A Tennis Ball Haul

We have a route that we walk with our four-legged family members each evening:  down the sidewalk, across the street to the library parking lot, through the front of the library to the side garden with the sundial, down a small access road that is hardly used and around the town’s tennis courts, over a small wooden bridge, across another parking lot and back to the library.  The dogs know it well.  

Our walk takes about thirty minutes with plenty of time to sniff trees, grass, bushes and sign posts.  On very special evenings, when no one is on the tennis courts, the dogs run free throughout the fenced-in areas.  The best time to visit the courts is after a storm when the players have quickly vacated, leaving behind sodden, yellow tennis balls.

Charlie loves tennis balls.  He clutches a ball between his paws and peels the fuzzy material away.  He chases the balls, he catches the balls, and when we won’t play with him, he bats the balls as hard as he can with his nose and scrambles after them.  

On this evening, in the pause between storms, Charlie happily collected fourteen precious tennis balls.  The Englishman and I counted them each under Charlie's watchful eyes and put them in a shopping bag.  As we strolled home, Charlie stayed by my side, nose up and happily leaping toward the bag that was dangling from my wrist.  April 3rd was the best haul yet.


Chicken Run

I watched videos.  I read blogs.  I did my research and felt that I was ready.  I knew that I could sex baby chickens.  I just knew it.  I drove to my favorite hardware store in Wrens, Georgia and the owner helped point out the Americuana chicks in the pen stuffed with hundreds of balls of day-old fluff.  It was a straight run of mixed chickens but I was assured that the Americaunas were easy to identify.  I gently spread the wings and counted feathers and soon had a box of six female Americaunas.  After a month, I convinced myself that a couple of them were just bossy…the way females could be.  After two months, I compared the crests on the tops of the heads with pictures on the internet.  I figured they were just bigger chickens.  Healthier even.  After four months, one began to crow and it was hard to ignore this, even for me.  I could not have a crowing rooster in my back yard.  Roosters do not just crow in the morning.  Oh no, they crow all day long.  I did the research and fashioned a Velcro collar to stop this imposter chicken from crowing.  It worked but a week later, on the day the Englishman and I were to leave to tow a truck to Florida for the younger English boy, two more “chickens” began to crow.  I knew two things at once.  I could not sex chickens.  Half of my flock was male.  I also knew we needed to find a solution and quickly.  The Englishman called the older English boy for help and his wife’s grandmother agreed to take the roosters.  The Englishman was in charge of packing our vehicle and hitching the truck and my mother and I were in charge of catching roosters.  This was not as easy as it sounded and it didn’t help that my mother gave a play by play narrative on everything I was doing wrong.  I finally had three angry roosters and one hen in the crate.  “Fine,” I thought.  “They can have the hen, too”.  The crate went into the back of my mother’s minivan and we followed my husband to the interstate.  He pulled over at the rest stop a mile after entering the interstate to tell me he had left our luggage at the house.  The new plan was for him to wait at the rest stop while I dropped of the birds, returned to the house, picked up the luggage and then returned to the rest stop.  I thought that he had the easier task in his plan.  

Near the end of the summer, when the remaining two hens began to lay their first eggs, I realized that I had white eggs instead of blue and these were not Americauna chickens.  I wasn't sure what kind of chickens they were but they were laying eggs and I was happy.

Fast forward two years.  My flock of hens consisted of two Americaunas and one chicken unknown that I named Willow.  All three were cranky due to the winter and refused to lay eggs.  All through December and January, I had to buy eggs and continue to feed my egg-less chickens.  In February, The Englishman brought me six Red Star chickens he rescued from a commercial chicken farmer.  I knew that there would be a period for both new and existing chickens to establish the “pecking order” but it quickly became clear that Willow was the top chicken.  She bossed the new chickens around and kept them isolated in a corner away from the food.  She perched on the highest roost in the chicken house to lord over the others.  Finally, she held vigil at the door of the house from the inside, refusing entry to the new chickens until the automatic door closed and six chickens were locked out. I was at a loss.  I tried removing her for a few hours.  I tried letting her roam free while I worked in the vegetable beds.  I finally put her in with the ducks.  “They like her.  Let her live with them,“ I thought.  That was my solution for three days and then she learned how to crow.  Once again, the Englishman and I were able to reach out to the older English boy's grandmother-in-law and once again we were headed on the road with a chicken.  

First, I needed to catch her.  Easy, peasy.  She was perched on the roof of the duck house happily crowing at the top of her lungs.  I wrapped a tea towel around her and carried her to the Jeep.  The Englishman chose that moment to clean out the back of his SUV and required my assistance.  I looked at the chicken in my arms and he instructed me to put her in a large cardboard box.  “It won’t work,” I said.  “She’s smarter than us!”  In the box she went and seconds later she effortlessly flew out.  I had to catch her again.  A flying, cranky, crowing, angry chicken.  It took a while and the Englishman helped by offering useful tidbits on how to catch a chicken and critiqued my method from afar.  Finally, we were on the road, and I had a chicken sitting in my lap.  She looked out of the window at all the cars that we passed and the trip took thirty minutes longer than it should have because the Englishman refused to ask the exit number from his son.  We tried three before we got it right.  I had some observations from our road trip:  Chickens have tongues.  Chickens pant.  Chickens bite.  Chickens salivate and when chickens collect enough saliva and then violently shake their chicken head like a dog, drops of saliva are flung all over the car windows, the Englishman and me. 

After locating the correct driveway, the Englishman parked and did not help me by opening my door.  Instead he played with the Labrador that greeted him at his door.  I carried Willow, still in a tea towel, into the back yard and saw the most beautiful rooster.  His name was Buster and he was once my “chicken”.  His best friend was the Labrador and they rubbed up against each other in greeting.  Willow had a new home with a rooster she once knew and I hoped she would be happy ruling her new kingdom.


