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

 

 

 

 

 

Fall, the time of molt

“In September the birds were quiet. They were molting in the valley, the mockingbird in the spruce, the sparrow in the mock orange, the doves in the cedar by the creek. Everywhere I walked the ground was littered with shed feathers, long, colorful primaries, and shaftless white down. I garnered this weightless crop in pockets all month long and inserted the feathers one by one into the frame of a wall mirror.” Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

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I too collect feathers, as no doubt many of you do. Forty years living with chickens and ducks, I notice not only the wild bird feathers of fall in the woods, but feathers piled and scattered throughout the coops. This shedding of feathers starts in the heat of late summer. By the October rains, Thanksgiving at the latest, fresh feathers are in place for winter.

Missing their primary wing feathers and the under feathers more explosed, our muscovies are reserved and caution, not able to fly as well. Here they are listening to a predator bird, full alert.

Missing their primary wing feathers, exposing the feathers underneath, and less able to fly, our muscovies are reserved and cautious.  Here they are listening to a predator bird overhead, full alert.

Our two Muscovies have been less active lately, choosing to stay in their coop even when the door is open. Growing new feathers requires energy. I’ve noticed in years past older or unhealthy birds often don’t grow back all their feathers.

In my recent cleaning out of ‘stuff’, I sorted my feather collection, decided to keep less, and tossed the rest. I’ve been molting too, my feathers and more.

The purpose of molting is to make way for new growth. When new feathers grow back on birds they are fresh, clean, perfect, without damage. How wonderful to have a part of your body rejuvenate itself in this manner! Our bodies rejuvenate. Some cells last only a few days, others years, (though apparently our cerebell cortex cells, cells in the inner eye, and the heart cells last a life time.) It would be nice if our rejuvenation, a more stuble process, made us look as fresh as a bird with new feathers!

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Fall, the time of the molt, is a time to reserve one’s energy resources, to nurture ourselves. Plants send their ‘juices’ deep into the ground to be stored through the winter in roots until needed for new growth, which mostly occurs in the spring.

In Ayurveda fall is the Vata time of year. From an article on the Banyan Botanicals web site about fall foods and herbs that nourish us this time of year, “Fall is a time of transition. It is evident everywhere around you. Many trees and shrubs are quietly undressing in preparation for the winter.” It is the season of the elements air and either.

Foods that help balance us during this time are those of the elements earth and water, foods of the fall harvest such as winter squashes, pumpkins, parsnips, root vegetables – grounding foods.

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Enjoy this time of harvest, fall color, molting, rejuvenation. Conserve your energies, prepare for new growth in your life!

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Note: My last post had less readers, no web site comments and only one email commenting on it. It may have been too wordy, too philosophical, maybe it just plain didn’t make sense! The famous poet John Lydgate, (a quote later adapted by President Lincoln) said “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. My expectations are modest, some of the people some of the time would be great! I blog because I like to write and to have a purpose for sitting to write.  After 8 years of blogging, it’s a good time to take stock of what people would like to read and see here. I would love feedback on what readers enjoy from my blog.

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Coops and transitions

IMG_9701It’s been a summer of transitions. In June we attended the wedding of one niece, Labor Day weekend will be the Washington celebration of another niece’s wedding. We missed a friend’s wedding due to mom’s unexpected ‘eviction’ and subsequent move from the adult family home where she lived. (The day after I wrote “The Girl in the Turquoise Swimsuit” we were given one hour to have a plan for moving mom that day, in spite of plans to move her the following week). Sadly, we’ve attended memorial/life celebrations of two long time friends dear to our hearts.

A summer of grief and sorrow, joy, stress…and love.

Though the rapid decline of mom, and the need to move her, has been demanding of time and energy, we managed to find time to tear down several coops, leaving behind a collection of old poultry houses. Losing our last chicken and one duck to a raccoon caused us to rethink, regroup, and ultimately, decide to rebuild. (See: ‘The Unexpected’). As with many things in life, before rebuilding, we thought it a good idea to clean up, clean out and eliminate the old.

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A temporary house in the new coop, originally built to be a dog house decades ago, was unwanted by it’s intended and always housed ducks!

