It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Lots of change in the world, and in my own world since April of ’21. We got a new puppy in mid-May, which has kept me on my toes in more ways than one. It was a horribly wet, hot, humid summer and I didn’t get in much riding. It actually rained every weekend except two, from the beginning of July until … well, now. We just went through fourteen days of drizzle and rain in a row, then saw the sun for two hours, then back to more gray skies. We’re supposed to get our first “big” snowstorm of the season tomorrow, but enough about the lousy weather.
I’m actually posting to let followers know (if there are any left) that I’ve started a new blog. It’s called Stitch and Bitch, and it’s about knitting and other miscellaneous musings. This blog was mostly about photography, which I’ve more or less stepped away from doing on a regular basis. I’m just getting started at the new blog, but you don’t have to be a knitter to have a look. I have no intention of getting technical there. It will mostly be about the same kind of stuff I’ve blogged about here, minus the discourse about taking photos.
Hope to see you there!
Hazer and his faves, many moons ago.
Dozer’s fave, many moons ago.
Nina’s fave. Oops. Nina doesn’t quite get the concept of toys.
Gus and his faves.
Chase and his faves. His taste in toys range from free and natural to expensive!
In spite of everything that’s been going on I’ve been riding a lot. I’m actually kind of proud of that. Not that I don’t normally strive to ride every day that I can, but lately there’s been more than a few days where my get up and go got up and went. Sadness will do that to you. But yesterday was another two-horse day and both rides were quite good.
I’m working with a new (to me) trainer. I’m very please and excited about having access to her services, although I have to admit I’m suffering from some serious brain overload! But overload in a good way! Lots to think about before, during and after every ride. And Dharla is handing things well and responding nicely. I see a lot of “try” in her. I know I’m not always giving her the best support, yet she does her best. Yesterday we had some major background noise and distraction when our neighbor closest to our arena started clearing brush with industrial-sized equipment. They were nearby, but not visible, which normally would result in Dharla coming unglued. Fortunately, in our last lesson we also had a noisy, scary distraction that was out of sight, so I got an opportunity to work with Stephanie on how I could better manage Dharla’s energy in that kind of situation. I immediately went to work on circles, serpentines and some walk-trot transitions which put Dharla’s focus on me. In a matter of a few minutes we were back to working in a relaxed manner and all the crashing and shredding noise was forgotten.
Today we were distraction-free so I got to work on getting some nice relaxed bends in my circles. Dharla can get stiff and point her nose to the outside and I tend to collapse my inside shoulder, drop my gaze and tilt my head in the direction we’re circling. This morning I was able to focus on keeping my shoulders square, not collapsing to the inside and not tilting my head. (And looking UP) It’s a little like rubbing your tummy and patting your head, but I could immediately see how much better Dharla moved when I got the heck out of her way. Yay! I could feel when she gave her head nicely and was able to quickly reward her each time with a gentle release. I also did about ten or fifteen minutes of ground work before we started, which I think got her attention and focus more connected to me before I even got on her. I plan to continue with a bit of ground work prior to doing our ring work.
If the weather holds I’d like to try to do a trail ride tomorrow. All work and no play is no fun.
Its getting close to that time of year when I have to decide what I’m going to do for vegetable gardens. (Planting for my area is traditionally Memorial weekend) Last summer we had a horrible drought and I spent way too many hot, humid days dragging a heavy garden hose from bed to bed. At some point I found myself swearing through my dripping sweat that I was done with vegetable gardening for good. I reasoned that we have several veggie stands nearby and our town does a nice little farmer’s market every Saturday morning. I even visited the farmer’s market once to see what they might have and I discovered they sell most of what I usually plant. So I know I can get fresh veggies without having to invest in all those hot, buggy hours of toil.
Easier said than done! I love watching things grow. For some reason that whole process from seed to produce never fails to trip my trigger. So I say I might forego the vegetable garden this year, but the truth of that statement remains to be seen. The lure of our local nursery might call to me and I may cave, but I’m seriously kicking some alternative ideas around. I think this might be the summer to shake things up and do the opposite. It just might be a better fit!
When you lose a dog that had an enormous personality you have to expect a change in energy. I always knew Hazer’s persona dominated everything on our farm, but I never put any thought into what it would actually be like when he was gone. Oh sure, I let myself think about it those half gazillion times I was irked with him for one reason or another, but I never seriously considered the changes.
I spent the majority of last week trapped inside because it rained eight days in a row. I got a tad depressed, and several times I had to remind myself that things would get better once I could get outside and start working on projects in the yard and garden. It’s been said that keeping a routine helps ward off the blues, and staying “busy” does too. So when the weather improved and I was finally able to dig into my outside chores I was shocked to find I was more sad than ever.
Again, it’s not like I’m trying to dwell on the fact that Hazer is gone, rather, I’ve actually gotten to the point where I don’t think about him every waking minute of the day. But yesterday as I went about digging and trimming it occurred to me that I’m going to have to go through an entire year of seasonal changes before I can fully wrap my head around this loss. Because every season brought a different role that Hazer played. His personality was so large that he inserted himself into the middle of everything I did. In fact, just last week when I pulled my vacuum cleaner from the closet I hesitated, waiting for the scramble of nails as he dashed to grab the hose and give it a good shake. Every day I go through dozens of little moments like that, moments where I pause to do something with or for for a dog no longer there. Moments that feel empty and profoundly different.
Learning to do things without Hazer beside me is going to take time and a concerted effort to change my focus. I’m sorry to say that the first few weeks Hazer was gone I barely even noticed Gus and Nina. They drifted in and out of my peripheral vision, doing what they always did without any help from me. I’m paying more attention to them now, trying to get a fix on who they are without Hazer here to steal the limelight. Nina seems to be changing the most, which surprises me given how much Gus had to dodge Hazer’s propensity to pick on him. I thought Hazers absence would affect Gus the most, but it’s not.
Nina has always been her own dog; aloof to everyone but me and Velcro without being needy. She’s the perfect blend of “busy,” but with an “off” button, the kind of dog who takes good care of herself, avoids trouble and will do ANYTHING you ask her with no questions asked. Inside, she likes to be near, not on top of you, but I can’t leave with a room without her immediately following. Outside, Nina marches to the beat of her own drum. Sometimes she’ll hang out nearby, but it’s far more likely she’ll be off poking around the property. She’ll pop by every now and then to keep tabs on my whereabouts, but generally she’ll wander off out of sight. (She’ll come lickity-split if called.) And she’s happy to follow me out to the barn, but once there she’ll promptly part company to go off to do her own thing elsewhere. Nina is what I’d call an “independent” thinker: she’ll gladly take advisement from me, but if none is offered then she’ll figure out a way to entertain herself.
Since Hazer died Nina has become more “there” for me, especially outside. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find Nina has been sicking by me in the barn. Prior, she might have made a quick pass through the barn before going off to do something else. “OK, Mom’s here. I’ll just go poke around the stone wall or yard,” and off she’d go only to rejoin me when I was done. But now she’s actually planting herself out behind the barn right where Hazer used to lay to watch me pick the paddock and feed. Sometimes she scoots off for a few minutes, but she always comes right back. Her waiting doesn’t seem to be a fluke because I can tell she’s tuned into me. Every time I glance her way her eyes are on me, following my every move just like Hazer did. At first I thought Nina had an ulterior motive: She’s always been a living Hoover for any of the grain the horses dropped. But she’s not even trying to get to the leftovers. Apparently she’s just there waiting for me. Two months ago that never would have happened because Hazer always had my back.
Yesterday when I was out gardening I noticed that every time I looked up Nina was laying some fifteen or twenty yards away, watching. Granted, she’s not ten feet away like Hazer was, but she’s there instead of going off to do her own thing. That’s VERY unusual behavior for Nina and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Do dogs consciously choose to fill a role when another passes? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. I could explain this behavior by saying she’s twelve years old and not as active as she used to be, but that’s not true at all. Nina is twelve going on eight and what’s more, this behavior only started after Hazer died.