The Daffodil Relocation Project

Once again it was February and as I was forced to take a back road due to construction on the interstate, I saw the daffodils springing up in ditches on the country roads.  I lowered my window and felt the cool spring air blowing across my face and I craved the freedom of dirt paths long forgotten and absent from my GPS, passable with the help of a pickup truck.  I missed the slow navigation of crumbling bridges and the discovery of ancient homes held up in each corner by old trees that were still younger than the weathered planks entangled within their hold.

The Daffodil Relocation Project was founded nine years ago with several shovels and buckets in the back of my old green Ford Ranger.  The Englishman and I would follow the roads less traveled, sometimes bringing along a passenger or a dog for the ride.  We have seen peacocks and Shetland ponies and abandoned railroad tracks and houses filled with history and ghosts.  We have discovered old cemeteries and reverently traced the worn names fading from the headstones.  We halted the truck at a deep puddle of water and watched butterflies play in the sunshine, wings dipping and sending rings of water to the edges.  We rescued flowers from deep ditches that kept the roads from eroding and filled the bed of the truck with daffodils, irises and lily of the valley.  We snacked on food that we had brought for our adventure:  Girl Scout Cookies, chips, apples, granola bars and bottles of water.  And as the sun began to lower in the sky, we headed toward paved roads with yellow painted lines down the center which welcomed our reentry to civilization once more.  Our work was far from over and when we reached home, the remainder of the weekend was spent finding new homes within our garden for each bulb.

February had returned once more, and as I glanced out the window of my house, I saw the delicate yellow petals stretching gently toward the sunshine.  I saw the tiny white flower bells dangling from lush green fronds ringing the cherry trees and the distinct leaves of the irises peeking out from the mulch.  Yes, it was February and I felt my wanderlust return and I longed for another beautiful day of relocating daffodils.


Canine Couture

It was sweater weather once again.  Of course living in the South, this statement could change on a daily basis.  On Monday, it might feel like a beautiful autumn day, on Tuesday the temperature would drop to near freezing, by Thursday, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and the daffodils were timidly displaying hints of lemon petals. Suddenly on Friday, it was time for T-shirts, flip-flops and air conditioning.  I would pull out the hoodies, sweaters and jackets, wrestle the dogs into their outfits just to tackle them a few days later and attempt to strip them once again.  On Saturdays, when the Englishman would do the laundry, dog clothing would be added to the machine, carefully folded and placed on top of each dog's crate until the next clothing appropriate day arrived.  Dogs in clothes.  It still can make me smile.


Throw Back Thursday - George

George had to carry something in his mouth.  He would greet me at the door when I got home and something was always in his mouth.  Sometimes it was a toy, other times it was anything that was nearby:  safety glasses, a shoe, an empty Fanta box.  He could also communicate to me that it was time for a walk and would carry his leash in his mouth.  He even tried to walk Chase by taking his attached leash and pulling him toward the door! I've discovered that it is the little things I miss now that he is gone.


Dog Paddling

Kayak…check.  Paddle…check.  Life preserver. ..check.  Dog life preserver…check.  The Jeep was loaded, kayaks were secured on the top and the Englishman, Charlie and I were off to the Augusta Canal for our first kayaking trip.  It was Memorial Day.  It was hot.  The canal was crowded with kayakers of all skill levels.  The Englishman dropped the kayaks, our gear, Charlie and me at a grassy area that sloped to the shore of the canal.  He left to find a shady parking spot and returned by foot fifteen minutes later.  I fitted Charlie into his life preserver and the Englishman launched us off in my kayak.  I paddled in a few circles until he joined me.  

Initially, the plan was to kayak for an hour in one direction and then turn around and head back to our launch spot.  This plan quickly changed due to the strong current in the canal.  Instead, we decided that the Englishman would take the shuttle back once we reached the end of the line in three hours and return with the Jeep.  Charlie sat on my lap and occasionally dangled his head over the edge of my green kayak to look into the swirling water.  The sun pounded on us relentlessly and we would paddle toward the banks of the canal to take a break in the shade.  We passed fellow kayakers along the way and others passed us.  An hour into the trip, the Englishman paddled toward a floating dock and we pulled the kayaks onto the weathered wooden planks for a sandwich and a break.  Charlie wandered on the path leading away from the canal and explored the shady underbrush and trees.  With some difficulty, we launched ourselves directly from the dock into the surprisingly chilly canal water.  

The Englishman took Charlie as his passenger.  Much braver, Charlie perched precariously close to the edge of the kayak, front paws resting on the orange plastic and back legs on the Englishman’s lap.  I nervously watched from my position behind them and then it happened.  Charlie leaped.  The Englishman lunged for the handle on the life preserver and missed, the swift current moving the kayak further from the dachshund.  I watched as Charlie rolled like a log several times going under then emerging with a quick pop.  I quickly paddled my kayak toward my dog who finally realized he was floating with the help of the preserver.  I aimed the boat, tucked the paddle inside and stretched my arm as far as I could….finally grabbing the handle on the top of the life preserver and pulling the shivering, wet mess right into my lap.  The Englishman pulled up next to me and handed me a beach towel.  I covered Charlie with it and we continued to float down the canal.  It was a long time before Charlie ventured from beneath the towel, his little brown head sniffing the air to see if we were still in the boat.  Gathering up courage, Charlie curled up and dutifully remained inside the kayak, content to watch from the safety of my lap.  I smelled like the canal, a musty, earthy and quite unpleasant smell.  I watched the Englishman with envy, fully aware of the two hour drive home and the fact that I did not bring extra clothes.  

