Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Saving Miss Sally


            Many people who have dogs don't realize that a dog who has a stroke can have a near complete recovery, just weeks after the event.  Many years ago, when our children were small, I had an elderly dog, I'd had through childhood, who had a stroke. The vet told us that since I was home each day, and I could put a little work into hand feeding him and holding a water dish up to his face that he didn't want to euthanize him, at least not yet.  So, I walked my dog who had terrible balance, about six times a day. I hand fed him and watered him, and gave him the 81 mg. aspirin daily that the vet had ordered.  As a nurse, I wasn't at all sure that what we were doing was productive. The vet told me that the dog didn't need to recover enough to drive a car or balance a checkbook, just to be a family member, and to give and receive love, and so we did as we were told. The dog enjoyed what appeared to be a full recovery and died a couple of years later, with his head in my lap. I haven't forgotten this.
                A bit more than a week ago when Sally, the golden labrador we have had since the beginning of the 2000s, had a stroke, I was determined to try the same strategies that had worked before.  Sally is a larger dog, and our challenge was not food, water, defecation and urination, but getting her to stand up and assume the position for ambulation. We eventually placed a belt under her back end, to help support her weak back legs through the most acute part of this illness. It really did look dire, but then, I remembered to believe. I no longer have the scrappy vet I had in those early years. He has long since retired, but I often remember the things he taught me.
                Sally gets her 81 mg. of aspirin. The present day vet thought an antibiotic was a good move too, in the event there was an evolving pneumonia mixed into the stroke, as well. Almost two weeks later, she is getting up by herself, eating normally, using the bathroom normally, and disliking her regular bathing just as much as she ever did.
                 I know that Sally is an old girl and that she will be called home some day likely this year, but it was worth the work and challenges to see that she recovered from this particular episode. I knew she would have done the same for me. When I come to attend her, she gets up and wags her tail, still. Sometimes, it's wise to believe just a little longer.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Life Well Spent: The Life of Chocolat

This is Chocolat. His sister lives to our right, and his friend Walter to our left in the picture.

                          Although we'd had alpacas from 1999 on, the first baby alpaca or cria wasn't born to our farm until July 12, 2002, when a ten pound chocolate colored male was born, whom we quite naturally called Chocolat.  Chocolate was born to our herd sire Mr Ditto Two and to Queen Isabelle. Alpacas are interesting animals for many reasons one of them being that they are able to throw crias of different colors than themselves, often throwing a color of one of their ancestors. Mr. Ditto Two was jet black, and Queen Isabelle was a brownish rose color with some white markings. The entire herd rejoiced when Chocolat was born.
                           The following year, Shakria, a sister to Chocolat was born, and she did not establish nursing as well as she should have, and although we were in the process of correcting this, she died suddenly one morning, while we checked upon her. This was the first time that our alpacas thought that we might not always have all the answers. If we couldn't help them keep this young cria alive, then perhaps we weren't really trustworthy.  This time, the herd grieved, and there was nothing we could do, other than be attentive to their needs and sympathetic to their issues.  We did bring soccer balls to them and for a time, they enjoyed playing was truly resembled a soccer game. This ended when the vet said that one of them would eventually fracture a leg and need to be euthanized. I still remember the day I replaced soccer balls with tether balls.
                           The year which followed that one brought one more sister for Chocolat. Warrior Princess Camellia was born the following summer.  This time we identified her feeding difficulties immediately, and a veterinarian came, taught us to tube feed her until she grew a little larger, and gave her a blood transfusion in the hope of conveying the antibodies she needed.  As time passed, Camellia and Chocolat grew.  They lived in different pastures, but I think they knew that they were of the same parents.
                         The year that we sold and built a second farm, their mother, Queen Isabelle was diagnosed with astrocytoma. This may have been the root cause of her having difficulty producing adequate milk for her crias. Queen Isabelle died fairly quickly after her diagnosis, leaving the herd grieving once again.
                         By 2018, many of the alpacas that were part of the original herd have passed. Alpacas generally are felt to have a fifteen year life span, but at times, we have had individuals live as long as about twenty-three. Since alpacas are herd animals and cannot live as singles, we are faced with difficult decisions as we must keep adding one to keep the basic required number of three.  On May the 13th, we face this decision once again.  Chocolat, who was fine that morning, was found in the early afternoon, on his side, with labored irregular breathing. He passed shortly after.  He leaves a small herd consisting of his sister Camellia in he neighboring paddock, and his friend Walter, a white alpaca in the opposite neighboring paddock. These animals are the last of an era. We are at a loss as to whether to keep adding one more, one more, or not. I hope we do because we made a lifetime commitment to care for this family of animals, a long time ago.  Goodbye Chocolat. Thank you for coming.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Departure of Brown Betty

