Where There’s A Willow, There’s A Way

                                                                                 How Could You??

The puppy is now about a year and half old.  She has come a long way from berserk. four pound sheep hunter to wily, seventeen pound combination persistent nuisance to all things and loving, loyal member of our home pack.  She still has miles to go before we all sleep well, but the girl is on a good path.

I know a lot more now than I did “B.W.” (Before Willow).  My two other Jack Russells lulled me into a smug sense of security that time and training would produce a calm, stable, companionable dog in a year.  Willow has dispelled any notion I had that nurture can override nature, sort of like the false security you have that your software will protect you against Heartbleed or some other such insidious virus.  She has a prey drive second only to a hyena with the scream to match, and only another piece of prey can pull off one scent to another. There’s yet to be a cookie invented that can compete with a chattering chipmunk. Perhaps if I rolled myself in raw meat, I might have greater appeal to her, but I have this image in my mind of being taken down by coyotes or bears, or at least every other dog in the neighborhood save mine.

Her recall is spotty.  I don’t chase her any longer.  Long gone are the days when she would take off through out rural area, this mostly small white streak, with me in pursuit (usually in my bed slippers), through horse pastures, cow pastures, pig sties, and chicken coops.  If she leaves the farm perimeter (which is, admittedly, less often) for far-flung fields, that’s her choice.  It isn’t that I don’t care or that I don’t worry:  I’ve simply learned that the less I holler for her and simply take Martha and Gus inside or continue playing with them, the game is over.  She can’t stand not being the center of attention and comes back of her own accord out of curiosity about what she may be missing.  Like the new raw food treats.

She’s also taught me you can put everything you’ve got into a dog, but the dog has to want to meet you halfway.  A  dog makes choices, good and not so good.  Sometimes, you just have to wait until the brain is more mature and just hope the dog survives its less stellar choices.  Willow isn’t Gus, who walks at heel through the forest off leash, looks up for permission to chase a squirrel, and, now that he has the Tasmanian Devil as a little sister, has the patience of Job.  Martha, blissfully deaf and much less patient with Willow’s antics, snarls.  Any resemblance to my own human family life is purely coincidental.  Or maybe not.

I am hoping one day, in our dotage, to be glad after all that I brought her home.  I want to look back and, like labor, not really remember how the early days of our lives drove me to the brink of psychosis.  I want to be able to buy good sheets again without resigning myself to the holes that will be chewed in them.  And I would like to answer the front door like a normal person, not hiding behind the tiny crack like a hoarder, with dogs snapping at my heels to charge the unseen intruder.  I’m certain at this point, we’ve been removed from the Jehovah’s Witness visitors list, and I must admit, I miss having someone to talk to occasionally.

Rescuing Ruby

Happier Days

Happier Days

This wasn’t what my mother had in mind for her dog when she had a mind.

In the same way we believe that nothing bad will ever happen to us when we are 18 and immortal, when Mom adopted Ruby, she never anticipated she would get Alzheimer’s. Mom never thinks she’s old, either, but that has more to do with vanity than the deterioration of her cognitive and motor skills. Mom was about 79 when she adopted Ruby, who was two. In fairness to my mother, none of us argued with her desire to have this little dog. We all thought it was a great fit. In that moment. And so it was for several years.

But no one asked what might happen to the dog as my mother aged. No one thought to make a plan for Ruby in the event Mom died. Or worse. And worse happened.

If you read my post from September about Mom and Ruby you will think that my mother’s sad story had a happy ending for Ruby. My nephew wanted to take her into his family. On paper, great. In the real world, not so much. Ruby doesn’t do well with 4 year-old boys whose love is expressed in an exuberant, physical way. She snapped at the boy, the boy’s mother (rightfully) nixed the deal, and Ruby came back to my sister’s house. With her two Yorkie Poos. And Ruby doesn’t really love other dogs. She snaps at them, too.

