Purrfect Companions

I’ve written about the chickens and my journey with dogs, but am finally writing a post about cats.

Oh gosh, I love cats.  I really love cats.  Really. Really, really. 

My heart has paw prints from quite a few cats left on it.  There’s the first cats in my life, Mookie (spelling not confirmed) and Puppy, whom I have no memories of, but have seen pictures and been told stories about. The first cats I do remember, Jake and Maddie, captured my adolescent heart, irreparably.  There’s also Tibby, who is my parents’ current resident cat, that had a leg amputated (from illness) after coming into their care.  Also, Tucker, who came into my life in college, and now lives with my sister’s friend.  My first cat as an adult, was also my first kitten, and sadly, Suki passed away from FIP mere months after her adoption.  In present day, there’s Louis, whom sleeps on my chest every night.  And, there’s also two foster cats, that have been a pleasant adventure, and that I will miss dearly.  Before diving into present day, I do have to start with Jake, my first real feline love.

He takes me back to life to good ol’ St. Louie: my family got two cats, right around when I was in the third grade.  They were a brother and sister pair, found at a Petsmart adoption event.  I remember my mom had to leave and come back, if we were to adopt them, and she let me stay with them while she was out.  The brother was a big orange tabby, we named Jake.  The sister was tortoiseshell, and named Madeliene (after my best friend at the time), nicknamed “Maddie.”  I couldn’t tell you much about Maddie when we first got her, but Jake was just the love of my life.  He was beautiful and cuddly, and so much trouble.  He lived by no rules and I loved him unconditionally.  He once peed on me, and I didn’t care.  He shared my bed and my heart.  It’s hard to impress upon you how absolutely obsessed I was with this cat, and how deep my little heart loved him.

Jake was eventually demoted to an indoor/outdoor cat, as his antics in the house got to be too much.  He loved being outside, so he had no problems with that.  I, on the other hand, saw the outside world as dangerous to him, and fretted about his well being.  I wasn’t wrong to be worried, as Jake later lost use of the end of his tail by some accident; who knows how it happened.  The rules didn’t change, though, and he continued his indoor outdoor life, until it killed him.

I was in the 8th grade, getting ready for soccer practice when our house phone rang.  I answered, and there was a kid on the line.  They told me that Jake was hit by a car, and that I should come get him.  Of course, I freaked out!!!  My beloved cat, that I had spent almost 6 years of my young life with, was in dire trouble and needed to be rushed to the vet!  I think I passed the phone to my mom, because she got clarification that my beloved cat, that I had spent almost 6 years of my young life with, was actually deceased, laying in the street, and we should come get his body.

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Jake

Grief, as I had never known.  I didn’t go to soccer and my mom went to get Jake.  I held him in the backyard and cried. Just cried, and cried.  Honestly, I’m crying a bit writing about it.  We had a burial, and my friends gave me cards expressing their sympathies.  I was, and still am, totally torn apart by his loss.  I have a picture of him in a jewelry box on my vanity, and one in my cube at work.  He has been the most influential feline on my life, to date.  I have a very soft spot for orange tabby cats, and will ensure I have the company of one (or many!) for the rest of my life, thanks to him.

When my husband, then boyfriend, and I finally moved in together in 2015, my first objective was to get a pet.  We got a dog, which we loved (him and the experience), and I wanted my cat.  I had lived almost 3 years of my independent, adult life without a feline, and it was not an ideal way for me to live.  I got on the internet and found two orange tabby sisters, being fostered close by.  Of course, we went to meet them!  Unfortunately, they were not very affectionate and also had specific medical needs.  Their foster care taker was not very pushy about them and let us know if their care seemed a little overwhelming, it was ok to admit they were not a good fit.  I thought about it, and spent time with them, but ultimately, we did decide they were in good hands currently, and were not a good fit with our lifestyle.  Their foster care taker suggested I consider a kitten she had, the last of the litter, who happened to be a little orange tabby.

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Satsuki

Be still, my heart.  I had never had a kitten before, always preferring adult cats, assuming they were less likely to be adopted since baby animals are always so popular and wanted. I didn’t say yes, right away, but I did say yes before we left that day!  We took her home and named her Satsuki, from the movie Totoro, calling her “Suki.”