Don’t get me wrong: Nina is NOT Hazer. Even though she’s doing some of the things Hazer used to routinely do, she does them HER way not his. For example, when gardening with Hazer if I took a little “break” Hazer would move in and flop down beside me looking for some attention. Nina doesn’t do that. Instead, she keeps her distance or uses my breaks as an opportunity to go “off duty” and do her own thing. So the dance is different. It has it’s own rhythm and new steps that are unique to the dancers. And if you’re not careful that’s right where the sadness creeps in: your ear hears an old favorite song, your eyes see your old dance partner. You don’t intend to go there, but you do. Old habits die hard.
It’s a struggle not to see Hazer sitting somewhere nearby, just like he is in the photo above. I thought summer would be easier, but I’ve come to realize it will be rife with memories and habits that are going to be tough to break. Sometimes I’m OK with it, but more often than not this sadness sucks the joy right out of whatever I’m doing. I know this too shall pass, but I don’t know when. Until then I’ll just keep trying to give myself over to the change in our dynamics, knowing that eventually this new will become the norm.
I feel like I should be starting to act more like myself: Less grief, more …. well, less grief? It’s not that I don’t feel happy. Sometimes I do. Gus will do something that makes me burst out laughing or I’ll smile when one of the horses nickers for green grass. (They’ve been getting SO pushy about grazing!) I’m excited things are starting to blossom outdoors and in spite of the chilly temps, last week I saw my fist humming birds. That always makes me giddy. But the truth of the matter is, I’m still battling daily bouts of the blues.
It’s not like I go around looking for all the ways I can miss my dog. I don’t. But so often I’ll start to do something or I’ll be smack dab in the middle of something when it hits me: Hazer always used to do X, Y, Z every time I did this. When you live with a quirky dog you develop a lot of odd habits. For example, Hazer always used to want to drink out of the narrow opening of my garden watering can. He’d come trotting over every single time I filled it and wait patiently for me to turn the spigot off before tilting his head sideways (that’s the only way his head would fit under the handle) to get a drink. Gus caught on to that game, but Hazer always got first dibs. For a dog who really didn’t like water, Hazer loved drinking out of my watering can. Every. Single. Time.
Hazer also licked the rugs obsessively. For some reason this activity soothed him, especially in the evening when we would watch TV. His licking kind of drove me nuts, and over the course of a few years he ruined one of my large wool braid rugs by constantly gravitating to the same place. He didn’t limit his licking to the living room either; he also licked the office rug and a small bedroom area rug. I wonder how many times over the course of his lifetime Hazer heard me say, “Hazer! Knock it off!” When I said that he’d always pause. Sometimes the licking would stop just for a moment, other times he’d quit for the night. I was never sure which was the worse of two evils: Hazer licking or Hazer stressed because I’d told him not to lick. Both had the tendency to be annoying.
I’ve posted pictures of Hazer laying on various pieces of furniture, but he wasn’t the kind of dog who wanted to share your space. He never got up on the couch or a chair unless it was unoccupied at the time, and if you decided to sit down next to him he’d quickly vacate his spot. In all the years I had him Hazer rarely got up on the bed with me. As he aged he started to lay on my bed when I wasn’t home, but I only knew this because I’d hear the thud of him jumping off the bed the minute I walked in the door. Mostly, Hazer was known for sleeping in odd positions: upside down, flipped backwards against a wall and my personal favorite, with a pilfered shoe.
The only time Hazer ever came close to wanting to share my space was when we went somewhere in the car. Hazer would jump in the back of the Subaru and stand with his front feet on the narrow console between the seats. If he was feeling really affectionate he’d even go so far as to rest his chin on my right shoulder. That always made my heart melt and the sweetness of those rare, shared moments in the car almost made up for a lifetime of avoiding any outward sign of affection. Almost. I’d never owned a dog who guarded his affection like it was a resource with an expiration date. To say I struggled to adjust to Hazer’s aloofness is an understatement, and between that and his overpowering sense of seriousness, I learned to cherish this singular display of love.
Hazer was an unashamed, confirmed counter-surfer. He’d step away from the counter the minute I told him to knock it off, but I couldn’t trust him for a second if there was something edible or interesting anywhere near the edge of the kitchen counter. It seems really odd now, to leave a dinner plate sitting on the counter and know it’s not in any danger of losing half it’s contents the second I’m out of sight. Hazer was also a shameless paper-eater. Drop your napkin (which my hubby did just about every night) and it would get snarfed up and swallowed in a heartbeat. The paper towel and Kleenex always came out the other end, as was often confirmed during reconnaissance missions prior to lawn mowing. Sadly, like the year-round tufts of red undercoat, all tell-tale evidence of this quirky habit have now vanished from our yard.
Every couple of days I reach into my kitchen closet and pull out a couple of toys for Nina and Gus to beat up. Hazer always had HIS special toys that none of the other dogs were allowed to share. Now when I see those toys I’m not really sure what to do. His Cuz. His stuffy. His personal squeaky toy; they still cause me to tear up. I’m not ready to let the other two dogs have them yet. For some strange reason that feels disloyal. What do you do with a dog’s personal effects? Their bed. Their food bowl. Their special blanket. I haven’t figured any of this out yet. I gathered up all Hazer’s beds. Yes, plural, because Hazer had a “thing” about beds. Every time I bought a new bed Hazer quickly claimed it as his own. To solve that problem, every room in the house had multiple beds. That way Nina and Gus could choose from whatever Hazer decided to ignore that day. Don’t laugh, it worked. I learned to pick my battles.
Hazer taught me more about failure than anything I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I failed at everything I tried to do with him, sometimes over and over again. I remember the early anger and frustration that (eventually) morphed into humor at being out-witted by my dog. All of my previous dogs had been wonderful all-rounders. By that I mean they were multi-use dogs, capable of easing gracefully from one situation to another. They got along well with people and they were more than happy to be around other animals and dogs. But Hazer wanted none of that. While Hazer never met a person he didn’t like, he harbored a life-long dislike of all other canines, including (at times) his own housemates. I can say with some certainty that nothing creates better handling skills than a dog who can’t be trusted not to fight in his own home.
No matter what their breed or temperament, all dogs have their own special talent. I don’t mean they’re great at herding, obedience or agility. I mean they have a unique personality trait that benefits you in some particular way. Some are great comforters who want to cuddle when you’re blue, or some are great listeners who solemnly guard your secrets and dreams. Others are clowns who entertain us and make us laugh, while there are the ones whose presence makes us feel safe and secure. Each and every dog has their own unique and special gift to share with us. Some even have more than one. But sometimes we get so caught up in the rituals of creating good, obedient and talented dogs that we forget to give them enough space to let their skills shine. I made this mistake with Hazer and I regret that it took several years before I relaxed my grip enough to really see his strength. Hazer’s gift, his greatest talent, was simply being with me.
Hazer wanted nothing more than to be by my side. You’d think I’d have known that since ACDs tend to be a quirky mixture of independence and Velcro, but I had a hard time coming to terms with Hazer’s idea of a good time. Hazer wanted to do stuff as long as he could do it HIS way, but mostly he wanted to do stuff to be with me. Unfortunately, I set my sights on making my dog a performance dog, and right from the start I set goals and created a general game plan to move us in that direction. Problem was, Hazer wasn’t particularly interested in performing. Oh, he was more than willing to do just about any task I asked, but he didn’t really love performing for performance sake. I can clearly recall his look of frustration the second or third time I sent him over the A-frame. Been there, done that. Next? He was bored to death, which usually morphed into trying to find a classmate to threaten.
When I changed tracks and got Hazer into herding he was a much happier camper. There, he could do something he truly enjoyed while working with me. From Hazer’s point of view that was the best of both worlds. Herding improved his responsiveness and intuition on our own farm and I’m fairly convinced it helped us fine-tune our connection. Unfortunately, we came to herding later in life and because of the rough nature of the sport I decided to “retire” Hazer after a couple of years. But the benefits from herding stuck and I wound up with a dog who wanted nothing more than to be the perfect farm dog. After that Hazer was by my side for every trip to the barn, where he’d calmly park himself in the hay and wait until it was time to go in or time to go do something else.