She wants what she was accustomed to — her human, her home. What she has is confusion and a lot of time in a crate right now. She has my stressed out sister who has a hellish schedule. What she must be thinking.

When my mother lived near me, both she and Ruby spent a lot of time at my farm. After my mom fell ill, I took Ruby for extended periods. She did just okay with my dogs (BP — Before Puppy). She has an autoimmune medical condition that requires daily meds for the rest of her life, and she is not a spring chicken herself. Flying her back here is not an option any more.

The upshot of this is that Ruby is going to an Italian Greyhound Rescue Organization foster home, maybe for the rest of her life. I am as horrified and heartbroken and guilt-ridden as I am grateful and relieved that these fine people are so dedicated to their volunteer mission that they are doing for Ruby what we cannot. I have never surrendered an animal in my life. If my mother knew the truth and understood it, she would be shattered. My sister and I decided it was best to lie to her and tell her that Ruby was going back to California to live with the cousin that gave her to Mom in the first place.

I know a little about where she is headed, having checked out the organization and spoken to the foster family, a retired couple who have been in rescue over 20 years. I tell myself to have faith that Ruby will find happiness and love there. And permanency. Faith is something that doesn’t come very easily to me. Lose your husband, your best friend, your father, your health, a few dozen friends to the scourge of AIDS in the space of a decade, and you begin to understand the point of view of the Pharoah a little bit when all the plagues were raining down in Egypt. Still, when all the other options are spent, faith is what is left.

When I had a health scare years ago, I made a will and a trust. I put all of my animals in as property in my trust as well as a fund for them. At the time, I had horses, so it was more elaborate than it is now. Like kids, each of my dogs has a guardian who has agreed to take them for the rest of their lives. It’s unlikely that I will bring any more animals into my home (or at least I won’t go out searching for any). Willow (if she lives as long as Martha has) and I will be old ladies together (I’m still on the fence about her chances of staying out of that much trouble but with age, hopefully, comes wisdom). Going through this with Mom and with Ruby has taught me that a part of our responsibility to our pets is also knowing when not to have them.

The Worst Dog Challenge

For all of my fellow dog bloggers, here’s a challenge for this month, inspired by one of my favorite dog sites, http://www.dogshaming.com (sorry, since I am not “techy”, I can’t get the “add a link” thingy to work in that cool way the rest of you can – pffft!):

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Please post a photo (or two or three) and tag it “Dog Of Shame” (so we can find each other) of your dog’s worst crime against, say, your new love seat or roll of toilet paper or shoes. Even if you have the perfect pooch, perhaps that pooch has a past and evidence of that past will qualify you to join the challenge.

In this case, nobody wins or loses anything, but we can have some fun. And while you’re at it, have a look at Dog Shaming (especially on Fridays when they post adoptable dogs).

And let me know when you’ve posted. It will be so nice to know I’m not alone.

Gratitude

I want to wish everyone who has visited my blog, liked and/or commented since I began this year a very happy holiday season!!

While Willow licks the electrical outlets in my office as I type this, I’m sure she, Angus and Martha join me in sending our very best to you all in the coming year. 

Let us all do one thing in 2014 to make a difference (small or large) in the lives of those around us or around the world. 

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Oh, and WordPress?  I would be grateful if your mobile app stopped crashing all the time.  I like to take you all with me wherever I go.  Bless you, too, tiny programmers. 

In A Blink Of The Eye

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Willow is now five months old.

I have been sick for a week. All the photos this week have been taken with my iPad, and mostly in my bed. Dogs make great hot water bottles when you are shivering with a fever. Time goes by slowly when you’re sick but seeing Willow’s snapshots and how much her body has changed from teeny puppy to small dog, time also speeds by like a bullet. Or a terrier running through the garden with your sock in her mouth.

I haven’t been able to do much to find an outlet for their rambunctious spirits. Therefore, three pillow cases, two wool socks and one lovely cream coverlet have become victim to what looks suspiciously like puppy gnawing rather than damage done by gigantic lunar moths from another planet. I’m telling you this on the q.t. I can’t complain to my trainer because none of them are supposed to be on or in my bed. Ever.