She is probably the best cat I’ve ever had, and Chris declares her the best cat “ever.”  She slept on us, she was so fun and beautiful, she got along great with our dog.  She was not troublesome at all, which was new for me!  She just lit up our lives, and was a wonderful companion.

It is with terrible grief, that this third pet blog post also features recent loss.  We adopted Suki in August, and she passed in November.  We had been free feeding her and it took us a few days to realize she wasn’t eating.  Although she seemed to be acting normally, we verified she was not interested in food and took her to the vet ASAP.  The vet did an overall workup, and concluded she likely had FIP, which is Feline Infectious Peritonitis.  I had never heard of that, and he we didn’t get an actual diagnosis because to do so is very evasive, and the vet could make that conclusion fairly confidently without the procedure.  I got the call at work with the diagnosis, and had to talk through it, not knowing anything about this disease.  I am grateful for my understanding boss, who caught me crying in my cube.  The vet let me know there was treatment, but really, no cure, and that the prognosis was terminal.

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Nothing short of wonderful.

If you want to learn more about FIP, you can do some reading here.  The main takeaway is that it only affects cats in their ~first year of life, and the disease can lay dormant for a while, without indication or detection.  There’s not much to ‘prevent’ it, assuming your kitten lives in a normal, healthy environment, without other sick felines.

It was my first, real experience with terminal illness in pets, and I have to admit I handled it wrong.  The day of the diagnosis, Suki’s health declined rapidly.  She still couldn’t eat, and was not able to hold down liquids.  Her existence was a struggle, and clearly painful.  I wasn’t sure if I should consider euthanasia and when; everything happened so fast.  She was mostly normal at the exam, and the next day she was on death’s door.  Around 10pm that night I called an emergency vet, open 24 hours, and explained the situation, requesting euthanasia services.  I wrapped our sweet girl in a towel and we drove her there.  Once in a treatment room, Suki convulsed and died before the vet could see us.  I will never forget watching her suffer and pass, in such a violent and unpleasant manner.  My selfish desire to cling to unrealistic hope and wish she could be around longer allowed her last moments to be dreadful.  She didn’t deserve that, at all.  She was cremated, and her ashes will stay with our family, along with precious memories of her.

It had been so long since experiencing the grief of losing Jake.  Thinking about how short her life was cut made me feel afraid to have a cat again.  That experiencing this grief again would be unbearable.

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Louis under our Christmas tree, 2015.

After Christmas of that year, I felt like maybe we could get another cat.  That it was worth the pain to provide sanctuary for a homeless cat, who surely deserved love and companionship.  It was selfish to shy away from providing that, when we were so able to, and would so love another cat.

We went to Petsmart, and the same rescue Suki was from had cats there.  I held a young male, sandy colored tabby named Leo, and I cried.  I explained what happened with Suki, and the rescue representative was so kind.  She offered to waive the adoption fee if we wanted to take Leo home.  But, I still didn’t feel ready, so we left, and I told Chris I had to think about it.  He was very supportive, but sure that we could take Leo home. Well, we came back for him, of course, and Leo turned into my Louis.

2018-02-23_14-18-41Louie (or “Lou Lou”), has just been the best.  He sleeps with me most nights, and recently started sleeping on my chest (THE BEST).  He was so great with Baron (after an adjustment period), and had no adjustment period for Juniper.  He sits under our Christmas tree every year, just like he did when we first brought him home.  He loves boxes, with a determination I have never seen.  He’s a liiiitle naughty, like an orange tabby, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  He makes my heart swell, and I can barely handle how much I frickin love him.   He does pretty darn well with our foster cats, too.

Nelly and Kelly came into our lives somewhat unexpectedly.  I had cleared with Chris that I would be filling out a foster application, and his rule was one cat.  We got a desperate call from the cat rescue to see if we would be willing to house two sisters, who had absolutely no where to go, if not with us.  Chris let me say yes!  And that immediately felt like a mistake.

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Nelly

Nelly and Kelly were, and really, are, very afraid of people.  They don’t want to be seen, or be touched, or have any dealings with scary humans.  We kept them in our guest room, and I spent time in there, daily, trying to become familiar and trusted.  Kelly, the brown tabby, warmed up to me, and purred loudly when I visited.  Nelly, the white cat, remained skittish.  Months passed, little improvement was made, and eventually the girls needed to see the vet (just annual checkup/vaccines/nail trim).  That was terrible.  They couldn’t easily be caught, so Chris and I spent forever chasing them around the guest room.  Chris got scratched and bitten!  The girls were very unhappy, and I worried, traumatized.