So it would make sense I guess that I’m feeling the loss of Hazer most as I go about my regular chores and daily routine. I’ll always miss the quirky stuff Hazer did, the oddities that made his personality so unique, but mostly I miss his physical presence. When I’m ready to leave the barn my eye still travels to where he used to lay and wait. And halfway back to the house I automatically turn to see where he is. My body and mind still register him as there, even though he’s not. I don’t know how long it will take for reality to catch up and replace habit, but I’m torn between wanting that to happen and hoping it never will.
A few years ago I started a new ritual. Since Hazer wasn’t particularly inclined to show or return affection I decided I would risk humiliating him and do it anyway. I’d cup his handsome muzzle in my hands, plant a kiss on his head and pronounce my undying love for him. Hazer’s typical reaction to any kind of emotional display was to stare at me with disgust, feign surprise or growl. He was like an adolescent child who despised any outward display of parental affection. Naturally, this made me want to do it all the more. And so I did. Several times a day I’d pause to tell Hazer all the ways I adored him. And after awhile it seemed like he stopped hating the attention and he started to look more smug than annoyed. “Yes, my mom thinks I’m great. She says I’m her favorite red dog. Says I’m the most handsomest dog ever. Says I’m her best bud.” I’d like to think Hazer understood. If not the message, then maybe the sentiment behind the words. Because the truth is, he was all that and so much more.
It’s been three weeks today since I said my final goodbye to Hazer. I try real hard not to “count the days.” I really do. But it happens anyway. Things just automatically get divided into one of two categories: all the stuff I did before Hazer died and the stuff I’ve done since. Trust me, I haven’t done very much since. Certainly nothing that warrants remembering.
At the risk of sounding maudlin I’ll admit I’m not doing great. Oh, I’m past the stage where I can’t breathe and I have to shut myself in the bathroom to muffle the sobs because it upsets Gus and Nina. But I’m shocked (and willing to say, a little bit frightened) by how often the tears still come. Suddenly out of nowhere I’ll find myself going to that dark place where I question my decision to let him go. I’ll wonder if I did everything I could do to help him. I’ll see snapshots of him in my mind, pictures where he’s happy and healthy in one, then languishing and not at all himself in another. When my head gets really messed up I’ll reluctantly grab my cell phone and glance at the handful of photos I took of him the last two days he was alive. My eyes will linger on those pictures a few seconds, which is just long enough to convince me I did the right thing. Sometimes it’s only a matter of hours, or if I’m really lucky a day will pass before the cycle starts over again.
There are a million and one firsts. First time I finished a roll of paper towel and Hazer wasn’t there to get the empty tube. First time I made salad and Hazer wasn’t there to beg for lettuce. First time to the barn, the garden or the car without Hazer at my side. First time I unloaded groceries and didn’t come out to find Hazer rooting around in the rest of the bags in the car. First time UPS or FEDEX pulled into the drive and Hazer didn’t announce their arrival. The first Saturday my husband went in to work without a dog. Those are just a few of the firsts I’ve had to get through and every day brings more; those moments when you pause for just a fraction of a second, waiting for a dog not there. I can still barely sit down at my computer because I’m bombarded by literally thousands of photos of Hazer. I’m still at that stage where I want to look at his pictures, but I can’t. I can’t handle the fallout.
I know it will get better, but I’m afraid it will get better. I’m afraid there will come a time when the thought of Hazer or the mention of his name won’t cause my heart to break and my eyes to fill. It’s like I’m being tortured, but I don’t want the torture to stop because that would be like saying my life is OK without him. And my life will never be OK without him. But I know my heart will heal because that’s just the nature of things. Eventually all my memories of Hazer will become happy memories and the pain of his loss will lessen with time. Perhaps I’ll always remain a little wistful about Hazer, but the bulk of my sadness and grief will wash away and leave me with a lot of gorgeous photos and dozens of great stories about a big red dog who waltzed into my life and stole my heart completely.
Tanglewood’s Who Dunnit Again
11-16-04 – 3-30-16
I don’t know what the last eleven years of my life would have been like if I hadn’t had Hazer. For sure, it would have been a lot quieter. Simpler. Definitely a whole lot easier. But it also would have been dull. Dull in a way that I can only look back at now and see how all the chaos, calamity and constant challenge was exactly what I needed at the time.
Hazer was never a walk in the park: Complex, smart, quirky and both biddable and independent, Hazer was a handful. He never wanted to be cuddled, fussed over or loved on, but he was always with you, right by your side or under your feet. He was my consummate hiking partner, barn chore buddy and yard companion, and while the other two dogs were always eager to be off doing their own thing, Hazer wanted nothing more than to hang out with me while I worked around the farm. No matter where I was, I only had to look up or turn around and there he’d be, quietly watching and ready for anything.
There’s so much I’d like to share about our last few years, even our last few days together, but the pain and sadness keep getting in the way. Maybe at some point I’ll be able to pen something more memorable, but for now it’s all I can do to just look at his picture without getting lost deep inside my head.
Well done my beautiful, big red dog. Well done.
Yesterday I woke up to a disturbing new story that unfolded a stone’s throw from my farm.
NEGLECTED HORSES, DOGS, CHICKENS, RABBITS SEIZED FROM EAST HAMPTON BREEDER
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture today seized 32 horses and numerous other animals from an East Hampton breeder as part of an animal cruelty investigation. The horses, along with two dogs, several rabbits and more than 80 chickens, were removed from the facility after an investigation determined the animals were malnourished, not receiving proper veterinary care and kept in unhealthy conditions.
The horses were taken under a search-and-seizure warrant signed by a Superior Court judge and brought to the department’s Second Chance large animal rehabilitation facility in Niantic, where they will be cared for as the investigation continues. The facility is owned by T. and M., who breed Friesian, Andalusian, and Gypsy Vanner horses.
The investigation began in September when East Hampton’s animal control officer received a complaint from a woman who had leased four horses to the breeder, and said the animals were emaciated when she picked them up a few days earlier. Those horses were subsequently hospitalized after being diagnosed with malnutrition and parasites.
The East Hampton officer went to the facility on Sept. 9, but was denied access to the animals. On Sept. 10, animal control officers from the Dept. of Agriculture went to the farm and found T. on the property, with no hay or grain available for the horses to eat. The initial assessment found that nearly half of the horses on the property were underweight and exhibiting signs of malnutrition including muscle wasting, protruding hip bones and visible ribs and spines.
T. was instructed to have hay and clean water available for the horses at all times, and to obtain veterinary care for numerous horses that had untrimmed of cracked hooves. A subsequent evaluation of the horses by a veterinarian hired by T. found that several had anemia related to malnutrition. The veterinarian advised T. to double the amount of hay given to the horses to 200 bales a week, and made a list of other detailed feeding and treatment suggestions for him to follow.
Dept. of Agriculture animal control officers made regular visits to the property to check on the horses’ progress, and observed that some had gained weight while others had not. T., however, admitted that he did not follow through on most of the recommendations made by the officers and the veterinarian, including supplying copies of receipts for the purchase of hay and grain.
On Dec. 4, state animal control officers returned to the farm and again found the horses with no hay available to eat, and two in a barn with no food or water. Officers gave the two horses water and they drank several gallons immediately, indicating that they had been without water for some time. T. eventually arrived at the farm with a load of hay he had just picked up.
