Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Recalling the Lucky Acquisition of Benjamin

This post first aired in June, 2013    on my blog "What I Learned from Daniel"

I am reprising it here as our acquisition of Benjamin occurred in Autumn, and because as Benjamin ages, this is a cherished memory.


Benjamin, at age nine, at 108 pounds of muscle.

    In November of 2006, my beloved Susan, a golden retriever and cocker spaniel mix, passed away after a long fourteen year lifespan.   She was a beautiful girl and was very good with kids.  She was selected by our son Matthew when he was a very small boy, and Susan was six weeks or so.  She successfully fought breast cancer at age seven.  (Yes, dogs have mastectomies too.)   She was a lovely girl who looked just like a  scaled down golden retriever.  She was protective of the kids, and if she thought someone was a danger to me, her diminutive size did not prevent her letting the person know she would defend me.  I will miss her all of my remaining life.
            After Susan's passing, I instinctively knew that this would mark the beginning of a trail of losses, and in fact, it did portend a trail of losses.  I decided that although no animal ever really can replace another, that as a tribute to Susan, I would provide a home to an animal in need, similar to her breed if possible. In our area, absolutely no golden/cocker mixes needed homes, although I did find a woman who was deliberately breeding them, and charging a fortune for them.  On Petfinder, I eventually found a large male golden retriever who was in a pound in a city about two hours from here.  I headed up there to find that pet adoption was not at all a simple matter.  First, although he had been advertised, I needed to wait two weeks to allow his original owners to return to claim him.  It turned out that he was a frequent flyer there.  His owners lived in a small home with a small yard and this large male golden was forever being turned in to the pound by others, as he liked to wander. There was still the possibility that his owners would come to get him in the next couple of weeks.  So I visited him a couple of times, and waited for the day he would be deemed free for adoption.   Secondly, there was another problem.  He was a pedigreed dog who was non-neutered and the laws of that locality prohibited me from taking him unless he could be neutered and microchipped there, before I took him home.   Finally, we arranged for him to be neutered  there.  Lastly, the Perfinder ad had generated a buzz and no less than eleven people wanted this particular dog, despite the fairly high adoption fee.  I was told that they would release him to the person who was there earliest that morning.  They advised me to drive in that evening, and remain there all night in order to be the first.  Normally, I would have let the dog go to someone who lived nearer, but I knew that this dog needed large spaces, and that the suburbanites who lived close by probably couldn't keep him happy or contained.  The afternoon before he was available, I drove in, told them I was there, and that I was prepared to wait all night. I provided them with a letter stating the time I had arrived at the pound, as they had requested.  I got something to eat,  used the pound's bathroom, and sat in my car listening to the radio.   Despite all the bright lights outside the pound, I fell asleep in the reclining seat of my car, at about 10 pm.   I awoke with a start at around 2am.  A man with a van had driven up beside me, and had scotch taped an envelope to their door.   He must be there for another dog, as I am.  Finally, despite the late hour, he spoke with me through my car window.  I wouldn't open the car window very wide and was ready to drive off, if necessary.  It was 2 am and I did not know this man.  Unfortunately, he too was there hoping to get the large male golden retriever, and was not pleased to hear that I had been there since 4:30 pm.  He was a military man and was kind and charming.  We spoke for several hours, about our kids, our spouses, and dogs and under different circumstances, I think our families would have become friends. He tried really hard to convince me that he would take good care of this dog, but alas, he had a  suburban home, with a smaller yard, and I really believed that this big wandering dog belonged on our fifty plus acres, or another farm perhaps even larger.  Also, Daniel really believed that this dog belonged with us, and I didn't want to let him down either.  Eventually, as the sun rose that morning, the man left.  He gave me his e-mail so I could let him know how the dog worked out   (I also think he wanted to get the dog should I take him home and then change my mind.)  By the time the pound reopened, I was desperate to use their bathroom, and they waited even another hour before processing the adoption.  I still had to return to get him in  several days afterward because he needed to be neutered and microchipped.   I picked him up late one afternoon as he was still groggy from anesthesia and drove the two hours back to the farm.
            We called our big behemoth of a dog Benjamin.    He stayed in the laundry room recovering from his neutering for a few days, and then he would be gradually introduced to our other dogs, alpacas, ducks and chickens.  Benjamin was already more than a year old, but he was a giant puppy.  He mouthed everything, an earmark of a dog who was likely separated from his mother before the six week mark.  He chewed everything, and did not seem to be the sharpest tool in the shed.  Daniel adored him.  He was a big lolloping dog, the type of dog who really could lick you to death.  If he jumped up on you, he really could knock you down.   The first thing he did at home, was to extract all of his own stitches.   This necessitated a trip to the highly pricey Veterinary Critical Care Center, which I swear, should have a wing named for our family, or for at least our animals.   They restapled the area, and placed him on an antibiotic.

