Friday, December 31, 2010

Books on Horseback

Bo was gracious enough to stand still--even though Stewie was stalking him--as I describe my books to viewers here. It's not often that my horse is calm, I look good, and Edgar is free to videotape my riding, so, this morning I decided at the spur of the moment to tape this video for my author page on Amazon.com.

Unlike Obama, I have no handy teleprompter--that's why a couple of "aah's" and "uh's." But, considering that I decided to do the video at the last minute and without any preparation, it's not too bad. What you see is what you get; it's always that way with me. Thanks for watching and listening. And check out my books at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I've made a New Year's resolution to vigorously promote the books I have out there in order to reinvigorate my platform. And over the year I've made promises to reader fans that another book would be coming out soon. With the economy appearing to surge, I'm hoping my animal books will, too, and that readers will have their fill of my writing. I've got three mss. ready, everyone! Thanks for all your support through 2010, and I hope everyone has a healthy and happy new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thankful for Animals


Imagine a world without animals, be it without pets, livestock, or wildlife. How would we comparatively dull humans entertain ourselves?
I like going to sleep knowing that my pets are safe, warm, and cozy in their barn stalls and that they will be well-rested the next day to make me laugh and to cuddle alongside me. Likewise, I know that while I sleep, the raccoons are just awakening and stepping outside their holes for a night of play, hunting, and general ruckus. I think about the fact that while we sleep, on the other side of the world in Africa and India, rare wild beasts--ones I'll never see in my lifetime--are emerging from their dens, nests, and coral holes from where they will announce the morning and begin their day hunting food and guarding their young.
Without animals, we would all wake up, not to the singing and chirping of the birds, but to tree branches quaking, squeaking eerily in the wind. And the movement of the trees would be the only activity catching our attention. I can't imagine waking up without seeing the squirrels chasing each other, leaping from one branch to another. Mornings would resemble death where nothing but silence reigned?
I often imagine the wild places on Earth, devoid of human control--merely under the auspices and dominance of animals--in places so remote that hardly a human intrudes on the natural setting. Without humans shaping all to serve their needs, the wild and the animals within such a world must prosper, without fear of slaughter or the hunt. Though the prey-predator relationship exists, a world without human interlopers is ideal; it it natural.
This Christmas I am grateful to know that animals are a part of my world--whether or not that world is unseen by me or other people. Of course, my own pets have made me who I am--have formed my honest personality. My horses carry me, mostly willingly, for rides around the farm and to a few parks, and I appreciate that, too. My pigs I love because they are determined to do things they feel are important, regardless of my needs. Pigs can divorce themselves from the human condition, and for that I admire them.
This Christmas we should all be thankful for our pets who love us unconditionally and for the wildlife that entertain in much more subtle ways. Life is good because of our pets and the life flitting, scampering, and calling beyond our windows. They are our most valuable gifts this Christmas season.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Stew Master

Stewie is now thirteen weeks old and forty pounds. Named after Stewie Gilligan Griffin of "Family Guy's" precocious baby, Stewie the dog hardly resembles the football-headed cartoon infant. About the only thing the two have in common is that they pee and poop themselves at the drop of a glove.
I have to admit that he's a pretty nice dog, but he's already a bit spoiled, having all kinds of stuffed toys, a Weatherbetta dog coat, big smoked bones, treats, and a lot of loving. If only all dogs could end up with nice homes--the world would be so much warmer, more civilized. The human world, after all, defines itself, really, by the manner in which it treats creatures it considers beneath it. What a fine place ours would be if everyone extended charity and kindness to the animals. In such a world no cats, horses, or pot-bellies would suffer, and neither would the wildlife.
This afternoon I bought Stewie a big cow bone (sorry, vegans), and I brought his big dog bed into the kitchen while I put away the rest of the groceries. Well, as you all can see in the video, I have my right hand in a half cast after having a re-fix on a carpal tunnel surgery that scarred down. This time I didn't paint the downstairs bathroom a week after surgery; instead, I'm taking care of this hand and only doing the exercises I'm supposed to do.
So, fishing around in the cabinet above the refrigerator trying to get a box of quart-sized freezer bags, I used a tongs to grasp the box because my right hand is "off." All of a sudden this heavy tray came flying out of the cabinet. I ducked, but the tray crashed onto poor Stewie, who, for a change, was minding his own business, intent on his boney. A high-pitched yelp pierced the air, and out he ran, me on his heels apologizing profusely.
He darted into his crate, his right leg raised, and the look he was giving me was one of pure remorse.
"No, no, Stewie," I said, reaching into the cage. "You didn't do anything wrong. I'm so sorry. Mommy has a bum hand right now. Come here, and let me see your leg." Slowly he emerged from the crate. He avoided looking at me. Poor thing--probably thought he was being punished for chewing what he thought was his own bone. Believe me--we haven't used corporal punishment on him, but he had to have thought he committed a crime of colossal canine crapola.
I quickly summoned Edgar to check his leg, biting my fingernails through the examination. He pronounced him just fine, and I sighed relief.
This evening Stewie's back to chewing on his boney in the living room.
I like Stewie because he's rather quiet for a puppy. I especially like that he doesn't jump on us. And he hasn't sniffed my crotch yet, which is always a good quality in a dog. He runs beside me around the woods and is being fairly kind to the barn cats and the pigs as they roam through their days. He's just a pleasant fellow, and we really like him.
As usual I don't simply call him "Stewie." His other nicknames include "Gooey Stewie, " "Stew Master," Stew Man," and "Stew Bird." And when he pees on the floor, he's "Dammit Stewie!",


Monday, December 6, 2010

Buttons and Thread Tell a Story




A few days ago I decided to de-clutter the extra bedroom that serves as my craft, gift-wrapping, and art room. I was trashing anything I hadn’t used in the past two years: oodles of fake rose buds and plastic vases I used for the graduation party for my Ph. D. Then I tossed a box full of leftover pieces of fabric for sewing my own dresses (yeah—do you believe that?), and I threw out some out-dated violin lesson books. Likewise, a movie projector and screen went to the dumpster as well as a bunch of ancient medicines and vitamin bottles.
Only a few hundred boxes remained for sifting when I discovered an older, medium-sized box. Inside, amongst a bunch of multi-colored spools of thread sat a small rectangular box. I opened it and gasped. It was a box of buttons—all different kinds—sitting amongst the thread: all from one of my Grandma Eckensberger’s dress factories. Forty-year-old buttons nestled amongst forty-year-old thread. A tear dribbled down my cheek: it was my Gramma who taught me how to sew.
The box of buttons and thread, uncannily, still had the odor distinctive of Grandma’s factories in Allentown, Pennsylvana—a smelly mélange of rolls and rolls of fabric, piles of lint, puddles of sewing machine oil, and clouds of steam from the pressing machines. The box oozed the essence of my childhood because I worked in my Grandma’s dress factory from the age of fourteen, along with all the women who ran the single-needle and merrow machines, the button fasteners, and the pressers, to the age of 21. I mastered a myriad of jobs, first as a finishing girl, one who trimmed the extra strings from the dresses. Then, after I proved my responsibility as a trim girl, I pinned the size and designer tags on the dresses along with bagging each in plastic. By the time I was 21 years old, I was an expert at the single-needle machine, which I learned to “drive” at the age of sixteen.
At that time my grandmother sat me down at one of the single-needle machines and showed me how to thread and untangle a clog of “cotton” under the foot plate. When she pressed the foot-pedal, the machine roared into action, the needle a mere blur as she expertly slid a long piece of fabric under the foot. Those factory sewing machines were monsters: tough, frenetic devourers of fabric and thread, monstrosities with insatiable appetites. The first time I stepped on the foot pedal that drove the needle, I thought it was going to suck my hand right with it, so fast it went. It was frightening for this teenager, but I’d be damned if it’d get the better of me.
But it did: twice. Two times I sewed my left thumb. And when the needle slammed into the bone of the digit, and the machine ground abruptly to a halt, I sat there, eyes wide: no pain--only shock and disbelief. My thumb sat there like a disembodied thing--skewered upon the needle. The lady at the machine next to me heard the loud “thuck!” and knew I had sewn my thumb. “Don’t move!” she warned. “Just take the wheel with you other hand and raise the needle out of your thumb.” And, at the age of sixteen, that’s exactly what I did—very deliberately, very carefully. Then, staring at the hole in my hand, I got up and went to the office for a band aid. I did finish working that day, even though by day’s end, my thumb was thumping.
I worked in my grandmother’s dress factory every summer through my college years. The women asked to start by seven in the morning so that they could be out of the building and in their gardens by three in the afternoon. These ladies were not much different from me—some needed the money for extras, some to live. I needed the job for extra cash and as a reminder. Much as I complained some days, my father always said, “Keep at it—you’ll appreciate your college education even more.” And I did: I didn’t want to be forever sitting in front of a machine for eight hours a day in a building where the fluorescent lights hummed drearily overhead. It wasn’t hard work; it was just endlessly boring.
And as much as the work was tiresome, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the women. They talked and sang to the radios blaring as the machines around them buzzed and roared—pulling, chewing the fabric through--gathering, stitching pieces together, basting, and hemming yards and yards of fabric. The women laughed and told jokes, sucking lifesavers and chewing gum as they directed the cloth beneath the needles. I remember having the utmost respect for the zipper setters. Most everyone was on piece-rate: the more pieces you did, the more money you made. But the zipper setters were the queens of the factory—could set a full zipper into a dress in less than three minutes. They did it perfectly. A zipper setter was considered an expert seamstress and made a good buck in the process.
These women weren’t simply workers to my grandmother. They were “her girls” as she often referred to them. She bought them sodas at lunch, and they brought her gifts from their kitchens. Gramma often joked and worked on the machines alongside them when one called in sick. She wasn’t simply their employer; she was their friend and partner in the skill of manufacturing beautiful clothing. At the end of the day after everyone had punched out, I would wait with Gramma until the truck came to take the day’s dresses to New York. And, finally, we got into the car and went home.

