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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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December is the perfect time to share some animal-related posts I’ve landed on here and there on the Web.

  • Dog lovers, get your Kleenex or hankies: These photos, about a dog’s guide dog, will touch you to tears

“Within the heart of every stray lies the singular desire to be loved. Lily is a great Dane who has been blind since a bizarre medical condition required that she have both eyes removed. For the last five years, Maddison, another great Dane, has been her sight. The two are, of course, inseparable. ‘People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.’ ” Substitute the word “people” with the word “dog,” and that works, too. http://rossparry.co.uk/. Photos by Ross Parry , United Kingdom

  • Cat lovers: An alluring cat named Usyaka,caught in the act  in photos taken by her devoted human, Alexandra. I enjoy how creatively Alexandra uses light to make ordinary shots into fashion statements and art. See more of Usyaka at usyaka.wordpress.com. Photos by Alexandra.

  • Tis the Season to Bee-lieve. Click the link below and read a poignant tale that connects Pearl Harbor Day and the life of a b http://honeybeesandme.com/.

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Growing-up Will at play. Size-wise, the twice-orphaned kitten has some catching up to do, but he’s 100 percent healthy, at peace when purring and a most enthusiastic play pouncer.

You may recall the orphaned black kitten that barn cat Lilly mothered for a short while along with her own three babies. (Included in May 15 post on this blog.) The nurturing that Lilly gave that kitten, found mewling in a nearby ditch, probably saved its life. His name came to be Will, because of his strong will to live.

After a few days as nursemaid, Lilly moved Will to a spot in the tack room far away from the rest of the litter. One of my riding pals, Ella Mae, found Will cold to the touch and barely breathing. She worked hard that afternoon and barn owner, Teresa, through the night, keeping  the little guy warm and trying to convince him to nurse from tiny bottles of special mother-cat-like milk.

Cat caregiver, Betty, holds tiny Will, the four-ounce kitten she nursed to health after he was abandoned by his mother, then his proxy mom.

Shortly after that long, worrisome night, Will fell into the good graces of a very competent and generous cat caregiver, Betty. She was experienced with rescue and near-hopeless situations like Will’s seemed at the time: He only weighed four ounces and had to be fed by tube at first. Betty soon had Will on the mend. After several weeks under her watch, tiny Will became stronger, and his larger-than-life personality began to surface.

Will is now at home with Ella Mae’s son, Alan.  Will is still small for his age, but all health

Will at eight weeks with his new favorite person, Alan, the son of one of his rescuers.

and behavior reports are good: Will follows Alan around like a puppy might, hides under the covers and is a perfect apartment-mate, said Ella Mae.

Ya gotta love a happy ending! Especially when a kitten twice left to die well, defies the odds and, lives. Thank you Betty, Ella Mae, Teresa and Alan for serving much as godparents would to little Will.

Lilly’s own kittens are prospering in their new homes, too.  I have a little egg on my face, however. I jumped to the conclusion that the three were sisters; at least two have turned out to be brothers. Oops!

Photos by Ella Mae Hays

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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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Kitten caught stealing at bank

Lilly's kittens last week. Maddie, on the left, stole the show at a bank. Her sisters, Kessa, on the right, and Raffie, hiding in the middle, are new hockey fans.

The tack room was silent and still yesterday. Barn cat Lilly, recovering from spay surgery, was sound asleep atop my saddle blanket. Her three kittens, whose antics kept us amused all spring, have gone to their new homes.

Maddie, the first to depart, went to a co-worker of the barn’s owner, Teresa. She kindly took the little darling to work with her on the big day. The plan was for Maddie to retire to the bank’s restroom and nap. Quite precocious, and a bit of a prima donna, Maddie quickly undid that plan.

As I hear it, Maddie instead spent most of her time atop the counter in the bank where the women work. Confident in her black-and-white cuddly cuteness, Maddie happily greeted the clientele. I’m betting every customer — even those wishing for larger account balances — left smiling: Maddie made them with her show-stealing manners.

Maddie’s two siblings are acclimating to their new digs on my friend Stacy’s farm. Stacy and her husband, Russell, have a Mastiff named Stella and a miniature pinscher (looks like a tiny version of a Doberman pinscher), named Max. At this juncture, little Max acts as though the kittens don’t warrant much of his attention. Large, but ever-shy, Stella is treading, well, cautiously.

These sister kittens are sure to hold their own: When playing at wrestling, the kittens throw each other to the mat in unrestrained smack downs. And now they have strong and symbolic hockey-related names. Russell is a loyal fan of the Vancouver hockey team, the Canucks. Since the kittens arrived on the day of a National Hockey League play-off game, Canuck roster  names seemed only appropriate. Kessa is named for center Ryan Kesler, and Raffie for left wing Raffi Torres. Go Girls and Go Canucks!

