Fur Babies Rock

img_4251Yes, as you might infer from the title (which could also double as a cool band name), this post is going to be one of those crazy dog lady sappy musings…

Back in college when I was writing a weekly column for the campus newspaper, I once was accused of having a happy-go-lucky, perfect world where nothing went wrong. When I read those words printed in an underground rag where someone had written a spoof of one of my columns, it felt like a knife stuck me. I wanted to defend myself . Are you kidding me? My life is not perfect that was the whole point. Isn’t there a place in the world for light-hearted thoughts? Don’t people want a break from reading about all the disasters, short-comings and negativity that regularly filled the newspapers and now cyberspace?  It wasn’t long after that, I retired my column from the paper.  For some odd reason, I let the criticism get to me and take away the joy I felt writing about the little things. As you can tell, I have a hard time letting go of criticisms (as I still remember this moment vividly and it happened over 20 some years ago.)

I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to share that particular story as an introduction to this blog post besides the fact that this  is indeed another one of those feel-good stories I so enjoy writing. In fact a smile is crossing my lips as I type these words (can you see it.?) The topic of the day? Puppy love.

My first dog was a black and tan mutt, named Kip. I don’t remember much about Kip as I couldn’t have been but 4 or 5 when we first got him. I have a shadowy memory of him as little puppy with his liter-mates and bumping his head on a wheelbarrow.  Poor little thing had my heart right then. The only other memory I have is the cold windy night that my dad answered a knock at our door. The man on the other side inquired if the dog he’d hit was ours. My heart broke in two as you might imagine.

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Pedro and me, age 10

We had another dog in between, but the dog that captured my heart next was a brown chihuahua named, Pedro. One morning as my sister and I were getting ready for school, my dad called to this little dog walking along the side of our road. We got him a bowl of water and put him in our little shed. We put up a sign at the local market and notified the dog shelters, but no one claimed him. He became ours. He slept with me, he rode in my bike basket, my friends (you know who you are) and I dressed him up and put him in the toy box.

He was the best dog. For sure he didn’t know he was only five pounds. He had a loud bark and big balls. We never did get him “fixed” as my dad joked he’d lost half his body if we did. I have so many fond memories of Pedro. He was the dog of my childhood. He lived a long life and died when I was a junior in college. I came home from class and found him lying next to the step down into our family room. He didn’t come great me like he normally did and before I laid my hand to stroke his head I knew he was gone.  I called my dad at work sobbing. Dad buried Pedro under the lilac bush in our backyard. My heart was broken again.

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Piper and me, age 21

It didn’t take long before I was ready to let another fur-baby into my life, although it took much longer to convince my mom to let us get another dog (she’s really a push-over though as she’s has a dog of her own even to this day – love you Buttercup, the wonder puggle). Piper, a red cocker spaniel, was the fur baby of my twenties and early thirties. I loved that dog best I think. She was spoiled rotten. She’d get sad and mopey when I was out-of-town and get so excited she’d pee when I came home (yes I know that peeing thing was annoying, but that was her).

She was the first dog I actually trained. I took her to obedience class and she actually passed. She could sit, lie down, shake hands/paws and bark in that order too.  If I held up a treat, she go through all her tricks one after the other.  She liked to ride in the car and sit on my lap, ducking her head whenever we drove under an overpass. She curled up in the bend of my legs and rest her head on my booty. She didn’t enjoy other dogs and would pace back and forth across the top of the sofa, barking at them from her perch – she tolerated my ex-husband’s dogs at best, but she was the queen and she knew it. While Pedro inspired my action-hero story (see The Story Teller to read about his alter-ego), Piper got a poem, aptly entitled, Piper’s Big Eye.

My oldest was 18 months old when Piper at the age of 12 had a stroke while I was away shopping for the day. I came home and learned she was at the vet hospital. I hoped beyond hope she’d recover. I visited her and in my heart I knew she was suffering as she couldn’t move her hind legs and was so confused. The hardest decision I ever made was putting her down a few days before Christmas. For those who say, “it’s just a dog” I’d say you’re wrong and guess you’ve never loved a dog.

