The Four-Legged Family

So much has happened in the past two months that my head is spinning. On any given day lots happen, but it seems especially hard in the past few months. I’m finding myself facing caregiver burnout despite the fact I’m taking better care of myself and making time for things that make me happy.

One of my greatest joys each day is spending time with our dogs. First, we have Jack. Jack is a Poodle-Shih Tzu mix (yes, he is a Shiht-Poo) that we like to call “our starter dog.” We adopted him, in November 2014, through an online classified ad. Much of his history and background is still unknown to us and, what we were told, had mostly been incorrect and unreliable. We weren’t sure if we could even have a dog due to history of allergies in our family, but since he had poodle in him, we felt he was a safe bet. (Poodles are largely promoted as hypoallergenic breeds, though your results may vary.)

The day we took Jack into our family was chaotic to say the least. The day prior was the memorial service for my father-in-law who had passed away from a rare but, mercifully, quick cancer. My husband had not been feeling well for most of that day, but had made every effort he could to get through it all and to be there for his mom. Around midnight however, he had to be flown to the hospital for kidney stones. I remained home until the early morning time to arrange for child care and to take the car on the first ferry so that we had a way to bring him home. While I was traveling to the hospital, I was able to arrange for friends to take our house guest to the airport and, while in the area, pick up Jack. This was no easy feat. It was at least a 7-hour round trip for those dear friends. Anyway, when Jack showed up, he instantly connected to me as Mom, and that was it– he only tolerates everyone else. He is my ever-present shadow and, alleged, protector. Not quite the family dog we imagined.

After a few years later (2016) we decided to get a puppy so that it would have a chance to bond with the boys and become used to their quirky ways. By this point, we had learned of a few different breeds without allergy issues. My husband had done the research and we decided that we wanted an English Shepard. Once the idea was there, I couldn’t let it go, and I scoured the Internet for days, looking for available puppies. Finally, I found one litter of puppies that were too cute to resist. The breeder of the puppies was in Texas, which brought on added uncertainty, since we could not meet the pups prior to purchase. However, she took good care of the pups, sent us frequent photos of the pups we were considering, and spent a lot of time talking with us, getting to know what we were looking for, and helping us choose which pup we wanted. Then, when we had chosen one of the pups (a beautiful tri-color female with freckles), she kept us updated with more photos and progress of her growth, confirming that this was the one we wanted. We paid the adoption fee and the additional shipping costs and waited the five weeks needed for the pup to be an appropriate age to leave the pack.

20160828_224821000_iOSThe day she arrived is almost a whole story of its own. We went to the cargo terminal of the airline that she was flown in on. Hubs decided to stay in the car with the boys to try to keep things calm, knowing that she’d be scared, having her very first adventure. I walked into the office and the agent checks my paperwork, confirms my identity and then hands me a plastic bag and some disposable rubber gloves saying, “You’re going to need these,” as she instructs me where to meet our pup.

They open the large cargo door and wheel her crate out on a cart. Before I can get very close, I smell her. Trying not to gag, I approach the crate and start talking sweetly to this very dirty, scared little pup. Thank goodness that I’m a mom who keeps wet wipes in the car at all times. We have a several-hour trip back home with this dog but, there is NO WAY she’s getting in our car smelling like that. Hubs instructs the kids to stay in the car, but of course they refuse to listen– they have a new puppy! He grabs the 14568207_10205542876491800_7994012053452788698_nwipes and I put on the gloves, and try my best to wipe down this adorable, squirmy, smelly little thing. When I’m satisfied, I hand her off to the hubs (who has the weakest stomach and had to move across the parking lot away from the stench (LOL, I’m sorry babe)). The kids have run back to the car to avoid the smell, and I set to work on cleaning the crate as best as I can. We had ordered and shipped a crate that would hold her as an adult (thinking to save money by buying just one crate for her, since they’re expensive) to the breeder to fly her to us in. This crate probably could have held the entire littler of puppies without a problem. So here she was, a tiny, scared little thing, being flown without sedation or company, away from the only family she’d ever known, to a new place and new people in a giant crate. She was shipped out with just a piddle pad for comfort and they gave her food and water for the trip. A good idea in concept but, bad in execution. The water spilled, the food spilled and she went potty a few times. Then, all that mixed around in the crate and marinated while she stomped and romped around in it.