THE ANIMAL LESSON THIS WEEK relates to a 12-step slogan that Maddie and her sibs illustrate: “Have a good day — unless, of course, you’ve made other plans.”

Table and trough talk in brief.

Clever horse opening latch commonly used on stall doors. Photo source 123people.com

Horse unlatches stall and takes midnight walk down dark road. While breakfasting on roadside grass, horse is caught by good Samaritans. Owners, searching for AWOL mare, are located. They lead her the few uphill miles to home. (Bet they scolded her under their breath with each step.) Thankfully, no noisy logging trucks lumbered past on the narrow road. All ended well — with the stall door now latched and chained to prevent additional equine mischief-making.


The tale reminded me of my own horse’s great escape on a mid-winter night. As Teresa made her way to the barns for morning chores, the fog was so dense, she could barely see the toes of boots. Nearing the back barn, Teresa thought something moved. She strained to see through the fog: There in the barn doorway stood my horse, Callie, dozing.  I imagine it was similar to those movie  scenes where someone walks out of the mist after waking from a dream or arriving from another world. Callie’s stall door has a safety chain now as well. If these mares get any smarter, we may have to convert to deadbolt locks!

YouTube has plenty of videos of horses caught in the act of unlatching. Here’s one posted by sjristhedude: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIQdFzN-XgQ&feature=related.

Red Angus bull. Photo source ansi-okstate.edu

The Boys in the Hood, our nickname for the red Angus bulls that spent a lonely bachelor winter in a down valley pasture, are blissful: The gate to the lush pasture full of red cows and calves stands open again.

All around, the rural landscape resembles a Christmastime map: stretches of green punctuated by red dots: The bulls’ this-year offspring calf-napping in the tall grass.

The Angus breed originated in Scotland. When four black Angus bulls were imported to America in 1873, the shorthorn and longhorn breeds were the norm. U.S. cattlemen referred to the bulls as freaks, because they were polled, or hornless. In time the black-colored Angus gained favor; however the red version, derived from a recessive gene, was frowned on. The red Angus did not attain breed status in the states until 1954.

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The three-year-old red colt, Animal Kingdom, a 20-1 long shot, won the 2011 Kentucky Derby today by 2.75 lengths. Photo by Pat Lang Photography.

THE FINISH LINE ON DERBY DAY

And the winner is: Animal Kingdom, by 2.75 lengths. Beth Harris of the Huffington Post, one of the first to report the win, described it as “a win by a broken nose.”  Animal Kingdom’s regular jockey, Robby Albarado, was sidelined with a broken nose, the result of a horse’s kick. Rider John Velazquez was left without a horse when his mount, Uncle Mo, was scratched from the race because of illness. So the riderless  Animal Kingdom and the horseless Velasquez were united – and won. The odds were long, 20-1.

I was thinking about running red horses just this morning at the barn. When I turned out my mare, Callie, she ran like the wind, snorting and flagging her tail. She was going at a speed faster than usual for her, and she made a perfect moving picture. As her red dunn body flashed by, I thought of the late Secretariat, the famous race horse whose nickname was Red.  A timely thought, I mused, since today was the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, which Secretariat won in 1973. When he was a foal, “experts” said he was too pretty to be a race horse.

In America, the first Saturday in May is always Derby Day at Churchill Downs racetrack in the state of Kentucky. Thoroughbred horses thundering around the 1.25-mile course are said to be making a Run for the Roses, because a garland of roses is placed around the neck of the winning horse. It is considered the most exciting two minutes in sports.

The Kentucky Derby is the first in a series of three pivotal races together known as the Triple Crown. It’s a rare year when one horse wins all three. Since 1948, only three horses have done so:  Secretariat in 1973; Seattle Slew in 1977; and Affirmed in 1978. Before that, the Triple Crown was generally won every few years or so. We’re currently in the second longest stretch, 27 years, without a Triple Crown winner.

Perhaps Animal Kingdom will change that. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that a horse with a name like that can and does! He’s red, too: The winning color in my book.

CONSIDERING MOTHER’S DAY

As an adoptive mom, I  believe women who create families this way are kindred spirits no matter where they live, what they do, or who they are; or in this case, what they are. Lilly, the barn cat with the three cute-as-a-button kittens is now mother to another!

Pat, a neighbor to the barn where I keep my horse, found an abandoned kitten in a ditch and rescued it this week. Black, and not much bigger than a person’s thumb, the little guy was screaming for nourishment and warmth.

