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Archive for the ‘ANIMAL LESSONS’ Category


Our in-town neighbors. These two fine-looking llamas live in a pasture along a country-like lane a few blocks from our new home. We have a new address is in a small, but still-rural, town. Our  house may be suburban in style, but all around looks and feels like country. So we feel right at home.

For awhile, our cats went into hiding, because we moved their cheese. Well, actually, their food bowls — and their address. Ours, too.

We’ve spent the last month moving from the country into town. I worried a lot about how the stress of moving our household would impact our two felines, especially old, black Shadow, who’s 19.

As expected, the cats crept out of their crates into the new garage with great anxiety, then hid in plain sight in the maze of boxes. I expected them to be covert for days.

After only a day of coaxing with tuna, Shadow sullied forth. I made a trail of treats to help him find his food and water bowls.

When I peeked into the garage later that day, the younger, gray-striped cat, Mama, was there at the food bowl alongside the old gent. His presence had reassured her.

Now, a few weeks later, the cats are allowed into the backyard where they look and sniff around with timid curiosity.

Mama scrambles the fence, peeks over, then crawl-jumps back down and heads for the new back door. She’s sporting a pink collar with a bell and a name tag, so if she does wander, we have a good chance of tracking her down.

Mama cat has turned playful since we’ve begun to settle in – something we didn’t see a lot of when we lived in the sticks. Perhaps she feels safer here without all that forest — and coyotes — around.

Shadow simply curls up on the soft rug in the new living room and sleeps, or finds a windowsill and worships the rays when he can find them. (This June the sun is so rare that when it does poke through the clouds, it seems rather guilty, like a finger drawn though frosting on a just-made cake.)

Our two Labradors are enjoying the new backyard, too. The sturdy fence means we no longer have to supervise their outdoor time. Out in the country there was always the worry they’d take off chasing a deer or a duck. The hens are laying again, so all is well in their world, too.

The pets have been the leaders and teachers in our new living situation. At first, we pined for the countryside with its far-reaching views and woodland hush.

But we’re loving our new digs in this small rural town of 1,750. It’s four minutes from things instead of 40.

It turns out the country is actually only two blocks away. We hear nearby geese, a rooster and cows. And deer wander into the grassy lot next door.

Each time I walk, I try a new path in order to get to know the neighborhood. This morning Kobe and I discovered a path where pavement gives way to dirt and gravel. Around a turn in the lane is a lush and lovely spot called Half-Ass Ranch. There, we stopped to watch two llamas as they watched us back with curiosity and caution. It felt like coming home.

For my family, the recent weeks have been filled with a recurring animal lesson: Adapt and thrive. And we are.

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Last up on AnimalsOurEVERYTHING! was a bearded collie, Nekota, who runs as if in flight. This ability to float, plus her Houdini-like escape skills, reminded me of the nun-who-could-fly character Sally Field played in the old “Flying Nun” sitcom; hence Nekota earned the nickname of Flying Nun during a recent stay with us. Here are some photos, taken by Nekota’s owner, Tish Pollock, further demonstrating the beardie’s flying technique.

I see a great 12-step lesson in these photos: Live in the now. That’s something animals beat humans at hands-down. Another 12-step slogan comes to mind: You can’t give away what you don’t have. In this case, Nekota is giving us a piece of her complete joy in the moment. Thanks darlin’ dog.

 

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Callie, too, says thank you for being a fan of AnimalsOurEVERYTHING!

I LAUNCHED MY BLOG a year ago this month.

Today’s post  was my 66th. During this year, AnimalsOurEVERYTHING! has enjoyed more than 4,000 views.

I’d like to say thanks to all of my followers, subscribers, visitors, blogging and writing colleagues for taking an interest in my blog. The animals and I are more than a little grateful. We wanted you to know.

Here’s to another year of learning from animals — the  best of  teachers.

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“In the October issue of ‘America’s Horse,’ read along as Janet Herring-Sherman writes about her journey – 50 years in the making – toward owning an American Quarter Horse.”

A picture worth a thousand words; and in this case worth a fifty-year wait. The photo captures the essence of a story I have published in the October issue of "America's Horse" magazine. My article, "Horse of a Lifetime," is a short chronicle of wanting and waiting for a particular breed of horse for most of my life. I have that dream now and love her so. "America's Horse" is a publication for members of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA): I will post the article on my blog down the road when the contractual time restrictions have passed. Meanwhile, if you know someone who is a member of AQHA, snag their copy of the October issue and read a lot about my horse, Callie, and a little about how she 's changed my life. Photo by Adam Sherman.

THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON (in 12-step terms):

Don’t quit before the miracle happens. Be patient, God’s not done yet.