Okay, so things are adequately clean, and we head to the nearest pet store, hoping to get her bathed. They don’t have self-serve bath stations, and they won’t take her because she’s not up to date completely with all her shots. Instead, I rush around and grab a bed for the crate, a few toys and some “grooming wipes” that I thought might help clean her a bit more. When all that is done, we head for home. Of course, she howled the entire way, stuck in her crate, totally miserable. Once home she got a bath and, though she finally was home, smelling good, ready for snuggles, I can’t help but think that these events provided a bit of trauma for her. She still hates those grooming wipes, crates and baths!

Our boys helped us pick the name for her. We tossed around a few ideas until we finally chose the name River. I could say it’s because she’s a working dog and loves the outdoors. I could say there is some special meaning but, honestly, the name comes from a favorite show of our family, Doctor Who. It’s a perfect fit and I cannot imagine a better name for her.

There is just something that is unique and special about River. Our initial idea with her was that maybe she’d become a good companion dog for E, to help with his autism. Maybe she’d be therapeutic for him. Turns out, she’s been therapeutic for all of us. She is a total family dog in that she has bonded with each one of us. I cannot say enough about how special this dog is. She’s grown up around our boys, so their “off” days of stimming and fighting and all the other noises and chaos in our house are normal to her and don’t bother her. She is sensitive to emotions and needs. If you’re sick, she sleeps next to you. If one of the boys is crying, she lays her head on their lap. I could go on. More recently, she has been sleeping on E’s bed and, though he still has the sleep issues that are common with autism, he sleeps much better with her there.

file4-2Lastly, we have Rory (another Doctor Who name). In October, we went to the pet store for a few supplies on a day that a local shelter was holding an adoption event. We had been tossing around the idea of another dog that could be specifically trained as a service dog; one that was on the stronger side that could be trained to provide deep pressure calming therapy. We looked at the various dogs on display and didn’t really see any that caught our eye. Most of the dogs were ones that would cause allergy issues or were too small. As we are about to leave, we saw this medium-sized, black and white dog, with sad eyes, that looked like a pit bull mix. Almost no one was paying attention to him and, with all the chaos going on and all the dogs barking and whining, he was just sitting there– calm and quiet, looking at us with those sad eyes. We asked to see him and were allowed to walk him around the store to get to know him. There was an instant connection with this guy and our family. Something about him felt like a perfect fit. We made the spur-of-the-moment decision to take him home with us.

As we completed our paperwork, we were told that he was about 4-5 months old, was considered a Shar Pei mix and didn’t have a name, only a number (we’ve since learned that, as of this writing, he’s about nine months old, was picked up as a stray in Fresno, CA in June of this year and, he’s a mix of Border Collie, Shar Pei and American Staffordshire Terrier). The poor baby had lived most of his life on the street or in shelters.

Due to the requirement to be neutered prior to adoption, we agreed to foster him for two weeks until he could have the surgery. However, if we had known what was in store, I wonder if we would have left him at the store that day.

We only had him a few days when we discovered that he had worms. Not a huge deal and easy to treat but, due to the fostering agreement, we had to drive an hour away to the shelter to pick up medication from them, rather than use our local vet. By the end of the first week, he was sick with what we assume was kennel cough. And it was bad. You know how, often times when babies are sick they have this trail of snot running from their nose to their lip? Rory was like that, but worse. Because he was sick, his surgery was postponed at least another week.

