Animal Friends

Today, April 11, is National Pet Day, a day that sounds like an excuse for an indulgent society to celebrate one of its obsessions. But if you go to the ‘official’ website for the day, it gives a list of ways to ‘celebrate’ the day, and the list seems to reflect the delicate balance of our current cultural awareness toward animals, from indulgence, to fun, to humanitarian concern.

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On this National Pet Day I got to thinking about the pets in my life, especially in my adult life whom I had personal relationships with. Going through photo albums  (most of my animal friends lived in my pre-digital days) I found many sweet pictures to share. This is Leonard, a dog given to me for 'temporary' care and who stayed with me till his death on the road. He was my #1 guy when I began living in the woods alone.

On this National Pet Day I got to thinking about the animals I have lived with whom I had close relationships with. Leonard was a dog given to me for ‘temporary’ care in my late 20s who stayed until his untimely death on the road. He was my #1 guy when I began living in the woods.

Along with the booming industry of pet care products, from gourmet pet foods to ridiculous pet ‘outfits’, high-priced beds, pet supplements, ‘urban’ chicken houses, etc. etc., there is a growing awareness of the horrors and abuse of animals who are no more than a commodity to unscrupulous breeders or those in the illegal trade of exotic pets. Over the years cock fights have been outlawed, dog fights are illegal, the public is more aware, and angry about the fate of racing Greyhounds, there is more concern about the treatment of ‘retired’ racing horses, and pressure on circuses and marine shows to stop using wild animals as entertainment. There is a movement on both the local, state and national level to make it illegal for pet stores to sell pets from ‘puppy mills’. Many people wanting a animal companion adopt one from a shelter or rescue organization. Many states, Washington State being a leader, have animal abuse laws.

There is also a greater awareness of the benefits of living with an animal. The remarkable therapeutic value of companion animals with Autistic children, elder people with dementia, as well as the value of service dogs who bring independence and security to people with a variety of disabilities, is just a short list of the life-changing richness living with an animal brings to people.

Daisy. What can I say about her? A Jersey with a remarkable personality, I could write a blog just of stories about her

Dear Daisy, a Jersey with personality plus, I could write many stories about life with her!

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Pan

Societal attitudes toward animals have definitely shifted in the span of my life with animals, and while I think there is an unbalance on one end of the scale, with the personification of pets who don’t really care if they sleep in a purple velvet memory foam bed, I think over all attitudes have shifted for the greater good of both animals and people. Research into the intelligence and memories of animals has helped people understand that if animals have intelligence, they might also have feelings, perhaps not in the manner as we do, but of no less significance to their life experiences than our emotional life is to ours.

When Mike and I took a course in animal tracking years ago, we learned of cultures where animal and human lives interacted regularly and interspecies communication not limited to a few gifted people, but part of everyone’s every day lives. Where people were able to ‘read’ animals in the same manner animals can ‘read’ people (who has not had a pet who reacts or response to their human feelings of despondency or joy, or who knows when you are thinking of going for a walk or in the car?) The interspecies communications found in these cultures is not necessarily with ‘pets’, but with the animals living in the same geographic environment whose lives are interwoven with human lives. This interspecies communication was once more common but is lost for a wide variety of reasons in most cultures. I hope our current ‘obsession’ with pets is an indication of a deeper human desire to regain that lost connection. We have only to benefit from it.

Eliza & her brother Charlie were given to me as tiny kitties,

Eliza & her brother Charlie, given to me as tiny kitties, lived to a ripe old age.

If this day of honoring pets in any way can help bring into greater awareness the attitude that animals are the beings we share this little earth planet with, and to the degree we treat them with compassion is as much a reflection of our humanity as is the way we treat one another, then I think it is a day well celebrated.

Enjoy your animal friends today and every day!

Below are more pictures of my animal companions through the years. These were the ‘loves of my life’, in the manner anyone who has loved any animal companion knows. There were also ‘short timers’, animals who came for a time but who I found long-term homes for. (click on any picture to view larger)

Pan was a ‘yogi’ dog, as my brother once called him, who took care of all the 2-legged, 4-legged and feathered beings in his world. A friend to all, familiar and stranger, he was my best buddy on many camping trips and every day he spent with me.  He saw many other animals come and go, lost two of his own best friends when they died, my cats Charlie and Eliza, who left home when Pan arrived but were soon won back and slept with him and followed him everywhere. Also pictured above is Oki. Mike came into our lives with Oki, an elderly, deaf Border Collie/Australian Sheppard who had lived an adventurous life as a tree-planters companion. He was grumpy about getting old when we met him, but Pan guided him and cared for him with great patience. Pan was old himself when I brought Reggie the strong-willed, playful Corgi home, but he was patient and friendly during their few years together.  