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Sad news posted on the message board at the barn where Buffy lived.

Significant events for animals and people seem to occur more often in the autumn of the year. Some we expect: School starts, and pets are left pining for the kids they had to themselves all summer. Others we never see coming: Towers come down in smoke and flames, and the lives of victims, survivors, rescuers — and search dogs — change in ways unimaginable a moment before.

It was a September long ago when my buckskin colt was born. Two years ago, when I got my horse, Callie, it was October. Twice, I’ve lost golden retrievers to cancer in the fall. My godfather and my grandmother passed away. I got married, and so did my sister. My best friend and sibling were born.

So it seems appropriate that a very special dog crossed over the Rainbow Bridge as fall began this year. Buffy, the barn dog where I stable my horse, died Aug. 31. Her people, Duane and Teresa Smith, were  at her side in the home where she slept many a night. Buffy was 13.

She rests now, under a birch  tree between the Smiths’ farmhouse and the barn. That was a path well-traveled by Buffy the 10 years she lived there — though many wondered how she managed it.

The Smiths’ son named the straw-colored puppy after the heroine in the popular 1997-2003 TV series, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” Buffy, the Labrador retriever, knew no vampires. But she knew darkness and fought demons of her own. Her eyes turned on her, leaving her blind at age five.

I will always marvel at how Buffy maneuvered around the horses so safely. I think she navigated by the sound and smell of their hooves. I bet she could identify each horse by the rhythm of its hoof beats.

Buffy had her timing down in other ways as well. She knew whenever someone neared the dog-cookie jar kept in the tack room. She’d appear from nowhere, approach with tail high and wagging, and look right at you with her foggy gray-blue eyes. Over the years she got far more treats than were good for her figure.

Buffy seldom let on if she was having a bad day. Even after she fell six feet into a hole dug for a corner column of the arena under construction.  Maybe it was a blessing she couldn’t see that night: She didn’t know to be afraid of the dark while confined in that small space. Duane, Teresa and the neighbors managed to get a harness under Buffy and carefully hoist her out.

While waiting for Buffy to surface, her rescuers worried how many of the old dog’s bones would be broken. Not one broken bone. Not one scratch. She was cold and exhausted. After a night by the fire with Teresa, Buffy awoke stiffer and slower than usual, but eager to start another day. Remarkable I say!

Her passing was reason to share Buffy stories like these, so I’ve tried to capture a few. Always, I will remember Buffy picking up her red rubber bowl in the late afternoon to broadcast to those in the barn –“It’s my dinnertime.”

The barn floor has a few levels, the Smith house a few stairs. Buffy new each one: On approach, she’d high-step up or over, so as not to miss and stumble. She looked like she was marching to a drummer in a parade.

Buffy in one of her favorite spots, the lawn in front of the farmhouse porch where she held court.

She loved a good roll on the lawn and barking fests with the dogs on the other side of the driveway fence. It was part of the daily routine for Buffy to woof and wag whenever someone arrived. Her best buddy, Sam, a blue heeler, continues as greeter in her absence. But the silence left without Buffy is telling.

At first, Buffy mothered the shy blue heeler pup, Sam. In time, their roles switched: Sam grew to be blind Buffy's guard and guide.

Sam joined the Smiths five years ago, young and overly shy. He became Buffy’s self-appointed guardian and, in his new role, grew more self-confident. Teresa describes how Sam would lip-bite and softly tug at Buffy’s floppy ears. “The vet told me that ear-thing is a sign of great affection between dogs.” As Buffy was put to rest, Sam watched, but stayed his distance. It was three days before he ate again.

Long before Sam was on the scene, Teresa had a Schnauzer, named Gabby. She, too, watched over and served as canine guide for Buffy. Together they hid Buffy’s blindness well. It wasn’t until Gabby died that Buffy began to bump into things, then lost the ability to jump into the bed of Duane’s pickup.

A trip to a canine ophthalmologist revealed that Buffy had inherited degenerative retina disease. Noting how happy and content Buffy was, the vet encouraged Duane and Teresa to let her be. He did caution that, for her safety, Buffy would need to be kept away from water.

Buffy had 30 acres of pasture to roam, but she seldom left the barnyard. The barn was her hangout – plus the sandy arena when it was empty of horses. She was content there and on the farmhouse front porch where she held court.

In earlier times, Buffy had traveled hundreds of miles of trail alongside the Smiths’ horses. “She never got in the way,” Teresa remembers. “She even had her own little pack and carried her own water.” Only once did hardy Buffy need an assist to get to the end of the trail. It was when the Smiths and friends were riding at the base of the Three Sisters Mountains in Oregon.

