Monday, August 16, 2021

The Long Life of Zelina



    Just after our son Daniel died, a friend of my daughter's gave a gift of two black Labrador puppies. He thought that puppies full of so much energy and love would help her, and the rest of us, through such a difficult chapter in our lives. One was male, and one was female and so our daughter named them Sebastian and Zelina. Since our daughter was a senior in college at the time, I had to pinch hit quite a bit with their toilet training, feeding, vet visits, and then their visits to the vet for spaying and for neutering.  I didn't really mind because they were dear puppies, and because our black lab/Weimaraner mix Mark was elderly and was dying, and because it almost seemed to me that these puppies were here to ease the pain of Mark's impending passage.  Mark passed quietly not too many weeks after he was introduced to the pups. It was as if he too, knew we would be in good hands.

              Sebastian and Zelina enjoyed life on the farm with alpacas, horses, chickens, guineas, cats, and managed to dodge the copperhead snakes.  They enjoyed water, running, and the other dogs we had here. I can never remember their being inflexible or difficult with any other animal.  Time on our farm surrounded by forests passed quickly as it always does.   Our daughter bought a home in the same rural place, but works a great deal and so she thought that Sebastian and Zelina should stay here where they were well adapted. Before long, our daughter had a new baby and her hands were full, and so we were glad the two black labs had remained here with our other dogs.

               In May, 2015 it was hotter than usual and humid a bit more early than it usually is.  One morning I found Sebastian lying outside the kennel,  He was febrile. Long story short, the vet believed that he likely had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and so she started doxycycline.  I was actually more concerned than I would be for a lot of illnesses, because he seemed truly frightened and possibly in pain. It looked to me as if we had recognized his illness too late and started him on medication too late in the course of the illness.  I told Sebastian that if he were to die, that I would take good care of his sister Zelina for the rest of her life.  He took me up on that, and died rather quickly that morning, never responding to the doxycycline.

              Zelina had been tightly bonded to her litter mate, but had no choice but to make friends with the other dogs we had here. She was easy going, pleasant and kind, and we were pleased that her life continued long after her brother's had ended.

              This summer I realized that Zelina was thirteen years old, which is a pretty good age for a large dog. She had no discomfort with regard to her joints or paws which is so often a problem with aged large dogs. Her hips seemed fine.  Usually, we start them on glucosamine and chondroitin, but she was still jumping and running well without discomfort. I did notice that she was thinner this spring than is desirable, and so she was wormed as per our farm's protocol.  I also noticed that her gums looked sore, and so I gently brushed her teeth and gums using a diluted .15% solution of chlorhexidine gluconate, which made quite a difference. I decided to watch those gums in the future and perhaps brush the gums more often.  Zelina also began to get gray hair on her face, which I have seen on these dogs, often in the last year of their lives.  I resolved to spend more time with her, and tell her more often how lucky we had been to have her as a gift.   We feed our elderly dogs twice daily here, and so, this afternoon when my husband went to feed the older dogs we found her. Zelina had walked in from the outside to her indoor kennel, and collapsed and died when she was about halfway on her bed. Her eyes were open and judging from the absence of rigor, she had not been dead long. I suspect she had a myocardial infarction at about age thirteen and a half.

             For a large labrador, thirteen and a half is not a bad run, although I am still very upset.  Each of the animals here brings us joy, but they also mark the fact that time is passing quickly.  Our children have grown and there are little grandchildren who visit the farm now.  I am comforted by the fact that Zelina will see Sebastian and the other friends she had while she was here, but I am saddened by the passage of a loving and dear canine friend who was happy to see me whether I was feeding her, or gently brushing her teeth and then gently squirting her gums with nasty tasting mouthwash.

               I'll miss you Zelina, and so will the rest of us.  Please tell Sebastian and the others we miss and love them all.