Reggie, the playful philosopher and most strong-willed dog I've lived with, traveled many places with Mike and I and hated being left home even when we went to work! He was a working dog at heart and wanted his own job! He stunned everyone at his composed behavior when he was invited to participate in an animal communication class I took with Penelope Smith.

Reggie, the playful philosopher and most complex, strong-willed dog I’ve lived with, traveled many places with Mike and I and hated being left home even when we went to work! He was a working dog at heart and wanted his own job! He stunned everyone at his composed behavior when he was invited to participate in an animal communication class I took with Penelope Smith. His death from mis-diagnosed pancreatitis was wrenching on both Mike and I.

My life with chickens has been well documented in past posts (see below). Feathered friends are hard-working bug eaters, egg producers who provide endless hours of entertainment!

Tippy, an elderly dog who wandered into our yard from the neighbors, who didn't really want her, and stayed till her end.

Tippy was old when she wandered into our yard from neighbors where she’d been left by folks who didn’t want her. She stayed till her end, a mixed breed of happy, she was, we thought, our ‘last’ dog friend…..until Abby had other ideas.

And in the present......Sweet Abby, coming to live with us in her 'elder' years but getting a new lease on life as she hunts and runs 'free at last' in the woods! 

And in the present…Sweet Abby, coming to live with us in her ‘elder’ years, getting a new lease on life hunting and running ‘free at last’ in the woods, and being my self-appointed shadow! Our cultural shifts in attitudes allowed her to spent time with my mother living in care facilities and  accompany me to appointments at Swedish Cancer center.

Here are some resources about animals in therapy and communicating with animals.

Mayo Clinic “Pet Therapy”

PAWS For People Benefits of Pet Therapy

Penelope Smith Animal Talk

Mary Getten Animal Communicator

 

Here are a few of the many other posts about animals:

I aught to have my head examinedCoops and TransitionsAnimal LoveAnimal DancesHeart TugLast One StandingStuddly the Rooster

 

 

 

 

 

Last One Standing

(I apologize for once again writing about chickens. There are no excuses….just chicken stories.)

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Millie is a Belgian Bearded D’Uccles Mille Fleur, like our Old English Game bantams, she is a ‘true’ bantam, not a miniature of a larger breed.

Spring has arrived. Happy Spring!  My first spring in 35 yrs. without a rooster and his harem clucking around, scratching for grubs and worms, running to the site of any human digging for easy pickings, and generally acting like spring chickens, regardless of their age.

After the loss of two hens and two roosters last year, Millie, our ‘rescue’ chicken, who moved in a few years ago, is the lone survivor. The last one standing. She does not like to be in the open, she has never ventured into the garden, has no interest in where the action is.  In her little coop she is either on the roost in the house, or, if outside, under the house . She always wants something overhead…a roof, a floor, a Rhody bush, anything will do as long as there is no sky above her.

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Millie, safely watching the world from under the porch

Before Abby the dog arrived last summer, Millie had learned it was safe to go from coop to back porch, where she hung out, under the partial roof, looking for handouts, preening, and talking to anyone who would listen. Millie is a talker, she will carry on a conversation with me for quite sometime. When I walk by her coop and call out “hello Millie”, even if she is inside, she answers.

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Millie on the porch, waiting for a hand out

The arrival of Abby, the murder of Studdily, her rooster coop mate (from an unknown predator), the death of the last old hen from our Old English Bantam flock (she moved in with Millie after the rooster died), was all too much. Before living with us, Millie had been the lone survivor of a flock of chickens who were slaughter. Alone again, Millie became a reluctant recluse. She is happy for our company, Mike pets her good-night every night when he closes up her house, and most winter days I would go out to feed her sunflower seeds from my hand, holding and petting her. She would tell me she appreciated the attention, after all, chickens are not designed to be loners. When the temperatures dropped into the teens, she got to live in my office. She enjoyed that!

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Millie, this afternoon, hiding in the shade of a huge fern, discovered lungwort (pulmonaria) blooms are tasty!