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Kelly

Then, we needed the guest room, so we had to rinse and repeat, confining the girls to a dog crate for a weekend so we could let my family in and out of the room.  That was terrible.  Eventually, we needed the guest room again, so I decided it was time the girls move to the basement, and give them free reign of the house.  Chris’ dad came to visit, and the girls hid in the basement for weeks.  And then we started to see them late at night, when the dogs were put to bed.  And then they started showing up for morning feeding times.  And somewhere along the way, they stopped isolating themselves so much, and wiggled into my heart.

Now that they’ve spent some time with the whole house at their jelly bean toes, Nelly has really gained confidence.  We see her all the time, and she loves lounging upstairs, in the hallway, in the kitchen, in the living room!  She’s very flighty, and doesn’t want to be pet, but she is just a doll.  So beautiful, and it’s so rewarding seeing her comfortable.  Kelly seemed to have regressed a little, and once she had freedom, wasn’t interested in pets anymore.  The girls are also both, crazy about Louie.  They love him!  They like to rub against him, follow him, and be where he is.  Louis acts like a little boy and bats them away when their affection is too much!

What prompted this post is that the girls are being relocated to a new foster tonight, and I am heartbroken.  We have given them lots of time, patience, and love-at-a-distance, but Chris has put his foot down that we agreed to be a temporary home, and that it would be better working conditions when renovating our kitchen if the girls weren’t around.  I understand his reasoning, and respect my husband’s compromise.  I’m glad we could take them in their time of desperate need, and I’m glad they have a safe, caring home to go to after ours.  I will just miss their little presence.  I hope that their lives stop having to be restarted, and that a kind soul with a big heart gives them a real home, a “furever” home, they call it.  They really deserve it.

Update after dropping them off:

The girls are with their new foster home, and I feel confident they are with people that genuinely care about them, which is the best I could ask for short of a forever home.  We first stopped at the vet for a quick nail trimming, and I cried the whole way there, while there, and then during the drive to their new home.  The new fosters were very understanding of my tears, as they have lots of experience fostering.  They seem like very caring and good people, but my heart still hurts.  When the girls first came to me, I worried I was in over my head, but before long, I was wishing they never had to leave.

I’m not sure what’s in my feline future, but Chris says we can have two cats in the house, so I imagine we will either stay on the foster list (strictly open to one cat, so we don’t have to have a timeline), or look at adopting again, soon.

 

 

 

 

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Woman’s Best Friend

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This is my sister, Kylie, with Buddy.

I had a dog when I was a kid.  I picked him out at a Petsmart adoption event, when I was in the third grade.  My mom pointed to some puppies, and I said, “no, I want the sad dog.”  His name became Buddy Guy, after the Blues singer, and his sad life turned into a very happy one.  That’s entirely thanks to my mother.  Like the warning stories go, eventually I lost interest in Buddy, and my mom was his dependable caretaker.  What a good dog he was.  He was a lab mix, with bad knees.  So sweet and great with my sister and I.

I always assumed I was not a dog person after that.  I had loved him, for a bit.  My love for cats never wavered or waned, though.  They had my heart, each and every one of them was just the most beautiful cat in the whole world.  Not so, with dogs.  They were a lot of responsibility, too dependent, and too gross (drool, smelly, yuck!).  I thought I had learned they were not for me from my experience with a great dog (Buddy), who I fell out of love with too easily.

Well, when I was on my own, as an adult, and my husband wanted a dog, I, too, wanted a dog.  Unlike him, I wanted a dog enough to pour over hundreds of internet adoption postings and email rescues about dogs.  Research is fun!  Also, depressing.  There’s so many dogs out there in need of rescuing, and likely, never enough people to fulfill the needs.  For me, I found a few dogs that pulled at my heart strings, and I went to see a couple.

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This is Baron’s internet ad picture.