At about three weeks into fostering him, he was still sick, and River was now sick. We got a week’s worth of antibiotics for Rory, and we had to go to our vet to get medicine for River. He seemed to improve but, as soon as the medication was finished, he got even worse than before. One morning, he wouldn’t get up from his bed– he seemed to have lost the function of his legs on his left side. He couldn’t walk, stand or even potty without falling over. After making an emergency call to the shelter’s vet, we were obligated to return him to the shelter for long-term care.

My husband and a very devastated and worried Mr. E, made the long to trip with Rory to the shelter in our new no-dogs-allowed car. Hubs is thinking of the conversation he will have with the vet to make arrangements for us getting him back once he is well. However, the vet did not make an appearance, rather, she sent her teenaged daughter out with a full refund. No words exchanged except “here’s your money” and, “I’ll take him from here.” Quite the cold shoulder, leading to much frustration on our part. Rory had become part of our family and we were worried.

Over the next two weeks, hubs and I both, in vain, emailed and phoned the shelter, looking for information. We were never contacted in return until, one day, a curt text came through. Rory had just been neutered and we could formally adopt him that weekend from the shelter, if we were so inclined. Of course, once E knew that Rory was available to come home, there was no stopping the process, even if Mom and Dad had reservations about his health in general.file1-2

So, we make the journey to the shelter yet again, at the time specified, to finally adopt and bring Rory home. When we got there, two hours after the adoption event started, he was not there. We waited probably 30 minutes to do the paperwork which, honestly, seemed too long. Then we waited another 10-15 minutes for them to bring him to us. Meanwhile, several other dogs are finding forever homes and all we are able to do is just sit and observe. At least two other dogs in that office were sick with kennel cough too. Now, the shelter didn’t seem that dirty, but it was a fairly chaotic and seemed disorganized. Most of the dogs were in groups in outdoor kennels, in wet weather and, it just felt unfriendly. I’m such a bleeding heart– if I could have, I would have taken them all home!

When Rory was brought out and he saw us, he bolted straight for E, knocking him over and licking him like crazy, then dashed off to jump on and lick the rest of us. This was a dog who, despite being sick most of the short time he was with us, was overjoyed to see us! We finally got our Rory back and headed home.

After a few weeks, when the adoption agreement expired, we took him to our local vet to establish care and check up on his health. He seemed good and healthy now, putting on weight and bulking up, except that he had issues with frequent urinating in the house (even in his crate!), and excessive thirst. The vet drew blood, took various samples and, all in all, he looked healthy. One thing he did have was a huge yeast infection in one of his ears (Shar Peis are prone to this). They cleaned his ears, we were given medicines and, away we went with a follow-up scheduled in two weeks.

A few days before our scheduled appointment, we discover he still has worms. The vet decides that he needs an x-ray to help diagnose his frequent thirst/urination issues as it could be a sign of something more serious. While he is asleep for that, he is provided with another ear cleaning, medication for his ear, a booster shot that was due, and a nail trimming. The next day, the vet called me from her home as soon as she got the results. (I’m going to digress here, for a moment, and say that I love our vet! They are amazing!) Rory has three various parasites and some miscellaneous bits of wire (!!!) floating around in his intestines. Say what??? Good news though: he didn’t seem to have any crystals or stones floating around that could cause the urination issues, his kidneys and liver are working well, and there are no bladder or kidney stones, and the wire should pass naturally. Bad news: now he needs to have an ultrasound to check for anything else that wouldn’t have shown up on the x-ray and, he’s now on more medication for the parasites. (Just to digress again: if you have pet and don’t have pet insurance, get it now!)

Update: Rory got the ultrasound and is physically healthy. He is finishing up his medications for the parasites and his true personality come through more each day. He’s putting on a lot of weight and is starting to look like an adult dog his age and breed should look. He is also getting better with his potty-training and hopefully will be starting obedience classes soon.

As I look at him now, with his big stupid grins and sloppy kisses, I feel so very happy that we rescued him. He has brought a lot of joy and laughter for us humans, and has become River’s best friend. While he has some health issues now, we feel confident that he is a wonderful addition to our family and will make a great service dog when he is a bit older. It was a wild adjustment but he is one of us now and we love him so much.