When we reached the docks to exit the canal, we dragged the kayaks under a tree that did not provide nearly enough shade.  The Englishman sweet-talked his way into a ride back on the shuttle (apparently you have to sign a waiver with them at the starting point) to retrieve the Jeep.  When he returned, we loaded the kayaks, the gear and the dog and began our trip home.  Charlie slept at my feet, paws twitching and I wondered if he was dreaming of the one time he went for a swim.


Owl Adventures

Owl Adventures is a mobile zoo and educational business which has a static display on the grounds of the Museum Gardens in York, UK. While visiting York with the Englishman, we wandered across the display of owls in the garden.  I veered from the path so I could watch all of the owls, each sitting atop a stand.  The Englishman’s father generously paid for me to hold an owl while learning about it.  There was a variety of owls of all shapes and sizes and I had difficulty choosing just one.  The Englishman picked out the tiniest owl for me.  The falconer placed a colossal leather glove on my hand and presented me with George, the American ground owl.  We had to move slightly away from the larger owls because they were making George nervous.  Apparently George could be a “meal” in the real world.  Not only could I hold George and stroke his soft feathers under his head, I was given a lesson on him, too.

American ground owls or burrowing owls eat insects, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and other birds depending on the time of year and what is available. The beetle is a favorite meal.  A burrowing owl is most active at dawn and dusk. They live in burrows dug by other animals in open, treeless spaces, and in the United States and they are often found in burrows of prairie dogs.

I was smitten with the bitty bird.  He was calm and seemed to enjoy being touched just as much as I enjoyed having the owl perched on my gloved hand.  So, while I did so many touristy things in York including exploring York Minister, walking a part of the wall, strolling through the town and floating down the river on the tour boat, the best part was the chance to hold an owl on a beautiful fall afternoon.


Canine Carts and Clearance Conundrums

Charlie loves to accompany us on quick shopping trips.  Last year, after his rabies vaccination, we brought him into Home Depot with us so we could keep an eye on him in case of an adverse reaction.  He rode around happily in the child seat at the top, his brown body wedged perfectly inside.  Since then, we have brought him with us to Home Depot, Lowe's and Tractor Supply as pets are welcome.  

A few weekends ago, Charlie insisted on riding along when we took a quick trip to the local Lowe's.  I spread a towel on the bottom of the cart to make it more comfortable for him and he peered through the metal grid of the cart at things that interested him.  I headed to the garden center and found the dangerous clearance section.  I pushed Charlie to the front of the cart and started filling the back of the cart with plants.  Quickly I realized that I was running out of room and would soon need to make a choice.  Charlie was worried that my choice would be to add more plants and he looked up at me with big pleading brown eyes.  The Englishman suddenly appeared, chastised me and plucked the poor dachshund from the flowers that were surrounding him.  "Don't worry" he said stroking Charlie's head, "Dad's got you".  He left the garden center with Charlie in tow.  I headed to the cashier and realized I was stuck with the bill, once again.


Window Shopping

The Englishman and I were spending the day in Richmond, United Kingdom wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The gardens are located outside of London and preserves thousands of plants, trees and other botanical specimens within 300 acres.  It is considered the largest and most diverse collection in the world.

There were several places to eat and have a cup of tea within the gardens and we chose the Victoria Plaza Shop which was a cafĂ© and gift shop before heading to the Treetop Walkway.  The Englishman and I picked an outside table to sip steaming mugs of peppermint tea and share a sausage roll and an orange plum cake between us.   Birds scampered about hoping for a dropped crumb.  I heard a rustling in the bushes lining the path and watched with quiet fascination as a male peacock appeared in the courtyard.  He walked across the cement slabs, oblivious to the tourists walking nearby and approached the automatic glass doors to the gift shop.  Too small to trigger the door to open, the peacock waited patiently for a person to exit.  All of the outside tables became still as we waited to see if the peacock would gain access.  Alas, it was just a window shopping adventure and the peacock soon strutted to another part of the garden.  We waited until he departed before continuing our own adventures in the gardens.


Crafty Canines

The Englishman was up very early.  He let the dogs out, placed a steaming mug of coffee on my bedside table and shut the door so the dogs wouldn't disturb me. The bliss lasted for the time it took for him to back out of the driveway, watched carefully by Chase and Charlie from a front window. Then the torture began.

Knock, knock.  Scratch.  Low whine.  Medium whine.  Loud whine.  BARK!

I dragged myself out of bed, clutching the cup of coffee.  It was early and still dark.  I shuffled to the kitchen.  The dogs tap-danced on the tile floor begging for me to feed them.  I pulled the plastic container of food from the refrigerator.  I frowned at it, thinking it looked less full than the day before.  "Did your dad feed you?" I asked the two dogs who were wiggling around my legs.  They barked.  I looked on the floor but did not see any dog bowls.  I looked in the sink.  Nothing.  I grabbed two clean dog bowls and put a small amount of food in each.  Chase and Charlie both nibbled delicately at their meal.  This was unusual dining behavior for them and deviated from the typical "two bites and done" tactic.

I went back to the bedroom to dress for work, still bothered by the dogs' strange eating etiquette.  I searched the kitchen again and I finally found the evidence I needed:  two bowls were pushed deep under a counter.  Two used bowls.  The Englishman had fed them before leaving the house and these two dogs had once again proven themselves to be much smarter than me.


Old Dogs are the Best Dogs

The Englishman was not excited when I announced that Ollie’s Bargain Outlet was opening in our small town.  I wasn’t sure if it was the word “Ollie” or “Bargain” or “Outlet” but he snorted when I dragged him to the grand opening.  He vowed never to return.  So, I dragged him back into the store several weeks later.  I pushed the shopping cart and he feigned the three disses that are apparently in the English DNA: displeasure, disdain and disinterest.  When I reached the cash register and unloaded the items onto the counter, I realized there was a book in my cart that was not placed by me.  The Englishman avoided eye contact.