One of the dogs I met was Baron.  I didn’t meet him at an adoption event or at a foster home; he was at a boarding facility.  He was Egyptian, I learned.  About 1 year old (yeah, right, our vet later said 2+).  Picked up off the streets of Egypt as a puppy, and flown to the United States (he had the paperwork to prove it).  We don’t know who or where he was adopted to, but it didn’t work out.  He ended up in a foster home, kept in a basement and fed cat food.  He was pulled from that situation, and put in a boarding facility, living in a chain-link cage.

When I came to meet him, he was desperate for attention.  He loved being out of the cage, and was so darn cute.  I was warned he did not like men.  I talked to Chris about him, and we decided to have Baron meet Chris.  If that went well, we could talk more.  When Chris met Baron, Baron submissively rolled over, and let Chris pet him.  We took Baron home for a foster-to-adopt trial, and you know how that turned out.

We learned about Baron’s quirks.  He submissively peed.  He hated new people.  He liked new dogs.  He got along wonderfully with our first kitten, Suki, and then, later, our second cat, Louis.  He was obedient.  He was so sensitive.  He loved when we came home from work, and was always so excited to see us.  He was easily crate trained, and potty trained.  Our biggest obstacle was always his deep mistrust of new people.

We had learned of a trainer that worked with difficult dog cases, and we reached out to him immediately.  We worked with him weekly, and really focused on Baron’s behavior towards strangers.  Once Baron warmed up to our trainer, he just loved him.  That’s how Baron was.  Once you were trusted, you were in the inner circle.  He had play dates at the trainer’s house, and we continued to discuss his behaviors and use positive reinforcement to build his confidence.

Unfortunately, Baron bit another dog while at the trainers on a play date.  The dog’s owner had come to the backyard gate, to pick up his dog, which frightened Baron.  When the dog came whizzing by to greet her beloved owner, she bumped into Baron which triggered him to lash out.  The bitten dog was unfazed, but the incident had occurred.  Thankfully, for us, the owner was very understanding and kind.  He had our contact information, but never reached out.  We heard through our trainer that the dog was fine.

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Honestly, he’s just the cutest.

Our first trainer was our most successful one, and we really liked him.  We would text him to check in, ask questions, seek advice.  Even if he could no longer have Baron over, he was still helpful and cared about Baron’s well being.  His prices were a bit steep to have individual sessions in our home, so we no longer actively saw him.  We met with another trainer, closer to home, for individual sessions at her training facility.  I continued to read Patricia McConnell, and books about fearful dogs.  Baron’s behavior was improving.

We did take him on our honeymoon, after about a year of having him.  Thankfully, we had found a wonderful dog sitter by then, who was willing to work with a behaviorally challenged dog, but we loved him so much and wanted him to be a part of our experience.  The drive to my home town was 16 hours, and he handled it like a champ.  We stayed over at a hotel, he handled that great as well!  We arrived at my parents’ home, in St. Louis, and he met a lot of our friends and family throughout the weekend.  Introductions were slow, and everyone was warned: this dog will not like you!  He will be afraid, please take it slow!  Please ignore him!  It was so rewarding to have that weekend go well.  To socialize him a bit more, to have everyone respect our quirky dog, and our dog learn to respect them.

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Baron in front of our cabin.

Our honeymoon was just phenomenal.  We went to the Smokey Mountains, and he was a champion road trip companion.  He was so obedient, we could let him off leash near our cabin for bathroom breaks, without worrying (obviously he was still supervised!).  We hiked the one dog-friendly trail and ended up taking him into a local brewery!  We think the hostess assumed he was a service dog, but he sat quietly under the table while we had a flight of beers.  He only bothered to growl at the table of big biker guys that was later seated by us.  Having him with us was priceless.  He was truly a part of our family.

When we got home, I was ready for a second dog.  Having one was great, what about two? They could play together, and we’d have twice the fun!  You think at this point I’ll say – boy, was I wrong – but I wasn’t!  We welcomed Juniper into our home in October 2016, less than a month after being married, and she is absolutely wonderful.

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This is Juniper’s adoption ad picture.

Juniper is a coonhound mix.  I’ve been told she could be pure bred (not that it matters), but she’s petite, at a whopping 50 lbs.  Coonhounds generally grow to more like 80-90 lbs, or more!  Chris had loved growing up with a black and tan coonhound, so I had kept my search strictly with hound rescues.  Juniper was very cute, guessed to be about 1 year old, and her foster mom’s description led me to believe she’d be a great fit in our lives.  I asked for more pictures and more information, and finally pulled the trigger.  She would be transported from Alabama to Pennsylvania, and into our home!  We adopted her before even meeting her, and it worked out better than I could have imagined.