Three little kittens lost their mittens. No, wait: That‘s a nursery rhyme! These three little kittens have a new little brother and seem quite smitten. These are barn cat Lilly’s kittens at three weeks: They’re a few weeks older now. This week, a kitten so new it’s eyes were still shut, was found in a nearby ditch. Lilly took it right in and is nurturing the baby as if it were her own. The three original kittens act as if it’s been there all along. No family drama here, just business as usual. Photo by Ella Mae Hays.

Having heard about Lilly’s babies, Pat mentioned the orphan to Teresa, owner of the barn (and Lilly).  They decided to see if Lilly would accept a substantially smaller – and male – kitten into her lair. I wish I’d been witness to the introduction. Apparently Lilly didn’t even blink, just started licking and nursing the little guy right away.

Another woman who stables her horse at the barn hadn’t yet heard about the foundling kitten. Imagine her surprise when she peeked in at Lilly and family and saw a fourth: I hear she said something to Lilly about “a half-baked bun in the oven.”

After just a few days with his new family, the baby, tummy full of mother-Lilly milk, is calm, quiet and struggling to stay near, yet stay clear, of the big sisters tumbling about. The original kitten threesome is approaching five weeks in age. They are experimenting with play-attacking  and somersaulting each other all over the place.They’ll be swinging from stirrups and hiding in riding boots soon.

The big sisters deserve credit, too. I guess their girl genes/instincts kick in automatically. They were instantly protective of their wee sibling. The one I call Blackie (on the left in the above photo) actually assumed the arched-back, hair-raised, mean-cat stance and hissed at me in her tiny voice when I unintentionally startled the baby. I was shocked and awed that something so tiny could appear so big and be so brave.

Lilly yawns, then stretches, seeming to say, “Yes, they are ALL mine, and aren’t they all just too cute for words.” Good girl

I was thinking about how easy and routine this all seemed to Lilly, and discovered  THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON: FIRST THINGS FIRST. What’s more first on the list of first things than ensuring the safety and welfare of offspring, no matter the species?

It being Mother’s Day tomorrow, I’d like to share this very special poem with cat-mom Lilly, plus animal lovers and adoptive moms everywhere. It’s given me much solace over the years. I wish I knew who penned it.

“Not flesh of my flesh,

Not bone of my bone

But still, miraculously, my own.

Never forget

For a single minute,

You didn’t grow under my heart but in it.”

And thanks to my son, Adam, for making me Mom. I love you.

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As much as I love writing about animals, helping animals is an underlying reason for AnimalsOurEVERYTHING!, the blog.

Here’s an easy way we can all help animals waiting for forever homes.  Today, March 15, animal lovers everywhere are uniting to spread the word about how good it is to think “adopt” or “rescue” when searching for a new pet companion. It’s good for the pets, and it’s good for our souls.

Kobe, a chocolate Labrador retriever that came to us four years ago. Finding a new dog was a first order of business when we moved from California to Oregon. We knew our new place wouldn't feel like home until dog hair and paw prints appeared all about.

I am always staggered at the  incomprehensible number of homeless  critters: Petfinder, alone, has a database of 320,000 in-need animals. Many followers of AnimalsOurEVERYTHING! have pooches and kitties brought to them through some form of pet adoption.

We (husband, son and I) currently have two re-homed Labrador retrievers and a cat that adopted us when she was abandoned and pregnant.

Brooke, our black Labrador retriever, was "rehomed" with us two years ago. She is a most exuberant companion for Kobe as well as for us.

Please consider e-mailing and tweeting friends and posting on Facebook and blogs about this Adopt the Internet Campaign.

But first, I hope you’ll take a look at the blog post written by Dr. Nancy Kay, a friend, a vet — and one of the smartest, kindest women I know, about Adopt the Internet. She offers great perspective and first-person accounts of dog adoption.
http://speakingforspot.com/blog/.

(Check out Dr. Kay’s book, “Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life,” while you’re on her blog. Visits to your vet will  never be the same — they’ll be better.)

Thanks and bowwow meow!

—————————————————–

*What It’s All About*
In honor of our 15th birthday <http://www.petfinder.com/info/birthday>,
Petfinder is asking people everywhere to pledge to spread the word online
about adoptable pets on March 15, 2011.

Adopt the Internet

By Nancy Kay, DVM

Please, will you join the “Help Petfinder Adopt the Internet Day” effort on March 15th?  Email your dog loving friends and relatives.  Feel free to share this blog post with them.  Heck, write a blog post of your own! Together we will increase awareness about adopting homeless pets and hopefully create the kinds of happy endings that Quinn and my family have enjoyed.

Do you have your own story about adopting a homeless pet?  We’d love to hear it.   Know of an animal who needs a home?  On March 15th, please post a photo along with adoption contact information on Dr. Kay’s  Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/speakingforspot).

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

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