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Ollie, me and Maggie

For a multitude of reasons, more than a decade passed before I truly connected with another dog and in this case it’s a duo of dogs. After my divorce in 2015, the girls and I rescued a quirky Jack-Russell Terrier-mix puppy, name Maggie Mae. She is quite the character and keeps me on my toes. She’s helped us heal and has brought laughter into our home. My oldest really wanted a “fluffy” dog so this past February, we rescued 3-year old cockapoo. The girls named Oliver Queen aka “Ollie.”  He’s more laid back than Maggie and would rather lay in the sun than chase a rabbit. Sure they can be total pains in the ass when they chew a hole in the crotch of your favorite undies or shred a roll of paper towels and spread it around the living room or wake you up at 3 am to bark at a squirrel in the back yard or eat the last piece pizza in two rapid bites that you only left unattended for a brief moment. But, for all the hassles and frustrations they cause, they bring me happiness and comfort twofold. I love when I pull in the driveway and see them perched on the back of the chair watching out the window. I love when they race to the garage door to greet me. I love watching my girls play with them and cuddle with them. I love how the lick my cheek when they can tell I’m down. They are truly part of our family and we love them. Their lives are so brief, but they bring so much. I know we spoil them and give them a good home, but I sense they give us back more than we give them. Their unconditional love and trust is a gift I cherish.

I’d love to hear about those special dogs that had/have a place in your hearts! Please share in the comments below.

Fur babies rock!

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Fun (?) At The County Fair

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Fun Times!

Our week-long County Fair ended last Thursday. I am still recuperating from the fun of it all and trying lose the extra five pounds I gained from the vast array of “treats” I indulged in, because ‘Hey, it only comes around once a year…”

The county fair is kind of a ‘big deal’ around here. All the school kids in the county actually get an extra day off school just to attend even though they already have the entire weekend including Labor Day to go. The reason being that in a farming community a good portion of the kids are in 4-H or FFA and are showing animals that they supposedly need to take care of (I’m not implying the animals aren’t actually being cared for, but I saw a lot of parents in the barns ‘helping out’ including myself – I’ll get to that in a bit).

When you live in the of nowhere there aren’t a lot of big events to look forward to – we aren’t exactly a cultural mecca, but that’s OK. The fair in and of itself really is kind of, well almost fun.This past fair has most notably been one of our family’s best which is in sharp contrast to last year’s experience, which while it could be considered a “learning” experience wasn’t one of our better fairs.

You see last year was my  daughter’s first year she was old enough to be in 4-H and take an animal to the fair. She was so excited! At the previous year’s fair, she’d gone through the various barns trying to figure out what animal she’d want to take. She landed on rabbits. This was fine by me. I could actually help her with this project, they were small and cute. Perfect and when I found she could take a breed rabbit and not actually have to breed it, I was even happier with her choice. So that spring we got her first rabbit and all the accompanying rabbit stuff (more stuff than you would think). She spent the next three months, doting on and spoiling the little guy.

A month and a half before the fair, my husband treated the bunny with Frontline as a flea preventative while he was treating all our barn cats. Unfortunately, for the rabbit, my daughter and my pocketbook, Frontline is toxic to rabbits. After several weeks of giving him IV fluids, hand feeding, and vet visits, the poor little guy went to rabbit heaven. My daughter was devastated because now not only was her little pet gone, she also couldn’t show at the fair. The deadline to have the project rabbit in her possession had already passed, so even though she got another rabbit, it wasn’t eligible to go to the fair. My heart broke for her as she watched all her friends and club mates show their rabbits. She handled it well though, and I was proud of her.

This year we didn’t make the “one” rabbit mistake again. We had a whole garage full of the furry beasties. She took both a market and a breed project. We actually had two litters of rabbits. They are quite cute. She ended up taking five to the fair and coming home with two first place ribbons, a third place, fourth place and fifth place ribbon and the Reserve Champion Breed Rabbit. She could not have had a better experience. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off any of our faces the whole day.

