16 February, 2011

I’m a sucker for cool dog stuff, and there is sadness as an era passes.

So my dear friend Ellen (she wrangled Beowulf at my wedding and is a savior to kitties in need) posted some pics the other day of some very spiffy tags she had gotten for her gang of quadrupedal hooligans from Down 2 Earth Jewelry. They were these fabulous lucky penny tags.

So of course I had to get some for my dogs, because I can’t possibly have my dogs losing out in the Cool Collar Jewelry game, now can I?

But it caused some consternation. I am one of those dog owners who has the t-shirt that says “Dog is my co-pilot.” I have the bumper sticker, too, and it’s on my back bumper. And for years now, that co-pilot has been Tink. We have had many an adventure together, usually on Civil War battlefields (but once on a Revolutionary War battlefield). We’ve logged a lot of miles, sometimes with Beowulf, sometimes without.

Now, Tink is six. Her weird medical problems have gotten a little weirder (see also: recent eye removal, hair loss from Tinea versicolor infection…) and her joints are not the most stable. I’ve hit 34, and over the past year particularly my own medical problems have gotten worse. The current drug I’m on lowers my chronic pain substantially, but has also screwed with my balance something fierce, and I’m using a cane full-time and training up Sid as a service dog.

I’m not saying Tink and I will never have adventures again. But we’re past the point where we are the only companions we need on them, where we can thoughtlessly jump in the car and head out. I have to think ahead, figure out if both Tink and I have the energy for this, if we have time to recover. I have to ask myself and answer with brutal honesty, “Do I want Tink to come because I think Tink will enjoy this, or would she be happier at home?” More and more often, the answer is “Tink would be happier at home.” To be fair, more and more often the answer is also “I would be happier at home” as well, but I don’t have that option a lot of the time. This is why, when we went to Kentucky, despite the fact that I desperately wanted my beloved Tink with me for the comfort she would have provided, Tink stayed home. She would have been unhappy with the hotel, which did not have elevators and required doing the stairs multiple times a day for potty trips. She would have been unhappy with having to potty on leash. And she had just had surgery, and didn’t need to be that far from her vet. Just in case.

So when it came time to choose slogans for tags (I went with descriptive titles, rather than their names), it was hard. A couple years ago, I would have put “co-pilot” on Tink’s tag in a heartbeat, and meant it. These days, though… these days. But there is one phrase that describes Tink and will always describe her, one that other dog people will recognize and those who are not dog people might get: heart dog. The one in a million dog who is the living, breathing, canine part of you, the dog who is like oxygen in the air. No matter what, that one is Tink’s.

So it was with great love and also sadness that I ordered their tags. Tink’s says “heart dog,” Beowulf’s says “love hound,” Zille’s says “fetchy dog,” and Sid’s? Siddymonster’s tag says “co-pilot.” It’s his job now to keep me safe in the great outdoors, to be my tireless companion whose energy picks me up when I’m flagging, the one who will go out on a slightly crisp (but not TOO crisp, I don’t do cold) morning without complaint.

I think he’ll do just fine. No, I believe he’ll do better than that: I believe he will be freakin brilliant. But I’m going to miss this smile on the battlefields.

31 December, 2010

Out with the old…

It’s New Year’s Eve! And my God, what a year. I started the year living alone on the Manor, insofar as anyone can be alone with three cats and three large dogs, and I’m ending the year with six cats in the house, four chickens out back, and a husband.

This year also marked the start of the cat-rescuing, and to date I’ve managed to place three adults and three kittens! Juniper goes to his new home a couple weeks into the new year, so that will be an auspicious start. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my gentle readers, who linked the kitties all over the place, bought scarves, graciously donated cash, and offered me enormous encouragement. You all have my deepest, deepest gratitude!

I’ve also managed to get myself halfway to an associate’s degree, which is pretty damn cool. I should finish that up this summer, unless I take the summer off again.

And of course, after months and months of dealing with US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department, we managed to get Daniel over here and we got married! Which was very exciting, both because YAY! my beloved and I are no longer separated by an enormous freakin ocean, but because of the friends who were able to drop everything and show up from all corners of the US to attend. We should do it again sometime.

It’s been a pretty good year, in retrospect, no major health problems for the critters, for which I am deeply thankful. The only blot on the whole thing was my worsening chronic pain issues, which my doc feels are probably fibromyalgia. This sucks because it means I will probably never get any better, and I’m having to readjust my ideas of what I can do and what the consequences are likely to be. On the other hand, at the moment I’ve got a med that does help some, even if it doesn’t fix the problem, and the support of my family and my best beloved, so that’s all right.

