Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coyote Concert

I swear every coyote in southwestern BC is congregated around my property tonight (or rather, this morning, seeing as it is after midnight as I post this - despite what the time on the blog says. For some reason it is out by an hour). And they are having one heck of a party out there. If coyotes have rock concerts, this would be it.

I have been feeling rather dragged out the past few days, and even found myself nodding off while showing a video in class this afternoon. So tonight I made a point of going to bed early after a quiet evening of puttering around. Just as I drifted off into a sound, comfortable slumber, Sadie started barking up a storm right by my ear.

Scraping myself off the ceiling, I shushed her and woke myself up enough to ascertain that bad guys were not breaking into the house. Coyotes. I hear coyotes. That is an everyday sound around here (or everynight sound), though usually just one or two. Tonight it sounds like there are dozens out there. I roll over and attempt to get back to sleep again.

A half hour later I had finally fallen asleep and, once again, I am awakened by Sadie. Only this time, the noise outside is unbelieveable - howling and squealing and screaming and yipping loud enough to be heard over Sadie's frantic barking. Concerned that the coyotes had gotten into the barn, I pulled on jacket and boots and raced outside to check everyone is safe. I can hear coyotes in the pasture and in the neighbouring field, as well as more in the federal lands across the road. The piggies are fine, and Martin the alpaca wasn't even disturbed enough to stand up and check out the action.

There's nothing so jolting to the system as tearing around outside at midnight in one's pjs on a cold, crisp, noisy night.

I went back to bed. I tossed. I turned. I read. I planned my retirement. I plotted out my life for the next twenty years (it starts with me winning a lottery.......), and I tossed and turned some more. Twice more the coyotes' concert broke the sound barrier - I don't know what the kids call it, but I had visions of one sexy coyote being passed over the heads of the others on her way to the screaming Coyote Rock Band on stage. A mosh?

And now, wide awake, I have given up on sleep, turned the lights back on, turned the furnace back up, and will continue puttering until I can putter no more. Heaven knows what my class will be like tomorrow. I wonder if I can find a three hour video and just sleep through the whole thing?

Next time the coyotes decide to have a party, I hope they send out a notice to warn their neighbours. It's the polite thing to do.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mom, can we keep him?

Charley and Sadie: Look at this nice guy we found at the gate this morning! Can we keep him?

Mean mama: No. We can't keep every dog that shows up on our property without any humans.

Charley: But mom....he's a BORDER COLLIE, like Sadie and me!


Mean Mama: NO. Two border collies and two shelties (not to mention 12 potbellied pigs, an alpaca and a cat) are quite enough.

Red and White Border Collie: I won't be any trouble. I play nicely with others. And you have VERY nice dried liver treats. I would like it here.

Mean mama: I'm sorry, but NO.

Oliver: And he's red and white, like Belle and me!

Besides we need another boy dog around here!

Mean Mama: NO.

Red and white border collie: I will pledge you my undying devotion.

The Princess (making A Royal Proclamation): He should stay!

Mean, mean Mama: NO. WE HAVE ENOUGH DOGS! You are a very nice dog, Red-and-White-Border-Collie. And I'm sorry your humans didn't put an ID tag on you or keep you safe. You have been hanging around here all morning. But you cannot stay. Mission Animal Control will find your humans. I'm sorry. It was nice meeting you. You are an absolutely lovely boy.

Charley: You're mean, mom.

Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A couple of teasers..... show you what I've been doing this weekend (besides cleaning up after Sadie, who seems to be on the mend - touch wood). I took shots of a bunch of puppies in foster care. These cuties were rescued by Turtle Gardens and are being fostered and seeking homes through Bully Buddies - two of my favourite animal rescue organizations. The two bigger dogs here belong to the foster mom, who has two other adult dogs and is fostering TEN very, very active puppies:

Who will be able to resist adopting this guy?:

And I met one of the cutest little donkeys EVER. (Okay, Karen, maybe not quite as cute as Rupert....but you gotta admit he looks pretty special in his Columbo-type trench coat!)