Martha has slept on the bed for 16 years. I’m not about to take that away from her now because the Bed Thing is spoiling the other two. It’s come one, come all, I’m afraid. Gah.

We did have the most amazing murmuration of starlings this week I’ve ever witnessed. Thousands of them swooped around the fields of my farm and around the garden like a symphony of notes of a Rachmaninov concerto. Incredibly choreographed by some instinct, they went to ground, then swooshed up in formations in the air around the house and fields until they finally flew away. I managed only to catch a quick shot of part of their last swoop. Oh, for my Nikon, a wide lens and a perch on the ridge line of my roof.

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It Had To Be Ewe

I think I may have mentioned somewhere here that Willow is the Spawn of Satan.

I awoke this morning with a sinus headache that would have killed an elephant. The medication for that makes me a bit loopy (okay, dopey) but it worked, and off the dogs and I drove to our weekly private training session with the World’s Most Amazing Dog Trainer, hereafter more simply referred to as MPS (my personal savior, to whom I have given over not only my puppy but, after today, my soul). He is my Cesar.

MPS is teaching me to teach Willow leash manners and a chain of command strategy upon which we will build so that we might override with training the strongest prey drive I’ve ever seen in an animal not on the National Geographic Channel. The method is gentle but firm, all about teaching her impulse control through obedience. But before sessions begin, MPS believes that she benefits from a short time to exercise her so-called restless spirit by allowing her to run and play with a giant fluffy white LabraDoodle in a fully fenced area of about an acre. Fully fenced except for the teeny space about the size of a toddler’s hand between the galvanized steel gate and the moss covered cedar gate post through which she made her escape this morning.

You know that feeling of watching the horrific event unfold in seemingly slow motion but also at the speed of light? And the equally awful awareness that seeps into your consciousness that you are helpless to catch the puppy running at a break neck pace toward the neighbor’s sheep pasture because in your slowness and haste the humans are crashing into each other and bashing the gate closed with each attempt?

We are running like sprinters wearing clown shoes over slimy leaves toward the sounds of sheep baas, small dog yips, and cloven hooves pummeling the ground. MPS has leapt over the fence already. I can see as I skid to a halt at the fence a tiny white dog herding unsheared, dirty brown terrified sheep, and a man in a formerly pristine black Patagonia fleece now covered with sheep muck chasing the little white dog chasing the sheep.

Willow! Willow! We call. Her name could be anything. This is The Best Thing she has ever experienced in her life. This is the E Ticket at Disneyland for hunting dogs. The Grail. Discovering Atlantis.

For the man, the sheep, and the woman who owns the sheep and who has now come to the pasture with a shotgun, this is most definitely Not The Best Thing.

Willow has culled one ewe from the herd and has her cornered. The ewe butts her a few times but the dog is not dissuaded. Willow is, however, standing her ground, and MPS quite nimbly swoops in and scoops her up by the collar. I hop (okay, I don’t hop, I scramble, my days of leaping anything taller than a twig long past) the fence and grab Willow from MPS. She is unharmed, the sheep are unharmed even if unnerved. We apologize to everyone and take what seems like our first breath since the Great Escape.

Back at the training barn, the correlation between her chances of survival and the need for more accelerated training is glaringly obvious. Willow is moving in with MPS for a month. I made a commitment to this dog the day I brought her home. For her safety and the safety of anyone else, she needs a truly experienced hand. Although I have always trained my own dogs, were I to let my ego rule, Willow will never be the kind of dog she deserves to be: alive, safe, obedient and a good companion. As a client of mine once said of his personal manager, “he might be Satan but he’s our Satan.”

Ironically, her breeder sent me an email yesterday with photos of the available puppies from three new litters. Since Willow was doing well in her training, he wondered, did I have any jealous friends who might want a puppy just like her?