  Sebastian's story       

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Last Years of Sweet Penny


                              Penny was a lemon and white, as seen in the far left corner


    Almost every year, hunters decollar and dump elderly dogs who can no longer hunt effectively, or sometimes they dump a dog with a medical problem. We do our best to give them whatever food and nutrition they require, and with a vet sympathetic to animal rescuers, we get them whatever immunizations and care is necessary.  For a time, we do look for the prior owner, just in case the dog was lost and the collar broke off. The pound is helpful with this, and then ultimately issues us adoption paperwork if the original owner is never located.

               Four years ago, in the Fall, a female bicolored brown hound was left at our gates. Because she could smell our other dogs and went to check them out, she allowed us to care for her, although she was timid and showed indications of being fearful of human beings.  The vet thought that she was extremely old and that she had given birth to many litters of puppies over the years. She received a rabies shot, routine immunizations and started heartworm preventive, which she tolerated well. She ate well and within a few months had gained the weight the vet thought was optimal. Within about six months she was running with our dogs and acting as if she'd spent a lifetime here.  Because the vet thought she could be as old as sixteen, we chose not to subject her to general anesthesia to be spayed.  Instead, we kept her in our professional kennel with other female dogs and watched her carefully when we took her out on a leash.

             In 2020, the vet believed that she was likely eighteen years of age or perhaps even older and that she could pass at any time. We tried not to think about this much, and it was also hard to believe especially since she was so excited when she was fed, or when we came to play with her.  Because she was so old, we decided to replace her bed with a comfortable and extra padded one in advance of Christmas, when we would normally replace any beds that required it.

              This morning, she was happy to see us, and was up while her water bucket was scrubbed and the water changed. She began to eat as we left the kennel.  This afternoon, when we came to do afternoon, and evening care, and to turn off the radio which runs during the day, she was quiet. She seemed stretched out and comfortable in her new bed. A quick look told us that she hadn't eaten much breakfast this morning. When we took a closer look, the quiet sleeping dog on the new bed wasn't breathing. Some time this afternoon, Penny had passed.  Her eyes are peacefully closed. There is no mess, and she isn't curled up as if she were cold.  As much as this was an extremely elderly dog whose passing was expected, we are sad. She loved her life almost as much as we enjoyed having her here.  Godspeed Penny.  Thank you for staying here and for taking the chance of coming here that September day four years ago.  You could have run away. You could have stayed at the gate waiting for the hunter who left you here, but you were a bright girl. You knew we would care for you. We will bury you and have a farm funeral tomorrow.  Penny, I love you and I am truly going to miss you.



Saturday, October 17, 2020

Henrietta "Boo-Boo" Hen and the End of an Era


                                            Eventually, as Winter came, a fitted tarp was secured to

                               the top of the kennel to prevent their flying out, and being caught by predators.




           Henrietta, "Boo-Boo" was a chick who hatched one summer from an unplanned breeding between one of my particularly speedy and beautiful quick moving Bantam girls, and a much larger Rhode Island Red rooster.  Unplanned, successful hatchings are rare, in part because some of the chickens aren't particularly good mothers and also because the temperature variant even in summer can be broad.  Most fertilized eggs, unless we incubate them do not result in a successful chick here.  Henrietta was one in a million. 

                Because she had been hatched at a time of year that was unusual, and was smaller than the other hens of her type, she tended to be picked on. She frequently received boo-boos, and they seemed to attack her comb, which is quite vascular and can bleed a great deal. Eventually I decided that the older girls were dangerous to her, and I decided to place her in a different hen house with a young rooster who could protect her.  The two happily played house together for years in their own pen, and survived attempts to get them by coyotes, raccoons, young foxes and even a possum. Each day, Henrietta produced a perfect brown egg, which I collected and usually used each day, mostly because she was so proud of the egg.

                After about thirteen years, her mate died, early on a Fall morning.  I wasn't sure what to do for Henrietta.  Eventually, I placed an elderly rooster, a brother of her former spouse, in the pen with her, and although she seemed relieved, I don't think it was quite the same. The following year, her second mate died of old age.

                By then, she was no longer producing eggs and I thought that perhaps she could live with a couple of girls who were also getting on in years. Unlike some farms, I do not cull the chickens when they no longer produce eggs.  It costs me little to allow them to live out their lifespans.  The hens did not welcome Henrietta, again seeming jealous.