Here he is with his very best horse friend:

I spent a couple of hours with the piggies in my yard so they could get some sunshine and exercise as their pigyard is still one sloped slippery solid sheet of ice. (Excuse the background noise - I was dispersing peanuts in order to encourage them to move about!):

More pig vids and puppy photos to follow when I get caught up on some other, rather important, tasks - like figuring out what to teach in my classes this week.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Downside of Canine Care

Sick dogs are like sick little kids - they can't really tell you how they feel, it's hard for them to control their bodily functions, and you feel so helpless.

After several weeks of Charley being sick, I finally got her innards functioning properly. Oliver had a bout of tummy problems for one day. And now Sadie has the worst case of all.

I came home Friday night to find wall-to-wall-to-wall poop-n-puke. I knew it had to be one of the big dogs just by the volume, but all the dogs seemed fine - eager to eat, eager to go outside, eager to bug me for pats and cuddles and bellyrubs.
I obediently did their bidding, dosing them all with some Pepto Bismol and slippery elm (collies cannot have Imodium as it contains an ingredient which is toxic to approximately 50% of the breed) and then spent the rest of the evening shampooing rugs, washing dog beds, and disinfecting crates. The smell alone was enough to clear the city.

I woke up to another mess this morning, and spent the first two hours shampooing rugs, washing dog beds, and disinfecting crates. I gave both big dogs just a little boiled rice for breakfast as I still wasn't sure which one was sick. There were no telltale signs on their fur, they both were active and alert, and we all had a nice morning walk.

I was out for the afternoon, as a friend and I went to Gallery 7's production of Crossing Delancy - a great little story, well cast and well acted. When I arrived home, I opened the door barely an inch before I knew I faced Sh*tsplosion Number Three. This time Sadie came flying out the door, and deposited enough liquid manure on my fields to make a farmer proud.

So at least I know which one is sick. Now if I could just explain to her why she can't have any dinner - in fact, nothing for 24 hours. She is a girl who likes her food! She is not a happy camper, and a little watered down fat-free chicken broth with another Pepto Bismol just didn't make the grade. It was Not-Dinner. Poor girl.

I have some really cute piggy videos I took Friday morning when the piggies and I enjoyed a few sunny hours playing in the front yard. When I catch up on all the cleaning and get Sadie's troubles tamed, I'll upload them to the blog.

But right now, I'm off to shampoo carpets, wash dog beds, and disinfect crates.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Morning Walk

It is still very cold here, with the snow slowly dehydrating rather than melting. The crust on top of the snow is so solid that even I can walk on it without crashing through and without even leaving a footprint. The pig yard, which faces east and slopes sharply to the north from the big barn door, is still solidly covered with icy snow so the pigs are still on barn-arrest. The pasture, however, is showing many patches of earth and straw, and the hillside up the back of the fields is almost bare.

Where the path crosses the creek, we discovered this ominous sign:

I am hoping it was just a mouse or vole caught by a coyote for breakfast, and not an injured animal. There were drops of blood leading to a couple of larger splotches. I have found dead mice,voles and moles near the creek before, leftover from coyote's feed when he has been startled mid-meal. The area made for fascinating reading for the dogs who followed a scent down into the water and back:
Oliver likes to do things the hard way - this is actually a fairly steep jump up from a narrow section of the creek to the path:

He struggled and struggled, but eventually made it to the top. Oliver has really come into his own, and now plays and barks and runs and explores like a dog half his age. He is a hoot to watch. He has recently taken to challenging himself with fun, active play in the pasture and even likes to splash through the icy cold water in the small stream. Wait till he sees the fish in there this spring! Oliver loves to run, and is pretty speedy, as you can see in this video:

Poor Charley couldn't get anyone to play with her, though both the shelties were willing to be cheerleaders:

We have been having glorious weather the past couple of days - crisp, cold and clear - unlike our fogged-in neighbours in the city. The sunrise wasn't spectacular this morning but it was still a beautiful view:

