Monday, September 15, 2014

When A Best Friend Dies

She finds herself crying a lot lately.

Sitting on the sofa in the family room, she'll look down at the spot on the carpet where he loved to lie and watch her as she went about her writer's life,

and the tears begin to fall.

She misses his shaggy ruff and pricked ears,
the plumed tail and intelligent, gentle eyes;

the outstretched paw and playful "chuff" that he used to get her attention when she paid too much attention to that machine on her lap.

She cries because he was only 11; she doesn't understand why her time with him was so short.  Collies live to 13, at least, don't they?

Maybe it was his size.  At 125 pounds, he topped the scales for a male collie.  Surely his wolf blood would have lengthened his lifespan, wouldn't it?

But it didn't.

It was his hips.  They failed him, quickly and spectacularly.  He went from leaping in and out of the van for daily walks in the woods and parks, to being unable to get up on his own.

She did not want to say good-bye yet.  She wasn't ready to give him up, to be without her best buddy.

But she couldn't stand to hear him cry when he tried to get up; to watch him crawl towards the water bowl that she had placed next to him; to see him tremble on shakey legs after being helped into the yard.

She sobbed as she spoke with the doctor about coming to the house.  She spent the last night lying on the couch, with her hand caressing his fur.  In the morning she held back tears as his tail thumped a happy greeting to the women who had come to ease his passing.

She held him as he pulled back from the needle, and looked at her with those beautiful gold eyes.  She held him as he slipped into unconsciousness; as the doctor listened for the heartbeat that was no longer there.

The guilt haunts her.  What could she have done differently?

He was only 11....


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking a Hacksaw to the Arbor

She's supposed to be writing her next novel.

After she takes us for our morning walk, she's supposed to get her laptop, make herself comfortable, and continue weaving the story of her latest hero. But, sometimes, real life intervenes with a distraction.

Yesterday, the distraction was an insistent tap, Tap, TAPPING that greeted us as we walked towards the front door. Cody quickly tracked the noise to the vinyl arbor that forms an archway between our front and side yards. The arbor is missing two crossbars, which leaves four diamond-shaped holes gaping open at the top of the hollow plastic legs. Somehow or another, a little bird had flown into one of the holes and down a leg. The tapping we heard was the bird's frantic effort to peck an escape route through the thick plastic. We could see its little claws clinging to one of the small holes by which the lattice attaches to the legs, and its hard beak trying to enlarge the opening.

She spent the next hour trying various means to get the bird to climb out of the leg. First Cody's tie-out cable went down the hole, with no success. Then, in succession, morning glory vines, wisteria branches, and household twine. Although the little bird pulled the vine into the hole, and climbed the branch to the next lattice hole, it always returned to its original location and started tap, tap, tapping once again.

Finally, she went to the garage, got a hacksaw, and started sawing the corner open next to the bird's location. Once she opened the corner hole, she cut a piece of caning off her "Cracker Barrel" porch rocker seat, and stuck that through the hole. Then we retreated to the porch and waited for the bird to find his way to freedom.

We didn't have to wait very long. Within two minutes, we saw a little sparrow appear at the hole, then take flight.

It was a great feeling. But her job wasn't finished, yet. Not until she had sealed all four -- now five -- holes with masking tape. He says he will arrange a more permanent solution using painted wood pieces....

Monday, October 26, 2009


Cody and I have been volunteered for various babysitting jobs in the past, such as the time we cared for six kittens for a weekend. Our most memorable adventure, though, was when we helped care for 252 chinchillas, two horses, three donkeys, six goats, seven dogs, five cats, and one baby raccoon.

If you've never raised chinchillas, you probably don't know that no matter how secure their enclosure, the little rascals somehow manage to get out. Which means that every morning when she took us to the chin building to check on our charges, Cody waited outside with the other dogs, while I escorted her inside. As she did a head count, I scouted around and started tracking whichever critter had escaped during the night. Usually, we were able to round up the furry bundles ourselves, but one particularly elusive chin had to be double-teamed by both me and Cody. He cut the critter off from the corners and crevices, while I herded the varmint into her waiting hands.

After the morning round-up and outside chores involving the horses, goats, and donkeys, we would head inside for a bit to eat. I would say a rest, but there was no rest for us that week. Not when a baby raccoon was sharing our quarters.

Rocky was not very pleased to see us when we first came through the door. Since humans have hunted raccoons for ages using dogs, the little tyke's fearful spitting and hissing was to be expected. But by day two he had warmed up to us, and was crawling over me and Cody as readily as he climbed into her lap for a snuggle.

Cody and I have both been around human infants, and we were struck at how similar little Rocky's mannerisms and cries were to that of a human baby. He was also as tenacious as a toddler when it came to getting his way and getting her to free him from the confines of his pen. If you've ever had a toddler rattle the sides of a crib, you can just imagine how noisy it got when Rocky banged and rocked his metal cage walls. But what really melted her heart was when he'd reach his little paws through the spaces in the cage and reach for her while crying. No mother could resist such an appeal.