Today, each of the 32 horses was evaluated by Dr. Bruce S., a veterinarian with the Dept. of Agriculture, who determined that all were to be removed from the property to ensure they were properly treated in a healthy environment. “Our goal was to work with the owner to rehabilitate the horses on site,” said Dr. Bruce S., Director of the agency’s Bureau of Regulation and Inspection. “Unfortunately, our best efforts to bring the owner into compliance did not result in all of the horses being cared for to the degree that we required.” The dogs, chickens and rabbits were taken to municipal animal shelters in nearby towns. The Dept. of Agriculture will continue the investigation to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
After I got over the initial shock (the photos were graphic) anger set in. How is it possible that our local Animal Control Officer (ACO) acted quickly, getting the state on the premises the DAY AFTER he was denied admittance to the farm, but the state allowed these animals to deteriorate for another FIVE MONTHS? Excuse me? I understand that in a perfect world the owners would realize their error and make the appropriate effort to correct the situation according to the protocol outlined for them. However, I find it reprehensible that the state authorities would take the word of a chronic and pathologically negligent breeder. (Further reports since the original came out have stated that the owners neglected animals on a farm at a previous location)
This is not rocket science, folks. If you ALREADY have animals that are so underweight they are ALREADY suffering of malnutrition in September you DO NOT let winter advance and just hope that the owners are going to step up to the plate and do their job. No sir. You get your butts back there weekly … or appoint someone who can evaluate their efforts weekly to make sure the owners are in fact supplying hay and grain. If not, then you get those suffering animals out. There is no excuse for letting these animals starve for another five months. None at all. How long were these animals left there starved and malnourished? A MINIMUM of TEN months, if not longer!!
‘Scuse me. That’s the sound of me retching.
In all fairness, the article says the state DID check back …. and AGAIN found the owners in breech of compliance. (And the animals stayed put?) So at that point you’d THINK the state would maybe hammer out an arrangement whereby someone would be given the authority to make weekly random checks at the farm. I mean, it’s pretty darn hard to disguise the fact that you don’t have 200 bales of hay or grain in your barn. What would that have taken … all of ten minutes?
As horse lovers, owners, breeders, trainers and riders we need to FIX THIS MESS. My question is, how do we get the authorities to take quicker action? I’m not interested in the condemnation or punishment of those who do this kind of stuff; the authorities can deal with that on their own terms. Because Honestly, I don’t think there is any way to stop or curb people from doing stupid stuff like this. I just don’t. You don’t have to have a license to own a house pet or to breed them and even if you did, that issue would be rife with problems. And here’s another rub: today these state agencies are getting sent out on bogus complaints about animal abuse: Farms that don’t blanket their livestock, barns that are not heated … truly trumped-up, animal rights nonsense. So how do we get these agencies to operate using good common sense? It seems to me that if you have already starving, emaciated horses with no hay or grain in September, you don’t wait until February (in New England, no less) to see if the owners will comply with your guidelines. Not without going back every week to make sure there is hay and grain on the premises. That’s not rocket science, folks, it’s just common sense!
Do the math, people! To feed 200 bales of hay a week to 32 horses it would cost the owners around $5,400.00 per month. And that’s just hay for the horses, not grain or feed for their dogs or other livestock. This wasn’t a boarding barn or a lesson barn, it was a BREEDING operation. In today’s economy, you’d have to sell a LOT of horses to make an income to run a farm of that size. How could that fact be so very obvious to an idiot like me, yet the state agency just seemed to overlook it?
And enough with the “Oh, those poor horses,” and “We should just hang the owners.” And enough throwing money at fund raisers (Go FundMe) for the state agency that failed to remove these animals when they could & should. Allowing these animals to deteriorate for six long months did nothing but prolong their suffering and make their recovery even harder and more costly in the long run. Meanwhile, the next “vanity breeder” or hoarder is slowly going over the edge … maybe this time in YOUR town. And make no mistake, animal rights activists are just eating this stuff up. Our unwillingness to fix this mess gives them plenty of fodder for their ever-widening campaign to make sure none of us will get to enjoy domestic animals in the future.
Something needs to change. I’ve written my local state representative and I hope when some of the heat dies down I’ll hear back from her. I know my local ACO and I’ll try to connect with him next week. I have questions that need answers. I’ve had enough of waiting for someone to fix the system while these horses suffered right under our noses. And there will be more suffering, mark my words. Because you can’t fix the kind of stupid that’s always just another accident waiting to happen.
If anyone has any experience dealing with this, please feel free to share. I have absolutely no idea how to go about trying to facilitate change. Like anything else, I suppose I’ll just stumble my way through it, but if anyone has any suggestions I’m all ears!
I have days (more than I’d like to count) where I cant look at my dog without getting teary. He’s suddenly aging way too fast and things are cropping up here and there that are problems, albeit minor problems thus far. He’s had reoccurring lip infections, a small fatty tumor near his rib cage, miscellaneous small bumps (growths) scattered here and there and the worst of his ailments: a degenerative loss of coordination and strength in his hind legs.
None of these issues are really unexpected. Hazer is eleven and at some point most dogs will begin to show signs of aging. Sadly, nothing lives forever. As much as I’ve always tried to have a matter-of-fact attitude about death, I’m struggling with it this time. I think that’s due to my own advancing age: I’m not quite sure I’ll ” just get over it” when Hazer’s gone. In the past I’ve always mourned my losses, but I knew I had plenty of time left to open my heart and home to another dog (Or three!). In fact, it wasn’t even something I had to think about. Now? I’m not so sure.
When I do the math the projections put me into my early seventies for my next “aged” dog. Will I be able to cope with another loss then? Will I stay healthy enough during my sixties to provide for a young active dog? What about the rising cost of vet care and other miscellaneous expenses? As my extended family members age, what if I need to travel to be with them or just visit more often? It gets complicated and bottom line, I’m not so sure I can ease the loss of one of my dogs by investing in another. And so I think the finality of losing Hazer makes me sad. I’m not saying I won’t get another dog (and I still have Gus and Nina), but the odds of my raising another Cattle Dog from scratch seem slim … or slimmer than they used to be.
I can always adopt an “adult” dog. I know this, but I’m not sure I’ll do it. Nina was a “failed” foster, but I think that was an incredibly lucky situation where I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I’m not a big fan of trying to bring an adult dog into a home that already has adult dogs. I don’t think it’s nearly as easy or as smooth of a transition as getting a puppy. So it’s hard to say. I’d like to think I’ll try to keep my options open because I like the idea of providing a home for an animal that needs one, but sometimes it’s just not the right choice.
If anything, it’s pretty clear my days of hiking, herding, Frisbee and doing all the marvelous things I’ve done with Hazer might be done. And while the older, tired part of me is probably just fine with that, there’s a part of me that’s grieving. When Hazer is gone it will be the end of a three-decade era of canine fun and games. I don’t say that to sound morbid, but it’s true. I’ve already noticed that the activities I do with three year-old Gus are much tamer than what I’ve done with my previous dogs in the past. So with that in mind I can’t help but wonder if it’s even fair to get another young, exuberant Cattle Dog pup? I’ve always rallied. I’ve always put a lot of time and energy into my pets. But maybe deep down I know it might be time to take things down a notch. And that makes me a little sad.
I can’t even begin to describe all the places my mind goes every time I look at Hazer. My life with him has been SO complex, so packed with opposites and extremes and yet, so full. They say you miss the really difficult dogs the most: all the struggles, the heartbreak, the little tiny successes that get overshadowed by all the epic failures. I haven’t even lost Hazer yet and I know that’s true. Raising Hazer has taught me more about life than any dog before him. It taught me humility, pride, sacrifice, patience and mostly, it taught me how to love something that is deeply flawed.
As a perfectionist who holds herself to a very high standard, love has been Hazer’s greatest gift: Unconditional love for him. Love, when the very last thing you feel is the milk of human kindness. Love in the face of embarrassing failure. Love that lets you admit you’ve messed up … but it’s OK. Life with Hazer taught me how to love when my love wasn’t being returned and how to love when the love I was getting back didn’t look or feel like the kind of love I wanted. He taught me to love in the midst of hopes and dreams that have been crushed and flushed, and to love when there is no other choice but love.
Life with Hazer has seen a lot of ups and downs, highs and lows and two steps forward, ten steps back. And when people ask me if I’d go back and do it all over again I usually have to pause, because I’m not so sure I would. But I’m glad I did it. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned. Living with Hazer has been an enormous challenge, the kind of challenge I’ll never take lightly again, but the kind of challenge I’ll always be proud I took. I love Hazer to the moon and back, and while a day seldom passes that we don’t lock horns over something, my life has been richer (and certainly LOUDER) because of him.