Old Dogs are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten was a black and white tribute to old dogs and was filled with pages of stories.  Truths such as “Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy.”  My three-pack was all of that and more.  The stories were funny and heartbreaking and reminded me of many of the pet companions I have had throughout my life and their special quirks that I realized I now missed.

Poppy was my childhood cat from Mahwah, New Jersey who loved water.  She might beat you to the bathtub for a swim.  She was a fiercely loyal companion who would always wait on a boulder near our driveway at 3:30PM when my sister and I returned from our school bus stop.  She would roll on the surface and wait for one of us to scoop her up and carry her back to the house with us.

Drummer was my childhood dog who had an unusual begging ritual for popcorn.  He would flip onto his back and kick his legs violently into the air as he grunted with noises we dubbed “herf-a-lating”.  He tolerated us using him to pull our sleds down the driveway in the winter to make a path, worried glances behind as the sled moved faster until my sister or I reached forward and pulled him on board for the ride of his life.

Sebastian was my Persian cat who adored shoes.  He slept in mine until he outgrew them and then transferred to one of my father’s work shoes.  He loved to snuggle and would place a paw on each shoulder to knead me.  Happiness came in the form of purrs and drool.

Checkers was the family cat while I was still in college.  Black and white and super fluffy, we eventually nicknamed him the “Quilting Cat”.  As my mother and I placed pins through material, Checkers would work behind us, methodically pulling every pin.  If we banned him from the room, he would race outside and sit in the window, miserable howls echoing through the neighborhood.

Madison was my cat when I first started teaching.  He was sound asleep when I chose him from the shelter and he never forgave me from waking him from his cat nap.  He could hold a grudge.  Retaliation might not be immediate but it was sure to come when I least expected it.  He would not tolerate the snooze button on my alarm clock.  Once the alarm buzzed in the morning, any attempts at hitting snooze was foiled by teeth and claws.  He loved anything that rolled and stole bottle caps, lipstick and plastic Easter eggs as his toys.

George was a quirky English Cocker Spaniel.  He didn’t trust my athletic abilities.  I had terrible aim.  I still don’t understand how I managed to bounce the tennis ball off his head but George would flinch and duck if he saw me with a tennis ball after that incident.  I have never seen another dog flinch and duck.
George howled.  He taught the other dogs to howl.  He howled to go outside.  He howled to come inside.  He howled at sirens.  He howled when he was bored.  It has been nearly two years of silence and I really missed the howls.

There are things that I miss with my current three-pack.  I miss Chase digging in mud puddles and snapping at the rain.  I miss Molly greeting me at the door with a treasured stuffed toy in her mouth.  It didn’t matter if I had been gone for five minutes or the entire day, the greeting was the same.  I miss Charlie dancing in his dog bowl to signal it was time for dinner.  I miss the dogs making me late for work because they decided to explore well outside of their boundaries.  I miss the joy of throwing tennis balls on the court after hours and watching the boundless energy of the dogs racing after them.  But I have gained so much, too.  I love the contentment of the dogs to be near us doing absolutely nothing.  I love my newest ritual of carrying Molly to bed because she is sound asleep and it takes her too long to wake up.  Charlie waits for me at the driveway gate each day at six o’clock without fail and we spend a few moments alone before the others realize I am home.  All of my companions are still very much alive in my memories or right now in the present.  So I read through the book with laughter, tears and joy and must agree with the author:  old dogs are the best dogs.


Banning the Bag

When Chase was just a puppy, he had several conditions that affected his immune system.  He was the sole litter survivor of parvovirus, and then promptly caught the mange.  He was so small that I used an Igloo cooler to dip him twice a week into a medicated mixture that didn’t seem to work.  The vet suggested a diet rich with immune boosting foods so I cooked for my puppy for several months until he was fully recovered.

Thirteen years later mealtime was becoming a battle of the wills.  Molly and Chase were fine with kibble but Charlie refused to eat it until we layered shredded cheddar cheese on top.  If the other two saw us garnish Charlie’s meal, they demanded the same treatment.  Charlie usually abandoned the bowl once the cheese was gone and Molly and Chase would finish it off for him.  Older dogs, dry dog food plus days filled with napping caused serious weight gains.  The vet declared Chase chunky in April and I hurt my back trying to give Molly a bath.  I knew they needed a change.

I threw out the dog food and headed to the grocery store filling my cart with ground turkey, chicken, spinach, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, zucchini, brown rice and light red kidney beans.   Then with my crock pot I assembled a meal that would last three dogs a week.  Very quickly, the three-pack began to associate the crock pot with their meals.  They watched me each Saturday evening as I chopped and assembled layers within the large appliance and they smelled the meal cooking all night long.  They waited very patiently, until at least six in the morning when they barked until I fed them.  They became excellent judges of time.  Meals were at 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 in the evening and they would not allow a deviation from the schedule.

I also explored sweet potatoes as dog treats (sliced and tossed with olive oil and cinnamon and baked for 3 hours at 250 degrees).  These were also a success.  The best indicator, however, was a vet visit at three months.  Molly and Chase had lost ten pounds each and Charlie was down by two.  The vet was very pleased, the dogs were content with their new and improved diet and I was now the official crazy dog lady.


Dog Bowl

It was the end of “YEAR TWO OF HOUSE RENOVATIONS”.  So much had been accomplished yet there was still so much more to achieve.  Before we had turned the sun porch into part of the main house, there were two Papasan chairs in faded orange at one end.  The frames were made of rattan and they looked like a big bowl.  You could purchase a Papasan chair at Pier One Imports or World Market or several other places online.  At the start of “YEAR ONE OF HOUSE RENOVATIONS” both chairs were lugged down to the basement and stacked into a corner where I hoped they would be forgotten.