                Eventually, I placed her with a Lavender Orpington rooster who, although he was beautiful and a bit vain, didn't seem to want to bother her.  He kept her safe, and she seemed grateful for it.  Recently, at what would normally have been about two years beyond her normal life expectancy, she got wobbly. I looked at her closely and decided that she probably had the end of life pneumonia that takes most of them in the end. I decided to provide one round of antibiotic, one because she had a roommate and I wished to keep him healthy, and two because she would not be eaten and would not be producing eggs and so the antibiotic would not cause food chain issues. She did seem to improve, and was eating and drinking well the following day. Several days after, one morning, I found that she had died while sleeping in what looked like a comfortable position.  Her latest rooster friend was most upset, not understanding how very old she really was, and how she had cheated death so many times in one way or another.

               Thank you God, for the gift of this sweet, gentle, long lived girl. She was the very model of gratitude,  Please keep her for me, until I get home to the farm in the sky, and I can resume my duties.

                 Although this is an ending, it is also a beginning. A couple of weeks after Henrietta's passing, I put the young Lavender Orpington rooster nearby five young Asian black hens I had bought.  In about fifteen weeks, he will begin his task as their protector.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

In Memory of Sweet Sheila

This is Sheila, during the Spring of her last year.

                       A couple of years after Daniel died, a new family moved in to a tall farmhouse, about four miles from here. They had a number of children and were determined, just as we had been, to provide their children with positive experiences with animals, and skills as to how to care for a variety of them.  The fields adjacent to their home, at that time, were filled with brown sheep.  A few times that week, I drove past the home while on errands.  On one of the times I drove past, I noticed a smaller sheep walking along the road, about a quarter mile from the field of sheep itself. I routinely keep a new leash in my glove compartment, which is usually used to rescue lost dogs I see from time to time, in our rural area. This time I  parked at the side of the country road, approached the sheep, and wrapped the leash around his neck and gently secured it while talking gently to him. He happily followed me back to the house with the sheep, which is where I had imagined he'd come from. The lady who answered the door was watching children as the mother had just come home from the hospital with a new baby. She struggled to find a leash so that I could have mine returned as she relocated the sheep.

                  When I next had occasion to talk to the family and ask them how the mom and new baby were doing, I learned that it was the mother-in-law who had collected the sheep that day. The man thanked me for returning the sheep and asked me if I would like to take home a couple of the sheep.  I wouldn't normally have wished to take on two sheep, but with several of our kids in college, we had recently decided not to breed alpacas any longer, and we thought Cammie, our youngest alpaca, might enjoy a young sheep as a surrogate baby. We were happy to take on a second sheep because ideally, animals should always be housed with at least one other of their own species.

                  The man charged us a nominal fee for the young male sheep, and the same for his mother.   He told us that they were Cotswold sheep, in fact, they were even rarer than that. They were Black Cotswold sheep.  He was parting with them because both of them tended to be escapists, and because he had more than enough animals suitable for breeding.   We brought them home, in a regular car with tarpaulins put down,  to pastures set up for our alpacas, and to our family of about five alpacas from our original herd, and never had any challenges with their attempting to escape. I later decided that both Sheila, and her son, were brighter than normal sheep and that this is why they had tended to challenge restrictions in their original home.  At first, they were kept separately from the alpacas, and then after a suitable introduction and time spent to make sure everyone was well,  Sheila, the female sheep was housed with some alpacas. The younger male sheep, which we named Tesla for his superior intellect, was housed with Cammie, our prize alpaca.  Everyone got along well.

                 Almost ten years have passed since Sheila and her son came to live with us. They have been trouble free and gentle creatures, and great companions to our alpacas. As time went on, and our alpacas reached twenty to twenty-four years, one by one, most of the alpacas died.  This left more and more pasture and more solitude to Sheila.  Earlier this year when I was considering the routine worming that all animals on a farm should have considered, I realized that Sheila was already beyond normal life expectancy.  I realized how lucky we have been to have this lovely sweet sheep with us each day. She was able to see her son Tesla daily, as part of his pasture was adjacent to hers.