Whether it’s with our pets or our family, when it seems like you can’t catch a break, we find that humor helps. So, with all of the various health issues that our family must deal with, we wryly laugh that he was meant to be with us. He fits right in!

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Adventures with Chickens Part Deux – Timing

Timing of things is always important: if you don’t time something that you’re baking, it won’t end well; if you have a sassy comeback to a stupid comment, you usually don’t think of it in time; catching your dog in the act of wrongdoing so that you can scold them properly is always difficult. All these things require proper timing.

Something that didn’t occur to me was timing in regards to our chickens and their chicks practicing their flying skills.

Recently, they have decided that their enclosure is just not good enough, and have been “flying the coop,” so to speak. The coop itself is fully enclosed with a door that we prop open during the day so that they can go in and out and have a bit of yard to explore. That yard area, in turn, is fenced off with a short-ish fence (designed and executed by myself), simply to keep the dog from eating their poop (dogs are gross). Now however, they have learned that they can fly over it. Time to raise the height. Of course our timing is off.

The past weekend, our area was hit with major wind storms. Warmer air, little to no rain but wind that makes you feel like you’re trying to stand on a flatbed truck doing figure eights down the freeway! Okay, maybe not, but the weather reports said gusts up to 60 miles per hour but our home is in a valley between two mountains so the wind gets accelerated when it blows so we always get stronger winds.

We are fairly faithful at letting the chickens out every day. It’s good for them and keeps them happy. So last weekend, we did as we always do and let them out and propped the coop door open. Then went about our business. Twilight falls and it’s time to put them away, so that we avoid another run-in with raccoons. My dear, sweet hubby took pity on me and went out in the wind storm to take care of this, only to come back and tell me that two are missing.

What??? I sigh and launch into action. “I’ll go look,” I say figuring he had somehow just missed them. I know better but, somehow, I feel like things always fall on me to find, even if it’s right in front of someone’s face.

So out I go with a flashlight in one hand and mealworms in another. I’ve already sort of trained them to come when I shake the bag of mealworms. It’s their treat of choice. I wander around the entire yard – all 1.5 acres of it; even inspecting the kid’s playset. Nothing. No evidence of an attack. No feathers. Just “poof!” they’re gone.

We have concluded that they decided to practice flying over the fence to explore the “greener grass on the other side” and got caught in a wind gust. They may have survived and are doing quite well or, they could already have been someone’s meal. We will likely never know.

Now we’re down to three chickens, all because of bad timing.

Bye-Bye Sunlight and Mama Hen.

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Mama and Sunlight

Adventures in Chicken Farming

 

A little over a year ago, I finally convinced my hubby to build me a chicken coop and let me raise chickens. “It’s a great teaching experience for the kids,” “We can have fresh eggs.” Finally, we get the coop made, and our neighbors offer us free chickens out of their abundance. Now, I’m familiar with chickens, I mean, I know what they look like, I know they lay eggs of different colors depending on the breeds and I know how to cook and eat chicken bought from the store. That is essentially the extent of my knowledge. I’m basically taking this on like a crash course; Sink or swim. I’m over the moon.

We get our three free hens (at least we’re all pretty sure they are hens, but one may be a rooster. Thankfully, they all were hens). It took 9 months for them to mature enough to start laying eggs. Then after about two months and, maybe, 3 dozen eggs, they start turning “broody.” Basically, what that means is that they stop laying more eggs and just sit in the nest all day trying to hatch the eggs they already have. They do this even if we collect the eggs every morning and afternoon.

Doing some research, I found ways to try to “break” them out of this cycle. Nothing seemed to work, or it would work but, a week later, they’d go right back to being broody. Finally, at the end of summer, we adopted a beautiful rooster and allowed him to do his thing, which in turn would allow the hens’ now- fertilized eggs to hatch and, hopefully, stop this behavior of theirs for good, since they’d be raising chicks. Really it was just one hen that kept doing it, but then the other two copied her.