But spring is here and she is tired of  her solitary life. She lets me carry her to where I am sitting in the sun, or pulling weeds. She hangs out briefly, but soon finds cover…running under, or onto, the porch, burying herself in a big fern, or finding shelter under a rhody.  She and Abby ignore one another. Abby does not make the connection between the chicken breasts in her homemade food and Millie, but one look at Millie, you can see it is hard to connect her to most anyone’s idea of a chicken!

Millie has body control ‘issues’. Occasionally she stumbles and falls over, my theory is it’s caused by the feathers sticking out from her feet, even though they are clipped back. When she runs, or tries to fly, once she gets started there is a momentum she seems unable to control…..stopping is a clumsy crash landing.

Millie is a character.

And she symbolizes the end a dream I never quite succeeded in fulfilling. Unexpected challenges with the body were never part of my childhood dream of living in the country. The first three years I had mononucleosis, which morphed into CFS/FMS. Neuromuscular and structural conditions were made worse by cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, digging in gardens, cleaning out a cow stall, hauling hay bales, etc. It all compounded to rein in my vision of how I imagined my dream would unfold.  There were the demands of full time jobs, some times long hours…and two years studying for an MS in psychiatric rehabilitation. None of these ‘distractions’ were conducive to the daily requirements of a country lifestyle. (Pre-Mike, I lived here alone for ten years, pretty much ‘doing it all’ when it came to everyday tasks, chores, and projects.)

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bantams of many colors

Through it all there were chickens. The squawks, soft cooing and clucking from the coop as beautiful bantams, in colors of red, brown, black and gray, talked among themselves…working out relationships, raising families, sending out alarms; rooster crows and clucks to call hens for a tasty morsel, were the background music to my life as it unfolded, with its unpredictable adjustments. Chicken coops were built, moved, rebuilt. Chickens were lost to predators, unknown causes, old age. New chickens came from in-flock baby chicks (it is true, banties make wonderful moms), some were ‘planned’ families, some not.  Once while I was away, a house sitter let the chickens out and did not count them when they came back in evening. A hen had disappeared, only to reappear weeks after I returned, with nine tiny chicks. Only a banty could hide, and survive three weeks (the time it takes for eggs to hatch), in a forest that is home to raccoons, coyotes, weasels, the occasional bear, bobcat, and cougar. Occasionally, when the flock dwindled, I would bring in new chickens.

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Our old rooster and his little flock of geriatric hens

Feed them, love them, do your best to protect them, and bantams provide endless entertainment, abundant stories, the comfort of their gentle voices…and eggs!  I cannot speak for the large chickens raised for meat, as well as eggs, for I’ve always had bantams. They are very alert and fly into trees and hide in bushes when they sense danger, they know how to survive in the ‘wild’.

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Little Red Hen, ‘famous’ due to her photogenic face on my cards, her social personality, diminutive size (even for a banty) and unusual life (written about on my old blog)

The past five years or so, with our dwindling geriatric flock, there have been no eggs, but their company in the garden, their clucks, coos and crowings, from dawn to dusk (and the occasional night crowing!) were my assurance that one part of my country-life, childhood dream, had come true!

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a curious Old English Game hen

Now there is just Millie, the final chapter in my life with chickens.

(sadly, and since I wrote this piece, in early June while we were on a trip a large raccoon moved rocks and pulled away chicken wire to dig into Millie’s coop. We returned to no Millie, and much grief, at losing a lovely pet, and ending our life with chickens.)

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Studdly the Rooster

Challenges just don’t seem to end for us (I’m sure many of you have times like this!). Mike’s doctor’s office seriously botched the treatment he was to start this week, we’ve had one thing after another break down here in our funky lifestyle, the story goes on..…so for distraction, I decided to write the story of Studdly our funny rooster who most nights I take on a little walk about from one coop to the other……. DSC03853About ten years ago Studdly and three hens were the last chicks to be hatched out in our chicken coop. After their hatch, and after decades of raising bantams, we decided to reduce our fowl population. Studdly has outlived his three sisters. The gorgeous gray hen was killed early in life by a weasel, the beautiful black-as-onyx hen died suddenly three years ago, and Little Red Hen, a very special, tiny hen I have written about many times, died two summers ago. Always the gentleman to the hens…Studdly was a fierce warrior when it came to his father, the ‘other’ rooster! After the weasel incident, Studdly and his remaining two hens were moved from a fenced off area in the big coop to a new little red chicken house closer to our house. For years we would awaken every morning to the sound of stereo crowing as the two roosters, like dueling banjos, would send retorts back and forth. (Banty roosters have a rather comical high-pitched crow. A sound I’ve lived with for over 30 years, I find their odd falsetto cock-a-doodle-do both funny and charming.)

