Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stinkin' Dogs and A Traumatized Rabbit

I’ve said it before. I am so glad we live out in the country. It has its benefits. It does have some drawbacks occasionally too though. The last ten days have been somewhat wild for us. And the word is used literally out here in the country. We’ve been without our Pepper for ten days now and the raccoons, possums, and skunks are becoming braver and braver. Soon they’ll be pulling up chairs when we sit down to dinner. When you live out in the “wild” without a dog, all kinds of critters wander into your yard. We are almost surrounded by trees and my youngsters often call the wooded area “the jungle.” Even with a dog, we often saw a lot of critters. One day we saw a turkey walk through the yard, a deer on the driveway, and a coyote in the pasture in front of the house. Sydney watched all three from the front window and I heard her mumble, “What’s next? A dinosaur?”

So, I have been visiting pet rescue Facebook walls and internet sites and watching Craig’s List, looking for the perfect dog. The perfect dog: a mid to large sized dog, past the puppy stage, well mannered, who will bark at people who drive up but not attack them. My expectations are reasonable, right? I know it has only been a short time but it seems like I have spent eons calling and questioning people who are trying to find a home for their four-legged friends. And always in the background I have Sydney bouncing around and begging me to work some magic and find her a furry companion.

A couple of days ago I answered an ad on Craig’s List about TWO dogs. Two for the price of one… because free times two is still free!! They both sounded good. They are four and five year old Australian Shepherd mixes, used to staying outside, both female, already spayed, with no history of roaming, and they are good with kids! The perfect dogs! And I’d found two! The owner was moving from a rural setting to town and needed to rehome them right away. We went to meet the dogs that same evening and really liked them. We brought them home. The dogs were model passengers and Sydney giggled the whole way home. We were so happy! (for about an hour.) Then the escapade began. We got out of the car and immediately the dogs grabbed a kitten. I will just say Shawn is getting really good at digging holes. We comforted Sydney, buried the kitten and began to doubt our decision. We played out in the yard until it was really late. As we came in to go to bed, the dogs began to bark. I looked outside and saw both dogs jumping against Sydney’s rabbit hutch in a frenzied fit. I went out and calmed them, led them away from the rabbit, and came back inside. Fast forward 15 minutes and the scene repeated. All. Night. Long. I tried tying them up but they got right off the cable! Around 2:00 in the morning when I went out, I was almost knocked over by a horrible stench. Those dogs had been sprayed by a skunk! I had already been calling them “stinkin’ dogs by that time so I was feeling a little prophetic. This time, when I led those dogs away from the rabbit hutch and scolded them I started looking around for the hidden camera. Surely, this was not happening to me! When it was nearly morning, I wised up. I raised our window so I could hear when the dogs got crazed again and I could holler the dogs’ names without going all the way outside to calm them. The raised window had its pros and cons though. That skunk smell? You get used to it after a while. Each time I hollered at those dogs, they obeyed and left that poor rabbit alone…for about 15 minutes at a time. So basically, they are dogs with a short attention span and no impulse control. No wonder I was drawn to them. I was contemplating sharing some of Sydney’s medication with those dogs before the sun came up.

Oh, I almost forgot one of the “best parts” of this story. One of the dogs is named Julie. Julie is my little sister’s name. So, every time I yelled at that dog I thought of my little sister. Yelling at that dog was like stepping back in time about forty years. 

Sydney was up at first light and took over where I had left off, tying to distract the dogs from throwing themselves at the rabbit hutch. Even when they were not barking and trying to eat that rabbit through the wire cage, they were sitting beside the cage, staring and drooling. Finally, late in the afternoon, the two dogs went and sprawled out under my van and took a nap. I used their nap time to call the dogs’ original owner and arrange to take them back. For some reason, that guy was a little hard to get ahold of and pin down to a time to meet. He'd been so eager to meet up the day before. I wonder why? We got 'er done though. We unloaded those dogs in a hurry and sped away.

When we returned home without those stinky dogs, we were able to coax all the cats down out of the trees and Febreeze the car. Does anyone out there know of an animal therapist that can help our poor rabbit? She used to be black but now she’s white and she seems to have developed a nervous tic. And now, once again, we are looking for the perfect dog. Added to our new list of requirements is that the dog must be rabbit tolerant, cat friendly, and not share a name with one of my sisters. We've got a lead on a Golden Retriever but that fell through. Then I was sure we were going to adopt a Doberman but that was not in the cards either. We are still looking. 