I looked at the buttons and spools of thread again. I stirred the buttons with my index finger: plain buttons, ones with crystal centers, metal ones. Once again the aroma of Gramma’s dress factory wafted into the air—even after forty years of storage.
And I wiped away another tear. Gramma was dead--since 1984. And it almost seemed that with her died the dress factories, too. Their skeletal remains are intact all over town: the empty factories sit vacant where once they had housed thriving dress factories. Over the years, our government and private enterprise have sent most factory jobs and others overseas--mostly to avoid the high cost of labor unions. I know from several conversations I had had with Gramma that the unions had drained her almost poor. And even though, years ago, I belonged to a teacher’s union, I felt strong-armed into joining. If a teacher didn’t belong, the union and its members ostracized him or her.
The buttons and thread spoke to me: What had happened to industrial America? Where were the factory jobs that anyone—high schoolers, college kids, middle-class men and women—could get thirty or forty years ago? Where had they all gone? And what part of the American soul had they taken with them? Today, workers hardly take pride in their work. So many don’t care; they just want to make the most money while expending the least amount of effort in the shortest time. And pride in one’s work is extinct, as well.
And what of the products we buy today? We know that stuff made in China is often of poor quality. We covet items—rare ones—that say, “Made in the USA.” Where have all the factories gone? And will we ever get back those jobs that embody the American work ethic and pride? The unions put the factories out of business, and by doing that, they put America out of business.

My Gramma was not rich, even though she owned several dress factories in her lifetime. She was a business woman, a hard worker, as were her “girls.” “Her girls” were the best ones in all the shops in Allentown, and she loved “her girls.”
I whisked away another tear as I stashed the box of buttons alongside the thread and put them on a high shelf. I would keep these—in remembrance—of Gramma and of America.

Make Your Own Bird Suet

We all take special care of our cats, dogs, bird, horses, and pot-bellies during the winter months. Freezing temps and lack of running water and plentiful food, however, is hard on wildlife as well. People like to feed the birds, but who wants to spend tons of money on these suet cakes? Well, you can make your own cakes--all at one time--ones that'll last you for most of the winter. It's easy!

Ingredients: big can of Crisco or lard; big can of cheap peanut butter (preferably crunchy style); medium-sized bag of corn meal (at grocery store in baking section); large bag of bird seed with sunflower seeds included; saran wrap; and freezer bag.

Put equal amounts of Crisco or lard and peanut butter (you don't need to measure--just guestimate) in a huge pot. Add a whole lot of seed and mix those three ingredients. Next, pour in corn meal until the whole thing stirs fairly hard. See if you can form a square without your fingers sticking to the whole mess. When the mess stirs and sounds gritty and has become stiffer, you're finished. Add more corn meal if when you try to make a cake, it really sticks to your fingers. It will, ultimately, be sticky, but you can flour or coat your fingers in corn meal to prevent a big mess.

Making the suet patties: On your kitchen counter tear out a bunch small sheets of saran wrap. Take a few spoonfuls and mold the stuff into a square. Then place the square on a plate and pour more corn meal over it, turning it around so that there's corn meal on each side and the edges. Fold up the saran wrap around it.

Form all the patties, wrap them up, and store in freezer in a gallon freezer bag. If you have a suet holder from a store, just reuse that. Or, you can simply put the suet in a crack of a tree, on a branch, or on a stump--if you don't have dogs. The simplest is to first purchase a regular suet square from a Home Depot and use the wire container for your homemade suet.

You'll have many hours of enjoyment watching the birds eating your own suet cakes, and you'll feel better knowing you're helping the wildlife stay warm while you are saving money at the same time. And the birds love this homemade recipe much more than the store-bought stuff.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Remembering Harley

Sheryl, my trusty friend and supporter of all things piggish, has a penchant for lost and neglected pot-bellied pigs--as do I. If there is a pig nearby who needs help in the form of transport to a pig sanctuary, being rescued from a neglectful home, or protecting a pig in an abusive situation, Sheryl comes forward to help.
Such was the case when, through the grapevine, she learned, some five or six years ago, that a family was just "sick and tired" of their pet pig, and if someone didn't adopt him, he would be put to sleep.

Some people, especially ones that aren't too bright, adopt these pigs with only their one weak brain cell in gear. "Oh, boy!" they believe, "How cool to get a pig. I'll do it!" That's as far as they can reason. They do no research and fling themselves headlong into porcine ownership, not prepared for the consequences: that a pet who is smarter than its owner can easily control people and can rule the home; that a smart pet does not bolster a stupid person's sense of self-esteem; that the more intelligent pig will manipulate the human to its existential needs and drive the human to furious frustration. Despite the difference in intelligence, drive, and motivation, eventually the pig will lose--he or she, at the hands of the imbecile, will become grossly overweight, crippled, or blind; he or she will end up in a shelter, or he or she may be abused because the human possesses no insight to train and respect the instincts of a pet pig. Though a normally intelligent person enjoys the company of a pet whose smarts allow the two to "converse" and spend mutually beneficial time together, a pet pig in the company of a dolt always spells "DISASTER" for the pig.

So, one winter day Sheryl asked me to go along to rescue and possibly adopt this young yearling pig whose owners couldn't control him. We stepped into the house, and it was clear that we were dealing with a mother and older son who shared at least two flacid brain cells. After getting a few nebulous answers to some very important questions about his age, behavior, and breeding, Sheryl looked at me. This pig, Harley, was in a no-win situation; he needed a worthy home. So, Sheryl offered to give him the home every pig deserves.
On the way to her house, the pint-sized Harley sat in my lap in the passenger seat of the SUV. He was such a small, young pig--about as big as a wooden magazine rack. He wasn't a baby--more of a pre-teen. As Sheryl drove, I cradled Harley in my arms and assured him he would have an excellent home. He stared, looking out, his snout up against the window, and enjoyed the car ride and the snow-covered trees and sounds of traffic. When we stopped to turn left at a traffic light, another car pulled up on our right. Though our windows were closed, Harley and I both happened to look over just as the other driver looked at us. Meeting the gaze of a pig, the woman did a double-take. Her flabbergasted expression said, "What! A pig in a car! Sitting on a woman's lap!" The woman's mouth gaped in a wide grin; she turned to her passenger; and the other woman leaned forward to check out the spectacle. The light changed, and the three of us turned, Sheryl and I laughing at the confounded driver we left behind.
So, Harley came to Sheryl's home where he became one of a family of two other pigs: Porkchop and Forrest. The three tolerated each other initially and then became on and off friends and rivals in a relationship that always remained a power struggle. As do horses, cats, fish, and many other species, animals work out a pecking order amongst themselves. Harley, being the newcomer, was relegated to "underpig" and quickly learned to acquiesce to the other two. Lucky for him, Sheryl privileged all three pigs equally--no one was more loved or valued than the other.
Harley delighted in his new indoor home. In fact, since he was the "low" pig in the herd, Sheryl gave him his own room so that he wouldn't be picked on when she wasn't home. At night after she came home from work, the three pigs ate from their separate dishes, each sitting next to the other as they received their favorite treat of the day: a cream-filled Vienna Finger.
For the next five years, Harley, Porkchop, and Forrest were true "bros". On crispy mornings after breakfast, they burst through the doggie door into the backyard--always in search of a tasty morsel hiding in the grass. Each evening after dinner and the cookie, Porkchop and Forrest claimed the sofa and chair while Harley cuddled up with Sheryl on the living room floor to watch TV. He lay down beside her leaning his heft into her, the two--human and pig-- stretched out on the carpet. Porkchop and Forrest "owned" the furniture, but once in awhile when the others were outside, Shery called him to join her in the overstuffed sofa where he soaked up a long belly rub.