We allowed our hen to sit on a “clutch” or group of 6 eggs. She hatched one and lost interest in the others. This worked out okay, because one of the other girls turned broody. So we moved the remaining 5 eggs under her. One got broken and was disposed of. Over the next week or so, one disappeared into the aether. It just… vanished. No traces were found. I did some reading on what could have happened. Might have been a rat or, mama stepped on it, broke it and ate it. Nice! Down to 3 eggs and one more hatched. The other 2 turned out to be duds. Meanwhile, hen #3 drops dead out of nowhere. Not sure what happened. She was fine and then, a few hours later, dead. Did some more research (I do a lot of internet searching it seems). It might have been a heart attack but, sometimes, they just die. Sad but, moving on because we have two new chicks to care for. Each hen has a baby.

They are adorable. I love babies. Anything baby and I’m a goner. I’m still learning the ropes but I find it so easy to let nature take its course and let the hens do the work of raising the chicks. It’s a funny dynamic because they are so protective of their young, even pecking at their chick if they spend time too close to the other mama.

Now, we live in a mostly rural area, and have some predators to watch for. We had to enclose the coop on all sides, including a roof and making sure animals couldn’t dig down and under as well. For the first few months, I was religious about spending time with my hens, talking to them, getting them to eat out of my hand and of course locking them up at night in the coop.

After getting our dog, Jack, we ended up enclosing a portion of the yard just for the hens. Jack likes to “play” with the hens but is too rough and loves to snack on the droppings (Dogs can be so gross!). So the hens now have a “run” or play-yard to walk about in during the day and, with the rooster, I got a lot lazier about watching them. I even started leaving the coop door open at night because I knew that the rooster would protect them. One or two nights after his arrival he proved just that and dispatched a rat that came in. So, I get caught up in my kids, dog and daily living and become less of a nut over my “girls.”

Then one night a raccoon discovered the open door. Boy did the rooster make a racket. I ran outside, in the dark, in my nightgown and work boots flashlight in hand, hooting and hollering like a mad woman. It must have been quite the sight! The coon ran off and I found Mr. Roo passed out on his back, feet in the air. I thought he was dead! As I get near and crouch down to examine him, he popped up and ran from me. Scared me to death! I must have jumped a foot. I chased him down and looked him over. A scratch here and there, a bite mark on his comb, but mostly fine. I was so happy to have saved him. Lesson learned! I now close the coop up tight as soon as it gets dark.

Then one-day last week, the hubs was home before me and tasked with closing the door. He of course, distracted by managing dinner and the kids, forgot. Sure enough, the coon came back. Hearing the racket, we both ran outside with flashlights to try to save the day. Feathers are everywhere. We found one hen guarding both chicks and one hen guarding the door. One had slight injuries to one leg but she would be fine. Sadly, no rooster! Heartbroken that we lost him, husband feeling heaps of guilt, we go back inside. At least the hens and chicks were safe and, hey! One of the chicks might be a rooster. I bid my roo a sad farewell and head to bed.

The next morning, on cue, as usual, he is out at the edge of the chicken coop crowing his lungs out. I have never jumped out of bed so fast! “No way that’s him. He’s dead. The raccoon dragged him off.” Just thinking about it, I’m still speechless. I have no idea where he was taken or how he got away, how he survived, but that is one amazing rooster! He lost some tail feathers, looked a bit disheveled and wet but no apparent injuries. Needless to say, we are much more aware of the time and to closing of the door when darkness descends.

We are still waiting on the chicks to grow a bit more before we start getting eggs again, and we have no idea what will happen if we end up with another rooster (or two), but we love our little chickens and we are learning that you don’t have to travel to find adventures. Sometimes they are right in your back yard!

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Our Rooster Bogart. He’s a  Welsummer / Sussex mix.
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Mama and chick. Our hens are both Black Cochins and sometimes hard to tell apart.
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Mr. E named this one Moonlight.
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Mr. C named this one Sunshine.
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