I’ve spent the last week trying to get comfortable with the idea of letting go of my winter plans. Boarding a horse when you have a barn in your own back yard is a big step, and not one I take lightly. It required a good deal of planning and forethought to move my horse and that isn’t something I’d decide last minute to do. In fact, I didn’t board Dharla at all last winter; a decision I’m still not sure was right or wrong.
That said, I know when something isn’t working. I get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and I can’t stop thinking about things. Although I’m not prone to insomnia, if I’m bothered enough about something I’ll wake up during the night and spend several hours tossing and turning while my mind goes over every little detail. When the same symptoms start to creep up on me during the day I know I have to address things.
The last few weeks have been a little stressful. I’ve had multiple animals all my adult life so it’s not very often that I’m caught off guard. I expect “stuff” to crop up now and then. Illness. Hierarchy spats. Changes in routine. What I’m never prepared for are multiple issues at once. Like the sick dog who needs a month of medication, and the horse or another dog who decides to develop a medical issue at the same time. That throws me for a loop.
And when talking about medical things can I just say that I like my diagnoses cut and dry? For example, your dog (or horse) has X, Y, Z. Do _____ (fill in the bank) and it will get better. I like it even more if the Vet can tell me an approximate time frame for when the patient will start acting and feeling better. For those of you who don’t have animals (first of all, my deepest sympathies. Go out and fix that oversight right now!), it’s a little like having a sick infant. You fret. You worry. You wish for the millionth time they could tell you what’s wrong and say exactly how they feel. But they can’t, so it’s a guessing and waiting game. It sucks. If you’re anything like me, you start steeling yourself for “the worst.” I’m never quite sure what “the worst” is, so I run through a completely different scenario about every hour or so. And by default, I go into “evaluation” mode, which is to say that every time I look at said animal I run through a mental check list of potential problems. It’s exhausting.
I have one dog who just finished 30 days of medication for anaplasma. For the fifth year in a row. To be honest, we’re not sure if we’re treating a new infection or the remnants of an old one. But with a list of very serious (potential) issues when left untreated, who am I to argue? I’m not inclined to play Russian Roulette with my critters. She’s a great pill-taker and she looked a bit perkier after a week or so of treatment. That’s not to say she seemed sick. She didn’t. We caught the high titer on an annual tick panel that I run on all my dogs because we live in tick Central.
The red dog is struggling with mobility. It came on quickly, which leads the vet to suspect it’s not arthritis or typical old age. (He’s a healthy 11) He’s trying an arthritis medication for a week to see if it makes any difference in his ability to get around. Day 3 and I see no change. He’s willing to run and play and do all things dog-like, but his body isn’t buyin’ it. Next line of exploration is nerve and disc testing. We already know he has spinal fusion in his lumbar region, so it’s possible there’s an increasing issue there. He seems to be pain-free and the biggest problem is keeping him from doing stuff that he really wants to do, but can’t. Think: seventy year-old who wants to play rugby. This is a dog who requires a lot of mental and physical stimulation or he gets obnoxious. He’s like the high drive puppy breeders warn you about, but sometimes fail to mention will quite possibly stay that way … f o r f r e a k i n g e v e r! Yes, this is a challenge and depending upon what kind of day I’m having, it can become a night mare.
The horses are doing pretty well. One is a little leaner than I’d like, but we’re not sure why. It’s not worrisome enough to run any tests. Thankfully, this winter hasn’t been to hard … yet … so we made some feed adjustments and we’ll see if that helps. We recently found out Rascal is 95% blind in one eye. That’s not exactly a health issue, but it’s interesting information nonetheless. We also learned that Bullet has diminished vision in one eye and Dhalra has a an ocular anomalie in one eye. What is it with eyes here?
And Gus? Gus is wonderfully normal. No health problems. No temperament issues. No worries. Just pure, unadulterated fun and love! Being the only “normal” pet on the farm is a big load to carry, but Gus soldiers on like it’s no big deal. Gotta love that rattitude!
I’ve been riding a lot. When you stop to consider we’ve had 17 days over 90 since June, it’s nice to finally have some weather that doesn’t leave me sweating and bitching as I drag myself back inside the house. However, it’s rained only five times since April and the landscape is crunchy and dead or rapidly dying. It’s unlikely we’ll have a “pretty” New England fall. A couple of recent rides through the woods made me realize just how severe this drought has been. Not that I didn’t already know; I’ve been watering my own gardens with a frightening regularity that makes me question my sanity and praise the good fortunate of a deep well. They say rain is coming, but they’ve been saying that all summer. I’m not holding my breath.
My goals for the next few months are beginning to come together. I’ve started taking English lessons and in a few weeks I’ll move Dharla back to the boarding barn where we’ll both start working with my trainer again. We took last winter off and while that worked out fine, the heavy snowfall and bitter cold meant no riding. The entire winter. Ugh. So despite the fact that the Farmer’s Almanac is calling for another snowy and bitter cold winter, I think I’ve got a better chance of riding in an indoor arena than if I keep Dharla here at home. Or so I’d like to think. Cold weather tends to turn me into a weenie PDQ, so while it’s easy to say I’ll ride, only time will tell. On the up side, I happen to be one of those people who hates wasting money, so If I pay to keep my horse someplace where I can ride, odds are pretty good I’ll do it.
Riding English has been an adventure. It’s been about five years since I took a handful of English lessons and I’ve forgotten most of what I learned. For now it seems like there are as many pluses as there are minuses to starting from scratch with a new discipline, but that doesn’t surprise me. Nothing new comes easily at this age and stage. Not that I was looking for an easy out. I’m not. But after a year of very little ring work it’s been a bit of a shock. There are times when I worry that being limited to riding in an arena will bore me stiff, but then I remind myself that it’s only for a couple of months and ring work is better than not riding at all. Kinda. I’ll adapt. Besides, I can always trail ride Rascal at home. When I remember that I feel a little less limited. Thank goodness for Rascal!
I won’t move Dharla for maybe another month or so. I’m playing it week by week. If the bugs stay bad she’ll stay home, but if it cools down and the flies diminish then I’ll get her settled in. I’m not in any rush. And if this winter turns out to be too cold to even ride in the indoor then I’ll bring her back home. No point in paying to keep her somewhere if I can’t or don’t fully utilize the facility. I often day-dream about living in a place where riding 7-8 months out of the year is a reality. As much as I love the four seasons we’re lucky if we get 3 months of solid riding a year. I’m not getting any younger and I want as much time in the saddle as I can get.
After a long tense day at the vet, Hazer is back to “normal” this morning. I picked him up at almost four PM and although he seemed fairly alert, he wasn’t at all his usual self. I helped his wobbly butt into my car, where he wined the whole fifteen minute drive home. (Hazer is typically not a whiny dog!) Seconds after walking in the door he puddled up just feet away from his bed and fell asleep. An hour or two later he woke up long enough to eat a small meal, then slept through our dinner and into the evening. When Hazer was awake he was whiny and defensive toward the other two dogs, who were kept well out of his reach and behind gates. I sensed Hazer’s fear and trepidation about being so incapacitated and I did everything I could to alleviate his concern. I expected this and had a solid plan in place before he came home. Actually, the only thing that did surprise me was how long the effects of the anesthesia seemed to last. In all fairness, the only other time Hazer has ever had surgery he was a much younger dog, so I suspect his age might have had something to do with his response. This really drove home my belief that the less I mess with Hazer the better, and while I don’t regret my decision to have his teeth done, I’m glad I didn’t put it off any longer.
At nine thirty Hazer went out for last call, then directly to my bedroom to his bed. At that point he was slightly more mentally alert, but I could see he still didn’t have a good grip on things. He was, however, willing to tolerate sharing the bedroom with Nina. I suspect this was because Nina isn’t one to make a fuss over much. She gave Hazer a quick curious sniff, then moseyed over to her own bed and hit the hay. I love Nina’s matter-of-fact, non-threatening demeanor. I was pleased that she did as exactly as I thought and acted as though nothing was amiss. Hazer quickly zonked out and didn’t stir all night. This morning he’s fit as a fiddle and right back into our regular routine, none the worse for wear.