Yesterday, after eating breakfast, Harley died suddenly. Though Edgar was rushing to try to save him, it was too late. He died far too young, but he died, comforted, in Sheryl's arms.
We buried Harley here at our farm alongside our own pigs: Lucille, Miss Piggy, Sniffer, Arnold, and Ashley.
Harley rests in peace in our pasture of dreams.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Suzie the Warthog--The Sleeping Beauty


Once Carol had cleaned up Suzie's attempts at a closet makeover, she decided to take a well-deserved nap. Suzie was still asleep in her leather chair when Carol hung up the last of her work shirts and headed toward the bedroom. Very quietly, so as not to disturb Suzie, Carol slipped under the covers and began to doze off.
The next minute the bed shook under seismic shocks resembling that of Mt. St. Helens. Carol exclaimed, her eyes wide, "What in the world?" But the only reply was a high-pitched, singular grunt--coming from right beside her.
Suzie had leaped into the bed.
"Oh, Suzie," Carol whispered with a smirk. "You did have a rough day cleaning up Mommy's closet. And you need an even bigger nap now, huh?"
Suzie turned to look at her human mom's head peeking above the covers, and she uttered a sharp, agreeable squeal.
Carol patted Suzie's back as the warthog squirmed to get comfortable in the bed covers. She arranged her legs beneath herself, leaned up against Carol's body, and settled her snout into the soft comforter--the sheets of which smelled just like Carol's perfume. Carol stroked the thin, soft hairs of Suzie's mane, and coaxed her wild pig, "Go to sleep, Suzie. Go to sleep."
And Suzie closed her eyes, let out a long, heavy sigh, and was soon breathing deeply in sleep.

Suiey the Warthog--The Closet Organizer


Those who do not share their homes with a warthog may just not understand that, as housekeepers, warthogs tend to have OCD--Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My friend, Carol, of The Tusk and Bristle Pig Sanctuary, certainly can attest to the fact that warthogs fashion fastidious domiciles.
When Carol went outside a few days ago to feed her sanctuary pigs, Suzie the Warthog, who is living inside with Carol and her husband for the winter (Suzie's bristley coat is much too thin to keep her toasty outside in the winter elements), offered her housecleaning and organizational skills.
First, she sauntered into the bathroom, sniffing the edges of the toilet and sink with her keen nose--checking for any noxious odors. She stuck her head in the shower, gave it the sniff-test, and declared all satisfactory. The loo must have met Suzie's approval, for, in seconds. Suzie whipped right around and trotted furiously down the hallway toward Carol's closet--the clothes closet would stand the real inspection, for sure.
According to Suzie. Carol's closet needed a serious makeover, and no one was better equipped to handle the job than she, a fussy African warthog. She set to work with a vengeance, picking up a smelly, discarded sock and placing it inside a shoe, which she tossed under a chair. At the back of the immense, walk-in closet lay a couple of extra pillows, which Suzie easily dispatched to the middle of the floor--they would make a good bed after she had finished rearranging everything. And a blue-plaid work shirt definitely didn't belong hanging so high with its shirtails nearly touching the ground. That would have to become more easily accessible because workshirts needed to stay handy. So, Suzy pulled the shirt to the floor and nosed it alongside the pillows. Then she grabbed the next few shirts in the line-up and tore those off their hangars, too. There--that was better--one didn't need to stand on tip-toe to reach the shirts.
Suzie wasn't particularly discouraged by the chair taking up space in the closet. She rammed it with her hard head onto its side atop the pillows, and then turned to the cubbyholes holding stacks of neatly-folded jeans. They, too, would have to come down, Suzie decided--to a more easily accessible area of the room. Afterall, what was the sense of having a closet full of clothes if they were always out of reach?
In less than 45 minutes, Suzie had "organized" Carol's closet so that all the accessories--shoes, jewelry box, scarves, farm boots and other work clothes--became much handier. Silly humans--putting stuff so far out of reach.
Later that afternoon, after Carol had come in from doing chores, she noticed Suzie spread out, asleep in her leather chair. "Boy, Suzie," Carol laughed, "You think you had a rough day?"
Suzie's eye cracked open, she stretched, and yawned. Cleaning up a human's messy, unorganized closet was, indeed, tiring work, but sometimes a warthog just hds to do what she had to do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sometimes No Sleep is the Best Sleep

I'm so screwed up because of the time change.
It was only nine o'clock last night when I climbed the "woody mountain" to bed, but I had had enough of the screaming TV and Edgar's jumping up and out of his chair every time Stewie had that cross-eyd "I might hafta pee" look in his eye. I had had Stewie's daytime pee duty; Edgar had the night-time shift. I needed some peace and relaxation.
Before I climbed into the sack, I opened a bedroom window, and a soft cool air escorted me to the chamber where I pulled back the casing and slipped inside, the crispness of the sheets and their clean smell enveloping my body as I sank into the feather bed. I inhaled a deep breath from the fresh cool pouring through the window and pulled the comforter up to my chin.
And I fell sleep.
In the middle of the night, I opened an eye--one o'clock. Edgar was fast asleep beside me. Toasty under the body-heat layer beneath the blanket, I tasted the night air and sighed--Mother Nature's luxurious gift.
My instinct was to fall back to sleep, but I didn't want to. Having had four hours of sleep, I lay there enjoying the scent and the sounds of the night streaming through the window: the misty coolness of the night cradling my head, the sounds of the wind brushing over the tree branches. I lay back and looked out the 31 windows in our bedroom--something many people had said, when we were building the bedroom addition, we would rue. But I haven't regretted making our bedroom so open to the outside, though I admit it is a bit frightening in an electrical storm.
From our bedr0om I could faintly see the outline of the barn and indoor riding arena where most of my animals were sleeping. How quiet the barn was, asleep with its four horses, seven pot-bellied pigs, Donnie the Duck, and the myriad cats. Complete calm surrounded all those animals as they slept in their pens and stalls.
Sometimes, especially in spring when the raccoons and opossums awaken from their half-sleep, they wake me up with their galloping around the deck surrounding the bedroom. They chase each other up and down the trees, land hard on the deck, which to them must be like a mini-racetrack, and they screech and yell at each other--all in fun--but in the middle of the night. Even though we're awakened by the ruckus, it's entertainment of a different sort: Mother Nature doing her thing while the human world sleeps.
So, last night with that cool air lofting over us, I stayed awake simply enjoying the nighttime. I enjoyed this treat until sometime after 4 AM when Mother Nature's night fingers finally massaged me back to sleep.
In the scheme of things, this was only a moment in time: my time and nature's time. Yet those few hours breathing in and feeling nature's calm coolness was priceless. It was worth, many times over, the sleep I did without.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Softness of the Rain


The day is soft,

Today I feel no tenseness in the air. The TV is off, Edgar off to work, all animals fed and resting in the calm that reigns under the padding of the rain. On not a very cold, razor-skin cold day that is typical for November, the air sliding in through my open window feels mild, mind-moist--comfortable.

As I write this entry, our new pup, Stewie, plays quietly on his bed, a prelude to cozying into a nap. Donnie the duck, no doubt, is paddling silently around his kiddie pool in his barn stall. Lately when I visit Donnie, he babbles in a strange language. His peeping has morphed into hoarse, duck-like squawks. My baby is growing up.

Should anyone tip-toe into our barn habitated by myriad cats, Donnie, four horses, and seven pot-bellies, he or she could savor the silence--especially in today's rain-cushion. Everyone is at peace--only rest on the mind. That's what is so settling about, so comforting about living with livestock and other animals: as long as they are well fed, sheltered, and in good company, be it animal or human, their world is at ease.

Imagine, in contrast, a room with so many people. What a cacophony of discussion and competition: rehashing workaday woes, bragging about each's gifted children, retelling efforts of multi-tasking, trips to the grocery store and the casino, talking of engines, cars, or the latest technological devices--arguing politics.

Unfortunately, I'd guess that we humans are not content most of the time. We sometimes feel uncomfortable under the umbrella of a soft rain like this. For many of us, the rain is a hindrance, a nuisance to our tasks. We need; we want; we seek; and we converse until we drop, dead-tense, into bed at night. We fail to hear the silence of the rain.

But today I'm embracing this gift of the padding mistlets--the soft sounds of silence. The rain has made me more malleable in mind and more sensitive--this rain that reflects a muffled-melody on a blanket of leaves: background music for my sleeping pup and my thoughts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Tribute to Amos the Wonder Pig


Amos the Wonder Pig has died.

