Monday Morning With The Gang

Life long friends, Sam and Lilli.

Life long friends, Sam and Lilli.

A week ago this past Monday I had an appointment to take both Sam and crazy cat, Lilli, to the vet for their geriatric exams. Since the vet’s office is out in the country and it takes almost twenty-five minutes to get there, I often try to schedule appointments for at least two of the pets at once. Lilli is eleven years old and as scrappy as ever. Last Saturday, I found her gnawing on the body of a dead chipmunk. I’ve vowed no more cats when she’s gone because they like to control the population of birds and small mammals in the neighborhood. I’m no longer willing to put up with that. But I still love her and I’ll take good care of her to the end. Fortunately her hunting prowess isn’t what it used to be, but she still manages a catch once in a while.

Sam is in his 14th year. He’s mostly deaf, though when I jingle the car keys he’s up from his day long nap and ready to go for a ride in the car in an instant. He has a heart murmur and his energy is on the low side, although on cold mornings when he comes back in from our morning walk around the block, he runs around in circles, acting as though he’s only one or two years old. He’s been a regular visitor at the vet’s for months now having his heart and vitamin B12 levels checked. At times he’s very hard to wake up and Bill and I are praying that when Sam is ready to cross the rainbow bridge, it won’t be too painful for him. It most definitely will be for us and also for six year old Max, who also came along with us on the trip to the vet. He doesn’t like to be away from Sam or Lilli for long. Bill also came with us as the one-armed dog and cat wrangler and helped get Lilli’s crate into the building while I took Sam for a quick pee before his exam. That left Max in the car by himself, screeching and whining because he’d been left behind. When I hollered over to him to stop being a baby, his consternation grew even louder.

But even before that, within the first five minutes of the trip, yowling Lilli had vomited and pooped all over the inside of her crate. She does it every time we take her to the vet. And because we need to do the rest of the trip with window wide open so that we can breathe and not get sick ourselves, it’s not a good idea to do these trips during the winter months. I need to remember these times the next time I see an adorable kitten that needs a good home. I’m such a sucker and it’s difficult to say “NO” when it comes to creatures who need love, despite my promise to myself, “No More!”

Once at the vet, we all crammed into the tiny examination room. There was little room img_1070for the vet or her assistant so both Sam and Lilli were taken to another room where their exams were done. I’m sure the staff wonders why we need to make our visits a family event with two adults instead of one and a dog that doesn’t need to be there at all, but we hate to leave Max home alone and I needed Bill, even with only one working arm to help me manage the other two. I imagine we looked like the harried parents of  two year-old, out of control triplets, taking them to the pediatrician for their yearly shots. I must admit it kinda felt that way. None of us really wanted to be there, especially Sam, Lillie, and Max.

Happily, when we left, everyone had been declared healthy, at least for the moment. Sam has an appointment with a heart specialist later today to check that heart murmur and let us know if he can undergo anesthesia so that his teeth can be cleaned and a few rotten ones pulled.

These creatures that we’ve brought into our lives are precious to us. We feel the same way about them as we do our children and grandchildren. They are also my therapists! Unfortunately their lives are shorter than our own and we deeply mourn their loss when they’re gone. When their exams are called geriatric exams instead of yearly checkups, I begin getting a bit sad about the future and try to make their remaining time with us even more special than it was before.

Do you have a pet or pets? What role do they play in your life?

Wynken, Blynken, And Nod


Whinkin and Blinking, Summer 1984

Wynken and Blynken, Summer 1984

Last week on my way to do some grocery shopping I spotted a dead Opossum in the middle of a road in my neighborhood. It had been hit by a car, it’s body crushed. I personally have witnessed a person with no respect for wild critters swerve into another lane to run over a box turtle. I’ve heard others brag that they run over Opossums because they are “ugly, useless animals.” When I saw that poor creature I immediately started blaming someone for the loss of life I saw before me. I didn’t know who to blame, but my first instinct was that is was someone who thought it would be a great sport to kill an innocent animal, out in the winter darkness looking for a meal.