But the fair drug on for four more days after the rabbit judging. We did the rides (or the girls did and I stood watching and sweating in the hot sun – still better than being subjected to the Freak Out, Orbiter or Zipper – although I might not have gained those extra pounds if I had). We played the carnival games and the girls brought home a gold fish, which died three days later (after I bought fish food, etc.). We visited the smelly rabbit and poultry barn two to three times a day (I swear it is the chickens stinking up the joint) and watered, fed, and cleaned bedding. I started questioning bringing five rabbits to the fair by the second day when my daughters watched the rabbits, while I scooped…umm…used bedding. And we ate the junk food (I mentioned that once or twice didn’t I?) – shakes, funnel cakes, fries, cotton candy, caramel corn, pop corn… I’m starting to get hungry just thinking about it. Good thing it doesn’t come around again until next year or I would weigh 500 pounds!

Do you go to your county fair? What’s your favorite part?

Clowder Troubles

Clowder? No that isn’t a typo. I didn’t mean chowder. I actually meant clowder. What is a clowder, you might ask? A clowder is a group of adult domestic cats. How do I know this? Why Google of course.

We have six cats in our clowder. And no, I am not one of those eccentric cat women that has multitudes of cats running a muck in her home. In fact, up until a couple of years ago, I never particularly even liked cats. I was always more of a dog kind of girl (meaning that I liked dogs, not so much that I look like a dog although there are some who may disagree.) Growing up, we always had a dog. We never had a cat, ever. My mother had a fear of them, and I may have inherited that fear from her. Cats have always had a devious, evil look in their eyes. The kind of look that made you think they’d eat you if you were smaller than them. They slunk around, stalking and pouncing.

In fact, I remember one the first dates I had with my husband back in the day (way back). We’d gone to dinner and went back to his place to talk (And yes, we actually were talking. I wasn’t that kind of girl either). As I sat back in a chair I let one of my arms dangle over the edge. I remember being nervous, but I was just starting to relax a little when out of no where his cat Claude attacked my arm. I jumped out the chair to find the inside of my wrist scratched and bleeding. It stung, a lot. My husband (prospective boyfriend at the time) was very apologetic. He thought it was my perfume that caused the unwanted attention from his beloved pet. Thinking back, maybe it was a sign… I didn’t let his cat scare me off… But, from then on I was very wary of his cat and stopped wearing perfume.

That experience along with a couple other interactions with a couple of other deviant cats (you know who you are:)) had always made me leery of cats. The weird part is, it seems that cats can sense my fear or dislike of their swarthy breed and seem to swarm me. If I’m at a cat loving friends’, it never fails I find their rubbing on my legs or sneaking up next to me, waiting for me to put my guard down I think.

So why might I have six cats? Well its really not my fault in the least. You see over the course of several summers, I new kitten has adopted us and become part of this clowder that mouses the barns and fields around my home. A sucker for the sweet meow and two little girls that adore kittens, we have allowed them to adopt us.

The first appeared almost five years ago. Named by my oldest daughter, “Alice” after her favorite show at the time “Angelina Ballerina.” Alice being Angelina’s best friend. A big fluffy gray tiger, he rubbed up against my daughter’s legs and purred.

“Can we keep her, Mom?” she asked. I sighed. It was early spring and still snow on the ground.

“She probably has a home somewhere around here,” I said looking around to a couple of houses in the distance. “If he’s still around tomorrow, we’ll give her some food.” Of course the cat was still hanging out by the garage the next day and the next. So, we bought a couple bowls and some dry cat food. My husband decided that if we were going to feed the cat, we should also get it vet care as well. The cat was limping a bit as well.