If you’ve never kept chickens, ducks or other types of poultry; a cow, horse or other livestock, you may not understand the physical and mental work required in putting up a coop or fence, or building a poultry house or barn (or why someone would write about doing so). The goal is always to keep the critters in your care in, and keep the critters that like to eat them out. In the past 35 years I’ve built, with help, five chicken coops, three duck coops, four chicken houses, a smaller ‘nesting’ house, one duck house, converted a dog house into a duck house, and, for Daisy the Jersey cow I once lived with, one barn and fenced in two pastures.

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Shiny fencing, fresh paint, a spiffy green metal roof, we thought this little chicken house and coop would be our last. The house is still in good shape but the coop, needing repair, will come down, liberating another space in Nature.

I’ve worked along side, first, my friend Gene, then my Dad, and for the past 25 years, my husband Mike, digging holes and trenches, setting posts, stretching chicken wire, barbed wire, (getting poked and cut in the process), cranking necks to work above our heads to cover coops, weaving wire through all the overlaps. We’ve worked late at night by floodlights (a specialty of Mike’s and my project style) and occasionally in the rain, though we try to avoid that! We’ve hammered, stapled, cut, squared, leveled, installed old windows, roosts, various types of roofing materials, and set many cement blocks, all to make miniature houses of various shapes and sizes for feathered friends.

Old chicken coop and

Never once while building these critter dwellings did I think about when or how we’d be tearing them down. It was always about making them strong and tight to hold up against diggers, climbers, snow, falling trees and tree branches. And over the years they all have needed repairs from diggers and climbers who find the chink in our fortresses, the snow that was heavier than the previous years, and falling trees and tree limbs.

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With the building of each new coop or house we would take extra precautions, try to build a better coop, make what we thought would be a better house…easier to keep tight, clean, and maintained. Each new coop starts out with shiny silver-gray galvanized chicken wire, pungent and sweet scented reddish-brown cedar posts, yellowish white fir supports, and houses with a fresh coat of paint. As we tear them down, wire, nails, screws and staples are rusted, cedar posts, now gray with age, often rotten, fir supports, many long ago broken, have been repaired with pieces and patches. The houses are faded, some sides green with growth. But all are dry inside. There are sow bugs and ants living in the corners of every coop where two pieces of wood come together. In the houses, where feathered residents kept bugs at a minimum, there are a few spiders and moths.

Tear downs in the past were to move a coop or house to a different site. This time, tearing down was an ending. The woods will reclaim where the large chicken coop stood. If we move faster than the woods, the area enclosed by the smaller coop, yet to be torn down, will become part of the back yard. Tearing down the old duck coop opened new space with possibilities yet to be determined. Nature will decide if we don’t….and that’s okay. With each dismantling of a chicken wire enclosed space, there is a sense of having opened something up, a feeling of liberation. (For Mike it’s liberation from constant repairs of old rusting wire and rotting posts.)

And so it can be with life’s transitions. Death, often written about as liberation, frees the soul from the world, and perhaps from a body that has suffered. Marriage can bring freedom from loneliness. Commitments made at wedding ceremonies bring the freedom of knowing someone will care for, support, share dreams, life challenges, be your partner…and love you. Marriage can mean liberation from the seeking which drives many people’s lives, and inspires artistic endeavors from poems to paintings, movies and songs.

Mom, in her struggles, though freed from her own self-care and a life time of responsibilities, is waiting for liberation.

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Mama Black Duck happily moved her young duckling into the spacious new duck house. The awning over the door has removable posts, it can be dropped down and serve as a door if needed at night, but with our new ‘security coop’, we hope that isn’t needed!

The new duck house, built from the recycled, reclaimed and discarded, is made completely from materials salvaged from the old dismantled duck house and miscellaneous materials found in the barn. It is fresh and new.  Hopefully it is the best house we’ve built, in the most secure coop we’ve built. We tried to think like a duck, a weasel, a raccoon, a rat…..

I’d like to think I learned a few things in the past 35 years, at least about coops, and maybe about life transitions.

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