Tonight we head down to Blackthorn Kennel for mild debauchery and good company. Christine will be there of course, and a couple other friends, and there will be good food and a HUGE pile of dogs. I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new year.

Here’s wishing you, gentle readers, all the best in 2011! May your dogs be well-behaved, your cats snuggly, your chickens reliable layers, and may you all prosper!

21 December, 2010

On rescuing cats…

Or any other critter, for that matter.

I’ve been having some discussions recently about it with other people who also “do” rescue, either like I do it, by snagging cats who come to our doors and attempting to find them places to go, or by fostering and volunteering for organized rescue groups. There’s some points of common experience among us, and in questions we get asked by people, so I thought I would do Andrea’s Rules of Rescue just for the hell of it.

1) It’s hard. Sometimes, you will fail. Fosters get sick and die in your care, you fail to trap that last kitten, you have a foster that you cannot place and who does not fit in with your existing household, so you can’t offer the critter refuge. Your confidence will be shaken, your heart will get shattered. You have to be able to forgive yourself.

2) You can’t save them all. This is also a sub-point of #1 up there. You just can’t, and you have to know what your limits are in order to be fair to the critters who are already in your care. Fosters take time and money and effort, things which your pets also require, and since most of us are not independently wealthy, resources are limited. You only have so much time and money and energy you can pour into a rescue before you start short-changing the critters you already have at home, which is not fair to them in the least. You must know your limits, emotional and financial. If taking in a foster means you can’t provide for the critters already there, if it’s going to mean your dog misses needed vet care…don’t. You have an obligation to the beasts who depend on you.

3) You have to be able to let go. Every kitten and every puppy is adorable as hell, seriously. Every cat and every dog is charming. You will fall in love with every single one of your fosters at least a little bit, but since time and money are limited, every animal you keep is one less spot for a foster. Sometimes it’s hard to trust that you’re sending this critter to a good home; maybe they don’t do things exactly how you would. Whatever. Your home has limited spots where you can give adequate care, and there is always going to be another critter who needs you, so if you have a home for that foster where it will be loved, fed, and given good care, even if that family does the care differently than you would, send the critter on with your blessings.

4) It is easier to place kittens and puppies than cats and dogs. It is sad and mercenary, but you have a pretty narrow window of maximum cuteness in which finding a home will be much easier. For instance, I was pretty damn optimistic about placing Juniper. He’s little, he’s adorable, he loves his stuffymouse and he purrs a lot. He has a home lined up. Noodlehead, who is currently in quarantine in my bathroom, has a slightly bleaker outlook: she is a mildly cranky adult cat with very common coloring. Realistically she may never be placed, although I’ll try once I know her FIV/FeLV status. Luckily there is a place for her here, although keeping her may mean I have to cut down on rescue. But still: place ’em while they’re little.

5) The good: people will surprise you with their compassion and generosity. You will succeed in saving critters and finding them good and loving forever homes. Sometimes these good and loving homes will even drop you a note from time to time and you will get to see the tiny kitten you placed become a 25 pound muscly and good-natured monstrosity of a cat. Take heart from these victories, these little lives snatched back from the jaws of death.

11 November, 2010

21 September, 2010

Thinky thoughts on the adoration of dogs

As I’ve mentioned before, having a 60 minute commute on each end of my day gives me time to think a lot. Today I was pondering dogs and what it is about some of them that makes me fall so helplessly in love; the one bedrock, non-negotiable quality I have to have in a dog if I’m going to not just like the dog but be smitten. What I came up with, of course, is an answer maddeningly vague and imprecise: it’s a certain light in the dog’s eyes. The light is part brains, part capacity for joy, part ability to find fun, and part just sheer love.

Zille, for instance, hit me with the look the first time I threw the ball and she realized that the Dobermans did not want the ball, that she could have all the balls, forever, every time I threw it, it was our special game and no other dogs would jump her for the ball ever again, and that’s why I love Zille so much, and I even get dresses and costumes for her from sites like Novelty Street. And there it was, this glow behind her eyes. She still gets it every time I come home from work and whenever a ball comes out. Tink gets it, every time I come in the room or touch her or speak to her. Beowulf gets it for Daniel, not for me, but Beo and I like each other but have never deeply adored each other in the way the girldogs and I do.

Zille’s mother Danca gets it when you have something she wants and she gets an opportunity to do a little work for you; I was smitten by Danca one day when I was holding a piece of chicken jerky in my hand and she offered me a picture-perfect “finish”, snapping into place at my side and sitting and looking up with me, eyes aglow and ears up and I fell for her right there.