              I made the right decision to remain in the car all night.  Benjamin loved this farm, our family and especially Daniel.  He has never once attacked a chicken or duck.   He sometimes sneaks away and gets wet and dirty at a nearby farms large pond, but usually he stays very close to us. He has never walked well on a leash.  You don't walk Benjamin. He drags you or you practically fly while he runs.  Eventually I found that a leash was the wrong thing to be using.  He does better with an alpaca lead rope with a knot on the end.   The wandering pup really did find his final home that first day.. I don't think Benjamin understood when Daniel passed.   The other dogs seemed to, but I think Benjamin has always expected him to be back.   Until then, Benjamin is content to play with three huge linked rubber rings that we will throw and he will return to us.  Benjamin remains a gentle and occasionally childlike giant.

               This has been a wetter Spring than normal, and usually when Benjamin gets wet, I don't worry much.  This year, I noticed that Benjamin was spending more time underneath a run-in my husband build for him. (Yes, just like the kind that horses have in fields, and it's a bit like a manger)     Benjamin has a place in the kennel but seldom uses it, preferring instead a life outside.   He also looked sad this week.   On Saturday, my husband and I got a chance to really take a look at him and we were shocked.   Ben is now about eight years old, and usually his fur stays nice and clean with a minimum of bathing and brushing even during molting.   This time, there was matted hair, and when we cut away the matted hair, the remaining wet hair had maggots.   We got out the dog shears we bought new and have never needed to use, only to find that they didn't work !   We decided to cut back his fur and give him a good bath.   This means that without all this hair, Benjamin will have to remain inside, because sunburn could be a problem.   It took two long sessions, but we trimmed back all the hair, cleaned the hot spots, and placed antibiotic powder on the more irritated regions.  He couldn't remain in his section in the kennel because the biting flies, which are terrible this year with all the rain, were still after him there.  He is currently lying on a sponge mattress in our garage, with a fan nearby, and a radio on.  I plan to take him to the vet today to rule out any medical problems which made him vulnerable to the insect attack in the first place.  He could have an infection of some kind, or be newly diabetic which could contribute to such an issue.

Yes, he is a big boy !

                               We're running Benjamin to the vet this morning.  I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE:   Benjamin isn't diabetic and doesn't have an obvious infection.  He does, however, have a significant and new allergy at age eight which has made a large section of his back red and raw.  He was sedated and completely shaved, and then the vet and her team scrubbed him with an antibacterial solution.  (I think it was Chlorhexidine)  They shaved him to the point of being pink and very bald !   Then, three hours later he came home with corticosteroids by mouth, a large dose of antibiotics for a number of days, an antihistamine, and he's also taking a probiotic to avoid diarrhea with the antibiotic in the event that it kills off his normal gut flora.   Sweet Benjamin isn't in his kennel, but he is lying on a soft blanket on the concrete floor of the garage, until he is feeling better.  Then it's time for major spoiling !

UPDATE:    Benjamin has remained healthy ever since.  He is fairly old for a large dog and so we appreciate and cherish each day together.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Goodbye Sweet Prince

Jared at fourteen

      Many of our animals live well beyond normal life expectancy, and I need to remind myself of this, particularly when I announce their passings.