And a little bit of me has died with him.

Anyone who does not have a pet pig may find my reaction to the news of his death as over-reaction, but I can't account for the disconnect that non-pig people may feel. That's out of my control. All I know is how empty I feel right now because I will never again enjoy his many talents and his perennial smile. I'm sitting here writing this tribute to Amos, tears running down my face, because, though he wasn't my own pot-bellied pig, I always felt, in some strange way, that he was mine; he and I had "talked" numerous times, and I felt privileged that he let me shae his company on occasion. He had pigsonality beyond any of my own fourteen pigs, even my own Lowell.

During many fall open houses at Susan and Richard Magidson's Ross Mill Farm, Jeannie Watson and her husband, Geoff, brought Amos, along with his brother, Pilot, and sister, Frosty, to the festivities. Amos entertained us all, just as he had on many occasions and for many years--we pig enthusiasts. After the contests were over and Amos had walked away with his share of the blue ribbons, I sat beside him, petting him and rubbing his belly--telling him how marvelous and talented he was. He could do all kinds of things, usually only attributed to one of the human species: toss a kiddie basketball through its hoop; act the magician by pulling a bouquet of flowers from a hat (to the "ooing" and "aahing" of the spectators). But his most incredible talent was his ability to spell.

Yes, Amos could, indeed, spell people's names. Jeannie taught Amos to spell when he was much younger. She showed him large flashcards with letters, and he associated the sound of the letter with the shape put before him. His ability to spell any name was fascinating--almost unbelievable--and one could only believe it after having witnessed it in person.

I remember the first time I met Amos at one of those parties. Amos' human dad and he came dressed alike--both wearing a candy-striped T-shirt, both wearing a red whirly-bird cap--one of those with a propeller on top (see the photo with this post). When I saw these two together, side by side, I laughed so hard I almost peed myself. In his happy garb Amos participated in all the games: snagging the pretzel on a string; winning the watermelon-eating contest; and bobbing for apples.

Amos the Wonder Pig wasn't just locally known. He was known all over New York and much of the East Coast. He had even appeared as a guest on one of the late night talk shows. I'm not sure if it was Johnny Carson or not, but it was a big-name show similar to Carson's. There, he bowled the audience over with his spelling ability and other talents.

Amos was a ham in the best sense of the word: he had a gift for entertaining, for making people laugh, for promoting pigs as not just animals to be eaten but as intelligent, sensitive beings who have much more to offer the world than existing to be food. Amos, the spokespig for pigs worldwide, spread the word that a pig can be so much more than pork on a fork. He spread the word to many, many people and children who watched him perform that a pet pig is intelligent, grateful, loyal and entirely capable of loving and being loved by his human companions. Thank you, Amos, for restoring pigs' reputation to what it should be, rather than to what most people think.


My deepest condolences go out to the Watsons, Pilot, and Frosty, for they have lost their dear friend and family member And my condolences to those of you who had never met or seen this incredible pig, whether on TV or in person.

My Amos. I will never forget you. I will never forget your happy smile.



Helpless Animals--Ignorant People

How can this world be so filled with ignorant people? After all these years dealing with animals, animal rescues, teaching high school and college, and speaking about my books to crowds, I still can't fathom the ignorance of some people--it just blows me away.

Here's a good case in point:

Right now there are a bunch of feral cats roaming around a trailer park--the Ramsey Mobile Home Park in Fairview Township in York County--that's south central PA. Two humane groups, Please Don't Litter (PDL) and PAWS (a 30 year old non-profit animal rescue organization that has spayed or neutered 10,000 felines in eight PA counties since 2004) have been shut down in their efforts to trap, spay, neuter, and release TO A DIFFERENT LOCATION the feral cats roaming the trailer park. In addition, these organizations are funded, not by taxpayer dollars, but by private funding.

The owner/managers of this Ramsey Trailer Park will no longer admit the two humane organizations into the park to continue the TNR program. Instead, and without good reason, they are trapping the cats themselves and taking them to the York County SPCA where they are being killed.

Yeah--makes no sense does it. This is classic human behavior fired by ignorance. Someone managing the trailer park hates cats. You know them: 250 pound men, many hunters, who, when they see a cat crossing the road, drive their 3/4 ton pick-up right at them. Then, when they feel the bump beneath their wheels, they shout, "GOTCHA!" It's machissmo at its finest: a 200 something pound man driving over a five pound cat. Wow, what a guy!

It's that kind of mentality we're dealing with here, folks. And the rest of us sensible people who recognize that PDL and PAWS were doing right by these animals must stand idly by and allow the ignoramuses to their cruel deeds. I don't think so.

Nothing dictates that we have to walk away from these poor cats. Please, I urge you to take two minutes to call these numbers and voice your disgust about this situation.
1. Call the York County SPCA t 717-764-6109 and ask them to not accept any more feral cats from the W R Ramsey Mobile Home Park. Tell them that a Trap and Neuter program had been active in the park but were told to stop.
2. Call the W R Ramsey Property Rental at 717-774-1970 and tell them to stop trapping and transporting the feral cats to the York County shelter where they are being euthanized at the expense of taxpayer dollars. Tell them to allow PDL and PAWS, backed by private funding, onto the property to continue with the trap and release program.

The ignorance behind this kind of human behavior is absolutely mind-boggling. The park had two groups trapping, neutering, and vaccinating the cats and then relocating them to neighboring areas--not even the trailer park. And these groups set up feeding stations and shelters for the cats, too, so no one has to worry about feeding them or their reproducing. So, what's the problem?

I don't know what the problem is with the owners of the Ramsey Trailer Park, but in a few minutes I'm going to call and find out! I'm angry and ashamed at the ignorance of some people. I urge everyone to make two phone calls on behalf of these homeless cats--two minutes. Let's out an end to such unnecessary cruelty and stupidity.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our New Puppy--Stewie

















In a matter of a few hours, my life has been turned upside down because of a being who, himself, is lying upside down, fast asleep, in the kitchen. His name is Stewie, and he is my husband's combination Christmas and birthday present: a puppy. He doesn't look it yet, because he's only seven weeks old, but he's aspiring to be an Irish wolfhound.


This all came about while we were watching Animal Planet's "Dogs 101" a few weeks ago. Throughout the show, which included the Basenji, the Sheltie, and others, a ten minute segment featured the Irish wolfhound, a breed of dog that we had enjoyed twice before in our life together. Many years ago we had adopted our first IW, an Alpo research dog named Diane, and, after she died, we bought Abby from a local breeder. After Abby died, we didn't have a dog for probably fifteen years. I had my hands full with all my cats, horses, and a herd of pot-bellies. What would I want a dog for, right?


Well, when the Irish wolfhound segment of the show came on, I observed my husband. I have to admit that through the other featured dogs, he merely watched with interest, turning back to his magazine throughout. But when the IW came on, he began to smile like a jackass eating stickers--memories of our other two dogs flooding his brain, no doubt. That smile would spell trouble. For that segment he continued to smile like a fool. When he told me the next day he wanted an IW for his birthday, I headed to the Internet to look for a suitable IW companion. I tried rescue groups and Petfinder.com, and one IW was up for adoption but hated cats. I couldn't get that one. And there were no other IW's that needed rescuing. So, I turned to a breeder.


Stewie, named so after my favorite cartoon character from "Family Guy," arrived last night. Edgar prefers to call him Stuart Franklin for royalty's sake. When we picked him out of the car, we were shocked and pleased that he peed and pooed the moment his huge feet hit the ground, and we praised him grandly. In the house, he took to Edgar like a fly on manure, and soon they were both rolling around on the kitchen floor--our cats slinking past the dishwasher and wondering what kind of strange creature he was. After playing with him, feeding him, and taking him out for a final pee and poo (I much prefer the word "shit" but am trying to be politically correct here), we put him into his nicely bedded crate for the night.


Then all hell broke loose.


All alone in a crate in the corner of the room, Stewie began to howl and mewl in the most pitiful voice. My latent maternal instinct caused me to shoot up from the sofa and run to quiet his tears, but Edgar warned me to let him go--he'd soon stop. At the cacophony, the house cats flew into the garden room where they disappeared.


And the ghostly, baleful sounds from the kitchen continued: for sure the Halloween banshee had arrived early.


Edgar and I stared at each other. What should we do? We only knew rudimentary stuff about crating dogs. Were we doing it correctly? Should we continue to let him cry until he fell asleep? Did he need a night light? We only knew how to take care of kittens, cats, pigs, raccoons, and horses. This puppy was something fairly new to us, having gone through this fifteen years ago.


Finally, Edgar said, "Guess we need to go to bed so that he gives up. He hears the TV going and wants to be with us. Gotta go to bed." So, at eight o'clock--barely dusk--we turned off the television and the rest of the lights and headed upstairs serenaded by the sounds of Stewie's whimpers.