As the sun rose, the light on the hill behind the house shows the contrast between the frosted trees in the pasture and those on the mountains behind:
On days like this, it is hard to tear myself away to get ready for work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Magic Morning Moments

This morning’s walk was full of those magic moments one wants to share. Rickey, one of the pigsters, has taken to eating breakfast with Papa Scotch, and Scotch has accepted it with such grace. The reason Scotch is fed separately is because he was aggressively biting at the pigsters in a fight over the food, most uncharacteristic of the Scotch I know. And yet he is sweet and gentle with Rickey. In fact, when I put them to bed last night, Rickey was cuddled up with his dad while the others were milling around all over the place. Watching the two of them, papa and son, eating side by side this morning was the first Magic Moment.

I took the dogs into the pasture, where the activity level suddenly exploded. A coyote had passed through about twenty minute before, so the scent was fresh and strong. Sadie and Charley, noses to ground, ran in zig-zag paths following the scent from fenceline to creek to tree to fenceline to field to bushes and back again. Suddenly, they both met at the same spot, and nose-to-nose, head-to-head, ear-to-ear, stood in silent consultation as they evaluated the snowy ground. Magic Moment number two.

I was trying to keep up with Sadie, just in case the coyote doubled back, when I heard one of Oliver’s rare barks. He had tried to follow the big dogs, and wandered into a swirl of dried flattened grasses with the flattened access area to the south. Unfortunately, I’d moved on past (to the north), and now he couldn’t figure out how to get out to catch up to me. He hopped valiantly, trying to get over the grasses, but they were just a bit too tall for him. I went back and showed him the exit, and he flew out, pranced at my feet in thanks, and then zipped off after his canine sisters, tail up, ears pricked, little bunny hops of joyous abandon. Magic Moment number three.

But perhaps the most magical of all moments came when I turned back to the house and realized that during our walk-at-dawn, the most incredible sunrise had emerged. It was arguably the most intense, beautiful sunrise I have ever been blessed to witness. A huge deep crimson ball of fire edged with fingers of shining gold crested the hills to the east, black silhouettes of trees standing sentinel-like in front.

I reached in my pocket for my camera, only to remember I had taken it out to download some pictures during my morning coffee and not returned it. Shepherding four dogs back to the house to retrieve it would take time, and with coyotes or perhaps the wolf still nearby (as witnessed by the barking of the dogs on the property to the north east) I could not risk leaving the little guys in the field. And sunrises change so quickly that even seconds count. But it was, for sure, Magic Moment number four, the most magical of all the magic morning moments.

By the time we got back to the house and retrieved the camera, the spectacular crimsons had dissipated somewhat as rose and yellow light spread across the valley – still beautiful, for sure, but not the take-my-breath-away image that is emblazoned in my mind.

May your day be full of your own Magic Moments.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Great Horned Owl

A friend of mine (also named Jean) in the Bradner area of Abbotsford captured these pictures of a Great Horned Owl in her yard the other day. I've seen one in my pasture on two occasions, but I've never been able to get anywhere near close enough to photograph him/her, and its usually almost dark when I hear the WHOOOOO and see the silhouette.

The first two shots were taken just at sunrise, so are mostly sihouette. The third (amazing!) shot was taken a bit later in the morning. Click on the image to enlarge, for better viewing.

Thanks for sharing, other Jean - what a treat! (Photos used with permission of JDW)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Blog-aversary, and a Different kind of Morning Walk

It was one year ago to day that I began this blog, with this entry introducing myself and my critters. Caleb, of course, has since passed on, and Oliver and Sadie have joined the family. There have been over 25,000 visits to this site (I did not add the counter until about five weeks after I began blogging), some old friends and family, some one-time browsers, and many who have become cyberfriends as we discover each other’s blogs. I have enjoyed finding an outlet for my creative side and sharing stories of the critters and other experiences with my readers. So....Happy Blogaversary to My Life With The Critters.