                   Jared was adopted by us in 2001 from a local shelter about an hour before he was to be euthanized.  At the time, he was a fairly neurotic purebred Siberian Husky who ,as a puppy, had lived in a truck and had eaten primarily from a Wendy's Drive Thru window.  He wasn't at all sure he was a dog. He didn't wish to live outside with a new dog house, and for a time, he couldn't sleep anywhere but in a moving car.  He may have been our most challenging canine rescue.  Jared would also howl at night. The howling created quite a problem with one of our neighbors, and ,at the time, we were living on ninety acres !
                    It took a long time, but eventually Jared became acclimated to our original farm, to our other dogs and to our alpacas.  Jared needed a lot of play time outside, and had an unfortunate habit of taking off for his own personal Iditarod run almost every year.  He may have had a big and loving heart, but he had a poor sense of direction. He easily became lost when he entered the woods.  He also could travel very great distances and then would be unable to find his way home.  I once invested thirty hours looking for him.   I papered the area with his picture and drove the car in circles for miles looking for people who may have seen him.  That time, he was located in a farm about eight miles from here. He wouldn't let anyone catch him, but ran right up to me when they called me having seen the ad, and I came to get him.  Our eldest son perfected some tracking skills when the time for the personal Iditarod would come for Jared. Although all of our kids loved Jared, our son Daniel was especially fond of him.  When Daniel died, Jared was clearly saddened.   Much later, when we adopted a young teen boy, I was privately very pleased that he liked Jared, and spent time walking him. Jared had found another boy to love in his own remaining time on Earth.

                 Old age clearly came to Jared in the last couple of years.  He had gastrointestinal issues which necessitated ongoing medications.  A half a ranitidine in food per day would keep him eating.  When he wouldn't eat his regular food, we would get something from the Wendy's window (yes fifty miles from here usually while running another errand.)  We would chop the Wendy's burger into small pieces, place it on his canned food, and he would eat it all.  He had some challenging illnesses in the last couple of years, but we cared for him carefully and he always came through.
We knew that Jared's remaining  days were few.   Lately his musculature had been diminishing and his back legs were weakening. His balance wasn't good especially when we walked on rolling hills on the farm, which we did twice daily.  At night, sometimes he would become confused and sometimes frightened. We knew it would soon be time for him to go.

               Jared passed this morning on a beautiful sunny day here at the farm. A small part of me is relieved that his old bones will not endure a coming Winter.  Before he passed, we had a chance to tell him how much he meant to us all  during his almost seventeen year lifespan.  I know that I have nothing to complain about, having loved this gorgeous creature in my life for such a long time.  Still, today there are tears and sorrow.  I know Daniel and my father will enjoy him and keep him busy, just as much as we have.  Spend some extra time with a dog you love today. Both their lives and ours pass too quickly, a bit like a Summer season.


These are prior posts concerning Jared:

Saturday, August 22, 2015



     June 3, 2015

   Buffy, the Buff Orpington hen came from a farm west of here.   She was housed with a number of hens and without the presence of a rooster, she had adopted the role of the female protector, rather a bossy she rooster as the former owner indicated.  He also stopped providing space once they stopped laying eggs.

    I was thrilled to get Buffy.   She was larger than my normal hens, and very healthy.  I placed her in with an elderly blind rooster.  It was something to see.  The bossy Buffy took care of him, and he stood with an outstretched chest, for the first time in his life, proudly, protecting her.  I had housed them both in a large dog kennel with security netting on top.  They had a perfect place and enjoyed themselves.  In their final week, they were joined somehow by a ring necked pigeon who could apparently enter and exit throughout the edge of the netting at the top.

       Sadly, very early one morning I discovered that Buffy had been killed.  A predator, likely a fox, had taken her head through the kennel, but been unable to get her body out.  Her blind rooster stood despondently by her side.    I eventually moved him to a cage system into the barn with other animals, where he presently remains. The ring beck peach pigeon is nowhere to be found.  I believe she may have just flown for her life when the commotion began.  I am so sorry to have lost Buffy. She was a beautiful, strong and capable bird.  Perhaps the lesson here is still that it is better to have loved and lost, even if you are a hen, than never to have loved at all.  Perhaps the length of our journey to Earth isn't as important as how we love while we are here.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Thank You, Lonnie

Lonnie, as I will remember him.