                Sheila continued a calm and peaceful life until a day last week, when she seemed a little slower than usual to rise as I approached.  We made sure we spent plenty of time with her that day. The following day, she had Cheyne-Stokes respirations, and she died peacefully later that morning, while we were present.

               Sheila was the recipient of a typical farm funeral just outside the paddock with all of the animals, including her son Tesla present.   We were so lucky to have this dear creature as a companion to us and to our other animals.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Your Pets Cannot Give You Coronavirus


                This is Ranger, who was sheltered for a time at the shelter mentioned.

  It has come to my attention that in the midst of coronavirus that in some places, particularly Southern California, that people are abandoning their pets in droves.  Although some early coverage stated incorrectly,

 Your dog, cat, rabbit or other house pet cannot give the COVID-19 coronavirus to you.

All that relinquishing him with do, in these times, is to ensure his euthanization.  Many, many pets have been euthanized during this time because of the disparity between the number of animals being relinquished and the number being adopted.

                 Please keep your animals. 

   If you wish to adopt an animal then contact your local pound or find our when East Valley Animal Services is open again. They always have lots of beautiful dogs and animals waiting for homes, and they euthanize many.

Monday, February 24, 2020

In Gratitude for Sable



          In 2009, we were called to adopt a beautiful adult dog from a shelter who had a persistent and ongoing case of dermodectic mange.  This is a type of mange that is not communicable, per se, but is caused by an exaggerated reaction to the mites that all dogs naturally have occupying their skin. Often dogs with ongoing dermodectic mange, have other autoimmune issues, which occasionally include lupus.

             Sable was a beautiful dog who still had missing fur around her eyes and muzzle. We were told that now that her dermodectic mange had been treated that it should resolve and she should live normally.  We knew at the time that the possibility of recurrence existed.  In not too many years prior to this, dogs with ongoing cases had to be euthanized.

              About a month later, Sable once again had a severe case of dermodectic mange. She was itching, losing hair, had infected eyes, and had areas of skin that were also infected.  Our vet treated the infections, but needed to do some research as to how to suppress as severe and as continuing a case as she had.   Once again, she recovered, only to backslide again, every time the daily drug which helped to prevent her reaction was withdrawn or the dosing schedule amended.  In addition, Sable had a touchy stomach and couldn't receive the oral version of the drug as often as she needed it to inhibit the reaction.   Eventually, the vet had me administer Dectomax, which we had on the farm for other animals anyway.  Sable received about a half ml. subcutaneously every third day, and this permitted her to recover, and live a normal life.  Of course, medicating any dog as frequently, with any drug, is not well charted territory.  As much as she needed the drug, receiving it could ultimately cause liver and other problems. Each year, the vet explored cutting back, and each year, Sable would have a flare, and we would have to return to the prior dose. At some intervals, she received Dectomax every other day via subcutaneous injection.   We realized that the continuous use of the drug might decrease her expected lifespan. We also were grateful to have her live a wonderful life here on the farm, and not require euthanization.

             Eleven years have passed since beautiful Sable came to us, and she has enjoyed a wonderful life and has been an important part of the farm. She has played with horses, alpacas, cats, chickens, guineas, ducks, sheep, and other dogs, and now she plays with our grandchildren. Her jet black hair is now gray in places, and her eyes have aged. Despite the thickening of parts of her skin as a result of her ongoing skin process, she still has thick hair, so much so that she frequently resists our putting a turn out style dog coat on her in Winter.

             A couple of days ago, Sable went out, and didn't come back in. When we found her, she seemed unable to walk and more concerning, unable to eat. We have had dogs recover from strokes before and so we were initially very positive. She received an antibiotic in prevention because her lungs seems congested following her neurological event. For the two days that followed, she peacefully lay on her side. We offered food and fluids at intervals, and were prepared to have her euthanized, had she experienced pain or tooth grinding.  Sable passed peacefully in the early afternoon today, probably the result of a stroke.