Brown Betty is the hen to the left of the waterer.

   Brown Betty was hatched here in an incubator in 2009. She was part of the mass hatching that my husband and I did, for the first time, the year after our youngest son died. We were determined to make this place a farm, just as we believed our youngest son would have.  We did everything so carefully that the hatching of fertilized eggs which normally yields a 50% viability, yielded 100%. (I will admit to helping two of the chicks get out of the eggs, when they might not have emerged otherwise.) Both those two I had helped, later died of cardiac anomalies, which leads us to consider whether leaving the weaker chicks in the eggs might be the kinder action to take, but one never really does know.

                    Brown Betty was not one of the largest hens, but she was not one of the smaller ones either. She was a maternal hen, and I noticed that she was helpful to each set of chicks, even when only one or two were hatched each year, even when we weren't deliberately hatching any. Brown Betty was good to chicks even when they weren't her own.

                    This year, Brown Betty would already be nine years old. One afternoon, in the past couple of weeks, we went out and fed all the chickens, and she was there at the feeding trough. A short time later, there she was dead at the side of the trough. There were no markings, she was afebrile, no obvious infection, nothing. All I can think is that she collapsed and died of a heart attack. Chickens do have heart attacks sometimes. I am glad that she likely did not suffer and likely died very quickly.

                      This morning Brown Betty was buried in a nice spot overlooking the poultry family she had known for her long life. Somehow, she had eluded foxes, possums, raccoons, and birds that occasionally plucked a rooster from the yard, and then broke their necks and carried them off as food.  She will be missed by chickens and by human beings alike.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Benjamin's Passing: After a Long Life


Great big beautiful Benjamin


  Daniel's beloved golden retriever, Benjamin, died early this morning.  Benjamin was adopted through an agency in Fredericksburg, back in 2006, when he was just under two years old and kept wandering from the small yard of a suburban home there.  This means that in 2018, Benjamin would have been almost an unheard of fourteen years old for a large breed ! Benjamin was also a little larger than the breed standard.   He enjoyed an excellent life here and was loved very much.  He received extra love and care after his "boy died".   Daniel would have wanted Benjamin, especially, who had a puppy temperament and would mouthe everything, to have received extra loving care.
                     Benjamin was quite healthy up to about this week.  We knew that the extreme cold outside placed him at risk, and so he was coming in from the kennel to the basement at night. We knew last night that something was a little off.  He was very tired and wanted to sleep rather than play. Very late last night we noticed Cheyne-Stokes respirations, and I sat with him for a couple of hours. He was peacefully sleeping by four am, and I slept a couple of hours then myself. I arose at five am, to find a newly deceased and still warm dog.  Gosh, even at fourteen plus years old, he was still a gorgeous dog.  He will be buried here on the farm, the day after tomorrow.

             Benjamin was always playful, and had a ton of toys all through his life. We always theorized  that his breeder had parted him from his mother early.

                      Thank you for trusting us and coming home with me that day, Benjamin.  I wouldn't have missed having you here for the world. I know Daniel and Dad will look after you, until we see each other again.  I love you, Buddy.