On the occasional trip to the Goodwill, I would suggest to the Englishman that we rid ourselves of the chairs.  His reaction varied from glares, to pouts to ignoring my presence entirely.  After changing the older English Boy’s bedroom into a computer room, the Englishman moved the Papasan chairs to their new location.  He was courageous and waited until I was away for the weekend.

I must admit it…they are comfortable.  They are also comical, especially when The Englishman lost his balance and fell onto the floor.  The one thing I never counted on was how much our dachshund, Charlie, loved the chairs.  When they were located on the porch, he never slept in them.  Now, if I was searching for Charlie, the first place I looked was the computer room.  Most of the time, the little dog had curled up into one fast asleep.  Ugly or not, this was one battle that I didn't think I would win.


A Cemetery Visit

There are only so many routes to the Englishman’s workplace and the road from the interstate through Sharon, Georgia is the most direct.  Railroad tracks that are still in use follow the road and Sharon boasts a tiny post office, stately homes from years gone by and the oldest Catholic Church in Georgia.  A small sign points the way to the original church site and the remaining cemetery dating to the 1700s.

Tucked away from the rural road, I have visited the Locust Grove Cemetery on a few occasions.  It is surrounded by a stone wall and the many headstones are difficult to decipher.  As the Englishman stopped our truck, I jumped out and carefully helped our 16-year old English Cocker Spaniel, Molly, to the ground.  In the past year, her hearing had completely vanished and her vision diminished as well.  She sniffed the air and then followed us into the cemetery. 

Birds chirped overhead in the canopy of trees.  The grounds were difficult to navigate with unexpected low points filled with water from the recent rain earlier in the week.  Autumn leaves still covered the ground, a contrast to the snow drops and daffodils carpeting the ground with blossoms of bright white and lemon yellow.

Molly shuffled through the crisp, brown leaves until she found a dip of rain water.  She pressed down into it, covering her belly and lapped up a mouthful.  The Englishman rushed to the truck to retrieve her bottled water and a towel.  Molly met us at the entrance to the cemetery and the Englishman poured clean water into a Ziploc bag that was improvised into a bowl.  Molly lay on the ground, a paw on either side of the bag and started to drink.  I perched on a small, flat rock and the Englishman stood a few feet away.  Molly abruptly raised her head and moved it upward from side to side. 

“What is she doing?” I asked the Englishman.  He stepped forward and crouched down next to her, lightly touching her back.  “Are you finished, Molly?” he asked.  Molly’s head lowered once again to her water bowl.  The Englishman stroked the top of Molly’s head.  She stopped drinking, raised her head and moved it upward from side to side.

As we drove away, Molly on a towel next to me and sun flickering through gaps in the trees, I wondered if someone from long ago was happy to have the chance to pet a dog once more.


Just a Little Loopy

Molly, our fifteen-year-old English Cocker Spaniel had been waking us up for weeks at 3AM, barking until her fur became drenched with perspiration.  We tried leaving her out of her crate, leaving the dog door open, medication…all with no improvement.  I finally suggested a visit to the vet was in order.  Molly was not a fussy dog or a needy one.  The incessant barking was quite out of the ordinary.  A quick exam ruled out our fears that she was in pain from arthritis; however a more troubling diagnosis was given:  Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Doggie Dementia.  After the vet explained all the early symptoms of the disease and then what to expect in the more advanced stages, the Englishman declared that Molly was “just a little loopy”.

The diagnosis really fit with the symptoms:  sleeping more during the day, less at night, more accidents in the house, barking at nothing and an increase in anxiety.  The vet initially suggested trying a nighttime dose of Benadryl to help her sleep.  We tried it for two nights in a row and it made things worse.  With Chase, a small dose of Benadryl makes him sleepy but with Molly, it made her hyperactive.  I decided to do some online research and found several support groups and websites with suggestions.  There were so many articles to read and so many ideas I became overwhelmed until I stumbled across and article called “Dementia and anxiety in your older dog” on A Path with Paws website.  Everything began to click with me, especially the sentence “Not all dementia has an anxiety component to it and not all anxiety in older dogs is from dementia but the two often go together”.  I realized that we needed to treat the anxiety, first.

Molly had lost all of her hearing over the past couple of years and her eyesight had greatly diminished.  She slept soundly because of this but when she woke up in the dark, she would bark until the Englishman or I came to her aid.  She wasn’t barking in our direction.  She was barking in the spot where she woke.  I could only imagine that it was a great distress to Molly when she woke in the dark and couldn’t see or hear.  We immediately moved her bed into our room, placed a water bowl nearby and added a motion activated nightlight right next to her.  If she woke in the night, there was a light at her level and she could detect our presence with her nose.  I also added lavender essential oil to a timed diffuser for extra comfort.

The improvement was immediate.  Molly no longer barked incessantly and reached such deep levels of sleep, her snoring returned.  The other two dogs, while initially envious of Molly’s new nighttime sleeping arrangement, settled back into their crates with four-inch memory foam mattresses and custom sheets.  As we headed into the New Year and Molly’s upcoming 16th birthday, we felt it was just fine that our companion was a little loopy.  Aren’t we all?


Silence of the Ducks

It was raining.  In fact, it seemed that it was always raining.  In typical fashion, the chickens complained and the ducks thrived.  The Englishboy was visiting for Christmas and I asked him if he would put the ducks away for me.  I was tired of digging out my umbrella and struggling in and out of my wellies twice a day to trudge down the hill to the garden, the grass bubbling up with warm mud.  "They will probably be in their house already so it should be easy," I told him.