Juniper is the complete opposite of Baron.  She is overly friendly, she is overly vocal, she is consistently happy, carefree, and does whatever she wants.  This girl has almost no fear, and is the silliest dog I’ve ever met.  If you want to laugh a lot, get a coonhound.  I’ve learned most hounds are totally goofy and free spirited.  Nothing about her is restricted.  When I scold her, she wags her tail.  Nothing can get her spirits down.  She also isn’t possessive of anything.  Her bed, her space, her toys, her bones.  We don’t have to restrict her from anything, because she will never prevent us from taking things or getting to close.  She also has never managed to be 100% potty trained.  Instead of free roaming the house, she can’t be trusted outside of her doggy room, unsupervised.

She made the best buddy for Baron.  They were never quite “bonded,” per say, but they sure played well together.  They could run laps playing keep away, and you could hear Juniper barking at Baron constantly.  “Come back here!” “What are you looking at?!” “I’m just barking in your face ’cause I like to bark!”  She’s noisy.  He’s tolerant of her.  She was in his inner circle, and was trusted.  He set an impeccable example of obedience and following commands.  She brought him out of his shell.

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My yin and yang pups.

We took the dogs to the vet, together, one time, and witnessed a miracle.  Juniper was letting the male vet tech love on her, and Baron got jealous.  He saw the good that could come from being friendly and open to attention, and sought out the vet tech!  No growling, no defensive stance, no usual Baron-meeting-new-people behavior.  This coonhound showed him that people were good.  In that moment, anyway.  I called them my yin and yang pups.  So different, but complimentary.  And I loved them both to pieces.

Last summer, Baron started acting more aggressive.  Up to that point his behavior had been improving, albeit he was still very far from where a normal, well-socialized dog would have been.  I made a vet appointment to have a full physical and blood panel done.  The first thing to check when a pet’s behavior changes is their health.  Are they lashing out because they are unwell?  Turns out Baron was healthy as could be.  We had a healthy, mostly happy, aggressive dog on our hands.  We continued to pour in effort to train him and build his confidence.  Baron actually had a history of sporadic aggression.   It had always been impossible to predict when he was in a defensive mood – if he was, you were no longer in the inner circle, and hopefully you knew it before he told you.  Unfortunately, a few times we didn’t know.  Both Chris and I got bit in the face, and on the hands a few times.

Thankfully, the bites to the hand never bled.  The bites to the face did, but didn’t require any real intervention.  We both have small scars to remember him by, though.  My first thought when writing that is – just keep your face away from your damn dog.  How could that happen twice?  And worse, you’ll learn it happened a third time.

After Baron bit my face, I was afraid of him.  I cried wondering if this was it for my dog, if nothing I did would help.  It was before Juniper was in our home.  But, if you let time pass, you find he’s still the same dog.  The dog you fell in love with, and poured so much energy into.  He’s still obedient, he’s still loving, he’s still sensitive.  He’s still moody, but he’s never moody all the time.  I’ll work harder, it’s only his first year with us.  Excuses come easily.  It’s easy to let time heal your physical and emotional wounds, instead of keeping the problem at the forefront of your thoughts.  And then, a year later, you find your husband is now injured, and the cycle starts over again.  After each bite, we worried, we called trainers, we googled, we read articles, we had serious talks.  But we loved our dog and nothing terrible had happened.  They were all superficial wounds, and the fear for my dog turned back into love and eventually, trust.

When something terrible did happen, I couldn’t take that same approach.  Over two years of having Baron in our hearts and home, he finally caused real damage.  Chris was sitting on the sofa, and Baron jumped up and curled up next to him.  Baron was squished between Chris and the arm rest, a daily, if not hourly, position for him.  This time, he was moody.  He curled up next to Chris, squished against him, except he didn’t want Chris to touch him or bother him.  Chris didn’t know that.  When he asked Baron “how are you, boy?” and gave him a scratch on the head, Baron responded by biting his nose into three pieces.