                            Lonnie joined our established alpaca herd in 2000 from the Pacific Northwest.  We had planned to continue breeding animals, but Lonnie came to us in a time in which we had decided to shift and focus more on our family and taking great care of our family and of the animals we had, and spending less time, worry and stress over breeding them.   We paid to have Lonnie transported in comfort from the West Coast in an air conditioned alpaca transport vehicle with an expert transporter, and he arrived here having shared space with some of the most famous and valuable alpacas of the time.   He was a young animal and was somewhat docile and shy at that time.

                          Most of our animals are dark colors and so it was especially interesting for us to add a dark eyed all white huacaya alpaca.  Lonnie continued to be shy and was a favorite of our son Daniel.

Somehow, Lonnie managed to get a bucket around his neck !

                                  If one of the alpacas from our herd was a comedian, then I think Lonnie would be that one.   Somehow, he managed one summer to unhook a bucket and get it stuck around his neck !   Fortunately, alpacas are much thinner than their fiber would seem to indicate, and so the bucket handle lifted off Lonnie's head fairly easily.

                                 Once we knew what a wonderful gentle alpaca Lonnie was, we had planned to breed him at least once.  However, the original seller had altered the paperwork from male to non-breeder without telling us, and therefore this was not a possibility.  I had even considered breeding him for a pet quality companion, but sadly, we never did that either.

                                  When our son Daniel died at 12 1/2, we became even more serious about taking good care of the animals he'd loved so much.  We spent much more time with the alpacas, and with Lonnie in particular.

                                   Lonnie was 16 this year.   Although many books on alpacas consider a full life expectancy to be 15, Lonnie actually has herdmates who are 21 and 19.   If they are cared for carefully, then the possibility exists for some individuals to make it to an advanced age indeed and to live a comfortable life while doing so.  We had hoped the same for Lonnie.

                                   This week, after a short gastrointestinal illness and consultations with vets and more interventions than I think I should have made, Lonnie passed.    I had checked him at 3 am, and made sure he was comfortable, and at five when I checked again, he had recently passed.

Lonnie, in the last twelve hours of his life.

                                It is never easy to lose a friend of 16 years who meant so much to his herd and to our family as well.  Thank you Lonnie for coming to our farm and being our friend.  We will take care of your remaining family as best we can.    We'll see you again.

Monday, May 25, 2015

When to Euthanize

Eventually, we all pass.    (This alpaca is very much alive and is owned by )


                This is not a veterinary scholarly article on when to euthanize a beloved pet.   A veterinarian you trust is probably the best guide as to when to proceed.     This will be a post on when, as a farmer or animal lover, you must make the decision as to whether to continue to let the animal have a natural passing, or whether to end the process of an evolving "normal death" using other means.

                 I have had animals since I was four, and that means I have loved many creatures of many species. I am never okay with seeing them depart Earth even when they have met or exceeded their normal life expectancy.  However, death is a part of life. I know it is unfair of me to wish them to linger, and so my own needs are something I must keep in check.   Everyone passes. even beloved pets. I have also been very lucky in that most of my pets have had a tolerable gentle passing where I have been able to be present and supportive of them.  Only a few times have I had to resort to euthanization.    More than ten years ago, we had a beloved dog named Daisy who wasn't all that old.  She had been a rescue.  Daisy had intractable grand mal seizures that could not be easily controlled.  Even a continuous drip of intravenous diazepam at a veterinary critical care center could not prevent breakthrough seizures entirely.   Several vets and I tried everything.  Ultimately, she was suffering, and a fine vet came out to the house, and euthanized her in the back yard as I gently spoke to her.    Another time, also more than ten years ago, I had a rescue beagle who was by all accounts twenty-four years old.  He had cancer but was functional and was slowing down.  At first it appeared that he would pass fairly comfortably, but in the last day of his life, it was clear that his discomfort was not relieved.  His strong heart just wouldn't quit.   He was euthanized by the on call vet in the back of my car as we spoke to him softly.   It was only very recently that I made the choice to end one beloved animals life in the middle of the night, rather than letting him suffer until morning.   All of the other animals we have had have died naturally and peacefully.