The weather had turned out to be much hotter than forecast. Toward the end of the day, Buffy had maneuvered out ahead of the horses and gone prone across the trail: She would not move. Teresa and company managed to pick Buffy up and position her in front of Duane’s saddle, much like cowboys carry weak or lost calves.

Buffy always was more attached to Duane, says Teresa, describing how the butterscotch- colored dog loved going to town and gathering the horses with him. Teresa also remembers how good Buffy was at defense when the family played impromptu games of soccer in the barn aisle. “She was so fast. She could leap straight up and catch barn swallows in flight. And she practically flew when she jumped over the furniture in our family room.”

Stopping to wipe a tear, Teresa says, “When Buffy was napping, her feet often looked like they were running. We liked to think she could see again in her sleep.” Last week, a friend’s grandson placed a rose near Buffy’s headstone and said to his grandma, “I think it’s good Buffy’s in Heaven. That means she can see again.”

I think we all believe we see Buffy in the shadows, sniffing the hay stacks for Lilly, the cat; offering up her bowl for kibble; giving voice at the sound of a familiar car in the drive; listening for riders to return from a jog around the pasture. I especially miss the little front-foot jig she did as she bounced in rhythm to her barks.

Rest in peace brave girl. We miss you.

THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON: In 12-step programs there’s a slogan that can make all the difference to sustaining recovery: “Take the world as it is, not as you would have it.” It’s all about acceptance. Buffy was the perfect model.

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BREAKING NEWS: This article just won first place in the Nonfiction, Essay by an Adult, Category at the Yamhill County Fair 2011.

I’ve always been an animal lover, so I take it quite personally when an animal gives me the cold shoulder. That happened three times this past winter and spring. Now, it’s like Christmas in July, because the two aloof dogs and horse have warmed up to me enough to permit a touch or two.  I can’t say that I did anything special to earn their trust. I just waited them out. It was an exercise in patience.

NEKOTA

Nekota, a bearded collie from champion lines, is sometimes aloof with newcomers, especially when her owner is not present to offer encouragement.

Nekota, a young  bearded collie from champion lines, was the first to allow me a touch. She came around about two weeks after I started seeing and feeding her twice a day. My friend and Nekota’s owner, Tish, was out of town on dog and family business.  I was pet sitting three of her bearded collies: Nekota, her mother Kiwi, and another female, Bubbles.

The jovial trio always greeted me with enthusiasm and barks of delight. I’d ruffle the long, silky hair of Bubbles and Kiwi; then they’d set off to romp and tumble on the winter-wet green lawns. I wanted to pet and hug Nekota, too. But she kept her distance even when I offered her treats.

After a few days, I was feeling slighted, so I quit pursuing her affections. I stopped trying to make eye contact with Nekota, too.  This wasn’t too hard since bearded collies have long, bushy eyebrow hair that covers their eyes to protect them from stickers and debris when doing the livestock herding for which they were initially bred.

One evening, as I was preparing their dinner in Tish’s kitchen, the three dogs came in from outside and gathered around me. Truth be told, they were more interested in having me throw the raggedy toy they’d dropped at my feet than they were in their meal. Nonchalantly, yet deliberately, I let my hand slowly drop to Nekota’s head — for an instant. She didn’t recoil. I was wowed, making it nearly impossible not to look at her, but I refrained: Doing so might have made her feel challenged, hence retreat.

I repeated similar gestures over the next few days. In time, I could pet Nekota at will and even glance at her while at it. By the time Tish returned home, Nekota was curling at my feet and allowing me to stroke her head and scratch her chin for as long as I liked. I lavished praise on her in a very subdued manner: She didn’t seem to mind that either. She liked me after all.

The new accord between us meant more to me than many other successes in my life. Good Girl, Nekota!! Thanks for considering me a member of  your pack for awhile.

STELLA

Stella, a shy, uncertain mastiff when rescued, has gained confidence while settling in at her new forever home. She's become trusting enough to include some humans among her friends.

I’d known Stella, a shy and aloof rescued mastiff, much longer than I had known Nekota when her stand-offishness  began to ebb. Quite possibly, Stella knew abuse and /or neglect in her past. Once settled in a safe, quiet environment, it still took the big taupe-colored dog months to stop evading me when I visited the farm where she lives with her new owners, Stacy and Russell. She couldn’t be bribed with treats, toys or praise. Cats terrified her, too. She was wary of all that moved – even the wind, it sometimes seemed.

When my husband, son and I have acquired rescue dogs in the past, we’ve been cautioned that it can take as long as a year for a dog to really feel secure with a new place and unfamiliar faces. So I waited on Stella, and waited some more.