I don't think little Stewie slept much last night because he is sleeping now and already had two other naps this morning. In between naps, I take him out for his constitution, which, I might add, he's more knowledgable about than is Congress. When I bring him inside, he laps some water along with puppy kibble, which looks and smells about as tasteful as a pile of clumped sawdust; he pads around the kitchen, sniffs a brave cat, and tastes the floor. Then he retreats to his crate for another nap.


And, as I said, my life has turned upside down: not for this moment while I'm writing here, but in general, I suspect. My cats creep around as though they're waiting for a ghost to flitter past at any moment. Edgar is out on vet calls, but I feel as though I must be on-guard--ready to sweep the pup outside the moment he wakes up--before he shits-poos in front of the refrigerator. Likewise, last night he had already found the cats' self-feeder, so now that is up on the kitchen counter alongside a box of chocolate chip cookies. Already I'm planning for my doctor's appointment this afternoon. Do I change first then take him out for his peeing event? Do I take him out fifteen minutes or more before I leave to drive the half hour for the appointment? What if he doesn't pee in those fifteen minutes? Can a dog owner make a dog pee on command? Do I rub something to make him pee--his ear, his hindy? I could offer him a litter box and see what happens? Perhaps I should put him in the dog run we set up in the grassy area behind the house. My brain is rife with questions on puppy care. The easiest would be to just wait for Edgar to come home to do the potty thing.


Now that's a good idea. Afterall, Stewie is Edgar's puppy. If he wants to share a puppy's love, he should share some of the chaos, too, right?


Yea-ah-ah!


Stay tuned for more on the continuing Saga of Stewie.






Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh, Donnie Boy




Oh Donnie boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow'
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Donnie boy, oh Donnie boy, I love you so.
Donnie, the duckling we rescued over a month ago from the Walnutport Canal where, at one and a quarter ounces, he crouched alone and shivering at pathside, has grown into a very classy-looking duck. Though he doesn't resemble the standard mallard, we believe he may be a hybrid of a mallard and something else--possibly a diving duck of some kind.
Watching Donnie grow into duckhood was fun: in the beginning his beak color rivaled that of a bus. Now it is all a satiny black, a perfect match for his sleek, patent-leather feathers. His eyes are partially fringed with white, as is the top of his beak, and matches his white wing tips and white breast--a brilliant tuxedo duck.
Our duck is chic, except for his legs, which I always thought to be a bit thick. Even as a duckling, the sturdiest, most substantial part of him was his legs, out-fitted with the biggest, most orange feet the goddess could divine. He was a bruiser-baby.
Now Donnie is an adolescent, but he doesn't do any of the raucous things teenage boys do: drooling after females, fast driving, playing video games, and experimenting with booze and such. No. He seems to be a sensible guy, though he is obsessed with his swimming pool. Like a teenager, he doesn't want to associate with his human mom anymore. I remember when he swam after me in our swimming pool and when he ran after me through the house. No more--he's too cool for that now. Despite his more independent nature, his voice hasn't changed yet: he's still peeping even though I've been giving him quacking lessons. No one must know that I quack to him every morning while mucking horse stalls (he's living in the barn in an empty horse stall). Perhaps soon he'll catch on, but his ignorance in the quacking category is understandable considering he doesn't have any other ducks from which to learn the correct vocalizations. He literally doesn't know what a duck sounds like.
And for that reason and others I feel empathy for him. Edgar and I have been debating for some time whether to take him back to the Walnutport Canal and set him free. We both agree he needs to go back to the wild, but the question we're asking is "When?" If we take him now, will he know what to look for to eat since he only knows to find his sustenance in a little bowl beside his nest. On the canal there will be no bowls of duck food awaiting him. The biggest detraction from freeing him onto the Canal, however, is the onset of winter. Once the frost hits and the vegetation shrivels, what little plants and insects he may have learned to feed on will all be dead. I can't bear the thought of his starving to death.
So, for now and probably for the entire winter, Donnie will stay with us--unless he is offered a nice home with people who keep ducks as pets. I'm just worried that the longer he is protected, sheltered, and fed, the harder it will be for him to adjust to the wild in spring. Will his instincts allow him to search for appropriate food out there; will he know that fox and coy dogs are enemies and that he should fly away; will he even be able to fly once he tries? So many questions I have, but I cannot find many sure-proof, reassuring answers.
What I do know is that I have raised a rare, beautiful creature and that he will be safe and happy with us through the winter. In spring we're probably going to try to see safely into the wild--somewhere where predators are few. When the last of the snow has melted, we'll probably take Donnie to the Canal and allow him to walk away from us and toward the water he so loves. There he'll have other ducks to play with, to teach him to nibble on plant shoots emerging along the water's edge. I hope they'll be kind enough to take my ingenuous duck under their wings and teach him to be wary of predators and how to feed under water. I hope they'll teach him how to use his wings. And if they don't, I hope his real mother--Mother Nature--will give him hints on duck behavior, behavior that will allow him to live a long, fruitful life.
As Donnie's human mom I will dread and be glad when that day of freedom comes, just like a mom sending her kid off to college. Before we set him free, perhaps I will paint one of his sturdy legs with a ring of bright red nail polish so that when I visit him, I'll be able to pick my cadillac duck out of the avian crowd. And I wonder if he'll remember me. I wonder if he'll swim over to me and quack--not peep--a warm greeting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our Greatest Fear This Halloween


Halloween, with its haunted woods and houses, eerily glowing jack o’ lanterns, and spooky “Thriller” sounds raising goosebumps on arms around the world, has nothing on most people’s greatest fear. No ghost, no witch, no scream in the night compares to our most brain-chilling fear: cancer.

Cancer is the scourge that haunts daily. It lurks; it hides; it waits. It grows in silence. And, then, when we least suspect it, it appears, its blanched incisors bared, its lips stretched into a sneer unlike any other. It catches us—helpless--in its Grendel-like clutches, and we believe ourselves helpless: cowering, pleading, praying the bite will only sting, that the apparition will flit--a nightmare--into the night. But once this ghost appears, it doesn’t disappear overnight. This fear is real. This is one horror that won’t leave without a fight.

Cancer has hurt everyone at one time or another. Not many of us have escaped its jaws, which clench, grind, and chew us up—physically and emotionally. Whether one of us has fought the monster off or has struggled to wrestle it from a relative or a pet, we have all known its hurt, its devastation, its oppression. In whatever way each one of us has been hurt by this torment, our only way to come away victorious is to fight until the pestilence is finally silenced.

That fight is being waged by a soldier of incredible courage and determination. His name is Luke Robinson, and he has sacrificed the last two and a half years of his life for his war against canine cancer. As a memorial to his Great Pyrenees, Malcolm, who died of bone cancer in 2006, Luke first began his sucker-punch to cancer during his 2,000 mile trek from Austin, Texas to Boston, Massachusetts. He and his two other Great Pyrenees, Murphy and Hudson, won the first battle against cancer finishing the walk on June 19, 2010. During that arduous trip in which they often stayed overnight in a tent alongside the road in hot and freezing temperatures, Luke remained staunch against his invisible adversary-- memories of his beloved Malcolm spurring him on. Luke’s trip was not only personally cathartic, but its mission sounded the bugle to others. Once he had peoples’ attention, he turned to the world of research. He awakened the veterinary world to renewed interest against this scourge in the form of the most powerful ally: charitable donations and sponsorships that would help make further studies and research possible.

This November 7, 2010 Luke, never one for a mere sneak attack, is launching an even more aggressive campaign in his 2 Million Dog walk. People across the United States are joining his war against cancer by walking by themselves or with their dogs in twelve cities across the nation: Atlanta, Auburn, WA; Boston; Cincinnati; Edinboro, PA; Fairborn, OH; Fort Collins, CO; New Milford, CT; Pittsburgh; Poughkeepsie, NY; Richmond, VA; and Seattle. And those not living near any of the participating cities are waging their personal battle in a virtual walk--walking those two miles around their neighborhoods and parks. And some, who are not able to walk at all are donating even as little as $5 for weapons or to boost morale for those walking soldiers.

Luke is asking everyone to donate or raise whatever monies he or she can to support research against canine cancer and for studies in comparative oncology so that, finally, people can drop this scourge to its knees. If one would like to participate at any of the twelve battleground cities around the U.S., he or she is encouraged to walk there, with or without a dog, for two miles. Registry is online for each particular city, and full instructions and contacts are at each site, as well. If one cannot walk in one of the cities on the list, he or she can still join the battle in the virtual walk by registering at http://www.2milliondogs.org/ and at that site creating his or her own fundraising page, which can then be posted to Facebook or MySpace.