Sad at seeing it lying in the road, I was sent back into my memory bank where Wynken, Blyken, and Nod still reside. They were three baby opossums I had the privilege of rescuing from certain death after they apparently had fallen from their mother’s pouch when a predator, perhaps an owl, was out looking for a feast for his or her own family during a starlit summer evening.

Out for an early morning walk in the countryside where I once lived, I heard strange sounds like high pitched “CHs” coming from the side of the dirt road I was following. It took me a minute or two before I spotted one, two, and then a third tiny creature (about 1 1/2 inches in length), covered with gray fluffy fur.  They had pointy pink snouts, large pink ears and naked tails. Their eyes were still shut tight. I immediately recognized them as baby Opossums. They were struggling in the grass and weeds, calling for their absent mother. I carefully picked them up one by one, and keeping them warm in the palms of my hands, brought them home.

I immediately called a woman in the area who at the time was helping the Wildlife Center of Virginia to care for wild animals who were injured. She told me to find an eyedropper and had me mix of a solution of milk and a few other things to feed them. They were very hungry and took to the dropper immediately. She told me she had a full house and couldn’t take them right away, and asked me if I could keep them until she had room. I got out the large glass fish tank I had stored away, shredded some newspaper and a few rags, and put a small cardboard box in one corner where they could go and cozy up together. They were my charges for only a short few weeks, but they grew rapidly. Nod, the smallest of them, died a week later. I added canned cat food to the remaining two’s diet which they loved. When they saw me coming through their glass enclosure, they struggled to climb out to get something to eat. On sunny days I took them outside into the grass where they clung to me, climbing up my legs and arms and into my hands.

I was in love and though I had to take time to feed them every few hours, I didn’t mind a bit. I often put toilet paper tubes into the aquarium and they would curl their tails around them and carry them around placing them where they wanted them, like a piece of furniture.

Then the call came from the woman who’d been instructing me on how to care for them. She’d be picking them up and taking them to the Wildlife Center the next day, where they’d be rehabilitated back to the wild. I cried. Heartbroken, knew I would never see them again. But having grown up in a household that often had rescued wild animals living amongst us, I knew they would be much healthier and happier living in their own natural world. Sad for days afterward I envisioned them out in the forest learning how to forage for their own food.

Opossums feed on whatever is around, but especially enjoy mice, nuts, berries, carrion of any sort, and chickens if they can gain access to a backyard hen house. They are also known for their appetites for ticks, those creepy little blood-suckers whose bites can cause Lyme disease.

Please Don’t Harm Opossums! They may look like rats, but they are beautiful in their own right and very valuable animals to have around.

The Day after I saw the the dead Opossum up the street, my daughter sent me this video in honor of those three little friends of ours!

Where The Grass Is Greenest

Mary and her baby, Tiffany

Mary and her baby, Tiffany

Back during the hippy segment of my life, when I returned to the land to grow my own food, I was also taken up with a passion for weaving and spinning my own yarn. I decided that in order to do it right, I needed a few sheep and angora goats of my own so that I would have plenty of wool and mohair fleeces with which I could produce fabulous pillows, ponchos, tote bags, and whatever else I thought would sell successfully at the statewide craft shows where I often set up shop.

In preparation for the arrival of my small flock, I called in a neighbor who had a posthole digger on his tractor. He dug holes for the unfenced five acre field next to the barn, and where I would be able to watch my sheep and goats from my kitchen window. Bill and I filled each hole with a strong wooden post, then filled in around each one with the dirt that had been removed. We did the work on weekends and during long, Vermont summer evenings. We were always covered with mud, and when we finished up the work each day, we fell into bed and were fast asleep before we could say goodnight.

The neighbor came back when we were finished and stretched the wire fence all around the perimeter of the field, while Bill and I stapled it in place.  Always tired and sweaty, I labored on with excitement over the arrival of my flock. Bill, on the other hand, wasn’t so excited. He loved me and labored on to make me happy.

A few weeks later, Mary, my first angora goat arrived, along with three Romney ewes and a ram. I knew before hand that the  fibers in both the goat and sheep fleeces were long stapled, strong, and would be heavenly to work with.

A few days after her arrival, I discovered that Mary, like all critters, including humans, had a personality of her own. She quickly made her preference known for what grew outside of her enclosed pasture.