I have included a couple of YOUTUBE videos here, for those of you who are interested in chinchillas and raccoons. The first reminds me of Cody and the chinchillas, though, in truth, Cody would have completed the task much, much, MUCH faster. The second is pretty characteristic of our time with Rocky.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Contradictions in Concrete

Most humans like animals. Some love animals. A few hate them, just as they hate everything and everybody in their lives. Except for the latter group, humans are compelled to aid an animal in need. Thus, the news stories about burly construction workers who toil for hours to rescue a baby moose caught in wet concrete; firemen who risks their lives to save a dog trapped in an icy lake; bystanders who dive into a reservoir's freezing water to rescue a drowning fawn. Whole organizations exist to help abandoned or mistreated animals, or to save entire groups of animals from extinction. And yet....

And yet, despite these kindly instincts, and actions taken as individuals, human institutions continue to make decisions regarding the construction of roads and highways that lead, invariably, to the deaths of countless wild and domestic animals, and, in many instances, to injury or death for their own kind. Take, for example, the recent decisions to use miles and miles and miles of Jersey barriers--concrete medians that separate automobile traffic traveling in opposite directions.

Next time you are on a highway and can safely do so, notice how a Jersey barrier is constructed: five to six feet tall, wide at the bottom and narrower at the top, smooth and solid concrete, located in the direct center of opposing lanes of traffic. They form a deadly obstacle to any animal fortunate enough to get from the greenspace on the side of the road to the barrier alive. Once there, the Jersey barrier is impenatrable and insurmountable to groundhogs, skunks, oppossum, chipmunks, and other ground-dwelling animals. They have no choice but to scout along the bottom of the barrier for an opening that will never appear, or to return to the side of the road from which they came. Most will not make it.

As for deer, the barriers are just as deadly, for they limit visibility of traffic on the other side. Deer can jump the barrier, but they are as likely as not to jump into the path of a tractor trailer, van, or automobile. Such a collision is unlikely to harm the driver of a tractor trailer physically, but could prove deadly for occupants of smaller automobiles and any vehicles involved in a resulting chain-reaction accident.

I remain convinced that most humans would much rather not harm animals, and that they are as saddened and depressed by the sight of tiny corpses along the road has she is when we take a trip.
Perhaps humans need to include individuals in their road planning groups who are not focused solely on the engineering or human safety aspects of a highway project. Humans need to give voice to their humane side, and not just quietly acquiesce to their contradictions in concrete.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

45 in a 15 MPH Zone

We lost one of our babies last week.

The mama deer was bringing her twins down from the woods to visit other feeding grounds. She and one of the babies had crossed the street in front of our house, but the second fawn lagged behind and ended up getting hit by a car. The baby did not die right away. Neighbors called authorities, who called an officer from the Department of Natural Resources, who put the baby down.

When she found out, she exploded in anger.

There's a reason, she fumes, for the 15 MPH limit on a congested street where children play. She curses the speeding drivers who kill "her" squirrels and chipmunks and fawns. Threatens to build a speed bump to slow cars down, Vows to call the police department to demand that patrols enforce the 15 MPH speed limit.

Then she remembers.

The last time a child was hit by a car on the street, it was a police car doing the customary 45 MPH used by most motorists in the neighborhood.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Something slithery this way comes

He warns her to be on the lookout for snakes during our walks in the hills. Rattlesnakes and copperheads and water moccasins share the woods and creeks, as do the less lethal black snakes and racers. Usually, Cody and I take care of that job for her--Cody dashing noisily ahead on the path, alert for danger, while I follow along behind, making sure she has not fallen or otherwise hurt herself.

The other day, though, she spotted it first. It looked like a long, broken stick. But then she realized a broken stick would not conform so firmly to the concrete parking block over which it had "fallen." So she looked for movement at one end, and then the other. That's when she saw the forked tongue flicking quickly in and out of an open mouth. She was tempted to get closer, to see if the snake had the elliptical pupils and diamond head of a poisonous snake. But by then we had felt her concern. Cody got between her and the snake, while I herded her farther away from it.

She watched as made its way slowly across the black asphalt, towards a grassy catch basin, and eventually lost sight of it as we climbed up and over a familiar hill.
None of us had expected to see a three foot long snake crawling across the parking lot where she had parked the car. Next time, we'll know better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cell phones and texting are deadly while driving

She doesn't text while driving, mostly because she doesn't know how to text. But the cell phone, which she does know how to use, stays in the ash tray when she drives us to our favorite parks and other walking places.

A long time ago, she says, her father told her that, when driving, the driver should be doing nothing else: not looking for the coffee cup, or lighting a cigarette, or searching for a radio station, or scrambling for coins. There is time enough to do that, he said, when the car is stopped and the driver does not have to be on the lookout for cars suddenly slamming on the brakes, or animals darting across the road, or children running into the street.

Perhaps if more humans paid attention to the act of driving, fewer squirrels would be lying dead along the roadways this year. They are easy to spot, if you are looking for them. And they are easy to avoid, if you see them in time--as you would be if looking ahead and not at a cell phone in your hand.

We have had a number of close calls this year, because nuts are scarce and the squirrels must scavenge far and wide to find adequate food. But because she was paying attention, she was able to stop in time.

From the number of dead squirrels along the roads, though, it is apparent that not all drivers are as attentive. Makes you wonder if the drivers would be able to stop, if it was a child running into the path of their car.