If you have not yet read about our recent tragedy and the loss of Pepper, who truly was "the perfect dog," then you might want to click on the link below.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Sometimes There is Nothing I Can Do

How do you handle it when someone you have loved and looked up to your whole life disappoints you in such a way that it ruins your relationship? A relationship that meant so much to you that you have a hole in your heart that will never heal? The thing they did is terrible and it cannot be undone, fixed, or smoothed over by anyone but them? The relationship cannot be repaired... UNLESS you could go against your conscience and what you’ve always been taught is right, overlooking the transgression? What if people around you seem to be accepting the terrible thing they have done… are still doing? What if people around you are now living with this horrible thing that is openly displayed, ignoring it, and you cannot? What if you (an innocent party) are now the one who is looked at as “the bad guy” because you cannot accept the wickedness? The real “bad guy”, the one who made the awful choices, is now the “victim” in his mind, while you who have stood firm in your convictions, are seen as unforgiving and mean-spirited by the offender? How do you handle it?

Do you go to the scriptures, already knowing what’s there, to reaffirm your position? Do you go to the scriptures hoping that you have missed something, trying to prove to yourself that you have been wrong in holding your position? Do you pray for hours at a time, asking God to intervene? Do you become angry or depressed? Do you have nightmares so that you to lay awake at night, hoping you won’t dream them again? Do you turn to people you love and trust with your pain? Do you ask others to intervene and try to help fix what is wrong? Do you suffer in silence? Do you make yourself sick with worry? Do you smile and pretend it does not hurt every time you hear their name? Do you wait and wait and wait for time to heal the wound? Do you ask yourself if you should go ahead and throw in the towel, giving up your position and compromising your conscience to keep the peace? Do you lose your respect for those who already have? How do you handle it?

Sometimes, when my heart feels broken there is nothing I can do to remedy the event that caused the pain. I have felt the pain of delivering a baby that would never take a breath. There was nothing I could do.

Sometimes, when my heart feels broken I can roll up my sleeves and get busy. I have heard the words, “your child has autism. There is no cure. Now, here is what you do to help him…” I cannot cure autism but I can help my son to be the best that he can be. 

Sometimes, when my heart feels broken I know what needs to be done but I am not the one who can do it. I can ask the one(s) who do have the power to help but I cannot force them to do the right thing. I have seen a few calloused people with power close down a small rural school, which resulted in killing a whole community that I love. There was nothing I could do.

Sometimes, when my heart feels broken there is nothing I can do. I am powerless. I have felt the pain of being cut off by someone I love because I argued for the truth. Sometimes there is nothing I can do. 

I cannot always fix everything. Sometimes there is nothing I can do. Prayer is all I have left. God knows. God cares. That has to be enough.

The knots that I felt were tied so tightly in this life have slipped. I am not the one moving my position though. I am standing firm, though my heart is breaking. There is nothing worth losing my soul over. Eternity is too long. Sometimes there is nothing I can do.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Pepper

Our Australian Shepherd, Pepper, was hit and killed on the road last evening just as the light was fading from the sky. Pepper was not often on the road. She had followed Shawn and the kids when they went for a bike ride. She stopped to rest on the road while Shawn and the kids made their way down the driveway to the house. A pickup truck barreled down the gravel road, going way too fast, hit Pepper hard and kept right on going. Our neighbor was mowing close to the road and saw it happen. He said Pepper died instantly.

Sydney and Pepper, never far apart
How do you tell your little girl that her playmate, her constant companion, her faithful friend, will never follow her down the lane again? I wanted to wait until the next day, after summer school even, so Sydney’s sleep would not be disrupted and her school day would go well. Her daddy, always the wise one, knew Sydney would need to say goodbye. He gently broke the news to her, and let her choose what she wanted to do. She had to see for herself and she had to pet Pepper again. He took Sydney out to love on that dog one more time and to watch him bury her. Sydney held a flashlight while Shawn dug the hole. She asked questions and she cried, but letting her be a part of the goodbye instead of trying to cushion the cruel truth, was the right thing to do. It might not have been for every child, but for Sydney it was. Sydney always has the need to know and she will not rest until her questions are answered. I wanted to take the easy way out but the easy way is not always the best way.