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Looking cocky and sure of himself

The worse cock fight was when he chased the old guy into the bigger coop and under the chicken-house. I stepped out on our porch to shake some rugs and heard an odd thump thump coming from the chicken coop. Running to the coop, I saw the two roosters hitting their heads on the bottom of the house as they sparred. Lying on my belly, I pulled out a bloody, panting Studdly, and watched as the other rooster staggered out and fell over. I rushed Studdly into the house, turned on the bathroom faucet, drenched him, looking to see how much damage was done, all the while scolding him for his behavior. Cleaned up, he looked fine and was locked in his own coop while I went to get the other rooster. I wasn’t sure he was going to make it, but he too washed up fine and lived many more years…avoiding Studdly. Studdly continued to try to go a court’n, and occasionally tried to pick a fight, but if he saw me coming, he turned and headed the other direction. We had an understanding.

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Studdly out with his Little Red Hen, now deceased

Studdly was a loyal and concerned mate for Little Red. Other than his occasional wanderings, when they were out he stayed with her. If she wandered away from him, he would go looking for her. The times she was in our house recuperating from some ailment he seemed stressed to be without her. And when she died, Studdly, gentleman, warrior, a guy meant-to-be-mated, was suddenly alone with no purpose in life.

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Studdly and Milie trying to work things out

A few months later, on Halloween, feeling sorry for him, I brought home a ‘rescue’ chicken from the Farmer’s Market. We named her Millie. Oh my, she is an odd one! Not only a different breed, she is skittish and at first never wanted to leave the roost nor the house. That went on for 6 months. Studdly did not know what to make of her. It was not love at first sight, nor did it grow. Spring came and she began to wander outside and Studdly had his old job back of clucking when he found a morsel to share, someone to keep track of, attend to, and through last summer they had a compatible, if not cozy, relationship.

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Studdly’s “dad” with two of his flock, in his younger years. Yep, Studdly looks like him, though Stud’s a little brighter in color, and a lot more comical and cocky!

Everything changed this past winter when the old rooster died. His 15 or so years of living the perfect rooster life ended quietly one night, he just wore out. Everything changed for everyone. No more stereo crowing. The two elderly hens seemed lost at first, but settled into their new life as widows, clearly not interested in their occasional suitor. But Studdly finally had the opportunity he had been waiting for his entire life. Slowly, politely, he won them over and moved in, leaving Millie alone.

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Home again to Millie, his unusual coop mate

IMG_6588I understand his desires, but it’s not acceptable. As long as there are four chickens, everyone should have a housemate. So every day they are cooped up (now you know where that expression comes from) Studdly lives with Millie. Every day they are out and about he goes courting and settles in with the older hens. In the evening I go take him off their roost, and we have a little walk about and chat on the way back to the little red house and Millie. It is a strange arrangement, but he’s a good guy, and resigns himself to his confinement with Millie. He has tried to introduce the twosome to her, but there is no tolerance on either side. Studdly is an old guy himself now. One of his spurs grew into his leg and had to be cut a few months ago. Someday he too will wear out. But until then, he has a busy life keeping three hens in two households happy.

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Studdly has an odd little side ways dance he does when he loses his balance, I call it his happy dance……he takes life seriously, but so often he is very comical!

(the hardest thing about writing chicken stories, or any pet story, is the revisions to say they have died. Studdily died one night when his pen door was not closed and a raccoon got in. He lived a good, long life, RIP Studdily)

I aught to have my head examined…..

She is a Belgian Bearded D’Uccles Mille  Fleur
Who knew? Maybe we’ll call her Millie.

It was just a trip to the Farmer’s Market with Mike & Mom, but what do we find there? An old Bantam hen needing a home, having been saved from the fate her flock mates met by her fancy feathers. Never been particularly attracted to fancy feathered hens with feathers on their feet, but feeling sorry for Studdly, I brought her home. Turns out she has a bad leg, was very hungry, wants nothing to do with Studdly, who is smaller than her…….She is calm, but wondering when she can go home……she does have beautiful feathers, orange, black and white, very Halloweenish, guess we’ll have to call her Pumpkin, or Ghoul, or something like that……


She looked like she was going to attack him at one point. He just danced around trying to convince her he may be short, but a good and worthy mate!