People can also join the fight by donating a portion of the proceeds from any event: yard sales, wine-tasting parties, raffles, small auctions, or any profitable event. As well, businesses may send a percentage of profits from goods sold. Any monies collected from such events can be donated through the website, http://www.2milliondogs.org/ and clicking on the “Donations” tab or by contacting Ginger at Ginger@2milliondogs.org.

And here’s another way to get involved. If you buy your dog food at http://www.dogisgood.com/ and enter coupon code “FB#2”, you will get 10% off your order, and Dog Is Good will donate 15% of your total order to 2 Million Dogs (sale items and Never Walk Alone T’s not included). This offer is valid through November 15th, 2010.

Finally, next year’s goal at 2 Million Dogs is to stage walks against canine and pet cancers in EVERY state. If you are interested in organizing a walk in your city for November 6, 2011, please write to Ginger at Ginger@2milliondogs.orgor call her at 901-619-2286. Everyone’s efforts are needed to kill the scourge that is cancer.

www.2milliondogs.org
http://www.2dogs2000miles.org/
Ginger@2Milliondogs.org
901-619-2286

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Dining Spectacular at The Tusk and Bristle
















So, little did I realize while Carol Eiswald, owners of The Tusk and Bristle Pig Sanctuary, was showing us their animals last Sunday that her husband had another treat awaiting us.
Up to this point I thought our visit couldn’t possibly get any more entertaining, what with Suzy the warthog nuzzling me with her soft nose and with the beardies snouting in on everything. Just when I thought I had experienced the best of the best, the Eiswalds put a bigger, grander maneuver into action.
I must say: both Edgar and I were stricken still as moss by the sight.
Before even Edgar or I could hear the droning of an ATV hauling a mini-manure spreader-like contraption behind it, the pigs heard it and recognized it immediately as their ticket to food heaven. That’s right. Though the Eiswalds have a couple of ATV’s, the pigs know the sound of the particular one that delivers their afternoon produce from the local grocery stores.

Four days a week Jim makes produce runs to four different large chain grocery stores. Sometimes he’s driving in two-foot drifts; other times he’s racing to pick up the next load of donated produce before it wilts and begins rotting in the summer’s heat. Either way, the round trip turns out to be 75 miles. But when he rolls into the driveway, most of the pigs sense he is carrying a load of goodies. After the Eiswalds go through the produce to make sure no plastic or other inedible material is amongst the food, they load it into buckets, taking a couple of bucketsful and dumping the produce into the ATV’s spreader. Then, Jim climbs into the ATV and enters the pens.
And the pigs begin to assemble like church-goers on their way to communion.

Edgar and I stood transfixed as Jim shouted from his ATV, “Here we go! Watch them come and get it!”
It was a show unmatched by any in Las Vegas. Before Jim came with the produce wagon, we had been standing in the middle of a several-acre pen. Suzy and the beardies were snuffling the ground, and a few pot-bellies were hanging around the area. But when Jim shouted for us to watch, it was only a few seconds before we witnessed the showstopper.
One by one a pig came into view: one from behind a tree stump, another from behind a bush, a few stepping from a Quonset hut. Taking it all in, my head was spinning like Linda Blair’s from The Exorcist. To my right marched Miranda, a huge white Yorkshire pig, and at her side high-stepped a medium-sized pot-belly pig. Farther in the distance I could make out other pigs, some with long snouts, other bristly, red-haired things, strolling toward us. To the left came another group of pot-bellies, and among them a spotted, long-haired, wattle-throated Kune-Kune, said to be the kindest miniature pig alive. I whipped around, hearing footsteps behind me, and a large black farm pig named Bohdan trotted past, eager to claim his head of lettuce or, better yet, a banana.
As nearly a hundred pigs gathered, they all headed, noses pointed into the wind, toward the ATV and its wagon spewing goodies. No fighting over competition for food ensued. There was no squabbling, bickering in pig language something like, “Get away! The apples are mine. YOU EAT THE CAULIFLOWER!” These pigs had table manners far nicer and cleaner than many humans I’ve seen eating, including myself.
For the umpteenth time that day, my hands flew to my mouth. “Look at them all!” I gasped.
“Holy cow!” Edgar said, his mouth gaping. “I never saw anything like it!”
I couldn’t help thinking about how different this pig feeding was from people feeding, say, at the local restaurant. Sometimes, when we eat out, I can hardly hear myself think, let alone carry on a decent conversation with my company. People are laughing, talking loud to each other; they’re yelling into their cell phones; kids are screaming, demanding attention; music is competing in the background; and plates and dishes are clanking; all is noise and chaos when humans gather to eat.
Not so with these pigs. I was amazed at how orderly they lined up across from each other at the line of food dropped onto the ground. I was awe-stricken at the quiet, except for the contented grunting from the farm pigs as they chose which of the produce to taste. Ordinarily, I would have expected complete confusion and battling among creatures usually thought inferior to us humans. But these pigs exhibited manners only taught by the likes of Henry Higgins. Miss Vanderbilt, herself, couldn’t have done a better job though, I must admit, the pigs had no tables upon which to put their elbows.
Time after time Jim hurried back to the barn to load up another batch of goodies, and time after time we watched in awe.
Such a complete mix of animals eating alongside each other was enough to make me think about how careful most humans are about the company they choose. But the pigs knew no discrimination. Queuing up to the “plates” were pigs huge, and alongside them were mini pot-bellies. The Russian wild boars and Eurasian boars and red boars gathered amongst the farm pigs and the Kune-Kunes. What a delight to witness.
It just wasn’t fair, I reasoned, after the pigs had eaten the last of the bananas. Some were even walking away with sweet red peppers in their mouths. It just wasn’t fair that I could only witness this once in my life, yet the Eiswalds could enjoy the spectacle every day of the week.
No—it just wasn’t fair, I decided as a pig walked past me with half a cantaloupe in his mouth. I smiled and gave Carol thumbs up--in stereo.

A Gift from Tobias

Never underestimate the intelligence of a pig.
Here's a short video of our visit to The Tusk and Bristle. While we visited the pig sanctuary in up-state New York, we were accompanied on our walk amongst the pigs by Suzy the warthog and Tobias and Ellie Mae, the Bornean bearded pigs.
These three wild pigs loved our company, mine, in particular. In fact, Tobias so appreciated my belly rubs and my friendship that he presented me with a gift. Now, he couldn't go to the mall to buy me perfume or anything; he had to make do with what was available.See in the video what he gave me. Doyou detect a note of shyness as he presented me with his gift?
I don't think I ever was given a present that I appreciated more.
Tobias is my new boyfriend.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Wonders of Warthogs

Many years ago while visiting the San Diego Zoo, I had the sudden urge to jump into a wild animal pen and cozy up to the critters, who, to my mind, exuded the most vibrant personalities, curiosity, and quirkiness. I wasn’t particularly interested in the monkeys, who, between tagging each other over the boulders, hunkered down to play with themselves or scratch fleas on another’s back. But, at this particular animal pen, Edgar almost had to hold me back from jumping amidst them.
The critters inside were African warthogs.
With faces full of bristles, over-grown side-burns, and knobs and tumor-ish growths all over their faces, anyone unappreciative of porcine particulars would have thought them hideous, deformed, entirely un-handsome. But I, with my penchant for anything swiney and bristly, became immediately enthralled with them. What creative force could have dreamt up such a fantastic creature proportioned so strangely, out-fitted with a cacophony of facial structures: thinly-sparsed, stringy hair, four knife- tusks, and various shapes and sizes of “warts” that, considered together, most humans would only regard as unfashionably eclectic? If ever, during the formation of the world’s creatures, God or Goddess had a chance to flirt with surrealism, hog-architecture became that moment. To me, a warthog reflects its creator’s humorous, thoroughly extreme, side. After designing more conventional creatures, the Goddess must have yawned, taken out her Bohemian headdress, and created, to my delight, the warthog.

While Edgar strictly forbid me from climbing into the warthog’s pen that afternoon in San Diego, I had never forgotten that feeling of synchronicity between the warthogs and me, for while I had no compelling physical excesses as did they, I certainly was non-traditional in my thinking and sometimes extreme in my behavior. People, similarly, tended to be either attracted to me or repelled by me. And how fitting was their physical design for such creatures that seemed, like me, at once quirky and lovable, reflecting intelligence and inquisitiveness alongside athleticism and laziness. Their looks and their personalities matched like stilettos with a mini-dress. The odd-looking warthog seemed to teeter, as I observed them in their relationships with each other, between pushiness and acceptance, friendly nudging and bad-ass attitude. They were, at once, schoolgirls and gangsters—demure yet ruthless. They were moody: ferocious one moment, playful the next. They looked like animals yet bore (excuse the pun) human traits. They reminded me of me; therefore, I loved them.