And his teeth? They look fabulous!
I’m having a Hazer vacation today. Over the last few years I’ve been using a holistic dental hygienist to clean my dog’s teeth, but Hazer finally reached the point where he needed a more thorough cleaning. For many years digestive upset has forced Hazer to consume a grain-free diet, which I suspect is at the root of his dental problem. This (expensive) type of diet has resolved some of his digestive issues, bit it’s a more “sticky” type of food than traditional kibble. Add the fact that Hazer has never been one to tolerate much hands on, and you have a situation where I can’t really do much here at home to clean his teeth. Oh, we give it the college try, but evidence shows we don’t put much of a dent in things.
Any time one of my animals needs special care or vet attention I worry. I worry about the procedure itself, and with Hazer I worry about his ability to cope with the environment and stress. The worry doesn’t end when he comes home. In fact, I have to be extra diligent when we return from the vet this afternoon. “Vet smell” can send an alarming scent to my other dogs and their curiosity will not be welcomed by Hazer. Hazer is the kind of dog who reacts negatively to any perception of infirmity or weakness; his, or that of another dog. So we will have to take plenty of time to re-acclimate Hazer once he is home. This would be best done outdoors if possible, but since winter has decided to stick around it will be too slippery and cold. Fortunately, I’m prepared to manage things inside. By bedtime tonight, things should be well on their way back to normal.
Hazer is such a large presence that the house feels quite different when he’s not here. It calls to mind Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone; the minute the house is a Hazer-free zone I want to run around and do a million things I can’t do (or can’t easily do) when Hazer is home. Like vacuum, lay on the floor (?) hug the other dogs, come and go without having to trip over his prancing body or do just about anything without having to listen to his ear-piercing shrieks or threatening growls. There’s a freedom in this, yet it feels empty. There is quiet in his absence, but the peace lacks energy. I’ve always said my relationship with Hazer is Yin and Yang and nothing makes me more aware of that than the few rare moments when he isn’t right beside me.
Things are melting, refreezing, then melting again. We have lots of icy morning paths, frozen piles of manure and a light skin of ice on the water tank. I’ve smartened up. Instead of trying to pick the paddock I only clear a few areas to put out the hay. After the sun has warmed the surface of the ground I go back out and finish the job more thoroughly. All but one large patch of stubborn snow has slid off the roof of the barn, making it less dangerous for me to be out there with horses who bolt and run at the slightest notion that the sky is falling. This has been our first winter in the new barn and I’m still getting used to the ups and downs of the environment. The snow-sliding-off-the-roof drama is a new experience for me and I’ve had to cultivate an awareness of where I am in proximity to the horses when the conditions are ripe for a snow slide. It’s a whole different kind of learning curve.
We have to wait until the sun has softened the frozen landscape, but by mid-afternoon I can get the dogs out to play a little ball and Frisbee, after which Hazer would be content to find a sunny spot and just curl up in the snow. But with not much to do in the way of chores our time outside is still limited. We all have a bad case of cabin fever. The gardening catalogs that keep jamming my mailbox are no help.
(Click on photo)
This photo was taken two weeks ago. Nothing has changed except the snow on the the barn roof slid off, creating a 5 foot wall of snow the entire length of the run-in. This happened an hour after we spent three hours plowing and shoveling the paddock, the drive and various paths. *Sigh* For weeks I played the blanket game: blankets on, blankets off, double blankets at night for the mare, no blanket for the buckskin during the day. It about drove me to drink. And if that didn’t make me woozy enough we had endless days with sub-zero temps. One morning it took three attempts to get everyone fed, blankets sorted out and the paddock picked to my liking. I had to keep running inside (and I do mean running) because my fingers and toes were on fire from the cold. I’ve learned that while it might not look pretty, it’s possible to run wearing ice cleats! I may have invented a new Olympic sport.
My house is now leaking, my back yard is a skating rink and I hold my breath every time I let the dogs out. Speaking of which, they’ve coped pretty well with being cooped-up for so long. That can only mean one thing: they’re getting old.
We’ve spent the better part of the last two days prepping for the looming “historic” snow storm of 2015. We have batteries, candles, propane, gas for the tractor and snow blower and plenty of milk and bread. (?) It started snowing at 9:15 this morning and so far it looks like any other gray, mid-winter January day. That’s to say that at this point our storm of ‘epic proportions’ doesn’t have much bite. The weather channel has been peppering their forecast with words like ‘gravely dangerous’ and ‘life-threatening.’ I’m not exactly sure why, but perhaps we’ll find out as the night progresses? I’d think a better choice of words might be ‘inconvenient’ or ‘bothersome,’ but I suspect those words aren’t sensational enough to drive ratings.
So here we sit, waiting.
Yesterday morning the breeder of my adorable Rat Terrier Gus had a tragic kennel fire. Two dogs were lost in the blaze and three dogs, including Gus’s father Bruce, were badly burned. The kennel structure and everything in it was lost.
I’ve started a fire relief fund for Carmetta and her family to help them pay for long-term veterinary care for the surviving dogs and to help offset the cost of rebuilding their kennel. Meta and her husband have three daughters who not only witnessed the fire, but were nearly injured trying to help save their dogs. All of these dogs were deeply loved and a big part of this family. Like many breeders, their dogs are constantly rotated between house and kennel, insuring all get plenty of family time. These dogs took frequent turns sharing family beds, surf boards and road trips and were a regular part of their everyday life. Witnessing this accident will have a long and lasting effect on these young girls and their family.
In the few years since I’ve met Carmetta I’ve come to know her as the kind of person who always goes out of her way to help others. She’s a gentle lady with a soft-spoken demeanor who works tirelessly behind the scenes to get things done and always refuses to take any credit for her efforts. She has volunteered countless hours to her local and regional breed clubs and associations and has been very instrumental in promoting awareness of our breed. Meta has also been a willing mentor to many and an exemplary role model to others for ethical, responsible breeding.
A devastating kennel fire is not a good way for a family with limited resources to start the New Year, nor is it a great way to kick off a long winter in northern Vermont. Over the years I’ve used social media and WordPress to donate to several causes. One fall it was a picture of an emaciated horse that pushed me to help with a winter hay fund. Another time it was a story about a newborn baby with an uphill battle against a life-threatening, rare disease. And there have been numerous stories about dogs that, due to no fault of their own, have fallen into some sort of complicated situation with owners that need help.
I don’t ask much of my friends here, but today I’m managing this fundraiser and I can promise that if you can see it in your heart to give a little something, it will be greatly appreciated and used to help this family with their loss.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And Gus thanks you too.
This is my horse Dharla. As Arabs go she’s not bad looking. Not show-stopping, drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s kinda cute in a girly sort of way. She was an adorable, make-you-want-to-squeal filly. I know this only because I saw pictures of her from when she was a baby. (I have a few baby photos somewhere,
but I’m too lazy to look for them.) She was a very feminine little thing, full of pep and spunk, yet dainty. Four years ago when I was looking for another horse and went to see Dharla, I didn’t ask her breeders/owners to relay any antidotes about her “childhood.” I kind of regret that now that I know Dharla better.
I noticed right off that (for an Arab) Dharla was well-reared. She was cooperative and well-mannered while being handled, groomed and led. She had no qualms about us, total strangers, walking into her stall and picking up each of her feet. She stood there quietly, attentive, yet untethered as my husband and I gently went over every inch of her body. We watched as Dharla was tacked up to be ridden. Again, she was compliant and calm. While I credit her trainer for much of Dharla’s quiet acceptance of this routine, I know it spoke of a horse that had been exposed to a great deal of variety over the course of her (still) young life. (Dharla was coming on age four that spring, which is considered quite young by Arab standards)
Dharla was born and raised on a local, high-quality Arab and Warmblood farm. The owners take part in every aspect of the breeding, foaling and rearing process of every foal and have a reputation for turning out some very lovely, highly successful show horses. That said, no matter how carefully one pours over pedigrees and bloodlines, sometimes a foal just doesn’t live up to expectations. While that was never said or implied, I have my suspicions Dharla was one of those foals. And I suspect her breeders knew this from fairly early-on, which only makes me respect them even more. Why? Because they didn’t just let Dharla slip through the cracks, like some breeders would.