It’s indefinable, but I think most dog people would recognize it when they saw it, and probably even know exactly what I’m talking about now. It’s that indefinable light, spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it, that just shines from a dog sometimes. Without that, I can like a dog fine but I won’t fall hard. But I’ve never met a dog who had it that I didn’t love at least a little bit, even if the dog would be totally unsuitable for my family and situation.

31 August, 2010

The year winds down.

Oh, it might be 95 out there, and due to stay that hot for the next couple days, but you can’t fool me and you can’t fool the crickets. My happy time of year is bracketed by the frogs in the spring, heralding long, warm days, and then the crickets in the late summer/early fall, chirping incessantly about the oncoming cold.

Other signs of fall: the back of Rooney Lee’s neck is going bald again; Zille is engaged in her end of season shed (OH MY GOD THE HAIR); and some days the air conditioning hardly runs at all. The first half of my morning commute is in the dark, now, and it’s pretty well dark when I go to bed at 2000 instead of being maddeningly bright.

The tulip poplars have started to show the occasional gold leaf, although all the other trees remain resolutely green, and the fall flowers have started showing up on roadsides and in ditches, sprays of yellow and white that are probably something to which I am deathly allergic.

Still, there’s four months to go in the year, and probably one more litter of kittens. Yee haw.

15 August, 2010

Three…two…one…and then there were none.

All three of my tiny terrorist cells have been embedded now. The bedroom feels pretty empty since I don’t get purrbombed as soon as I walk in the door! It was a little sad for me to part with the little fuzzballs, but on the other hand they are in three excellent homes and I’ve met some fantastic people through this project, from the people spreading the word about kittens to the people who were so generous and donated or bought a scarf to help pay for vet care for kittens, to the people who cheered me on and listened to me whine and flail and complain about kittens. If you ever have doubts about the human race, think of this: there’s three kittens in three loving homes because a bunch of strangers on the internet rallied around them.

None of the people who took in kittens heard about kittens directly from me; one heard from Cherie Priest[1], one heard from a friend who reads Ginmar on Livejournal, and one heard about them on Facebook. Getting the word out is the hardest part, really, so if you run across a plea for a pet who needs help and “all” you can do is get the word out, NEVER think that’s a small thing!

And then there were the people who donated money for their vet care; I don’t want to list names because I don’t have permission from everyone and I’m afraid I’d leave someone out, but you were all so incredibly generous. I seriously had a cry a couple times because people sent what they could to my kittens, and I am so deeply, deeply, incredibly grateful to you all. You are fabulous.

I’m even more afraid of leaving out someone if I start mentioning my support system who listened to me when I was discouraged and propped me up and kept me trying to trap kittens and find homes for kittens. You guys got me through.

All together, the word-passers, and the donators, and the listeners-to-whining, you group of people who have never met each other have done such an incredible and miraculous thing: at the height of kitten season, you guys got my three little boys into perfect homes. I wish I could hug you all.

Meanwhile, back at the Manor, life is settling into what passes for normal. Tonight I can go to sleep with Tink and Roo again; the Best Mother Ever will have everyone else sleeping with her. Lucky Mom! Daniel gets here in less than a month and I still need to clean a bunch of stuff out of his room, in less than two months we’ll be getting married so there’s the wedding to plan. And right around the time the wedding happens, Grace’s kittens will be coming up to get trapped.

I plan on handing kittens out as wedding favors. There’s no way that could possibly go horribly wrong, right?

I JEST. But the thought is tempting.

[1] If you want to show Cherie some love, she is an author! If you like excitement, adventure, and usually some zombies (and if not zombies, explosions, although sometimes there are zombies AND explosions), along with strong female protagonists who are not Too Stupid To Live, well, click on over to her website there and maybe buy a book, k?

27 July, 2010

My god, you people are fantastic.

The internet has worked its magic for kittens and great justice! Thanks to the kind-hearted souls boosting the signal and passing the link to the Great Kitten Pimping Post of 2010, all three boys have homes to go to once they get neutered! Fantastic, indoor, no-declaw homes of just the sort I was hoping I could find for them! The kindness of strangers and their willingness to lend a hand to find homes for kittens they have never met never ceases to amaze me. I just wanted to give these little guys a chance at a better life than living out of doors would give them, and never would have been able to do it without people like Cherie Priest and Ginmar helping to publicize the boys, and then of course all the people who saw those links and passed them to friends. Seriously, two out of the three homes came to me saying “A friend of mine sent me the link to your kittens…” or words to that effect. So huge, huge thank yous to all you anonymous link-passers. I may never know who you are (although you will know who you are when your friends suddenly have the world’s most adorable kittens) but I owe you one. If you would like personalized gushing e-mails of thanks, drop me a line or a comment and say hi!