The Englishboy couldn't locate the ducks.  They weren't in the garden or their house.  They weren't on the pond.  They weren't in the neighbor's yard.  In fact, he couldn't even hear them which was unusual because they were constantly quacking to each other.  He feared the worst fate had happened to them.

I teetered precariously over my wellies and managed to get the hem of my pajama bottoms tucked neatly inside.  I clutched an old umbrella and grabbed my flashlight.  Carefully, I sloshed to the center of the back yard and called out "Ducks....".  Silence.  "Ducks?!" I yelled with less grace and certainty.  They answered me promptly with loud quacks and I could hear their feet slapping against the wet brick path.  Relieved, I rushed over to see them waddling into their house, all neatly in a row.  I closed their gate and bid them goodnight.  They had been hiding from The Englishboy, yet they still came when I called.  I supposed that they did appreciate me after all.


The Cloak of Invisibility

Chase is a white dog and easily spotted in the yard on any dark night.  He is quite aware of this handicap.  If he doesn’t want to come in when called, he freezes, hoping he won’t be spotted.  He also knows the phrase “I can SEE you!” which then convinces him that he will be in more trouble if he doesn’t comply with the earlier command calling him in.

At the beginning of the year, The Englishman and I were in American Apparel and discovered, to our delight, a selection of dog shirts and hoodies.  I purchased a classic sweatshirt complete with the single pocket and zip up front for Chase.  It was a perfect fit and he refused to allow us to remove it for five days.  Warmer weather soon arrived and the hoodie was stored until the cold returned.

Summer turned into fall, bringing endless rain.  I dressed Charlie and Molly in new turtleneck sweaters and zipped Chase into his hoodie.  It was his super hero outfit.  It allowed him to spend longer periods of time in the yard, protected from the stinging rain and wind.  He lounged near the fire, perfectly bundled in the soft, black fleece.  He slept in the hoodie, swaddled in its’ warmth.  He would not allow anyone to remove his hoodie and one night I discovered why.

Chase followed me outside into the inky dark to check on the ducks and chickens.  I had a flashlight that dimly lit a small area in front of me.  Chase poked and sniffed near the edge of the driveway.  I whistled and assumed he would follow me.  Ever-obedient, Chase had disappeared when I returned less than a minute later.  I peered into the dark but could see nothing.  My dog had used his main super power:  The Cloak of Invisibility.  I whistled into the night.  Nothing.  I called for him, pleaded with him and offered treats.  Silence greeted me.  I returned to the house and gathered several more flashlights.  

I scanned the front yard and the street.  I imagined the lost dog posters and the embarrassment of adding “last seen wearing a black American Apparel Hoodie” to the description.  I could hear the whispers of the neighbors: who puts clothing on a dog?  I had just turned back, defeated and planning to seek assistance from The Englishman when I heard galloping clicks from the street.  Out of the darkness came a slice of white fur racing down the driveway.  Chase  dodged me and ducked quickly into the house through his dog door.  Panting heavily, he lapped the water in his bowl as The Englishman and I searched the American Apparel website for a new hoodie…in white.


Chicken Little

My youngest chicken, Willow, was broody.  She firmly planted herself in a nesting box keeping company with two golf balls.  When I checked on her, the feathers on the back of her neck rose like fine, reddish-brown needles.  She was cranky and solitary.  She wasn't laying eggs.  She wasn't granting entry for the other four chickens during the day.  I would force her out of her solitary confinement each day to make sure she had access to food and water but she promptly returned to her nest to guard the golf balls.

After two weeks of this behavior I decided that she needed a nice, warm bath to distract her from her broodiness.  I filled the kitchen sink basin with warm water and carefully placed Willow into the water.  She shook her body like a dog and flapped her wings which gave me a bath, too.  It seemed like she was okay with this new adventure because she settled into the warm water fairly quickly.  

When I was ready to remove her from the sink, I faced the challenge of wrapping a towel around her.  I needed two hands to hold Willow and keep her from trying to fly.  I looked down at the floor and saw a perfect space between the sink and my sleeping dog, Molly.  I dropped the towel to the floor, plucked Willow from her bath and set her in the center of the towel.  Willow turned her head to the left and screamed.  Molly had woken and was staring back at the dripping chicken.  The Englishman ran into the house and asked "Are you okay?"  I assured him that I was fine and that it was the chicken screaming.  The Englishman scoffed and said "I was asking the chicken, not you."

I wrapped Willow tightly in the towel and carried her into a patch of sun on the deck.  I sat down in a chair and held her in my lap.  She was peacefully basking in the sun until Chase approached and nudged me under my right arm for me to pet him.  Willow stared at the dog and then screamed again.  Her screams were loud, obnoxious and echoed across the pond.  I decided that I couldn't have the neighbors call the police so I patted the chicken dry as best as I could and returned her to the coop.

When I checked on her an hour later, she was dry and happily keeping the golf balls company once more.


The Pain of Rain

It's raining again.  The dogs don't want to go outside at all.  I push them out the door into the rain and try to offer encouraging words about going to the bathroom.  I'm waiting on the SPCA to arrive to give the final approval on fostering a dog.  Three dogs snooze and ignore the arrival of two strangers.  Car doors close and the doorbell rings.  Three dogs do not react.  I stare at them in disbelief.  I invite the two ladies inside.  Three dogs approach them like they are long lost relatives.  I continue to stare at these dogs, positive they do not belong to me.  The SPCA employees greet the dogs with plenty of petting and hugs.  They are at my home to see where the dogs sleep and to make sure we are not “dog hoarders”.  I remind them that I have three dogs, pretty sure they can count.  Apparently I am not a hoarder of dogs.