Maybe I should send him this story.

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Pond Scum: Another Edition Of The Farm Report

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By the end of summer, the water level of the pond on the farm drops about ten feet, making the surface invisible to anyone not standing along its edges. Other than a plethora of bugs, not much stirs in the pond in the summer, so I don’t pay too much attention to it. Summers are brief, and we all want to laze around in the warm sun as if we could store it in our bodies and psyches for the dismal, gray months ahead.

I love nature. I allow bees to hover near me while I garden, and I don’t squash spiders. I don’t even use RoundUp on weeds. Wildlife tolerates me, and I try to live and let live. I’m very St. Francesca of Assisi in that way.

I was, that is. Until one summer day when I learned how quickly a pacifist can morph into a perp. I need you to know I am not proud. Really. It was a case of Rodent Rage.

I was forking up horse manner in the paddock, a task I actually like. I was one of the those little girls whose room resembled the aftermath of a cyclone but whose horse stalls were so immaculate, you could give birth in them.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me,” I wailed as I shoveled. “Sock it to me, sock it me, sock it me, oooooooh.”

In mid-song, the fury of barking dogs diverted my attention from horse pooh and Aretha. Barney and Rupert were circling the pond, frenzied, their focus directed toward something in the pond, something I couldn’t see from the paddock. Since ducks and geese were hardly novelties to the dogs, it had to be something new to them and it had to be alive. Otter, maybe? Beaver? Resting the manure fork against the rail, I scrambled over the fence to investigate.

Water rats. About a dozen of them, trapped in the middle of the pond by yapping dogs, treading water in a formation that reminded me of a tiny, furry synchronized swim team or extras from an Esther Williams movie.

Barn rats are something you learn to live with; you don’t like them, you lay traps for them, you let your barn cats and terriers kill them without guilt. But just seeing rats doing the breaststroke in my pond pushed me over the edge of reason, and something hateful and lethal invaded my otherwise tolerant soul. These little vermin, desperately swimming up and down the length of the pond to find a way out past the dogs intent on killing them, had less to fear from the dogs than from me. They were about to experience the Rodent Rapture.

Because I lacked anything like a pool skimmer with which I could have scooped the vermin out of the water and flung them like a jai alai player into the far reaches of the woods, I would have to improvise the manner of the Ratricide.

I chose stones. It was a primitive choice, emanating from the small Neanderthal part of my brain that was not in the least humane. Small ones to flip at them to herd them to the side wall of the pond where they would cling, their little mammalian minds believing they would blend into the dark clay unnoticed, and big, honking ones to crash down on those little heads to drown them. With the help of the dogs, who seemed to understand the gruesome plan perfectly, our deadly pack spent the rest of the afternoon killing rats.

“Over there!” I shouted, pointing to the dogs, as one of the rats would break from formation in an attempt to escape.

The dogs would converge, snarling and growling, and the rat would kick off from the wall and paddle across the pond to where I stood with a “smasher” rock. I’d heave it down on the rat. It’s beady little eyes would roll back in its pointed head as it bobbed back up to the surface for the briefest of moments before sinking into the shadowy deep for eternity.

We repeated this heinous collaboration over and over – my shouting directions, pitching stones to alter their course if needed, the dogs driving the rats to me, the cannonball-like splashes as the smasher rocks shattered the surface of the water, crushing their little skulls.

Out of all of the water rats, we had only one escapee. He made it to the opposite end of the pond unnoticed, and we watched as he sped up the bank, across the lawn and into the forest faster than a firecracker.

“TELL YOUR FRIENDS!!” I yelled after him, flush with the taste of the hunt. Word among the water rat dens must have spread because I never saw another rat in the pond.

That day, the day I became anathema to myself, I discovered how easily a normally lucid human mind can devolve into momentary – or an afternoon’s worth of – insanity. This epiphany occurred, after the rats were dead at the bottom of the pond and the war over, when I turned around, meaning to go back to the barn, and saw Dina David, my first real friend on the road, standing about a twenty yards away, staring in silence at me, aghast.

