I think she's kinda scrawny. But then Mama Jean says I look like the lion king with my thick beautiful coat! Heh heh. Roaaarrrrr!)

Belle wasn't impressed when I stopped to check out a hydrant on the way to the car. But hey, I'm a boy dog! Gotta sniff the hydrants!!!

We had a looooong drive home to this place with lots of grass and trees and friends.

First I met Sadie. She's nice:

Then I met Charley. She's nice too:

Then I met the piggies. They are funny!!!! I haven't been right in the pen with them yet; we are getting to know each other through the fence first:

I also met the cat and the alpaca. My new mama says I am a VERY well mannered boy.

I had a hard time deciding where to sleep last night. First I tried the living room where all the other dogs seem to sleep. That's Charley on the couch, and Belle in the basket, and Sadie and me on the floor:

Then I tried one of the extra beds in the living room. Mama Jean had put my old blanket in it to help me feel at home. It was comfy:

But after the lights were out, I snuck into Mama Jean's bedroom and slept near her bed. I like that best of all!

In the morning, we went out in the pasture just as the sun was rising.

Here's me in the early morning sun:

And here's Belle - she doesn't look quite so scrawny when she's not standin' next to me:

I even chased Sadie down the path after Mama Jean took my leash off! That was fun!

Then Mama Jean and I went for a drive back into the BIG CITY. I rode up the elevator to visit my new friend Becky and her mom and dad. First the humans had a lovely meal (and Becky and I each got a taste).

Becky knows Yoga! She can do the Downward Dog or some move like that. I tried to "sit" for Becky's mom, but their floors are VERY slippery and every time I sat or lay down, my back legs slipped out sideways and I couldn't get up. Mama Jean said I looked like Bambi on ice. The humans had to lift up my back end to help me get on my feet every time. That wasn't funny!

But it was worth going there because Becky's mom makes her own doggy cookies and they are yummy. And we went for a long walk around the seawall at False Creek.

Becky's mom took this picture of Becky and me - don't we look happy?

Well, that was the first day of the rest of my life. I think I'm gonna like it here. I'm a pretty lucky guy, don'tcha think?

Yours truly,