We move into the living room, standing on the new hardwood floor.  Chase jumps onto a couch.  Charlie begs for more attention.  Molly pees an entire river next to my foot.  Awkward.  I tell the ladies that the dogs don’t like to go outside in the rain.  They nod, and share a few stories of their own.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Molly has done more than just pee.  Chase uses this moment to try to start a conversation with the two ladies and I hope they don’t notice the pile that Molly has gifted me in the corner.  

Pleasantries over, they approve me for a foster home and leave.  I grab the mop, a bucket and some cleaning supplies and pray for a weekend of sunshine.  I still have to drive to work.  As I lock the house I hear the flap of the dog door and see two dog noses peek out.  Charlie and Chase watch me leave but they won’t come out.  It’s raining even harder and my dogs still don’t want to go outside.


Risks of Renovations

Chase was pink.  A lovely, yet distinct blush color had covered most of his previously white fur.  The Englishman and I pondered and argued over his new hue and finally settled on the unfinished Brazilian walnut hardwood floor we were installing.  For more than eighteen months the house was under renovation while we continued about our daily lives. 

Aside from the loud noise at times, the renovations did not seem to bother the dogs.  In fact, they seemed to enjoy the changes.  Did I just sweep a pile of debris and nails?  Molly insisted on walking right through it, tracking dusty paw prints as she continued through the house.  Did I leave a strip of insulation on the floor?  Chase preferred this to any expensive dog bed.  Did we try to nail, saw, measure or do anything low to the ground?  Watch out because Charlie was right there, ready to lick you or just be underfoot. 

At the end of the day, though, it all washed out.  Dirty paws can be cleaned, dog kisses wiped away and even a pink dog can become white again.


Lights Out

It was stormy and the power was out.  The dogs protested my late arrival home from work.  The dark gray sky was fractured by jagged bolts of lightning.  The Englishman had scattered tiny tea light candles throughout the house which provided a miniature diameter of yellow only an inch from the flame.  As I pulled out larger candles, he complained that it was too hot for them.  This was true, but I did not want to walk into sharp things as we had not finished installing the hardwood floor and tools, air compressors and an assortment of sharp items were strewn throughout the living room.

I left the house with a flashlight to check on the chickens.  I discovered a perfect, tiny blue egg sharing a nest with a larger greenish-blue one.  My newest chicken had laid her first egg and I was thrilled.  Realizing the door to their house wouldn't close without power, I fashioned a temporary barrier for the night.  I returned to our house and began the task of locating and extinguishing all of the candles.  Without streetlights and no stars or a moon, the house was filled with an inky darkness.  I used a flashlight to guide my way to the bedroom and climbed in bed,  The sheets had been pushed to the foot of the bed by the hot and cranky Englishman.

We both heard it before it reached our room.  Toe nails clicking and clacking on the wood floors, onto the plywood subfloor and slowly down the hall toward us.  Three dogs without night vision.  Crashing into tools, walls and each other as they fumbled their way to our bedroom.

Chase reached my side of the bed, first.  He then chose to climb into a chair instead of the dog bed.  I had placed some mail and shopping bags on the chair and they crinkled and rustled as Chase turned and turned in the secret, required number of circles that all dogs seem to know.  He finally flopped into the chair but still wasn't satisfied.  Shifting and flipping and sighing, the plastic shopping bags and now crumpled envelopes were hard to ignore.  I climbed out of bed and cautiously made my way to the chair.  As I attempted to remove the items from beneath Chase, he snapped at the air, unable to find my hands.  Finished, I returned to bed.

Molly decided to let us know how hot she was by panting loudly.  Charlie found something under the bed and began to play with it rambunctiously.  The Englishman was unbothered by the circus and began to snore.  I jumped up, grabbed the flashlight and ordered the dogs to follow me.  I secured Molly and Charlie in their crates.  Chase, ever obedient, was still in his chair.  I returned to bed.  The Englishman woke up and accused me of dog neglect.  I went to sleep.  Soundly.  Until five in the morning.  Three dogs who had been playing all night, including two who had been released from their crates, gathered on my side of the bed to wake me up with barks, cries and whines.  The power was back on but I knew it was going to be the start of a very long day.


Before and After

My last month there were lots of trips to the vet.  I ate mozzarella cheese even though I knew there was a pill hidden inside.  I ate canned food mixed with my favorite green beans.  Sometimes I even ate the moist dog food packets.  I knew the other dogs envied my new food.  I no longer slept in my crate at night but had my memory foam dog bed in the master bedroom next to my mom's side of the bed.  I wore a dog diaper and was able to roam freely through the open dog door at any hour.  I could still bound down the slope in the backyard with my long ears flopping and howl at the sirens in the distance.  The other dogs in my family would join in, too.

My last week I took a trip to Florida to drop the younger English boy off at his new home.  I ate chicken and waffles for lunch outside of Warner Robbins, Georgia.  I rode in my favorite spot in the car, at the very back on my dog beds piled three high so I could look out the window.  I sniffed around a parking lot in Florida but the journey made me tired.  The Englishman found a vet that was open in Gainesville, Florida and we stopped for a visit.  I pretended that I needed to go outside and dragged my mom through the slick, black parking lot in the rain.  The vet gave me a pill and I felt better.  I had sausage and pancakes for dinner.

My last night, I couldn't sleep.  I went into the backyard that shimmered with the silver moon and howled.  My mom came out and got me.  She tucked another pill into cheese and brought me back to my dog bed.  I was restless so she pulled her pillow and blanket to the floor and slept beside me.  I fell asleep with my head on her chest.