Instead, Dharla was raised exactly like every other foal born on this farm. She was handled often and given lots of opportunity to see and do new things as she grew up in the safety of a small herd of youngsters her own age. Bred as a Sport-horse prospect, Dharla was halter shown and graded as a yearling. (Her grades were very high!) This meant she got a little exposure to riding in a trailer and being in a show environment. When Dharla was old enough, she began the slow process of being trained to be ridden. Professional trainers do the early prep and backing of the youngsters on this farm, but as her training progressed one of the owners rode her too. Nothing in Dharla’s young life was any different than her more valuable relatives and companions.
There’s nothing really wrong with Dharla. It’s just that on a farm like this, babies that are going to grow up to be really outstanding prospects are earmarked from an early age. Dharla was a slow bloomer. That’s not unusual for an Arab, but when trying to run a profitable business one must determine where to invest the most time and money. Dharla had a sister (bred from the exact same parents, but born a year later), who had already proven herself more worthy of that investment. The sisters looked almost identical, but the similarities ended there. Twice I rode Dharla’s sister and I liked her a LOT, but she was priced out of my budget and she was way out of my league. Besides, I wasn’t looking for a show prospect, I was looking for a future trail mount. (Although still on the market to the “right” buyer, Dharla’s sister has been retained by her breeders and has been extensively and successfully shown by them.)
Dharla has grown up to be a fine trail horse. Athletic and smart, she has just the right amount of common sense and self-preservation that makes her a good team player, but capable of independent thought when necessary. Translation? She’s not inclined to do stupid shit. Granted, at this stage of my life I’m not prone to take a lot of risks out on the trail, but occasionally we’ll run into a situation where I really need to rely on my horse to get the job done with no wiggle room for mistakes. It’s times like that when I’ll look to my horse to help me make a decision and execute it, and it helps to know she’ll work with, not against me. Sometimes Dharla can be willful and stubborn. That’s the quirky side of her personality. But usually when the grit hits the fan I can count on her to do her job without a lot of extra drama. I value that.
All that said, it’s hard to understand how a horse that is apt to think clearly on the trail is so accident prone at home. I went out to feed early this morning and found Dharla sporting a big bald patch by her left eye. During the night she must have had a close encounter with a blunt object. The good news is that her eye is fine. (Phew!) Unfortunately, she looks like hell, and will continue to do so until the hair grows back. I know this only because this is a common occurrence for her and boo-boos are seldom a big surprise. For some odd reason Dharla has a tendency to like to throw her weight (and head) around. I’m sure if her pasture-mates could talk they’d say Dharla can be hard to get along with. She’s seldom truly mean, but she’s known to be ornery and mercurial. I kind of get the feeling neither of the boys ever really know where they stand with her. She wants them nearby, but she doesn’t want them close. And that makes for some interesting dynamics. It’s a little like taking kids on a long car trip; eventually someone’s gonna get poked.
As Gilda Radner would say, “It’s always something!”
(Baby Dharla. Photos not taken by me)
This morning I read a blog post that was a humorous attempt to disguise the stress and mind-numbing tedium of raising children. It struck a chord. Not because I’m a scary mommy working out of my home while I raise three children under the age of five. No, that’s not what grabbed my attention. The post spoke to me because I’ve shared my home and my life with a constantly revolving door of animals since I was eighteen. (Well, longer if you count growing up on a farm) I understand that people who choose to have children carry the added burden of trying to raise successful, well-adjusted members of society, and I get that parents never stop “worrying” about their kids. But those things aside, I see very little difference between raising kids and raising animals.
In the child-rearing post mommy railed about her burnout that stemmed from the small stuff. She freely admitted her complaints sprang from a well of fatigue and tedium and not actual dissatisfaction with her parental, care-giving role. I get that, I really do. You have kids, you love your kids, but they make you nuts. That’s perfectly acceptable. And yet, those few times I’ve mindlessly griped about my own burnout from living with multiple animals I’ve been met with everything from eye rolls from parents to tisk-tisks from pet owners.
It’s totally understandable that parents with any shred of sanity left will eventually gripe about the annoyance of being at the constant beck and call of a toddler. That’s normal and I think at some point every parent experiences burnout. I sort of feel the same way when a mild case of mid-winter colic keeps me hovering in a sub-zero barn for several hours. The first time that happened I didn’t complain. I was scared and oh, so thankful the second my horse started to feel better. But somewhere around the 10th time my horse got colic the fear and the thankfulness got a little silted. I can also relate to Mommies who complain about their lack of personal privacy since I routinely share my bathroom with no less than one or two dogs who simply can’t be out of my sight when I’m home. And I get that Moms can’t seem to catch a break from all the laundry their kids generate. Me? I never get a reprieve from the dog hair that’s in, on, and under every object and surface in my house.
Like having children, life with pets is a choice. I’m not saying I don’t want a life without my pets, but many years ago I came to the realization that my decision to have multiple pets would come with a few serious inconveniences and some occasional (OK, daily) monotony. Like being woken up three times a week for the last 10 years by a puking dog with a genetic digestive disorder. And having chosen to live with different kinds of animals, every day is marked by multiple feedings for various groups of them, then picking up the poop all that food creates. Unlike potty training, cleaning up after pets never ends; you’ll have to scoop and dispose of waste forever.
I’ve been bitten (accidentally), stepped on, mowed down, puked on, pooped on, woken up and kept up, and like any human parent I’ve withstood numerous hardships and inconveniences to ensure my animal’s health and safety always come before my own. I haven’t done this with regret, but there’ve been times when every fiber of my being was literally screaming for Calgon to come take me away. Or the funny farm. Really, either one would do. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I hate my problem pets: The Autistic, psychotic herding dog. The lunk of a horse who has been the source of two recent (accidental) concussions. The tenacious Terrior who has taken a sudden shining to shredding cardboard and socks. The list could go on. (And on and on)
Most of the time I don’t mind my pet’s quirks, but sometimes I want to put them all on a one-way shuttle to the moon and go off to live a quiet, normal life. A life where I don’t have to look at my watch every 4 hours and drop whatever I’m doing to run home and feed someone. Or a life where I sleep in past 6 AM. and don’t have to suit up on a snowy night to trudge out to the barn at 11:00 for last call. Or a life where I can wear black without having to exhaust a roll of tape first. A life where my husband walks through the door after a long day and instead of reading his lips I can actually hear him say, “Hi honey, I’m home!” A life where I can have noisy sex without setting off the dogs. A life where I can cook a meal or use the bathroom without canine supervision.
The magical ingredient that keeps my sanity in check is knowing that my life with this particular set of animals comes with an expiration date. And every time I get fed up or worn down by the routine or stress of living with my pets I remember they’re only here for a short period of time. They won’t grow up and go off to live their own lives, visiting from time to time. They’ll be gone for good. So even though there are moments when the madness feels like it’s been going on forever, I try to remember that it will eventually come to an end. And the really crazy thing is that when it does, I know I’m going to miss it.
So for now I’ll just keep trying to pet The Dog Who Must Not Be Touched, keep the Terrier out of the laundry basket and avoid being mowed down by the lunk in the pasture. And if that doesn’t work? There’s always Calgon!