Chris got 17 stitches that night.  I cried. A lot.  I knew I couldn’t allow time to pass without addressing this.  I knew I couldn’t let my love for this dog endanger the people I loved.  Chris knew that, too.  I reflected on our time with Baron, thinking of everyone he’d ever met.  All of our parents and siblings.  So many of our friends.  Our neighbors.  People hiking the same trails we were.  What if it had been one of those people?  What if we couldn’t control the situation enough to prevent someone from making him uncomfortable, and thus aggressive.  We couldn’t control the situation enough to keep ourselves safe, and we were his most trusted people.  I felt so irresponsible.  I felt immense guilt that I had ignorantly put my friends and family in such a dangerous position, so many times.  I really learned what my dog was capable of, and that two years of training, behaviorists, vets, and love weren’t enough to make Baron a safe family member.  I also felt guilt that I was considering ending his life.  Above all, hadn’t I agreed to responsibly care for him, for all his life?  That’s what pet adoption is, to me.

We scheduled Baron’s euthanasia for two days later.  I cried to our vet.  Chris wasn’t mad at him, nor eager to put down our dog.  He was resigned to this decision, and didn’t want to give time for his emotions to change his mind.  I had to agree.

This is the hardest part to talk about.  Or think about.  It’s been so helpful to confide in our friends and family about this decision.  We have received understanding and support.  But ultimately, I struggle immensely with ending Baron’s life.  We both went with him.  I sobbed when his consciousness left him.  But, I was there with him.  I will always think of that decision as a betrayal.  Maybe it was the right thing to do, but I betrayed my dog and took his life.  He trusted me, and loved me, to the best of his abilities.  I wish that had been enough.

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Too skinny to not have a jacket!

Juniper is unphased;  I told you nothing could get her spirits down.  She’s her wiggly, old self.  Always excited to see us, tell us about everything, and get as many treats as possible.  We had someone come check on her, recently, while we were out.  Something we never had the opportunity to do with a fearful dog in our home.

I wish I could earnestly say life is easier, like there was a weight lifted without Baron around.  But every accommodation to Baron was normal for us.  Less a burden, and more just the way things had to be.  I feel weighed down by his absence.  I feel burdened by the memories of the vet’s office.  I feel ashamed that I took his life.  Every time I look at Chris, I know we didn’t make the wrong decision.  But it probably won’t ever feel right.

Ju and Baron

Rest in peace, my sweet boy.  I will remember you forever.

We’re a one dog family, for now.  I can pour my grief into loving Juniper.  Making sure she is exercised and loved, and has the best life I could possibly provide.  She has weekly play dates with our neighbor’s dog, now.  I dropped her off at doggy day care for the first time, today.  We’re running ~8 mi a week, which is increasing.  We took for granted how much energy she and Baron exhausted on each other.  The only real change is Juniper seems like she has more energy, and is more restless.  She put on five, much needed, pounds.  We bring her all over; we don’t have to worry about her with new people.  She’s come to our friend’s house to play board games, and went to two NFL playoff gatherings, already.  She’s really earned my nickname for her: Sweet Pea.

Recently, we’ve had Juniper start sleeping in our room.  Another yin/yang moment.  Baron used to jump on and off our bed so much, he was hard to sleep with.  And then there was his tendency to get possessive of the bed, and growl at you if you tampered with that (so that option was revoked).  Juniper sleeps in the corner, on the dog bed.  All night.  She is a champ at sleeping in (that is just wonderful for me).

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Practicing “sit” for the camera.

We took her to a local brewery last weekend.  The owner said if she’s good, we could let her off leash.  We were a little hesitant, but the brewery is arranged so that we were in a separate space, so we gave it a shot.  Wow, was she a dream.  She stayed in our area, for the most part without any prompting or chasing.  Surprising for a dog that follows her nose!  She got to go back into the “employees only” section to hang out with the crew, smell some giant brewing vats, and hang out with the owner.  She got to meet a ton of fellow beer drinkers, who loved meeting her.  She was pretty darn good with sticking with us and not getting out of sight; listening to our commands and following us in and out of our space and to the bar.  The kids there just loved her.  She’s so sweet, giving little baby licks without being overwhelming.  Boy, did that tucker her out!  She immediately passed out when we got home and was noticeably tired for the next 24 hours.

We’re taking life one day at a time, and appreciating all ways that Juniper enriches ours.