As my regular readers know, most of my days begin with an early morning walk in the pasture with the dogs. On mornings when the weather is pleasant, I sit on a bench at the top of the hill and spend a few moments meditating, centering my energies and finding balance between the world of paid and unpaid work, the demands (and pleasures) of animal care, and the need to replenish my Self. I watch the dogs explore their surroundings, listen to the birds, breathe in the fresh air, gaze at beautiful grasses before me and the mountains in the distance, and connect with my spiritual side.

This morning’s morning walk, in a tiny little town on the east coast of Vancouver Island, was lacking only in animal companions. Instead of gazing at golden pastures, I watched the sun rise over the waters. I have always loved the ocean – I grew up in a coastal town, and watching the varying shades and motions of the water has always filled me with great pleasure and lulled me, lullaby-like, into a state of calm relaxation. And so it was this morning. The town I was visiting this weekend had been socked in by thick, thick fog for several days and although I knew the ocean was there it was only this morning that the fog lifted, the sun emerged, and the ripples of water performed their magic on the keyboard of my soul.

Here, then, are some of the images captured as the sun burned through the last of the fog and rose over the hill and across the waters:

Although I have not yet found that perfect retirement property, I have confirmed my decision to relocate to the Cowichan Valley area of Vancouver Island once I retire, and I have a better idea of what I want. Thanks to my friend Else, for keeping me company as we looked at property after property, and thanks to Char for providing me with a very comfortable place to stay.

I was reluctant to leave the beauty of the shoreline, but my critters beckoned and I was sure my friend Ellen, who was critter-sitting for me, would be anxious to return to her own home. I wanted to hear all about her adventures -– looking after six dogs (her two whippets and my crew) and a cat, an alpaca and twelve pigs had the potential to produce some humorous and poignant moments. Thanks, Ellen – I owe you BIG TIME for taking on the task and leaving me free to explore the area where I plan to retire, free to begin the daunting task of finding the “right” place for the critters and me. I hope you had as much fun on the farm as I did on the island.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Our Mama is LEAVIN' us!!!!

By Sadie

Our mama is goin' away! Well not for good, just for the weekend. And Auntie Ellen and the whippet boyz are going to stay at our house to look after everyone.

Allie is not pleased because the whippet boyz chase her so she has to stay up in the attic room. And Charley will be pissed if the whippet boyz steals her beds or crates – there’s a lot of competition for the favourite beds around here as it is. But Kinley, Whippet the Younger, is usually more interested in booting Belle out of her basket than tangling with Charley. And I don'tz mind sharing the couch wiv a whippet or two.

Our mama hasn’t spent a night away from the critters in years and years and years. Charley says a long time ago, Charley and Emma used to go stay with a friend on a goat farm when mama went away. And the only time mama went away in the three years she’s lived here, she took Charley with her (that was to meet Caleb, before Oliver and Belle and I came to live here). But since the piggies arrived 18 months ago, she hasn’t spent a single night away.

She won’t admit it but I think she might secretly be looking forward to having the whole bed to herself, and not being woken up at 5:30 AM by four dogs and a cat, and not having to trudge out to the barn to scoop poop and haul water and feed piggies and ‘pacas. But I’m betting she is going to miss us something terrible!

Why is our mama going away, you ask? She is goin’ to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island to look at the place that might be our next home when she retires later this year. Charley has been there before, because that's where Caleb came from and she got to go over there to meet him before my mama adopted him. Charley says there are some great off-leash parks and beaches and places to go for hikes. I thinks I would like that!

Oh, and Auntie Ewwen? Just in case mama forgot to tell you, we dogs get alllllll the treats we wants - at least six or seben cookies each, sebenteen times a day.

Love Sadie

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Morning Walks resume!!!

The dogs are happy once again, and so I am. Today we decided the snow in the pasture had receded enough for us to resume our morning walks. It was perhaps a bit ambitious for Belle, who tried valiantly to fit her arthritic little paws into the frozen ruts made by alpaca hooves - it was rather like watching a tender-footed person walking across a rocky, barnacled beach on the first day of summer! Oliver (in the lead) found it a bit challenging also.