I hope it works out for them.  An odd couple indeed!  He’s on the roost tonight, she is nestled down in the corner of the chicken house on fresh straw, wondering where she is.

Getting ready for the trip home
from the market

And I wanted less, not more animals.


Update: She has settled in, likes the digs, but not Studdly. Poor guy, he’s trying hard to impress, but she’s having none of it.  Though I see now they are both on the outside roost…..progress!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 update: after laying 3 eggs in the spring, Millie ‘came out’ and started to talk……a lot!  In 35 years of living with chickens, I have never had one carry on as she does, and she doesn’t have a particularly pleasant voice, a sort of whiny squawk.  She learned to beg at the back door, and come in if she didn’t get what she wanted.  She eats just about anything, from cottage cheese to corn on the cob, which she gets rather giddy over.  She can’t always control her energy, and often trips over self when running for a sunflower seed treat, or the promise of some other treat…….in short, she is a character!  Has not laid an egg since those three.  She and Studdly have become buddies though he still is rather dazed by her quirky personality.


Familarless this Halloween…..

Little Red Hen, why have I not written of your demise?  It’s been 2 weeks today the illustrious Little Red Hen of facebook fame, whose quirky face sold more cards than any of my other 60+ designs, was found, by me, dead in the red chicken house she shared with Studdily, her attentive and chivalrous rooster. There was little time to reflect on her death. A few hours later I was told I needed a biopsy to rule out cancer as a cause of a condition of great delicacy on my body.  That little drama over, in my favor, I have let my breath out.

As I watch Studdily wander aimlessly around, without purpose to his life, I too miss the cocky little hen who defied the odds to live as long as she did.  Perhaps because I wrote about her life as she lived it, it seems there is little left to write. She’s gone, story over.  She was indeed remarkable. Curious, smart, willing to be picked up, held and petted, and with a propensity for creating eggs too large for her diminutive body to expel, she lived life on the edge, at times full of hyper-energy, at times standing around in a daze. This is not unlike myself.  She followed me around, stood on the shovel when I dug in the garden, bit my hand if my weeding didn’t produce enough worms to appease her appetite, walked into the house to look around for whatever a chicken might be looking for, and ran up vet bills that rivaled our last dog’s medical expenses.

There were times I off-the-cuff referred to her as my familiar, so in the spirit of the season I thought I would explore this remark.

According to Wikipedia a familiar is a supernatural entity believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic.  I’ve never thought of myself as a witch, though I have dressed as one many a Halloween, but I’d like to think I am occasionally cunning, as in ingenious.  This is good.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say…….

“When they served witches, they were often thought to be malevolent, while when working for cunning-folk they were often thought of as benevolent (although there was some ambiguity in both cases). The former were often categorized as demons, while the latter were more commonly thought of and described as fairies. The main purpose of familiars is to serve the witch or young witch, providing protection for him/her as they come into their new powers.”

Well now this gets interesting.  First, we were told many times Little Red Hen could not live long. As recently as 5 months ago we were encouraged to ‘put her to sleep’ as she had no more than a few more hours, maybe a day to live.  She had a broken egg in her which couldn’t be removed and was causing toxins in her system.  I repeat, that was five months ago. I think defying death might put Little Red Hen in the category of “supernatural entity”, just a suggestion…….
As for the fairy part.  She was certainly elfin in size and impish in personality. The definition of fairies is quite broad, but can include wings, which she had, and the ability to appear and disappear, which she did quite frequently.  I vote yes on the fairy identity.
On to the benevolent pursuits. Certainly the pleasure a child, my aging mom, or anyone received stroking her small warm body of silky feathers, or the smiles her facial expressions brought to the dozens, maybe hundreds, of folks who bought my cards showing her countenance might be thought of as benevolent pursuits.  We certainly teamed up in these pursuits. In a crazy world, these little acts from a little being make a difference.
Now for the helping me to come into my new powers part.  Have I come into these powers, or was I a helpless cause and, giving up, she decided not to stick around through another winter?  I will continue to ponder this aspect of her role as a familiar.  Perhaps she will continue to assist from another realm……..
For now, there is one lonely, aging, but healthy and handsome rooster with a lovely red house looking for a small mate of similar age.  And Little Red Hen’s facebook page has been taken over by Gray Duck, to appease non-feathered friends. I doubt Gray Duck will be as witty. She is not, after all, a familiar. Though there may be a bit of magic in her.