Dina, who’d dropped by for coffee, had witnessed enough of the massacre to be convinced I had finally gone mad. As she stood there, motionless, the idea of coming any closer to me was probably something giving her considerable pause.

“Water rats,” I explained weakly, a rock dropping from my hand.

“Most people just shoot them, Lisa,” Dina replied, “It’s much easier than stoning them to death.”

Please Recycle: Bailey The Reusable Dog

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They found her in the back seat of a stranger’s car at the mall, wearing a tired red collar without a tag, a crumpled paper sack holding two cans of dog food next to her bushy black tail.

Whoever left her probably believed they were doing the best thing, that maybe the owner of a nice car would have the money to keep her and care for her. She was well groomed and well fed; her people had cared for her. Whatever it was that brought them to the point of parting with her — a divorce, a deployment, a lost job. They must have believed this was better than taking her to a shelter.

But the owner of the nice car didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t keep her, and she ended up at the shelter anyway, one of the several million homeless dogs that are killed in shelters every year, one of several thousand dogs that are killed in animal shelters each day. Just like those dogs, she was born, she played, she loved, and she bonded to someone before that day. When her people’s luck ran out, so did hers. Almost.

Someone must have seen something special in her brown eyes, in the way she basked in even the smallest of attention paid to her, the way she seemed to smile when spoken to in a soft voice. Someone noticed her behind the bars of the cage as they walked through the kennel, her quiet manner unlike the others barking and jumping. “This one can be saved,” they thought, “this one is adoptable.”

The animal rescue group took her from the shelter and brought her to a farm, to a foster family who would take care of her, be kind to her, and get to know her while the group tried to find her a forever home. The foster family didn’t name her, and she had no way of telling them her name. The tentativeness of her situation made her watchful and careful, on her best behavior so the awful loss would not happen again. She must have grieved for her people.

It happened one day that I had a chance encounter with the woman from the farm at the feed store. She was buying some sort of monstrous looking metal device for her sow, Oona. We got to talking as we stood in line, and I ended up following her back to her farm to see the sow which lived up to its description of being as large as a Volkswagen Beetle. Oona was as nasty as she was large, so one look over the rail of the pen was plenty enough pig.

As we walked around the farm, I noticed the black dog almost surgically attached to the woman’s leg. The dog had not left her side from the moment of our arrival and had, in fact, leaped a three foot fence to get to her.

I said “That dog is really attached to you.” And the woman told me what she knew of the dog’s story. I knelt down on the soft grass to pet her, and I could feel this dog’s big heart radiating under my hand. My own dog, BJ The Wonder Dog, lay in the cool shaded grass, waiting for me. I stood up, thanked the woman for allowing us to visit, and opened the back of my Explorer for BJ to hop in. He did.

And in less than a minute, the black dog with the soulful eyes looked up at the woman, and, having made her own decision about her fate, hopped up into the Explorer right next to BJ. I looked at the two smiling, happy dogs in my truck and then over at the woman.

“I guess she’s found her home,” she said, smiling.

“I guess she has,” I replied, closing the tailgate of the truck.

I had gone to see a pig and come away with a used dog.

Bailey melded into our lives as if she’d always been a part of us. She patiently raised a kitten, and she was a companion not only to me but to BJ as age wore him down. When his sight went, she would use her body to herd him from the yard to the porch steps, her nose nudging his legs up the steps to the front door. Her devotion to him was amazing to witness, and when it came time to let him go, she grieved with me.

For the five years I had her, I often silently thanked the people who gave her up. She embodied everything that is best in dogs: their inexhaustible capacity for forgiveness, for loyalty, for love without condition. I think they help bring out those qualities in us, too.

But there’s something extra special about shelter dogs. They teach us about gratitude. In the end, it’s hard to say who saved whose life.