My last morning, the Englishman made bacon for breakfast.  I had the lion's share.  The older English boy arrived and I had a video phone session with an old friend from England.  I was wrapped in my blanket and sat on my mom's lap for a final drive in the car.

The first hours after, we couldn't return to the house so we went to a movie.  I don't think either of us remember it.  The Englishman secured a small orange collar with dog tags dangling like a miniature wind chime around his wrist.

The first day after, the Englishman had to leave on a business trip.  As I sat in the living room, I heard a voice clearly stating "I love you".  Gathering my courage, I went to the kitchen to explore and found Molly, holding a Build-A-Bear teddy bear that George had cherished.  I didn't realize the bear talked and Molly had set off the trigger.  I later found Chase staring at George's crate relentlessly.  I had to move it to another room.

The first week after, I returned to the vet's office and picked up a small box.  I couldn't speak.  I sat in the parking lot and cried.  I then placed the box in the passenger seat and took a slow drive around town with my former friend riding shotgun. He would have approved.

The first months after, the house was so quiet.  Sirens would sound and the three dogs wouldn't even blink.  The silence seemed so loud.  I would return home from work and remove four treats from the jar on the counter, remember and slowly put one back.  My hand naturally held four.  We folded one dog crate and stored it in the basement.  I still had his small pillow at the foot of our bed.  The material still smelled like him.

Ten months after, I heard Charlie start to howl from the deck.  He hadn't forgotten.  I looked at the Englishman and he said, "I was thinking of him, too".


Hobby Farm: A Daily Commitment

I love my little backyard farm and it has become part of my daily routine.  Before I leave for work each morning, I make the rounds with my three-pack in tow.  First I walk down the hill to the pond and check on Richard.  My beautiful male duck greets me with quacks, tail quivers and quick circles in the icy water.  He thinks he is a wild duck but I know better.  He still eats his food from a ceramic bowl.

Next, I trudge back up the hill, glancing at the bee hives.  It's still too early for any activity.  The chickens already spotted me on my way down to the pond and are cackling loudly, lined up by the gate and hoping for a treat.  Berries?  Apples?  Bananas?  If the fountain has iced over into a beautiful fairyland sculpture, I have complaining chickens trying to herd me to the corner to get me to fix their water source.  They watch me break up the frozen water with a small garden trowel and they gobble up the bits of ice that land on the ground.

Finally, I check on my newest duck members.  Two female rouen ducks and three drakes are settled in  the enclosed duck area with my tiny mallard call duck.  They aren't sure of me yet and hide behind Puddle Duck Pub, heads peaking around the corner to see if I am giving them food. 

A similar routine occurs each evening when I return home.  This time, I collect the eggs, too and watch the bees make their final landing into the hive.  It doesn't matter if it's too hot, too cold, raining, sleeting, windy, or stormy.  Keeping a hobby farm is a responsibility as well as a source of happiness and a stress reliever.

I currently am fighting bronchitis and the last thing I really want to do at 6:45 in the morning is my routine.  It's draining.  I'm so tired.  Breathing is a challenge.  So I start a little earlier and take my time.  This morning, I opened the top latch on the duck fence and then stooped down to pull up the latch on the bottom that fits tightly in place.  The spring that The Englishman recently installed to bring the door back into place, creaked open as I entered.  I let the door go too quickly and it slammed into place, startling my fine feathered friends.  I quickly filled the feeder with grain and turned to leave.  The door wouldn't budge.  The top was fine but with dread, I realized that the problem was with the bottom.  I was positive that the bolt had fallen back into place, locking me inside.  I quickly checked my pocket to make sure that I had brought my cell phone with me.  I did not want to call my husband back from the start of his commute because I had stupidly locked myself into the duck compound.  I looked around at his craftsmanship and knew I couldn't escape easily.  Before making the call, I gave the bottom of the gate a little tap with my garden clog.  Nothing.  I was impatient, sick and had six cackling ducks peering around their house at me.  I gave the bottom of the gate the hardest kick I could muster.  The gate slammed open and I quickly leaped out, my thin shawl billowing around me like a super hero cape.  I secured the gate and retreated up to the house swinging my empty bucket.  As I placed it outside the garage, I thought better of that and placed it on the floor of my car to take on my long commute to work.  After all…I still am sick!


As Seen on TV

My boss has some amazing stories to share.  My favorite story that I love begins when he first started working for the company.  He was staying in a hotel and was watching a program on the Discovery Channel about snakes.  The snake guru was demonstrating that you could pick up most snakes by the tail and the snake could not climb back on itself to bite you.  My boss was dazzled by the idea and soon an opportunity arose at home where he could proudly show off his newly discovered skill.

One evening, his daughters and wife discovered a snake in the garage and began screaming.  My boss rushed to the rescue.  One daughter was concerned for the snake’s well being and didn’t want it to be harmed.  My boss confidently informed his family that you could pick a snake up by the tail and it couldn't bite you.  He crouched down and picked the snake up by the tail.  It promptly bit him.  He threw the snake and with blood dripping down his hand, his wife drove him to the emergency room.  I suppose he missed the "don't try this at home" message in the programming.


Group Names

My pets have individual names and then they have group names.  They are smart enough to know the difference.  With a multiple pet family, it’s a lot to yell out each of their names when you require the presence of all of them.  The dogs, respond to each of their names however, if they are outside and I need them to return to the house, I simply call out, “DOGS!”    The chickens have a group name, too.  “CHICKENS!” brings about frenzy near the gate as they cluck and pace to see what sort of treat I have for them.  I’m not sure if they know their individual names of Raven, Buffy, Angel and Nancy Drew but they do respond to the group name.  The ducks have diminished down to one lonely drake named Richard and I still call him by the group name.  Calling out “DUCKS!” from my deck at any hour will bring a series of quacks in response.