I kept lifting Belle out of the tracks and onto the smooth crust of snow alongside the trail, but she is a creature of habit and moved right back into the ruts. She finally got the message on the return trip and trotted along on top of the snow quite happily.

So what do dogs do when they get access to the pasture after a month's restriction? Well, Sadie sniffs the ground:

And so does Oliver:

Likewise, Charley:

And even Belle:

I swear I have four hound dogs instead of four herders! Traces of wolf or coyote (or both - the scat was two different colours which could reflect two species or could just reflect changes in diet for one species) were everywhere, but fortunately the animals themselves were nowhere to be seen.

We stopped to say hi to the neighbour's llamas:

And we watched the weak winter sun struggle to emerge from the fog and cast its soft golden glow over the blue grey shades of winter.

Ahhhh, it was good to be back in the pasture, breathing in the crisp morning air.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Healing vibes for Audrey, please

One of my blog readers and fellow animal lover, Audrey, is undergoing a mastectomy today after a recent diagnosis of breast cancer. Please keep her in your thoughts and send many healing vibes her way.
Audrey's blog is here. Her friend Connie will be updating it for us over the next few days.

This is a picture of one of Audrey's children hugging my Sadie at the Turtle Garden's Reunion last fall:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sagacious Sadie and other stuff

Here's the link to Sadie's latest column in Abbotsford Today: or just click here.

Sadie would like the snow to disappear from the pasture so she can resume her adventures. Just before the snows arrived a month ago, we had several sightings of a Grey Wolf (aka timberwolf) on the property. That was a bit scary, as Grey Wolf seemed to be living under one of the bushes and even though I walked the fields before letting the dogs in, I did not see him until Sadie flushed him out and took chase. Thank goodness he ran away! I am hoping that he has now moved on and doesn't return. I shall do a thorough search of the fields before taking the dogs out there once the snow is down to a manageable level. One good thing about snow - I'll be able to spot the tracks!

I saw a timberwolf my first winter here, and have not seen one since - until this year. They are not common here, but we are within their range. I got a good look at him (a wee bit too close for comfort) so it's a definite ID. I was really hoping he was just a large dark coyote. Once Grey Wolf appeared, the coyotes disappeared - chased out of their own turf, perhaps?

I couldn't catch Grey Wolf with my camera, but he looks identical to this picture from Wikipedia:

It's pretty quiet around here as far as wildlife goes - no deer or coyotes or bear in all this snow. I put up some bird feeders during the worst of the wintery weather, and have seen an amazing array of birds stop by: chickadees, juncos, towhees, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, varied thrush, flickers, cedar waxwing, Stellar Jays, pine siskins, and two beautiful yellow birds that I couldn't identify as I spotted them just as they flew away - perhaps grosbeaks or warblers though it is the wrong time of year to see them.

The canine crew finally got to the groomers yesterday - all four of them at once - so they now look and smell wonderful thanks to Samantha at Markeydas Grooming in Langley. Of course, around here at Slush/Mud/Snow Central Farms, they won't stay clean for very long!

Charley is up to her "scratch the back door to make mom come running" routine as she thinks it is time for me to feed the dogs......and she's right. Time to get the show on the road and gear up for another day at the salt mines.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lady Grayce

We had a visit today from a very special girl and her momma. Grayce is likely a collie-shepherd cross, and was recently adopted from Turtle Gardens Animal Rescue by my friend Kate. Grayce, who was known as Kansas in her former life and during her stay at TG, is a sweet girl who has the gentle personality of a collie, and the vocalizations and ears of a German shepherd.