In the world of dog rescue there’s an often-practiced way of celebrating the “birthday” of an animal whose date of birth is unknown. We commemorate their adoption date, or in certain cases a better term would be their “Gotcha” day. Some of these adoptions are formal endeavors, with long, dragged-out protocols that include the filling out of page-long detailed forms, telephone interviews with every member of the family, calls to your vet and a handful of character references and a final home inspection visit that includes a meet-and-greet for household members and all current pets, after which (if you make the grade) you sign multiple documents whereby you must agree to relinquish the rescued animal should the rescue organization ever deem you unfit, and the exchange of a rapidly increasing amount of money. (Yeah. Feel free to take a big deep breath and exhale s-l-o-w-l-y.) But other “adoptions” are precarious events where the animal in question barely gets out of a bad situation by the skin of their teeth and the adopter flys by the seat of their pants. They don’t get the luxury of knowing if the animal will be a great “fit” or not and if things fall apart no one has their back because oftentimes, all the parties involved are working in the red and flying blind. Which is how I’d like to think the term “Gotcha Day” was coined. It makes things sound a little more like Raiders of the Lost Ark than Lassie Come Home.
Rascal’s “adoption” (December 14, 2013) was somewhere in the middle: Not quite a full blown Rader’s situation, but not a Lassie story either. His owner was down-to-her-last-bale-of-hay desperate, but Rascal was in good health and condition. So I got there in the nick of time, but not a minute too soon. I don’t like to think of myself as an angel or even a Good Samaritan, but the truth of the matter is, this woman had reached out to our local horse community (on Facebook) more than once and nobody stepped forward to help. Nobody. Oh, there were several suggestions that covered everything from where she might be able to buy more hay (no funds) to warning that she should avoid offering him on a free lease (because the lessee would surely turn around and sell him to a kill buyer), but nobody said they’d take him. Not even temporarily. Nobody.
The picture she posted haunted me for days. Not because the horse looked abused or thin or sick. No, it wasn’t that. (Those make it easy to determine right v/s wrong!) The picture haunted me because this horse looked just like my husbands first horse, Beanie, whom we’d lost only a year prior. But I truly thought somebody (else) would step up to the plate and take this horse, and I was so sure of it that I didn’t call to inquire about his story until weeks passed and she posted again. I think it was at that moment that I realized I couldn’t sit and wait for somebody else to do the right thing. It was quite possible that I was “it,” the only person who would call. And so I did and the rest is history.
I’m not a hero. For the first few months I worried a lot that I’d made a horrible mistake. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop; for the horse to get sick or lame or mean and crazy or …. something. Instead, what I discovered restored my faith in people. Rascal’s former owner never painted a false picture just to place him. Maybe I was just very lucky, but Rascal is every bit the exact horse his owner told me he would be; Kind, sweet, silly, wary, rascally. Yes, he is VERY rascally at times!
I won’t lie, there are days when I don’t relish having that “extra” horse to take care of and another mouth to feed, but 99% of the time I have no regrets. And yes, I still hold to my word that Rascal belongs to his prior owner and if that day ever comes that she can have him back, he’s hers. But I say that with less conviction now. I’d let him go, but now I know how she felt on that cold December day when she stood, tears streaming down her cheeks as she waved goodbye to Rascal. My heart would ache for a long, long time.
I’m a few days late, but Happy “Gotcha” Day little buddy!
Bullet & Rascal
A recent post from a fellow blogger brought up some thoughts and feelings that I’ve visited regularly throughout my life. I guess I could say I’ve always thought horses, dogs and other animals have feelings and form attachments (or aversion) not only to us, but to one another. In fact, my belief in this can be traced to my childhood and is probably a direct result of having read Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe at a young and impressionable age. I suppose it’s normal for children to believe concepts put forth in books and movies, but I’m not sure why some children never set those beliefs aside when they grow up. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I didn’t.
I can recount numerous times when I thought I sensed something akin to human friendship taking place between certain critters. I’ve watched horses bond closely and stress over even just the temporary separation they experience when a buddy leaves the herd to go for a ride. For example, I’ve noticed in my current herd both geldings are far more stressed when the mare leaves than when one of the boys goes and she stays behind with the other. Why that is I don’t know because she seems (to me) like the least congenial companion in the group. But apparently she has a calming affect on the boys because they become restless and vocal until she returns … where upon she immediately pins her ears and threatens to kick if they crowd around to greet her!
For the first time ever, when I “adopted” Rascal I witnessed (what I believe was) grief for a human companion. His former owner got Rascal when she was just a young girl and he was a young horse. Since then, he hadn’t been very far away from her or known any other owner until now. When Rascal first arrived he was skiddish and wary. I was very relieved to see that true to his nature, Bullet was curious, but welcoming. With Dharla away for the winter, the boys had plenty of time to get to know one another without having to jockey for hierarchy. Bullet was so happy to have company that he willingly shared his hay and shelter with his new companion. Still, Rascal stayed wary, especially of humans. He didn’t run from me or behave badly, he just seemed tense and aloof.
I gave Rascal lots of space and love. I can’t explain why, but I sensed he was grieving. Something about the look in his eye, his posture, spoke of sadness. Yes, all his needs were being met, but there was an emptiness I couldn’t put my finger on except to say that I felt it. We’d go out on a quiet trail ride together and I’d talk to him, praise him for his effort to do what I asked. He was a good boy and instead of testing me it felt like he was trying very hard to please me. He did great, and I found many opportunities to tell him so. Still, his demeanor didn’t really change very much. Back home Rascal would always move just slightly out of reach where he would stand, gazing off in the distance with a faraway look in his eye. It was during those melancholy moments that I wondered most what Rascal was feeling. Did he miss his old pasture mates? Did he miss his old owner? Did he wonder why she’d left him, forcing him to adapt to a whole new way of life? Do horses blame themselves? Like any human might, did he think his new circumstance was his fault?
Slowly, over many months something started to change. I’d go out to the pasture and instead of having to pursue Rascal’s eye, he started to look for mine! Then one day I was shaking out Rascal’s morning hay when he turned his head and nuzzled my hand. It was subtle, but it was the first time Rascal had reached out to me instead of the other way around. And just a few days ago Rascal actually walked up to me for no other reason than to say hello! I smiled as I scratched his jaw, enjoying the knowledge that Rascal has finally decided I’m family.
Welcome home little brother. I’ve been waiting for you to choose to join us.
A late Sunday afternoon visit, the old-fashioned way!
A much younger Hazer
Hazer turns ten this fall. There, I’ve said it. As much as I’d like to think he has several good years still ahead of him, I can’t help notice how much he’s aged. Oh sure, he still wants to play Frisbee once or twice a day, but even that extracts a toll. And it’s the little changes I’ve seen that make my eyes mist up when I think about them. Like how he still lays on a nearby hill as I garden, but instead of overseeing his domain he’s sprawled out fast asleep. Or how he doesn’t always drag his sorry butt off my bed and come greet me at the door the minute I get home from an errand. And how he does the “old dog shriek” which is basically just noise that consists of yipping and barking at anything and everything simply because he can. But the most telling sign is that in his own dysfunctional way Hazer has grown affectionate in his old age. He wags his tail more often than he did when he was younger and he occasionally flops down at my feet to ask for a belly rub; something he’d never in a million years want before. In fact until now, general touching has not had any part in Hazer’s repartee at all. So it seems a bit odd to have Hazer milling about, trying to outdo the other dogs for my affection. He’s not very good at it either, never really sure if he wants to be pet or just plain left alone, thankyouverymuch. It’s a constant physical run-on sentence that says, “touch me, no don’t touch me, yes, touch me …. not!”
And then there’s those little marble-like bumps on his head. I gently feel them every day. Measuring. Worrying. Have they grown any bigger? Are they painful? Are there any new ones sprouting? You can’t see them, they’re beneath the skin. Lurking. Probably just fatty cysts, but I worry as time ticks on. His teeth are worn and getting nasty again. Should suck it up and drag his butt off to the holistic dental hygienist this fall? Although he does much better with this appointment than we ever dared hope (a tribute to her, not him), it’s expensive. Does he really need it, does it matter? To look at Hazer he’s doing great. He spends his day pushing his weight around when he can and shrieking when he can’t. He plays Frisbee, accompanies me to the barn where he snoozes in the sunshine, pretending to watch as I do chores. He still loves going to work with Dad on Saturday and jumping into my hatchback while I unload groceries. For the most part, life is good. Here’s to it staying that way for as long as possible.