And of course, GINORMOUS thank yous to the people who are opening their homes and hearts to these little hairy buggers. I miss being able to pee without someone climbing my leg, and let’s be honest, very high on the list of “Things Andrea Doesn’t Need” is “Seven cats.” You kind souls are not only taking in wee adorable kittens in need, but you are giving me my bathroom back and I love you for it.

I am deeply conflicted about the next part, so it is below the cut where you can ignore it. Seriously.
(more…)

14 July, 2010

Go, and do thou likewise.

So today, Smiling Cat[1] and the UPS guy willing, the Great Kitten Trapping Escapade will begin. I am, well, not exactly thrilled. I hope that for you, gentle reader, the kittens are an unalloyed delight and that I shall have good things to tell you about taming them and finding them most excellent homes, but for me, the kittens are an Undertaking. If I’m successful, it’s going to mean a bathroom full of kittens, and precious time (there’s never enough) spent sitting with kittens and trying to tame them down, and the cost of kitten food and trying to figure out how to afford to get them to the vet.

The kittens will be welcomed, never fear. They will be protected from harm, and once they’ve got a clean bill of health and no fleas they will be cautiously introduced to Uncle Roo and even more cautiously introduced to Auntie Zille, who loves them already with all of her considerable heart and can barely be pried away from the window when they’re visible. But they are going to be four little fluffy pains in the ass.

I blame my grandmother, Mama June. She never could pass by on the other side, either, and especially not where kittens were concerned. It’s in my genes, people.

But yeah, I’m ambivalent. Because, you see, I am not the one who caused this problem, but I am going to by God be the one who cleans it up. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but it’s the way it is and the kittens need me. And I couldn’t really tell you why I’m about to undertake the Great Kitten Trapping Escapade, except there’s two things I always think of from the Bible. I’m not really a Christian anymore, I haven’t been to a church service since 2003, but when I think about what I’m trying to do here and why I’m about to start trapping kittens, there’s two sections of the New Testament that come to mind.

The first is Matthew 25:31-40, and I really need to get that last verse up on one of my walls:

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Who are the least of these? Well, shit, if tiny semi-feral kittens don’t count, if a little box turtle far from home and helpless doesn’t count, if all the small voiceless fuzzy and creeping creatures don’t count, I don’t know who the hell does. It’s not that I don’t like people. Well, all right, the general mass of mankind is not my favoritest, but I am quite fond of many human beings and I don’t want to see them sick and hungry and hurting, either. But the powers that be didn’t send hungry humans to my door this past winter, cold and long and snowy as it was. They sent a pack of cats ranging from “not really feral” (Emmaline) to “really, really feral as hell” (the toms). They send turtles and snakes in the road and once in a car[2]. They sent a big yellow dog in the road with nobody stopping to get him safe. We all get a mission, I guess, and some get called to minister to the human beings what need help. Others of us, well, we do quadrupeds.

The other section of the New Testament I always think of when I start wondering why on the good green earth I am getting myself into these things is the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37:

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

I can’t pass by on the other side of the road. This cat thing started when they were going through my trash this winter, desperate for food. It’s brought me one definitely outdoor semi-feral cat, Noodlehead, her sister Emmaline who will be moving inside with kittens, and a pack of skittish kitties I can’t touch (although Grace is getting more trusting by the day). Guess I could have left them to find their own way, but I’d never have been able to sleep at night.

Then again, if I’m fixing to have to listen to Zillekins cry about kittens being locked in the bathroom instead of out where she can lick them, I’ll never be able to sleep at night, anyway.

[1] I HAVE A WEIRD ASSORTMENT OF SMALL GODS. DON’T ASK. SMILING CAT IS IN CHARGE OF KINDNESS, CARE, GENERAL GOOD WILL, AND CATS.

[2] SPEAKING OF JEREMIAH SWAKHAMMER, I CAUGHT HIM TODAY PLOWING THROUGH A PILE OF LEAVES IN HIS PEN AND I SWEAR TO YOU, GENTLE READER, THAT TURTLE WAS GRINNING. IT’S THE LITTLE MOMENTS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT.

12 May, 2010

I told you that story to tell you this one, or: my Dad was Indiana Jones.