Last Sunday I finally got my chance to converse with and experience the aura of, not only a warthog, but also a whole range of other swine species: Bornean bearded pigs, Russian wild boars, Eurasian boars, red boars, pot-bellies, and farm pigs. Amidst this swinal throng I was the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy enjoying Munchkinland—twirling and swirling amongst the pig populace, laughing and singing amid the fantastic landscape of porkers, totally enthralled in this newly-discovered pigdom..

I was fortunate enough, years ago, to have become friends with Carol Eiswald, who, together with her husband, Jim, have their own private pig sanctuary, The Tusk and Bristle. The Internet has a way of connecting like-minded people, and pig people tend to seek each other out. Through numerous emails, Carol and I became friends. When Carol sent me photos of Suzy the warthog lying stretched out and asleep on one of their living room’s leather chairs, I knew I had to visit--my big chance to cavort with a warthog. I couldn’t wait.
Edgar and I arrived early this past Sunday morning, and Carol and I hugged at the airport as though we had known each other for a century. We drove to their sanctuary, and I was so excited to meet Suzy that, like a little kid, I could hardly stand still. I was close to peeing myself, I was so ecstatic to be in the midst of such company—human and pig. Carol finally asked if I’d like to meet Suzy.
“Are you kidding!” I said. “I have been waiting years to meet your warthog.” Y
Carol smiled, the large kid hopping at her side. Then, she pointed a finger at me. “I’m warning you; you’re going to get muddy. Suzy is in this pen over there with her cohorts, the Bornean bearded pigs, Tobias and Ellie Mae.”
We walked into the woods surrounding their home. I said, “Will they come to us?”
Carol laughed. “Oh, I’d say so. They enjoy people. The beardies can be a little rough, but all three are exceptionally sweet.”
The Eiswalds have adopted and rescued approximately 100 pigs of varying breed, and they roam their wooded property above Syracuse, New York. Miles of fencing run through the 35 acres of piney forest, some separating the more aggressive pigs from the more mild-tempered ones. I couldn’t see where one pen ended and another started because the fencing followed the natural landscape amidst the pines, hills, and brush. No rectangular pens under the scorching sun existed here. All was integrated into the environment. Except for the paths created by the food-bearing ATV’s and those used by the Eiswalds to visit their pigs several times a day, one would have thought she was simply hiking somewhere in the Poconos.
Carol and I walked through a gate, and Carol called out, “Suzy! Where are you? Soo-zy! Tobias! Ellie!” I peered through the brush for a glimpse of the wild pigs, and I didn’t have long to wait. Suddenly the bushes off to the left crackled, their branches breaking under the force of something terrific, and Suzy the warthog came galloping up to us.
My hands flew to my mouth, eyes wide open. She was beautiful! Though she was hardly larger than a spaniel, her body was solid muscle, with that sinewy look of a hardened Olympian. Yet she was petite, delicate-looking. She had tiny, goat-like feet, very nimble and quick to navigate the rocky ground. She had hardly any body hair except for a bristly mane—of sorts—that was gray and resembled a teenager’s mohawk. But it was softer, more sparse and flowy that a guy’s hair-strip. It started right behind her head, continuing over the top of her body, finally disappearing at her hind end, where it transitioned into a two-foot long bare tail tipped with a pouf of hair.
Together, Suzy’s face and its matching personality truly bowled me over. Even though I had seen warthogs before, I hadn’t seen them up close and personal. I was about to experience a lifetime of entertainment in just a few minutes. After Suzy greeted her human mom, she trotted right over to me. Suzy was no shrinking violet when it came to welcoming strangers. I squatted down to meet her, and she pushed the beardies aside, skittering to a halt right in front of me--nose to snout.
“Oh, wow!” I laughed, steadying myself against a nearby tree. I was speechless. Suzy’s enthusiasm had almost knocked me over. She continued to smell and poke my face with her petite snout--friend or foe here? she had to be thinking. I was so flattered; she thought I was just as special as I thought she was. I sensed it within her intense curiosity with me, her need to really “get in my face,” and her desire to stay, planted, at my side. Suzy liked me.
I, too, probed her face as a blind person would, for Suzy was a very tactile, palpable being. Just seeing her and observing her behavior couldn’t explain her entirely. I had to touch her face, run my hands all over jaws, snout—everywhere--feeling the flatness of what we’d call her forehead and down the length of her nose. I clasped her tiny, feminine ears and stroked her five-inch tufts or beards on either side of her jaws. She was a living work of art and her creator the most imaginative of artists. Totally awe-stricken, I felt the tiny bumps I supposed to be her “warts” that were beginning to erupt all over her nineteen-month-old face.
I gasped as Suzy snuggled my neck. She made very tiny chirping noises that sounded much like a baby raccoon’s, and those chirps were very quiet, as though she were thinking and analyzing me and talking to herself about me. I put an arm around her neck and held her close, whispering sweet something’s in her ear, and I marveled that this wild being was accepting me as a friend; she was trusting me to be kind to her. And though her eyes were smaller than those of a farm pigs’, I recognized the human element in them--even in this wild thing--that I had long ago recognized in the domestic farm pig.
Suzy didn’t have me to herself for very long. Tobias and Ellie Mae, the bearded Bornean pigs, wanted in on the deal, and they weren’t nearly as delicate as Suzy was in their greeting, even though I would not have called Suzy’s introduction all that restrained. The bearded pigs had the perfect handshake with their ten-inch snout. Together, both Ellie Mae and Tobias said “Hello” in their own way, with their long snouts sporting beards the likes of Santa. The ant-eater-like noses were checking me out everywhere: my jacket pockets, my face, my knees, my shoes. They planted dabs of snout-mud all over me, but I didn’t care. They were hardly content to sniff my face and have it returned with a simple hug and pat on the head. No--the beardeds were as athletic and lithe as Suzy, but even though one was a female, the overall impression I had was that they were not nearly as feminine and soft-hearted as Suzy. Even Ellie Mae was pushy, nosing my arm as I tried desperately to take Suzy’s and Tobias’ pictures. Every time I thought I had a good portrait shot of one of them, one of the beardies nudged my arm and ruined the picture. But they were having fun with me—probably sniffing out my own pot-bellies from home and our cats and horses, too. To them I was an interesting mélange of scents.
After the formal introductions to Suzy, Tobias, and Ellie Mae, the seven of us went on a walking tour of the sanctuary. Suzy and the beardies followed us like dogs, trotting alongside as we went from one pen to another visiting all kinds of pigs, from pot-bellies to huge farm pigs to other breeds of wild pigs. What amazed me, too, was how well all the different breeds of pigs got along together. I didn’t see any evidence of porcine racism. Of course, some were slower than others, and Suzy checked everyone out as soon as we entered another gate. But we heard very little fussing between pigs, and when we did, it qualified more as a moment of irritation than any kind of real battle.
Before we knew it, one hundred pigs trailed behind us, aside us, in front of us--some walking, others trotting. We were as much entertainment to them as they were to us. And I felt a curious sensation that I had felt once before while scuba diving in Grand Cayman. This same feeling of oneness with the pigs had gripped me before while diving with a huge school of horse-eye jack. At once, while I knew I was different from the fish, I felt as though I was accepted as one of the school. Here, too, though I knew I was different from the pigs, walking amongst them, I felt like one of the herd. On our walk through the sanctuary, there were no distinctions between humans and pigs. We were creatures simply on a hike together.
What people who are not used to the company of pigs don’t and, possibly, can’t understand is how human-like these animals are. Because pigs have the intelligence of a three-year-old child, they are able to express emotion that people can understand—“speaking” in over 32 vocalizations. They can be shrewd and are easily capable of out-thinking a dull-witted person. Readily they engage a person in play and have a sense of timing that compares to a good comedian.
What is most human-like, however, is a pig’s eye. Every person should look a pig in the eye, and that person will be forever changed. In that eye resides honesty, questioning, evaluation of the thing being seen. The eye cases a person’s motives and sums her up fairly accurately and just as quickly. The eye is kind, but like a human’s, it can be a bit suspicious until it makes a discovery either way. Long lashes border the eyelids as the eye itself turns, darts, stares, and evaluates within its socket, the whites of the eye revealing emotion itself. But if a person stares long enough into a pig’s eye, she will see an individual there in the iris, in the pupil, in the closing and opening of the lids, in the flash of the white. She will recognize an intelligent, perceptive, friendly being within the orb
She will see the human within the animal.