One morning, as I was weeding my vegetable garden, I heard her bleating and voicing displeasure, letting me know something was amiss. When I went around the corner of the barn, I saw that her head was caught in the fence. Woven of heavy duty wire, the fence was made up of small rectangular holes, about 3” x 5,” near the bottom. On each tier above the bottom one, the holes got larger. Mary had been able to get her head, horns and all, through one of the largest holes so she could reach the irresistible greenery on the other side of the fence.

Down into the field I went to get her out. When I grabbed her horns and tried to guide them out of the hole, she struggled, moving her head up, down and sideways. After five minutes of me cursing and her bleating, I figured out that there was no way I was going to be able to get her out … unless … I cut the wire between the hole she was stuck in and the one next to it. After I cut the wire and got her unstuck, I tried to find the difference between the grass and weeds on both sides of the fence but saw none. For a while, Mary happily ate what was in her own pasture, but still was occasionally tempted by some tasty morsel on the other side of the fence.

At least once every few weeks, I’d be called to the pasture by her persistent bleating, to get her untangled. She, of course, would never use the same hole I’d enlarged before. As I cut more and more wire to get her out, my displeasure grew, not to mention Bill’s. He saw dollar signs every time we had to cut the fence.

Over time as I spun Mary’s fleece into beautiful yarns I colored with natural dyes, I decided I wanted access to more mohair and decided to breed her to a friend’s buck. When tiny Tiffany was born, I was thrilled by her even finer, silky hair. I wanted to breed Mary again. I kept wanting more and more mohair!

Months later, when we visited a friend’s newly renovated home, I had a major attack of kitchen envy. I wanted to go home and demolish my kitchen and start over. For days I dreamt about nothing else, until Mary got her head caught in the fence once again. As I cursed her, I had to ask, “Wasn’t it my envy of a friend’s flock of sheep that got me started on this path?”

I try not to go looking for greener pastures anymore. The grass is greenest right under my own two feet. If envy does creep into my life, I remind myself that wanting what’s on the other side of the fence isn’t always a good thing for me. I never know what I’ll find out there and when I’ve finish whatever it was I thought would be so delicious, I may have to cut my way out of what I spent my precious time and money on.

Have you, like me, every suffered from greed and envy? I’d love to hear your story.


The Buddha In The Fur Coat

IMG_1280Life is good, but it isn’t always easy. One day the car breaks down and you’re late for your appointment with the IRS, who says you owe them money. On the opposite kind of day, you win the lottery and rush out to buy a new car. The in-between days find you smelling the roses, with a bunch of crappy, little things all going wrong.  You have to work harder to find your center.

My buddy, Sam, developed a hot spot on his tail a week or so ago. He’s been riddled with all sorts of allergies since we adopted him back in August of 2003. The worst are food allergies. A little over a year ago, with the help of a new vet, we found food that he likes and doesn’t make him sick.

But there are all sorts of other things that he’s allergic to. At this time of year when all the leaves are down and the air is filled with leaf mold, Sam itches like crazy. He tries to be patient with it, but the result is often a hot spot, that has gone bald because of his constant scratching, licking and sometimes chewing. It gets infected and then we have a problem on our hands that requires antibiotics.

I’m kind of allergic to this time of year and have been a bit out of sorts myself over the last few weeks. It’s my usual holiday state of mind. There’s too much to do, too many expectations, and the whole world seems to be melting down around me. And beyond Ferguson, the state of the Middle East, and all sorts of other issues going down, it’s been a particularly difficult year for the city of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

First there was the disappearance and tragic death of Hannah Graham. Now we’re dealing with the Rolling Stone’s article about the “rape culture,” at Thomas Jefferson’s university, just two blocks from my house. The editors are now backpedaling, saying that some of what was originally reported isn’t true. Thankfully, the powers that be at the University are not letting the issue rest and are working to make sure all students, especially women, feel cared for and safe in what has become a questionable environment.