Sydney with Dusty and Pumpkin
I’m not a dog person normally. I’ve always been a cat person. I do not hate dogs. I like them just fine as long as they are not really smelly, or licking me in the face, or barking at me, or jumping all over me, or shedding their hair everywhere, or shaking water on me, or chasing my cats or my car. I’ve had some really special cats over the years. We’ve lived here 21 years now and I have vivid memories of the first two cats we had: Jack and Shadow. We had a cat for many years named Socks. Socks’ mission was to produce as many kittens as physically possible in her lifetime. She kept me busy finding homes for kittens! Then there was Dusty. Sydney got a kitten when she was about four that was with us for 3 or 4 years. Dusty had the best personality and was so special to us. She loved to bring us dead things and once made it into the house with a dead rat, which she gave to Tate, of all people. He was about eight years old. It was very early in the morning and Dusty delivered that rat to Tate while he was still in bed. I guess she felt he needed breakfast in bed. Ha! A cat around here rarely makes it to an old age. It is not because we are not feeding them and providing them with shelter. We are. They just sometimes wander out and become prey for all the wildlife we have around. We have lots of coyotes around our place, as well as other animals that eat cats. Once, we were out in the yard and watched an owl pick up one of our adult cats. Luckily, it only got a few feet off the ground and dropped him. He was too heavy.

There have been dozens of felines come and go over the past 21 years, but we’ve had our fair share of dogs too. Our first, Sparky, was a Blue Healer mix we got when he was a puppy. We got him past the chewing stage and he was a really good with our kids. He was just not good with anyone else. People were afraid to get out of their cars when they came over. Sparky got more threatening and vicious as time went on and we had to keep him on a chain. One day he was lunging against his chain trying hard to get to a little girl that was visiting us. Sparky was just too dangerous and had to be put down. A friend raised Boarder Collies and offered us one we named Bandit. Bandit was a one-man dog and adored Shawn and only Shawn. She was a herder and tried to herd the kids in the yard. It was often hard for them to play. The kids couldn’t ride their bikes without her biting at their tires either. Bandit harassed our horse and cattle every day for hours. She chased the car every time we left home. As she got older she started biting people and breaking the skin. She bit a visitor one night on the back of the leg. A short time later she bit two of our kids and she drew blood. Both times it seemed to be because Shawn was interacting with the kids instead of giving his attention to her. Bandit had to go. 

Red in 2010
Just when I was beginning to think that all dogs were evil, we found a hound mix advertised in the classified ads. His name was Red and his owners had moved to town and left him on the farm to fend for himself. He was well past the puppy stage. We went to check him out and brought him home. He was the perfect dog for us, except he peed on anything that was left on the ground, including small children in car seats, diaper bags, purses, and Shawn’s tool belt. HA. As soon as we had him neutered, that stopped though and we had a lot of really good years with that dog. We especially loved his deep bark. His bark at night meant he was keeping away all the raccoons and possums and coyotes. Red was very old when he died two years ago. He was almost deaf and his eyesight was dim. We still miss him.

Sydney and Trooper
During the time we had Red, I let the kids talk me into a puppy. We got a Lab and named him Trooper. Trooper and I were like oil and water. Think Marley from the movie. Trooper shredded things, including the kids trampoline, and countless jackets and shirts. Trooper jumped on us, including tiny three-year-old Sydney and five-year-old Tate who shuddered in fear and stopped going outside to play. I, myself, even hated to go outside and have him jump all over me. Trooper got sick and died unexpectedly when he was only two years old. No, I did not do it; but no, I did not shed a tear. I will never own another Lab and I do not believe anyone will ever be able to talk me into a puppy again. Ever. I know they are cute and sweet and fun. They are also more work than a newborn baby.

We are not the kind of family who would pay hundreds of dollars for a special breed of dog. We would not run up a vet bill hoping to save an injured animal. We would not treat a pet for a serious disease like diabetes or cancer. We don’t take them to a groomer. We don’t take them to a kennel when we are going on a trip. We do not let them sleep with us in our beds. We choose not to. That does not mean we think badly of people who do choose to spend large amounts of money on their pets though. I’m sure we spend our money on things that other people would not and have hobbies that some would not appreciate.