I sat on this post for a while, having drafted, rewritten it, and tabled it.  In posting this, I open myself up to some unpleasant comments, opinions, attacks.  But what helped me most in this whirlwind was reading stories like this; knowing I wasn’t alone in considering our eventual outcome.  That people out there deeply loved their dangerous pets, and also were looking for options, support, understanding.  No dog so cared for is bad all the time.  Even the dangerous ones – there’s a lot of stories out there (dig through article comment sections) about adorable, loving, family pets who did this one, really bad, terrible thing.  And what can the owners do?  What are their options?  What is best for everyone?  There’s also stories about a few, really bad, terrible things.  How can I prevent this from happening, again?  Can I ever completely trust my dog?  Can I live with that; can I provide that restricted environment?  Can behavioral training work, or is my dog afflicted in a biological way?  I don’t think there are right answers (barring obvious brain damage, illness, etc.), and all options are hard when facing similar circumstances.  I hope my story adds perspective, empathy, and compassion to the dog-loving community.  I don’t forgive myself, but I can live with myself.

 

Girl Keeping Chickens

Last May we got chickens. 

We had just passed one year of home ownership (March 2017), and I was inspired after visiting Chris’ family in Colorado (they have chickens).

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Pippin and Merry

I picked out two chicks, a Buff Orpington and a Speckled Sussex, and named them Merry and Pippin.  They were too cute, and too afraid of me!

Chicks need to live inside, where their environment can be controlled, especially the temperature.  My gracious, chicken keeping, neighbor let me borrow a tank, chicken feeder, waterer, and heat lamp.

After reading more about chickens, I deduced that I needed a third chicken.  They are social creatures, and to be alone is depressing for them.  Three would ensure if one of the chicks didn’t make it to adulthood, that there would still be a pair of remaining chicks that can keep one another company.  Queue Chris picking out Adrian (he also picked the name).

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The girls are checking out their run for the first time!

Addie was bigger than Merry and Pip, and even more afraid of me!  She is an easter egger, AKA a mutt chicken breed that is supposed to lay green or blue eggs.

While the girls smelled up our guest bedroom, we designed and built them a coop with a run.  Chicken advice says they need 3 square feet per bird, and 1 foot of roost space, per bird.  For every 3-4 birds, you need a nest box.  So I gave the girls a 9 square foot coop, with a 3 foot roost, and three nesting boxes.  Chicken advice also says the more roaming space they get, the more flexible the coop dimensions.

It was important that their coop and run be very secure to protect the flock against predators like raccoons, foxes, skunks, and hawks.  We used the wire from our split rail fence to encompass their space, and thankfully had two ‘guard’ dogs who happened to roam the property.  There’s one in the corner of the right photograph.

The girls didn’t get to move in when it was done, because they were still small and needed temperature regulation.  They did get to explore their run, and the coop, and finally moved in after about 4-5 weeks in their tank.

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Baron is weary of these new creatures and happy to not interfere.

The dogs and chickens.  Not as hard as I thought!  We had Baron, our mutt, and Juniper, our hound.  They came at the chickens like they come at life – with total opposite behavior.  Baron was immediately well behaved, and easy to direct.  Leave the girls alone, they are not chew toys!  Juniper was immediately curious, and had Addie in her mouth!  Thankfully, there was no harm done, and we then charged into chicken-training our coonhound.  Juniper is really a star, and learns so well.  Within the month she was behaving, and soon after, allowed unsupervised time with the girls.  We kept the dogs outside with the chickens as much as possible, as they served as great watch dogs, barking at any bird flying overhead.  We later learned these birds were vultures, not hawks, but encouraged their behavior all the same.

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Sammie

We got a fourth chicken.  In October, our girls were bigger, but not laying eggs, and I purchased another chicken, who was already laying and was also so darn beautiful.  I loved her blue coloring (that’s what this coloring is called in chickens).  We got our “first” eggs, from her (cream colored), which was kind of cheating, but still exciting!

In this picture, Sam (to go with Merry and Pippin), is in chicken quarantine, where she has to be separated from our flock for up to four weeks upon her arrival.  This is to ensure she’s not carrying any illnesses from her flock and transferring them to ours.  It also helps with flock adjustment, as usually chickens are not so accepting of strangers invading their homes.  At this point, none of the girls were fond of us, yet, and it was difficult to touch one, much less catch one!