This is an earlier post that discusses the adoption of Benjamin:


  You will be missed, you great big cuddly Benjaminal hunk of dog....

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Please See: Safety in Secluded Areas

       This week the world lost a young woman who was a helper in animal rescue. She loved both dogs and horses.

 Please read my article on my other blog:


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Proper Planning for the Animals on Our Farms


        Recently, in a rural county not too far from our own, a woman, nearly eighty, fractured a hip and was admitted to the hospital for a repair of that hip. A major fracture at eighty is often repaired by an adept orthopedist, but many persons approaching such an age, die from the hazards of immobility, stroke, reactions to anesthesia, etc.   She instructed her children to care for her animals on her forty acre farm, in her absence. Unfortunately, it was a bit more challenging than they had signed on for.
              This week, animal control officers in hazmat suits removed 560 animals from her farm to a central location within the county in order to properly care for them. There is also a call out to citizens for a variety of animal supplies for them.  Some of the animals at the farm were being housed in overcrowded conditions and had died in advance of the animal control officers arrival to the site.    Things of this description happen enough all over the country and probably in the world, often enough that we should discuss it.

             Although there are people who are simply "pound junkies", and who repeated acquire more animals than they have the time or funds to care for, this is not always the case.   Many times, people raise animals, and then other animals in their area find them, and wish to stay. Sometimes, hunters drop off old dogs at such a place.  Sometimes others dump unwanted kittens there. It is often not a case of the person choosing to acquire all of the animals they might have.
             There is also another issue in play. I have lived in a rural place since my thirties. I have had a number of animals since then.  As I age though, I may not be able to handle the amount of animals I have had when I was younger.  We must all begin to develop realistic ideas about the number and type of animals we can consistently care for ourselves.  We must also have emergency plans for their care should we be temporarily or even permanently called away from those tasks.

            For the sake of avoiding more cases of this type, I wanted to list some suggestions and things we should talk about with the objective of avoiding similar situations.

1. When we are young, we probably can own and care for the largest number of multi-species animals. Many people care for cats, dogs, chickens, ducks and horses.  However, as we begin to age, we may not be able to keep up with immunizations, proper  bathing, grooming, worming,  exercise, maintaining animal structures, and activating an evacuation plan for them in emergencies.  Therefore, we should consider, as the animals gradually die, as they reach old age, not replacing that particular species.  Already, I no longer seek puppies, choosing instead to accept a mature dog that I, most likely, will outlive.

2.  As we age, we should also be careful to select animals whose species do not require large amounts of work.  Alpacas are lovely animals, but in a lot of climates, they require monthly injections in order to avoid meningeal worm which can be fatal. They also require regular nail trimming, and they must be sheared annually.  This may be easily possible for us at 36, but perhaps not quite so easy for us at 65.

3.  With a normal horse lifespan being 25-30 years, middle aged adults can still own them. It would probably be best to acquire adult horses, again so that they do not outlive you.   Miniature horses can live as long as 35 years, and with excellent care possibly longer.  Therefore a woman of 70 probably shouldn't buy a herd of miniature horses. who still need grooming, worming, immunization and farrier care.

4. Since anyone can break a leg, require an appendectomy, or fracture ribs in a car accident, we all need to have emergency plans for animal care.  If you were injured and could not care for your animals for two weeks, who would care for them ?  Two of my horses were sold to me when two different owners required cancer treatment and were no longer able to care for their horses.    If there a notebook already in existence with each species care typed out, with amounts of food indicated ?   There should be. Your approximate routine with your animals should also be indicated in such a notebook.

5. While you are addressing emergency care for your animals, you should also establish a notebook with plans for emergency evacuation of your animals from your farm.  Anyone can need to evacuate their animals.  Flooding can occur in many places, and we could need to evacuate animals where I am simply due to forest fires.