We get our pets spayed or neutered and all the basic shots. We worm them and provide them with tick and flea prevention. We comb them. We feed them. We love them. But we remember that they are not people. God gave us animals to enjoy and to use. If you read the creation story you know that God put man OVER the animals. Since we live in the country and have a lot of animals, we sometimes become almost calloused to them dying or disappearing. Almost. It is very hard for a few days and then we move on. I was thinking last night while I was choking back the tears, about how much Pepper has meant to us. She has meant a lot. But was she family? She was a dog. I still get an ache in my heart when I think about the day Dusty died as well but I could never compare it to the day Chaney, my baby girl died. It pains me sometimes to hear people say that their animals are as important to them as their children are. My kids and husband were on the road last night, only minutes before that truck came barreling down the road and killed Pepper. I am so thankful that we aren’t planning a funeral today. I’m so thankful I am mourning the loss of a dog, not a child.

Bailey and Pepper 
My girls found Pepper on Craig’s list just a few days after Red died. She was a three-year-old Australian Shepherd, living in a small backyard in Kansas City. She had become an escape artist and needed a place out in the country. Within a few days of owning Pepper we could tell she was the perfect fit. She barked at cars that came down our lane just as Red had, but she was not threatening though. She was really smart, by far the smartest dog we have owned. Bailey taught Pepper several tricks easily. Pepper was friendly, but not overly so and she adored Sydney. Sydney went nowhere that Pepper did not follow. When Sydney came into the house, Pepper sat at the door and waited for her to come back out. The rest of us could be in the yard and Pepper would be interacting with us but if Sydney came out, the rest of us were forgotten. Pepper did not wander the neighborhood. She did not chase the cattle, unless we asked her to. She will be very hard to replace. We need another dog. A dog who can keep all the wildlife out of the yard at night and entertain Sydney during the day; A dog like Pepper who can help me forget I am not a dog person. So the hunt is on. Can we do it again? Yes. Yes we can!

Read about our search for a new dog here: Stinkin' Dogs This one will make you laugh I think. 

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sydney's Passion for Cows

Monday I took Sydney to her happy place, the sale barn in Overbrook. We weren’t there to buy or sell. She just loves to be close to the cows and watch them walk across the auction block. She oohs and aahs over every cow that walks in front of us. She comments and exclaims over each one. She keeps looking at me to make sure I am seeing what she is seeing. She wants me to agree with her. They are beautiful. She has favorite breeds and colors but she believes they are all beautiful. I do not know exactly why my little girl finds cattle so enchanting but she is crazy for them. She has been for many years now. She loves all animals but cows are her passion.

The cattle sale does not start until 11:00 usually and Sydney is up at the crack of dawn so she was very anxious to get going Monday. I suggested she pretend she was an auctioneer and try to auction off her plastic toy cows. I played with her for a while and then moved into the kitchen to do some cleaning. I could hear her though. Her toy farmer was bidding on cattle. She asked him if he’d like to buy one of her bulls for $300.00 and the farmer said that was too much. She asked him if he’d buy it for $2000.00 and the farmer said, “Yes, that is much better.” Numbers are just not her thing. Ha.
Grandpa's herd
We’ve always had cattle close enough to the house that she can catch sight of them most days. My dad, her grandpa, usually has about thirty or so head, mostly Black Angus or mixed breed cattle. Almost every day grandpa goes into the pasture to check on his cows, usually stopping by to pick Sydney up so she can go along. It is the highlight of Sydney’s day. She will forgo swimming, playing with friends, eating, games, movies, or shopping, all activities she enjoys, if she can go with grandpa for the ride through the pasture. I am so glad my dad takes her. It is a special memory she will always have, long after he is gone. It was my dad that introduced Sydney to cows and to the sale barn experience.

Sydney relates well to all of our animals. As I mentioned in a recent post, they do not get tired of her constant chatter or her pestering as people do. I often think of the famous Temple Grandin and how well she relates to cattle when I see Sydney interacting with the cows, dog, and horse. Although Sydney does not have autism as Temple Grandin does, they do have similarities. Perhaps Sydney will work with animals one day if her interests do not change as she ages.