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Pippin not feeling well.

We had a sick chicken.  I relied on internet message board advice, though facebook and chicken blogs, to treat her.  It is unusual to find a vet that treats chickens, did you know?  We separated her from the flock, and put her in a dog crate in the basement, where she could be left alone, treated, and rest.  We set up our baby cam (bought to keep an eye on the dogs, at one time), and I watched her, dutifully.  She was given electrolytes in her water, fed high protein treats (scrambled eggs), treated for coccidiosis, and dewormed.  Thankfully, something I did worked, and after about a week we had a healthy chicken, again.  It was very scary when she was at her worst, though.  Chickens’ instincts do not allow them to show symptoms of illness until it’s really bad.  I thought we may lose her!  I’m so glad she pulled through, and that my handy chicken First Aid kit (self-assembled) and the local Tractor Supply came in very useful.

The girls finally started getting along, as well as maturing.  From our original three, Merry started to lay in November (2017).  She lays brown eggs, so it was easy to tell there was a second layer in the flock!  Once she had matured to lay, Merry became very docile.  She loves people.  She RUNS to greet Chris and/or myself when we come out.  She lets me pick her up and hold her, which I just love.  She perfectly defines what I want chicken keeping to be like.  Pippin finally started to lay in December.  It was hard to tell there was a third layer, since her eggs were a similar shade to Sammie’s.  I was finally convinced when I found three eggs in the nest box!  Pippin, too, has become more accommodating in personality, however she’d still rather I not bother her much.  We’re still waiting on Addie to give us the prized eggs: green or blue in shade!  Lately, she has been acting more compliant, but it’s still a waiting game.

We winterized.  When winter came, I was eager to know how to protect my girls from the seasonal changes.  Mostly, what I found out was: do nothing.  What??  Well, as long as you don’t have an exotic breed, generally chooks are ready to withstand the seasons.  The best advice is to reduce wind in the coop and keep clean water available always (that’s all year).  I did have to check their feeder more often, as they seem to be eating more.

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Her comb with frostbite.

We made some changes to prepare, like getting a heated water dish, blocking their mesh windows from wind, and doing coop cleanings more often.  You can’t close off their coops completely, because the ammonia from their poop needs to vent out.  Collected ammonia can kill them.  The enemy of chicken keeping in the winter is moisture (which can then freeze).  Chicken droppings = moisture.  Did you know chickens don’t pee?  They dispose of their waste in one form of excrement, which is a moist feces swirl.

Also, I have been keeping tabs on their combs, as Merry got a mild case of frost bite this winter.  We got a remote digital thermometer for the coop, and I put Vaseline on her comb when it’s very cold (internet chicken advice).  The Vaseline is supposed to keep moisture from clinging to their combs, which would then freeze and escalate the frostbite.  I feel very guilty for letting my chicken succumb to this infliction, but at least it is a mild case, and we are working to combat it now.

We lost a chicken.  Not to illness, but to a predator.  Chris came home from work one day in January (2018) and let Juniper out into the backyard.  Juniper promptly charged a hawk that was hunched over our poor Sammie, right at the end of our porch stairs.  We do let our girls free range in our back yard, every day, and this was nature’s consequence.  I only hope her passing was swift, as she did not deserve to suffer.

I have since purchased a dummy owl and hawk to post on our fence, and some shiny tape, as shiny items are supposed to deter birds of prey.  We kept the girls in their coop for about a week after the incident, in case the hawk thought he could come back for another meal!

All in all, having chooks has been so fun and rewarding.  We sold our first dozen eggs the other day, and have given countless away to friends and neighbors.  It turns out, even with a steady supply, Chris and I just don’t eat too many eggs.  The girls are really more pets than providers to me, and I so enjoy watching them and spending time with them.  Every Saturday morning is chicken chores time, where I maintenance their coop, refill their feed, and replace their water.  They are extremely easy pets to have, and costs are extremely low (after the coop).  A 50 lb bag of feed is $14 if you catch it on sale (they always are)!  My goal with the girls is to one day sell enough eggs to buy their feed (one bag every few months).

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The girls won a Purina Facebook contest with this photo!  Addie is the last to mature, and you can tell!

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Checking out their coop for the first time.  Look how small they were!

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