             When we take on an animal with a chronic illness then we must anticipate some added effort and some expense, but we also should expect a loyal and kind friend. Sometimes a dog who has required specialized medication all of their lives will die early, but sometimes they won't.  My family and I don't regret even one moment of the time we had with Sable.   Sable sweetheart, rest in peace, and thank you for being a part of the farm. It was our honor and privilege to have you here.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The End of an Era

                        A few years ago, these were our ducks. A number of them were older than ten years, and continuing to do well.  Ducks are great animals. They need a clean and secure cage, a kids pool that is changed regularly, and drinking water and good quality food.  They also enjoy salad greens periodically.

                        After more than ten or even more years, some of them began to pass quietly, often in their sleep. But as these animals grew and aged, things around this farm changed too.  Back twenty years ago when we first acquired most of this land, the eight hundred acres or so, close to it or around it, was timbered, and then replanted. Many animals relocated following the timbering. However, in Virginia, wood is very much a renewable resource. Often within 15 years the pine forests are completely back, and the oaks take longer.  While my ducks were growing up, and secure in their dog kennel with a canvas roof, with wooden dog houses inside for shelter, the surrounding woods were growing and thickening.  Animals were returning to the forest, and raising families. With the heavy rains of the last couple of years, the number of family members the predators had, increased.  As my ducks aged, and got slower, and perhaps forgot not to stand near the edges of the doors which have a small space animals might use to grab them, the predators were growing in number and training their young.

                     Within the last couple of years all but two of the above ducks either died of natural causes or as meals to creative young predators.  This week, only two of them were left.  Two of the brown Khaki Campbells, Dexter and Millard, were old, but they were surviving.  They also seemed pretty good at remaining within their dog houses, in their pens, at night.  Their pens looked pretty solid to me, although we have learned over the years that as Winter approaches, hungry raccoons, hungry oppossums, can access most any enclosure.  We have also learned that foxes, both grey and red varieties, when training a group of young, can access almost anything and risk almost anything to feed their young.  So this week, Dexter was found first. A predator had grabbed for him through the very narrow frame around the door of the duck pen. The only good thing about this, is that he likely died very suddenly. Often when only one animal is left somewhere, I move them, but I wasn't sure where I could move the remaining duck, Millard, who also had some markings which suggested he was a Khaki Campbell and Mallard mix.  This morning, when we went to check on all the animals, Millard had been caught exactly as his brother had been.  The ducks lived long lives here, but are now gone.

                   We had ducks here because it was an important part of educating our five children, and because Daniel especially loved them, and got them for Easter one year when he was very small. We enjoyed them because we did occasionally make omelets from their big eggs, which are excellent scrambled or in omelets with chopped chives and cheese added to them. They also make wonderful cakes which stand very tall, when used as a substitution for chicken's eggs. When we had many extra eggs, we also cooked them and gave them as an occasional treat to our dogs, many of which are rescues and could use some extra protein periodically.  We also noticed that female ducks tended to pass before male ducks, we think due to their more complex reproductive systems.   This is therefore the end of about a fifteen or so year era of having and enjoying ducks.

                 I will miss Dexter and Millard very much, as I miss the others, but now, with the forest regrown, and the predators ready for a pre-Winter Thanksgiving meal of delicious duck, it seems foolish to have ducks here again.  We no longer have wolves here, but there are plenty of coyotes, a number of which were thinned by hunters last year.  This generally causes their numbers of coyotes at least, to swell again the following year. We also have a bumper crop of gray and of red foxes, the result of a neighbor who was licensed to breed them for hunting, and then during a flood, lost almost all of his breeding stock. We now have rather demanding gray and red fox, who will directly challenge us from time to time. We also once saw a black fox.   Possums and raccoons abound here, and so, our ducks, whether young or old, would be endangered.

                  Perhaps the kindest thing to do is to admit that the farm has changed and that poultry may not be safe here any longer.  We will miss you.