6. Speak with your rural vet about where your animals could go in emergencies and who could care for them. Once you find cooperative arrangements with others, in emergencies, you should be prepared to perform the same talk for others.   Networking with other farmers or with wildlife rehabilitators may also have other positive aspects.  I received a number of veterinary handbooks, and farm animal equipment recently from someone who sold their farm. They only knew me because I had agreed to be a temporary home for their horses should a flood or fire emergency trigger their emergency relocation.

7.  Speak with your family members as to who will acquire and care for your animals after your own death. This is not a pleasant subject, but its discussion is essential.  Your animals deserve something better than starvation, or a quick trip to the pound. This issue also underscores the importance of not acquiring too many animals.

8. If you have elderly parents, then have a conversation with them as to whether they have chosen anyone to care for their animals when they are gone.

     It is not my intention to tell anyone when they have aged beyond owning an animal.   It is my intention, however, to call your attention to the idea that once your animals live out their lifespans and pass, that species with long lives should probably not be reacquired.  It is also my intention to help those who are the recipient of large numbers of strays to realize that they, in tandem with other animal rescuers and local animal authorities, need to find homes beyond your property for them.

        I am not yet old, yet I am down to only eight farm dogs of different types for different purposes, three cats (including barn cats and strays), seven guinea fowl, twelve chickens, four ducks, three alpacas, four horses, and two sheep.    At one time, when our children were teens, there were far more animals here on this large farm.   Now there are fewer and many of them are not only elderly, but they have lived past what is a normal expected lifespan for their species.  Within a couple of years, through simple attritian, there will be far fewer.  The challenge then will be not to replace very many of them.

         This is an unpleasant subject because it requires that we, the "owners" of our animals recognize that we also have finite lifespans, and that some of our animals may outlive us.  Still, our animals deserve such plans being made for them.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Remembering Bagel and Moppet

This isn't Bagel, but this picture reminds me of him when he was a puppy.

   This post first appeared on one of my other blogs:

         If I Were to be Honest

  In the late nineteen-seventies, right after I got my driver's license, my first official duty while driving alone was to stop at the post office in the next town. While I was there, a man with a shotgun in the back of his truck was giving away free puppies. He had only two left and he said he would shoot them at nightfall, if he were unable to find them homes. I took the male, and another man in the parking lot took the female.

                  My mother was not happy. She didn't think that anyone would shoot a puppy simply because it hadn't found a home. I was commuting to community college at the time, having graduated from high school early and the last thing she needed with another Northeastern winter coming, was a puppy. No matter how much I insisted that I would take care of it, she knew that at least sometimes, she would be called upon to do something with it, and she wasn't a dog person.
                 I did my best to take care of  the puppy. A year later, I was being sent fifty and eighty miles away to various clinicals in a nursing program, and my mother, and sometimes, my father, pinch hit for me with the puppy, who was now quite tall, and that I had named Bagel.   Bagel was light brown with medium length hair, and white markings. He was a hound with a beagly looking head, a mix I'm sure. He was kind, gentle, and an "all over you" kind of dog.
                  For the most part, Bagel was an "easy keeper".   He was a loving friend and didn't cause much trouble, except for the time he jumped through the plate glass window when the neighbor's dog was in heat.  I took Bagel to be neutered afterward during spring break.  My poor mother was actually charged with having the dog off her five acre lot, thanks to the rather nasty neighbor who had the dog in heat, and my mother paid the small fine.

                   By 1981, I had married and I was working as a registered nurse, and I lived in a garden apartment about forty miles from my parent's home.  I wished I could have Bagel, and our other dog, Moppet, with me, but the place I lived only allowed one tiny dog, or cat, and neither were small.  I visited when I could, and made sure they both knew they were were loved.  By about 1982, we had bought our very first home.  It was in a rural area, on a mountain. The house itself was small, but I could have my dogs there. At first, my mother didn't want me to take the dogs with me, citing that occasional barking probably kept the house safer than not having them there.  Eventually though, I visited both dogs one summer day and found that they were both without water for a second time. I took them with me that afternoon.