                 Our "rescue farm" largely has animals that we had when Daniel was alive and still rescuing them.  This means that simply by virtue of time passed since he was here,  some of these animals are extremely old.  Intellectually, I understand that a week may come here when we have to bury several alpacas and a couple of dogs, and some chickens.  The vet told me six years ago that my Siberian Husky would likely not make it through that Winter.  What happened ?  My young son without known health problems passed suddenly of an arrhythmia, and Daniel's Siberian stayed for now, six and a half years past the vets stated date of probable expiration.  Vets can usually hazard a good guess as to when a creature will pass, but no one really knows.  A dog can be critically ill, and then receive conservative treatment and pop up the next morning to live five more years or so.  Conversely, a young animal can become sick and pass quickly while you and the vet are waiting for the results of lab work.

                 When should we as owners or farmers euthanize our beloved animals ?     I choose to euthanize when there is a known terminal process and the animal will suffer if permitted to continue living.   Sometimes we can medicate for pain and put off euthanization, and sometimes we cannot.    I tend not to euthanize an animal who is still enjoying eating and drinking.  I tend not to euthanize an animal who still enjoys walks with me.  I don't euthanize an animal who will be a lot of work for me in present condition. I try to euthanize as it benefits them.     I had a dog about six years ago who had seizures and weak back legs.  We were able to control the seizures with a vet who specialized in them, and with phenobarb and with specially compounded potassium bromide given twice daily.   As he aged, he developed weak back legs.  He ultimately was a lot of care, but he seemed to enjoy the care, was not in pain, and eventually passed comfortably. Each case is different, and each situation will require careful and individualized decision making.

                  Just recently, a friend of mine had a beloved horse euthanized and buried on his property.  The horse had been with him for more than half of his life.  The man's concern for his horses comfort was striking. I know that I am not alone in my concerns for the animals who look to me for comfort and sometimes direction.

                I have several alpacas and dogs who are of extremely advanced age just now.  Although they are functional, I know their passings are imminent, and my heart is heavy with the decision as to when to let them go.   I pray that I will have the wisdom and the courage to know when to proceed.  I hope that I am able to choose when it's best for them to depart Earth, not necessarily when it's best for me.

                 Of course, when a creature you may have taken on as a young animal, is now elderly and ready to pass, we cannot help but feel the passing of time, and its weight on our own lives.  The loss of a  beloved family pet is a reminder that ultimately we all inch toward a passing to the next plane.  Someday, my own time on this farm will end, and I hope to be reunited with my beloved animals as well as Daniel and other beloved family members.   Until then, I will do my best to guard animal life as long as is sensible, and then to end animal life as quickly and as gently as is possible.  I hope these thoughts are helpful in some way to you, and either help set out your own decision making, or bring comfort to you in a challenging time.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Memories of Sebastian

Sebastian in his kennel

                   Sebastian is a black labrador mix dog who came to us with his sister dog, when he was about six weeks old.    Our youngest son had just died, and our daughter accepted two beautiful puppies from a friend of hers who desperately needed someone to take some of the many puppies his dog had.  Although I wasn't initially very pleased about two new puppies coming to the farm, they gave us something to do in the very dark days which followed Daniel's passing.  Since then, I have become grateful for the new lives of those puppies.  Our daughter named one dog Sebastian and the sister dog Zelina.

                  They grew up quickly as little puppies so often do, and then Zelina was spayed and Sebastian neutered. The two of them could have shared a kennel compartment, but we found that they did best in their own kennel rooms side by side.   Neither dog seemed particularly intelligent compared to others we had and this meant that they could be watch dogs, and be stationed at observation posts periodically, but neither could be used to gather or supervise other types of animals.   Still, we don't need all of our dogs to do the same things. They can be loving without being brilliant.

               Most of the time our dogs live to very advanced ages. We have one who is a 15 1/2 year old Siberian Husky !  Several others are also quite old.   Most of the time, our elderly dogs are simply in retirement. We love them and provide whatever they need without an expectation of any kind of work. How ironic that they should continue living, when a younger animal does not.