It’s all too easy to envision Stella having been cloistered away and used for the single purpose of making  babies in a puppy mill setting. If that was the case, it explains why she’s still afraid to be in dark, tight places. It may also be the reason beneath her demureness: It’s possible she’d never known affection at the hand of man, or woman, prior to her rescue by English mastiff guardian angels Sue and Gary May of McMinnville, Oregon. (The couple founded Mastiff Rescue Oregon and has placed more than 80 of these cougar-size gentle giants in loving, permanent homes.)

For the longest time, when  Stacy and Russell had guests, four-year-old Stella would retreat to a spot where she could rest her chin on her giant paws and observe the movements of all those folks she didn’t know. Her eyebrows seemed  to do a sort of line dance, moving side to side with each quick, constant, wary eye movement. A few other dog-loving friends and I started letting a hand dangle whenever we sat and chatted with our hosts. We hoped our hands would serve as bait for the lonely Stella, who appeared a little braver each  week.

One night, a collection of us were having a group lesson in making pot-stickers. I was preparing to slice and dice celery at the island in Stacy’s kitchen when I felt a cold nose bump the hand I had resting on my hip. (That’s about eye level for big-and-tall Stella.)  Purposefully, I kept talking about chestnuts and pinching pasta and barely acknowledged the now-curious dog. A few visits later, Stella approached me from behind and stood at my side. The next time, she let me stroke her head as I stood talking with Stacy, a coffee mug in my hand.

The encouragement Stella has received in her new forever home has given her the confidence to trust, perhaps for the first time in her adult dog life. She even gives the new kittens clattering about a curious sniff instead of immediately trotting away.

Nowadays, when I arrive at the farm, Stella lopes out to meet my car instead of racing off to hide behind the free-range chickens or miniature pinscher tap-dancing about. Stella’s long tail, no longer tucked between her powerful back legs, is carried more naturally and, most of the time, swings lazily from side to side. If I linger over the new kittens too long, Stella actually nudges her way into our little crowd to claim some petting for herself.

Oh yes, the “min pin,” small enough to be a lap dog, isn’t a snuggler or a cuddler. But loving, lanky Stella is.

BOBBY

It was nearly a year before Bobby, a cutting horse, felt safe enough with me to take treats I offered to him. Photo by Adam Sherman.

Bobby was the last hold-out: He took nearly a year. Bobby is a chestnut-colored, top-performing cutting horse that belongs to the owner of the barn where I stable my horse, Callie. This athletic gelding, too, may have been mishandled in his youth, long before he came to the loving home where he is now the star.

At first it was tempting to think Bobby was stuck-up, even vain; then I remembered those were traits exclusive to humans. He’d move to another part of his stall whenever I entered to clean it or feed him. I didn’t dare try to remove his fly mask at night. He reminded me of a cat. Everything had to be on his terms and in his time. I’d offer Bobby a carrot or apple slice, and he’d turn his head away. I’d never experienced a horse refusing things that were like candy to them. I was flabbergasted and, yes, my feelings were hurt.

“Bobby’s just like that,” his owner assured me. “It’s not you. He’s even more skittish around men.” That would make sense if he’d been corrected too harshly or ridden too hard by a man somewhere along the line; however, I was determined to befriend him. Every time I’d pass Bobby’s stall or paddock on the way to catch Callie, I’d stop to offer him a treat. He’d look me right in the eye, then pivot away. That left me feeling like the wallflower kid who never gets asked to the floor at a junior high school dance.

One afternoon, I offered Bobby a treat on the way back from the pasture with my horse at the end of a lead rope. Instead of shunning  me and turning tail, Bobby remained still. When my horse tried to angle in and snatch the treat for herself, Bobby grabbed it from the palm of my hand! I repeated that approach day in and day out — with varying degrees of success.

Then the farrier arrived ahead of schedule one day.  Bobby’s owner, unable to leave work early, sent me a text message and asked if I would please halter Bobby and bring him to the main barn for his session with the horseshoer.

“Me?” I thought as I responded, “Yes, sure, no problem.” Once inside Bobby’s run, his halter slung over my arm, I talked softly and approached him slowly, but with confidence. Next thing I knew, I was buckling the blue halter alongside his ear, and he stood perfectly calm as I did so!  Since then, he’s taken to following me around his stall, hoping for more of the treats stashed in my pocket. I wouldn’t say were BFFs (best friends forever), but Bobby and I are working on it.

THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON: Nekota, Stella, Bobby — When they finally befriended me, I was reminded of a slogan 12-step programs use. It goes something like this:   When we try to force solutions, we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it. As in, I let one dog hurt my feelings; another make me feel unworthy; and I thought of a horse as being a snob. Change takes time, so be patient” The animals are.

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Still regal at nearly 20 years old, Shadow enjoys his windowsill vantage point. Photo by Adam Sherman.

(PLEASE TAKE THE POLL AT THE END OF THIS POST. THANKS.)

I wonder: Does a white-tailed, floppy-eared doe consider a mid-size black house cat to be prey, predator, or a curiosity?

On a morning trip to the chicken coop, I noticed a deer near our woodpile. She was looking intently at the ground. When I left the coop a little later, the hens were complaining as always at being robbed of their nest’s goods. Sometimes, they get so dramatic, they make sounds that are much like a growl.

I thought that‘s what I was hearing as I noticed the doe remaining in exactly the same position as before. I shuffled my feet in the gravel, but even that didn’t startle her.

Now I was curious. Slowly, I approached to see if the deer was perhaps focused on a fawn at her feet. No fawn; instead a shadowy silhouette, shaped like a cat’s head. My near-20-year-old black cat, Shadow, sat frozen just inches from the doe, staring up at her. It was him doing the growling, nearly as deep and loud as a dog’s. The young doe and the sweet, but a tad demented, old-man cat, were staring each other down. Shadow would never be able to avoid a direct hit if she decided to give him a hoof.

I yelled at both of them and made big cartwheel moves with my arms. That diverted the doe. She turned and calmly walked toward the forest. Shadow scurried as best he could into the shop and hid under a big, red toolbox the rest of the day. He wasn’t injured but was suffering a little post-drama trauma.

I’ll always wonder who saw who first that day.

Next day, Lilly the barn cat ran zig-zagging into the arena where my horse, Callie, was loose and cavorting. After a few minutes of zipping around in the sandy footing, Lilly froze and stayed that way. Eventually, Callie caught sight of the gray-and-white cat and sauntered toward her. Callie stretched her neck down to sniff Lilly, then shook her head as if inviting Lilly to play.  I hoped Callie’s next move would not be “playfully” striking out with her front feet.

Lilly stayed stock still. She had a baby vole or gopher under her paw that she was not going to part with come Hell or hooves. Callie gave Lilly another sniff then turned to egg on Sam, the blue heeler sitting outside the arena waiting for a sign the chase-each-other-down-the-fence game was on.

Cats seem to be feeling quite empowered this week.

Folk-art style stick pony, or hobby horse, typical of those recently used as real horse proxies during a rodeo-queen-style contest in Utah.

STICK HORSE STAND-INS

More than 50 horse, burro and mule events in the United States and Canada were canceled in May and June when a highly contagious, often-fatal illness, equine herpes virus (EHV-1), struck in 10 western states. Ninety cases of EHV-1 were confirmed. Of these, 13 became fatalities, according to the USDA.

EHV-1 spreads easily from horse to horse through nose contact, contaminated tack, equipment and clothing. To help prevent the spread of EHV-1, state veterinarians invoked quarantines and instructed owners and trainers not to move their horses away from home stables for any reason.

Still, one show went on minus the horseflesh:  a Utah mounted posse junior queen competition. The contestants rode, well, stick horses, to demonstrate their horsemanship and knowledge of the required routines.

This gambit received national media attention: Some viewers and readers commented that the stick pony substitution set these young women up for ridicule. Others believed it a lesson in creative problem-solving.  I like to think it made people smile — and not at the expense of the queen hopefuls.

The contest judges certainly were able to get  a clear picture of how each contestant adapts to uncomfortable situations. How could you not feel

Pink polka dots add a fancy touch to this stick pony. These toys also became known as hobby horses in 1500s England when keeping horses for recreation, as opposed to draft work, took hold with the royal and wealthy.

self-conscious without your trusty live mount to carry you to victory? Let’s hope the young competitors felt gracious, not graceless, as they moved around the arena demonstrating gait changes, figure-eights and other maneuvers.

Prime time stick ponies got me to thinking about my childhood stick horses, also known as hobby horses since the 1500s. My favorite was the color of a palomino with a creamy mane and tail. Do you remember yours?

Or perhaps this old English nursery rhyme rings a bell:

I had a little hobby horse,
and it was dapple grey;
its head was made of pea-straw,
its tail was made of hay.

THE ANIMAL LESSON THIS WEEK: What the stick ponies bring to mind is the 12-step phrase, “Take the world as it is, not as it ought to be,” (or “as you would have it”). This valuable insight points to the importance of being able to adapt and take things in stride. There’s a group of young horse women in Utah who know how.

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