                  My starter home had been a seasonal cabin in the Ramapo Mountain Range near a couple of lakes. There were lots of copperhead snakes in the woods, and in the prior summer someone had killed a rattlesnake. However, my own property was small.  The dogs didn't have the range they'd had at my parents home. I was really happy to have them both with me, but I also worked a lot and so I felt that I wished that I could have been at home more for them.

                  The following spring when I got my income tax return, we decided to fence our entire property so that when I was home, the dogs could be free, at least on the property. I hired two young contractors who had their own fencing business. Bagel especially, warmed to the young owner. One day, he brought both dogs, eggs, bacon and sausage in a dish.  The young contractor played with Bagel and said to him a couple of times, "I would love to have a dog like you on my forty acre farm."  On the last day the contractors were there finishing up my beautiful fencing, the owner asked me if I would consider giving Bagel to him. He said that would always care for him and would feed him excellent food.  He would allow him full run of the forty acres he had, which was apparently not far off Route 80 in what was then, very rural Hope, New Jersey. He also said that when the weather was good, he planned to take the dog with him to work. He told me that I could call to see how he was doing and perhaps even visit him if I wanted to. The man clearly loved the dog and the dog certainly adored him.  I felt foolish because here I was, fencing my yard for my dogs, and I was agreeing to give my dog to a man in a situation that would have been better for him.   My other dog was elderly, and would probably enjoy being an only dog, who could come in to the house more than she had been.  So the following day the man came with a new collar, leash, expensive dog food, to see me and to make sure I was alright with his collecting Bagel.  I wished the dog good luck, and hugged him. I told the man that if ever he had a problem, to bring the dog back to me.
                 I was sad after Bagel left, but I wanted him to have everything and I thought that the man he's grown attached to, could do that. My other dog was enjoying the attention.
                 On a Saturday two weeks later, the fencing contractor drove up to my house. He told me that Bagel had spent every day since trying to find a way to get back to me. A couple of days earlier, the contractor had actually located the dog on Route 80 heading East to try to get back to my home.  He said he knew then that the dog would be hit by a car if he kept him and so, he had to return him to me.  He let Bagel keep the new collar, leash and the bag of new food.  Bagel was thrilled to see me, and licked me profusely. Then, he licked the man, who had tears in his eyes, as if to thank him for returning him.

                  I had not understood how attached Bagel had been to me. I felt guilty that I had thought that a better living situation would please him more than the love I had given him from puppyhood. I would not make the same mistake again.  Even Moppet was happy to see Bagel.
                  Over the next couple of years we had two babies in that house, a boy and a girl.  We had an addition put on the house, but ultimately, we moved to a home in Virginia. I still remember driving the family car down to Virginia with both babies in car seats while my husband drove the largest rented yellow Ryder truck. Everything we owned was in the back of the truck, and the two dogs rode in the cab with him, because it was well air conditioned.

                   We fenced and built a kennel at our new home for both Bagel and Moppet and the two of them lived until both our babies were school children.  Moppet died suddenly as a very old girl indeed. In old age,  Bagel had a couple of strokes, and made near full recoveries. Eventually, he had one more, and I brought him with me to pick up the kids from school and then to see the vet. He lay on the front seat with his head on my lap, contentedly, took one more breath, and died.

                  The next time someone on Craigslist or somewhere else says their circumstances have changed and that "their dog might be happier with someone with more time and a larger yard", please remember Bagel. He spent two weeks each day trying to get back to the original human being who'd rescued him as a six week old puppy. He didn't care where I lived or how much of my time was taken by a job or then by young babies. He didn't care that my house on a mountaintop had only a quarter acre.  He didn't care that we'd moved from rural New Jersey to blisteringly hot Virginia. He cared that he was with his human.  It is very likely that your dog feels exactly the same about you.