                 Sebastian would be about seven years old now.  Very recently, something neurological has occurred with him.  He has weakened back legs and looks older than his sister.   He has been receiving heartworm preventive, annual DHLPP vaccines, and rabies vaccine every three years.   We do use tick preventive.   Over night he appears to have become hypoxic and then had a stroke.   Dogs often recover from strokes, but this was not the case.  There was neurologic symptoms and seizure activity.   Sometimes, new onset seizures in a mature dog can be an indication of a brain tumor.   I am a big proponent of running the mile with dogs and I have done well doing so.  However, this dog was suffering badly last night, and we elected to euthanize him.    I have been very lucky in that the many dogs I have had as a part of my life have passed comfortably, and that I have not had to have very many euthanized.  However, when I must, I will.  When it is the right thing to do, I will.

                 This was done at not too great a distance from the other dogs simply because we could not easily relocate a seizing dog who was in pain.  Normally I would have shielded the other dogs from such a thing.
This morning, our dogs, and even Sebastian's sister know what happened but seem understands that we did what we did because we had no other real choice..I will watch them all carefully through the day.

                  We will miss Sebastian very much., and take care of his canine family as well as his sister.  I still feel very sad. It's funny that no matter how much you intellectually accept that for the hundreds of days of joy a dog gives you, we ultimately will experience some days of grief and loss when they pass from here, through euthanization or naturally.  Those latter days of loss never become easy to weather.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Animal Care in Challenging or Cold Weather


This dog "turnout coat" or blanket is secured with velcro in the front and underneath. This means that application and removal can be quick and effortless. Changing a coat for washing is easy too.  This can make an incredible difference in the life of a dog.  (Picture:  )

     This week has been a labor intensive one.  Our Siberian Husky is still alive and seems to be doing well, but is fifteen years old now. Two of our alpacas are five years beyond normal life expectancy.  Elderly animals require careful watching. I have other dogs who are fourteen years of age, along with the complement of younger animals who also live here.  In extremely cold weather young animals can usually make the adjustment when water freezes and the amount of water they can take in before it does is diminished.  Elderly animals don't have such flexibility.  Their tolerance to heat, cold, and changes in feeding and water is diminished.  Bad weather for kennel or barn dwelling animals can be fatal, and this means that those of us who are their caretakers need to become even more diligent and more attentive to their needs. Consequently, it is sometimes necessary here to change dog water buckets every two to three hours in cold weather, and to consider Delongi oil space heaters in some circumstances. There are electric buckets for animals but for the number of animals here the total would not only be cost prohibitive, but I do not have enough safe outlets for such an undertaking.  So, the relatively rare occurrence of extremely cold weather with ice and lots of snow simply makes it a labor intensive process for me.   Some dogs benefit from wearing coats in cold weather, just as horses do.

                 No, I don't bring most animals into the house in cold weather.  My daughter has a young Pomeranian who stays with us sometimes. This dog wears a coat when she goes for a walk, and she would not be able to stay in a kennel for anything other than temperate days.  However, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers,  Siberian Huskies, Border Collies, alpacas, horses, etc. are all quite capable of outdoor living if attention is paid to their housing and to weather concerns.

                  All animals who spend large amounts of time outside need proper housing.  Housing needs to be draft free and insulated in Winter, and secure from precipitation.  In Summer, there needs to be adequate ventilation and shade.  In our location, Summer ventilation and shade is often the more difficult nut to crack.   We also have multiple outdoor coats for each dog.   Some of them have never worn one, but if they become elderly, their ability to tolerate even the rare sub-zero temperatures here become diminished.  Their comfort and activity level is much better when they have a coat.  I keep multiples so that one could be washed while another is on a dog.  How can I afford thirty large sized dog coats ?     Quality dog coats are quite expensive during Winter, but sell for very little money in the off season or when certain color schemes are no longer in vogue. The XXL brown and pink print might not be a top seller, but the dog wearing it overnight is awfully happy to have it.        

           Wherever you are, I hope you are having a safe and happy Winter and that you are giving thought to caring for the animals that are in your own charge.  Stay warm and stay safe !