[A little aside, here: In my former life, I once had a German shepherd, named Samantha. Ironically, I had been terrified of shepherds when I was a child – in those years, they had the unearned reputation of “unpredictable, vicious breed” that later became attached to dobermans, then rottis and now pit bulls. When the man I was living with (now my ex-husband) wanted a German shepherd, I resisted – no way did I want one of those vicious beasts in my house! But eventually I caved and within no time at all fell in love with Sam and with the characteristics of the breed. One unique feature of shepherds is the way they vocalize - they are one of the most vocal breeds, with a huge range of pitches and tones, and at times sound almost human in their speech. Sam was a far better conversationalist than my husband – she would talk to me for hours, was a good listener, and she always held up her end of the conversation. I should have married the dog instead of the man.]

Anyway, back to our visit today. It was pouring outside, so Grayce didn’t get a chance to run around outdoors with my crew. Five dogs in my tiny house is a bit overwhelming, especially when three of the dogs are on the large size. But Grayce handled it very well, and chose the safest, most secure place she could find – hanging out under the kitchen table by her mom’s chair. Not the best location for a photoshoot, but I snapped a few pics anyway.

Thanks, Kate and Grayce, for the visit, and for the thoughtful gifts too! And the piggies send lots of piggy smooches for the peanuts.

Next time, we’ll try to order good weather so Grayce can run around outside with her new friends.

Friday, January 9, 2009

We gots COATS!

By Charley, Sadie, Oliver and Belle

"You got yer coat zipped up, little bro?"

Today our mama went to the sanctuary in Maple Ridge to drop off some extra large crates - an act designed to ward off the Evil Flood Gods, in the same way that carrying an umbrella ensures it won't rain. In March 2007, the Hearts on Noses PotBellied Pig Sanctuary, which is located smack dab between the North and South Alouette Rivers, was virtually destroyed in a massive flood that saw volunteers (including our mama) and firefighters wading in chest deep water trying to get piggies into crates in order to move them to the only dry spot on the property - the house. Twenty seven pigs inside a house. Twenty seven wet, muddy, frightened, noisy pigs inside a house. Can you imagine? Our mama thinks four wet, muddy, noisy dogs inside the house is a challenge!

Anyway, with the heavy snowfall finally melting, and with all the rain that is falling, Hearts on Noses is getting prepared just in case the same thing should happen again this year.

What does this have to do with COATS you might ask?

Well, our Auntie Ewwen stopped by the sanctuary this morning to leave a package for us. Just for us! It was vewy, vewy special!!! We has our own couturier!!! Our Auntie Ewwen sewed all four of us dogs our own warm and water-resistent coats!!!

Our mama had never dressed us in anything other than collars or halters. She says dogs don't need clothes. But this winter has been soooo cold and soooo wet and our fur is soooo long and thick that it never she mentioned to Auntie Ewwen one day that maybe we needed some coats like her Whippet Boyz, Kinley and Cisco, wear. (Mama said she was worried we were getting chilled, but we finks she was just getting tired of drying off four sopping wet, cold dogs elebenteen times a day.)

And so.....we gots coats!! And they is BOOOTIFUL!!! They are easy for mama to put on us and take off us, and they are lined with fleece and they even has reflecshun tape so she can find us in the yard at night! We is vewy, vewy handsome dogs. Here's some pictures of us in our new duds:


Charley and Oliver



Belle and Oliver




Charley and Martin

Martin thinks he should get a coat too. After all, he LIVES outside. At least we dogs get to live in the house with mama.

And guess what??? Our mama got a coat toooooo. Our Auntie Janice at the sanctoooary gave her one! Look - it's pretty cool, huh?

Now we are all sooo snazzy. An' Auntie Ewwen gave our mama a book for Christmas called Old Dogs are the best dogs by Gene Weingarten, photographs by Michael Williamson (Simon and Schuster, 2008). We think Mr. Weingarten and Mr. Williamson should take our pictures in our new coats ('cuz we is all Old Dogs) for their next book. They can take mama's picture in her new coat too. She's only a little over eight in dog years but that's almost old enough to be an Old Dog, don'tcha think? We lets her be an Honorary Old Dog.

Thanks Auntie Ewwen. And Mama sez thanks to Auntie Janice, too.

We is vewy lucky to have such good fwiends.