At the vet, we found out the Alice was actually a boy cat. Go figure. But, his name had already stuck. He was already Alice. I know, I know, how could I not tell the difference between a boy cat and girl cat?  You see the thing the private parts of a boy cat don’t seem to be as obvious as say the boy parts of a horse or a dog…

Over the next few summers our group of cats grew. It seemed a new kitten appeared. It didn’t make much sense to me as each new one came, the girls would coddle and cuddle them. My husband would insist we take them to the vet.  And so all but the one cat in our clowder we cannot catch, have been fixed and have their shots. (Hmmm. Maybe the vet is tipping people off that our road is good place to drop off stray kittens…) We have (lucky) Penny, Groucho (who has a groucho-like mustache), Perry the Catypus (the uncatchable one, who has had two litters this past summer although only one kitten survived (now called Two Socks)), and Kit Kit (the beloved, lovable kitten that stole everyone’s hearts two summer’s ago.) Kit Kit also turned out to be a boy cat as Perry who we thought was a boy turned out to be a girl (as evidence by her propensity to get with kitten even though all are boy cats could not possibly be the dad.).

Kit Kit is super-friendly and loving. My youngest carries him around by his tail, his head and  any other place she can grab him. She pets him and pushes him around in her stroller. And he let’s her. Without a care in the world. He just lies there and goes limp. He doesn’t run when he spots her. He comes up to her and rubs her legs.

So the trouble began earlier this week on my way to work. Imagine that icky sick feeling you get when you see something unpleasant. That is the exact feeling I had when we pulled out of the driveway and I saw a furry lump lying in the road. My heart sank along with my stomach. It looked like Kit Kit from a distance. The girls immediately started to go hysterical as I turned the van back around.  The wind was blowing and a slushy snow was pelting down. I pulled over to the side of the road and cautiously. Made my way to the lifeless lump. It was a black and white cat that looked a lot like Kit Kit or Groucho. They look a lot a like except for their faces. Great. I gently move the cat. He was still warm. Ugh.It must have just happened. “Who is it” I could her the girls crying.

“I’m not sure,” I called back. And I wasn’t. The injury to the cat made it impossible to see the markings on his face. Great, I thought. I was already running behind and wasn’t quite sure what to do. I mean it was obvious the cat was already dead. But a glance back at the girls, I knew I couldn’t just leave that cat lying in the road to get run over again and again. So I carefully pick the cat up out of the road. Yes, I couldn’t believe it myself. I was actually picking up a dead cat with my bare hands (thank God for hand sanitizer) and moved him under some bushes out of view.  It was then out of the corner of my eye that I saw Kit eating the kibble on the driveway. That was quite a relief. It had to be Groucho.

The mood in the van was somber. Poor Groucho. My oldest daughter lamented over the past cats we have lost, including the one that I accidentally ran over in the garage. I silently thanked God I wasn’t the cat killer this time.

“I even prayed to God last night to keep my family and the cats safe,” she continued. “Wait. Oh No,” she said. “It was the rabbits I prayed for. I forgot the cats!”  I reassured her that her omission didn’t cause poor Groucho to get hit. He’s a barn cat. Stuff happens.

They rest of the day my heart was heavy thinking about the prospect of going home and burying one of our best mousers. As I pulled in the driveway, our clowder was waiting for us to feed them.  There was Alice, Kit Kit, Two Socks and Groucho! If that was Groucho and Kit Kit, then who was that cat under the bushes? Only Penny and Perry were missing. Not Penny I thought.

I went to take a look. Because of the rain and fur, it was really tough to discern. The cat really didn’t look like either one of them. Hmmm. We’d have to wait until my husband got home. We cover the cat in a towel and place him in a cardboard box. I brought the box into the garage because it was getting dark.

Later that night, my husband and I stood around the box. He took one look at the laid out cat. “That’s not our cat,” he said.

“Really?”

“Really. It is probably that tom that kept knocking up Perry,” he said.

We went inside to tell the girls the good news. We at least the good news for Penny and Perry. Not so good for the unnamed cat in the garage.

As the week has passed, we have accounted for all our cats, except Perry. I haven’t seen her around nor have the girls. My husband claims he’s seen her, but I kind of wonder… I’m keeping my eye out for her. Maybe she is just out and about find a new lover. I’m sure we’ll find out this spring.

And that is the end of my cat troubles for now. I never thought I’d care about a bunch of cats, but somehow they have become part of the family.