Whether you’re connected with the University or not, what’s been happening around us is affecting all of those who live here. When Hannah Graham’s body was found, a friend, who lives elsewhere, asked how such a horrendous thing could happened in such a beautiful and peaceful place like Charlottesville. My response was that bad things happen everywhere. Beauty has nothing to do with it. It’s just the way things are and we each react to these events in our own way. But when it’s happening down the street,  events like these can cast a shadow over an entire community. We like to think that where we live is the best place in the whole world and that things like murder, racism, and acts of brutality, don’t happen here.

The other day I overheard an acquaintance, say, “It’s so cold out, even the ‘bums’ aren’t out today.” She was referring to our area’s large homeless population. I was horrified. I wanted to shake some sense into her head. I told her to go and sit with those “bums.”  She might learn something about what it’s like living on the street and why those people are out there.

The morning that had started out so nicely, had just been shot down and I became a raving grouch, leaving a wake of unpleasantness behind me as I stormed home. I was not being helpful … to myself or anyone else. I was being judgemental, just like the one who spoke ill of the “bums.”

When I got home Sam was sitting all curled up on the couch. Trapped inside what some call the “Cone of Shame,” he was the picture of peace. Despite his itchy tail and being a bit grouchy himself, he wagged his tail, looked at me with his big brown, all knowing eyes, and said, “It’s okay, Mom. It is what it is.”

I sat down next to him, and wrapped my arms around him. He’s one of my greatest teachers. The pain resulting from being unable to make the world a better place, slowly released me from it’s grip.  I began to feel sad for that acquaintance of mine. She’d probably been taught that homeless people are bums … perhaps by her parents.

When I finally stood up, ready to go on about the rest of my day, Sam winked at me and gently licked my nose.

Who are your greatest teachers?

Meet Max

IMG_0652I can’t help myself.  Today is the day I usually post a quote that inspires me.  But we’ve a new member of the family and just can’t wait to introduce him to you.  If you haven’t read this blog before you need to know that I love dogs. There are many posts to check out here if you do, too.

Just over a week ago we lost our dog, Brody, to pneumonia.  My family, the people who took such good care of him at day care every Thursday, and Brody’s veterinarian team were all devastated.  He had lived with us for only six weeks and I could not understand how I would be able to go on without filling the enormous hole he left in my heart.

My very kind and sensitive dog trainer friend, Karen, sent me a picture of a picture of Max and so began the task of my beginning to come to terms with what I now understand to be part of my job description in this life.  I was an abused child. I find it comforting and necessary to take in small abused and abandoned dogs. That does not mean that I stop grieving for all of those gentle souls who have shared their time with me.  There will always be cracks and crevices in my heart through which sorrow and tears will seep when I think of them.

This new little guy in named Max and he came to live with us this past Sunday.  He weighs in at about thirteen pounds and is mostly, if not all, a Shih Tzu. He lived with a single mom and her two kids.  One day she decided she’d had enough and packed up the kids and the dog and dropped them off at her mother’s house.  He was turned into a shelter because the kid’s grandmother couldn’t take care of the children and the dog, too.

Max hadn’t been clipped for a good long time and was covered with mats and infested with fleas.  The caring folks at the Louisa Humane Society, took him from the shelter. They had him shaved down to his skin and put him in a foster home until he could be adopted out.  His foster parents took great care of him and were kind and generous to be able to give him up.  I would not have been able to.

IMG_0632He is a sweetheart of a dog. Gentle, quiet, and he loves to cuddle more than anything else.  He and Sam are beginning to make friends and Lily, who tried to avoid him altogether, has finally given in.  Just this morning I found her rubbing up against Max, the way cats do to mark their belongings and territory.

Yesterday, Max passed his test at doggie day care with flying colors.  I took him in for a brief visit where he was introduced to a number of other dogs to make sure he won’t cause trouble in the big day care pack.  Tomorrow will find him there, mostly following big brother, Sam, around and figuring out the ins and outs of day care.

He’s been sleeping at night in a crate since he’s been here, but at 5:30 this morning he woke me, asking to be let outside.  When he returned instead of going back into the crate, he jumped up on the bed and curled up next to me under the covers.  Uh-0h!  I wonder where he’ll want to sleep tonight.  Although I prefer that he sleep in the crate, (Sleeping with dogs in the summer time can get overly warm.) he just might get the best of me.IMG_0630