Sydney with Obadiah
Sydney has two cows of her own right now. They have unique names: Obadiah and Habakkuk. When these calves came into our lives, Sydney was learning the books of the Old Testament so she chose to name the calves after prophets. She has shortened the names over time to Obah or Obie and Backa. Obie is a steer (male but not a bull, for you city folk). We bought him from a nearby dairy farmer. Backa, a heifer (female calf, for you urbanites), came from the cattle auction. Obie is an Ayrshire, a dairy breed and Backa is a Hereford. Obie will need to be sold soon. This breaks my heart for Sydney. Obie and Sydney are in love. Backa likes Sydney just fine, especially if she has grain in her hand. But Obie and Sydney have a special bond. Backa is still penned close to the house, too young to be put in with the bull because she is much too young to breed. Obie was turned out into the big pasture at the beginning of the summer. When Sydney sees Obie up close to the house or when grandpa takes her out into the pasture, Obie lets Sydney hug and kiss him, pet him and pat him. If he is lying down, she climbs on him or lays on him. He tolerates it all. He is big enough now that I worry a little bit about how strong he is and how little Sydney is but he sure would not hurt her on purpose. Can I pet Obie? No. Can my dad pet Obie? No. If we get close he walks or trots right away. Sydney has spent so many hours with that calf from the day we brought him home that he has bonded with her. Sydney knows that Obie will have to be sold one of these days and she knows what happens to steers. Some days she seems okay with it and some days tears well up if it is mentioned. I always remind her that she can get another calf and occasionally that perks her back up. It is tough sometimes, being a farm girl. We see a lot of animals come and go.

A few days ago we got quite a laugh when Sydney became confused about something. Habakkuk is a Hereford. That is the breed. She is also a heifer. That is her gender. Sydney knows this. But, she became confused a few days ago about how we could call Backa both things. She asked Shawn if Backa was a mixed breed, half Herford, half heifer.

Sydney pours over books about cows. It is amazing the number of books I have been able to find her about cattle and the different breeds there are. She memorizes the cattle breeds but like many of the things she learns and knows reliably for a while, she loses the information and has to relearn it. This is due to the brain damage from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Some breeds she does not forget often though. Those are her favorites. She LOVES longhorn cattle and there is a pasture of those close by that I sometimes take her to see. I can park the van on the gravel road next to the fence and sit there for a very long time before she is ready to go. A Charolais (pronounced Shar Lay) is a breed of white cattle that Sydney really likes. A Brahma is another favorite of hers. It has a very unique look to it. We have seen a very few of those come through the sale barn but we’ve never seen any out in pastures nearby. She likes Herefords, Black Angus, and Holstein cattle a lot. Many of the other breeds she can name without help some days, while other days the names are totally lost for her. Thank you birth mother with a drinking problem (sarcasm intended).

Sydney knows every pasture with cattle in it and what breed or color of cattle the pastures contain between home and all our regular destinations. If a farmer moves a herd of cows or sells some, it does not go unnoticed by my little girl. On our way somewhere this past week she exclaimed, “Hey, there are usually lots of black cows in that pasture. I wonder where they are?” Sure enough, I did not notice until she pointed it out but the cows were missing. Sometimes it is as detailed as, “There is usually one white faced cow in with all those Black Angus. I don’t see it today.” Sometimes she worries about where the cows went, hoping the farmer did not have to sell them. When I go somewhere without Sydney I sometimes find myself listening for her to exclaim, “Aren’t those cows so cute?” from the backseat.

Sydney's herd
Sydney’s preferred toys are not Barbie dolls, but plastic cows and tractors. She has a couple of plastic barns and a livestock trailer. She asked for a grain truck for her birthday. THAT was hard to find. Sydney builds elaborate fences out of Lincoln logs and she “farms” all over the living room. She does play with other things like baby dolls but often cows are incorporated into that as well. She scans Netflix, looking for shows about animals, especially about livestock. This week Sydney thought she’d like to watch a movie with her oldest sister. Her sister said, “How about a love story?” Sydney said, “Ohhhhh yeah, one with cows in it.” I gave up long ago trying to interest Sydney in Disney princesses and tea parties. I decorated her room in what she loves. She has photos and posters of cattle on her walls. Her bedspread is covered in cows and her curtains are barnyard animals. She is very proud of it. She may have started out in Pskov, Russia but she’s a Kansas farm girl now!

Like what you read?  Want to read more?   Sydney, from the back seat of the van

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