Back in the 1960s, when the country was busy undergoing rapid social change, my Dad was busy in the summers helping to pay for his undergraduate education by wandering the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, collecting bats. Not the wooden kind made for striking balls of various varieties, but the mammalian kind, destined for some biology collection at Texas A&M. The stories of his adventures made fantastical bedtime distraction for me when I was a small girl. Parents are often sort of boring to their children, who picture them as never having had any life but the one the children see before them. These stories opened up a whole strange new world, in which my dependable and predictable father had exciting adventures, a world in which I was not even a vague consideration. They were suggestive of the fact that my Dad had a whole life going on before he married my Mom and became my Dad, and that it was a fascinating one.

In these stories, he roamed the jungles with his trusty guide Antonio, collecting bats, getting into scrapes, escaping by cunning and cleverness. He was not my English Professor father, wearing his navy blazer and khaki pants and conservative ties[1], he was Indiana Jones, out for bats instead of artifacts. He collected the bats mostly by shooting them, and he shot bats in culverts under roads, he shot bats in a church, he descended into the mysterious depths of Cueva Leon and didn’t shoot any bats there but nearly suffocated. Cueva Leon, with its hilarious prologue in which he hires two more guides to get there and then the suspenseful midsection, featuring near-suffocation, and finally the climactic ending in which he discovers the secret of Cueva Leon and also escapes alive, was one of my favorites. I asked him to tell it so many times that he finally typed it up for me and told me to read it myself, which I did. In fact, I got my Mom to have it laminated so I could have it forever and ever and read it over and over and over again.[2]

I told you that story so I could tell you this one:

Recently, my Dad sent me a file, written by a gentleman who had been on the bat-collecting expeditions. First this was startling because there was never a mention of anyone but Antonio in Dad’s stories, it was always the two of them adventuring through the steamy jungles, shooting at bats. It had not previously occurred to me that this was a whole party of adventurers shooting at bats; in fact when my Dad referred to the author as his colleague, I thought he was speaking figuratively. And then I got into the part about shooting bats in a church, and thought “Hey, this sounds familiar!” and then there was a whole new story, about being mistaken for missionaries, and finally the gentleman named the members of the party and there was my Dad’s name.

After a second read-through and a little correspondence with Dad, it got even more hilarious. His colleague describes the bat-collecting expedition in the church thusly:
“…three obviously demented giant gringos, one a Viking Amazon with a dirty handkerchief balanced on her head, bare arms, pants, and military-looking boots–garb unlike anything ever seen before on a woman in this untouristed remote region; one a tall skinny guy even taller than the woman and wearing a counterfeit pith helmet and the darkest of dark glasses in this very dark church; a young matinee-idol-like man/boy dressed like Beetle Bailey; and a crazed Mexican, as Maya-faced as the shawled women, but shouting in an alien tongue and wearing shells in bandoliers crossed on his chest like Pancho Villa.”

As it turns out, my Dad was the “young matinee-idol-like man/boy dressed like Beetle Bailey.” Antonio, of course, was the crazed Mexican, and the other two were the author and his wife.

My Dad, the matinee idol. Dad was skeptical of the accuracy of the description, so I asked for photographic corroboration. A couple days ago an envelope arrived, with an old picture scanned and printed onto the page, labeled “Working on a bat. Taken by Antonio. At a small village in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, summer 1962.” Dad’s head is bent over a bat on his leg, a bat which cannot in fact be seen. All you can see is a thick head of short hair (which was long gone by the time he became my Dad), a bit of face viewed from above, and the cigarette that dangles from his lips. On the other hand, you get a sterling look at his clothing, and he is most definitely dressed like Beetle Bailey, only I don’t think Beetle wears a watch.

It’s funny how our parents unfold like origami and become real people as we get older. Children cherish predictability in their parents, but as an adult I find that I cherish the vision of my matinee-idol-like man/boy father, dressed like a dork and wearing combat boots one size too big. Next time I see him, I think I’ll even ask for some more bat stories.

[1] AS HE GOT OLDER, THE TIES GOT LESS CONSERVATIVE. THERE IS PROBABLY SOME KIND OF LESSON IN THIS.

[2] THE OTHER THING HE WROTE FOR ME WHICH I ASKED MOM TO LAMINATE WAS AN EPIC POEM ENTITLED “HOW I GOT RAGS” WHICH DETAILED THE ADVENT OF HIS CAT. IT WAS WRITTEN IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER AND RHYMING COUPLETS, ALL HOMERIC AND STUFF. I WAS NOT BEING FACETIOUS WHEN I CALLED IT “AN EPIC POEM.”

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