I will never forget my experience at Carol’s The Tusk and Bristle. Though the farm is not open to the public, I was fortunate enough to meet many of its guests, the most captivating of whom was Suzy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Piggy Resort and Spa in Pennsylvania























































Many vacationers may have stayed at a Hampton Inn and Suites before, but I’m sure they’ve never been afforded the royal treatment as many pet swine have had while staying at Ross Mill Farm Piggy Resort and Spa. This specialty “Ham-ton Hotel” sports spa facilities equivalent to the most luxurious of those created for humans. The guests, however, are all pigs—yes, real porkers—pot-bellied pigs that don’t put up a stink at this place.

Not only does Ross Mill Farm Piggy Resort and Spa cater to the spoiled swine pet, who may be staying while his or her owner is on vacation, but this farm, located outside of Doylestown, PA, also serves as a transitional home between homelessness and acquiring a regular, long-term home with caring and informed human companions. For instance, Ross Mill’s owners, Susan and Richard Magidson, together with the organization, Pig Placement Network, offer assistance to people looking to re-home their pigs or adopt a pet pig. In addition, they supply educational information to adoptees to better serve their new porcine partners. PPN and Ross Mill Farm even help people deal with problem porcine situations in order to facilitate the pig’s staying in his or her home. For people interested in becoming a companion person for a new adult or young pig, Susan assists with easing both the human and the pig into a compatible and loving relationship.

Susan says about PPN and Ross Mill’s role in helping those wanting a pet pig, “Sometimes a person will want to adopt a pig but has no idea that pigs need to be able to play and run outdoors. Pet pigs are mostly indoor pets and use a litter box as cats do. They need careful feeding and wise snacking. Fattening goodies are unwise choices because pigs gain weight so quickly, so adopters need to know to feed a low-calorie pot-belly pig feed soaked with plenty of water. And, of course, people need to check their zoning laws and have access to good veterinary care—all before taking a pig home.” Susan says, “I try to help people with any and all problems because we want the adoption process to go as seamlessly as possible-- we want the person to feel comfortable and somewhat expert in pig care so that the pig doesn’t end up in an adoptive situation again.”

A trip to the Magidsons’ “Ham-ton Hotel” is inspiring. Outside the main lodging runs the main street-path separating the rows of single-dwelling pig homes and properties. Some swiners at Ross Mill prefer outdoor living; they’re more the camping type, but their facilities are no less attractive than those residing in the complex’s main inn. In the newly built lodge, rows upon rows of pig rooms line the perimeter of this “hotel for hogs.” Eighty of the 150 pigs housed on the property belong to Pig Placement Network and have come there after being rescued. Most all of them find themselves in a re-homing situation that, until they find that ideal human who finds them irresistible, pampers them with respect, friendship, and love.

Any visitor interested in meeting a prospective adoptee will find themselves in an atmosphere where pigs come first. From her office in the lodge, Susan networks with people needing assistance adopting or re-homing a pig. Young pigs play and sleep at her feet as Susan works, and outside her office, a few pigs walk the aisles exploring and meeting others of their own kind. Occasionally, one hears snorting and squeals from two pigs arguing over the same blanket, but in a building that houses up to 70 pigs, this is a rare event. More often one only hears quiet and an occasional contented grunt muffled beneath a quilt.

Withinbn the lodge, pet pigs visiting Ross Mill Farm Piggy Resort and Spa have use of a veterinary treatment room for minor surgeries and hoof trims. Another room is the Piggy Spa where vacationing swiners enjoy scented baths, ear and eye cleansing, and even whole body massages. No luxury accommodations are too good for Ross Mill pig guests.

Ross Mill Farm Piggy Resort and Spa is in the business, not of rescuing pigs, but of re-homing pigs, vacationing pigs, dieting over-weight pigs, and providing pig-sitting services. Susan’s and Richard’s goals emphasize educating prospective pig owners in the quirks and needs of caring for a pot-belly pig so that the animal becomes appreciated and never has to be surrendered to a rescue.

Ross Mill Farm and Pig Placement Network gladly receive donations as well as supplies like blankets, dishes, soaps, cleansers, Clorox, shovels, rakes, and a supply of carrots and grapes. Check out both websites: http://www.rossmillfarm.com/ for a pictorial farm tour and http://www.pigplacementnetwork.com/.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Truth About Rabies--Boiled Down

One morning about five years ago a stray cat appeared, starved, on our front porch. He was desperately thin, with a rangy coat; he had an anxious look in his eyes. The first thought I had was that he must be incredibly hungry. So, I ran for a can of cat food, but, for some reason, he wouldn’t come near the dish. This was one frightened cat. That’s when I decided to offer him a small dollop of food from the end of my fingers. He looked at me, searched for an escape route, and backed slowly away—very leery. But I was a good human, I thought. I had to show him I was not like all the other humans he has likely come across in his life.
This was a young cat—a teenaged, skeletal-skinny feline. He trusted no human. I lowered my eyes, crouched down to his level, and held out my hand with the food low enough so that he didn’t feel threatened.
Suddenly he leaped at my fingers, grabbed the spoonful of food and with it a good chunk of my hand. I stood up, howling. In his frantic attempt to get the food, he had accidentally bitten my hand. I went inside, stopped the bleeding, and put on a band-aid.
Later in the afternoon I went searching for the cat. There, behind the house underneath a hemlock it lay dead. I scooped him up in a shovel and buried him in the woods. Poor thing—hadn’t had much of a life.
I looked at my hand and wondered.

“No. I’m certain he didn’t have rabies,” I said to my usually calm doctor. “Well, I don’t know for sure, but he was just so starved, he accidentally bit me. Yeah, I know it wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do.”
In minutes everyone around me--husband, parents, doctors—were freaking out. They were worried I might have rabies. I assured them the stray was just emaciated and hungry, that he didn’t appear to be rabid, and that it was my fault for doing a stupid thing like trying to feed him from my fingers.
My doctor talked to Edgar, and, together, they decided I should dig up the cat’s body, cut off the head, and send it to a lab to be tested.

“Where did you bury the cat?” Edgar said, a shovel in his hand. I knew what he was about to do, and I didn’t want the poor cat’s body being dug up and then decapitated.
“I’m not telling you,” I said firmly.
An argument ensued, one in which I was given a choice: send away the cat’s head or go through the series of rabies shots—those awful ones they give in the belly or something. I said, “Well, you’re not going to find the cat cause I’m not telling you, so I guess I’ll have to get the shots.”
“I can’t believe you!” my husband said.
“Yeah, well. That cat was just emaciated, maybe sick with something else. I don’t think he was rabid. But we’re not digging him up.”

So, off to the hospital we went. I was escorted to a chair within the ER, and the nurses and doctors stared at me and talked behind their masks as though I had some sort of pox or something. I stared back: they didn’t understand country life, me, or struggling felines thrown out on the street to fend for themselves. They didn’t know I was certain I hadn’t been bitten by a rabid cat. Let them stare and gossip—I didn’t care.
In a few minutes I had the first of probably around thirteen or so after-exposure anti-rabies injections—in the arms, not the belly. They were no different than allergy injections—didn’t hurt, no reactions. The worst part was the driving time to get the shot.

I never did get rabies, but my stubbornness could’ve taken my life.

Today, several years after this event, I read an article about rabies. I’ve summarized the most important facts here. These facts aren’t the usual hysterical advice garnered through the Internet. These facts have been gathered by the American Veterinary Medical Association. I’m going to keep this list salient and short.

Rabies is a virus that attacks the nerves, and then the brain of an infected animal. It is usually transmitted by a bite. One rarely can get the disease simply from having an open wound contacting a rabid animal’s saliva.
Only mammals get rabies. Birds, fish, reptiles amphibians do not. The main rabies carriers are skunks, raccoons, bats, coyotes, and foxes. The reason cats are the most risky of the domestic animals is because most cat owners usually don’t vaccinate their cats for rabies. After the cat, rabies occurs next in dogs and cattle but rarely in horses, goats, sheep, swine, and ferrets.
Rabies vaccines are available for cats, dogs, ferrets, horses, cattle, and sheep. And wildlife can be given oral vaccine.
Signs of rabies in dogs, cats, ferrets: fear, aggressive behavior, massive drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering, and seizures.
Humans are not at high risk if they vaccinate their animals, stay out of the way of suspicious-looking wildlife, and, if bitten, submit to the rabies series treatment.
Steps to take in dealing with rabies:
Get dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, and livestock vaccinated.
Avoid letting unvaccinated animals roam free. Let unvaccinated pets enjoy playtime outside that is supervised, caged, and spay and neuter pets to prevent roaming.
Pick up garbage and other foods lying around outside—foods that may attract raccoons and other wild animals.
Don’t go near a nocturnal wild animal who is exhibiting strange, erratic behavior during the day. Call the game commissioner.
If someone is bitten by a suspicious-acting unvaccinated domestic pet or a strangely-behaving wild animal, see a physician as soon as possible, and follow his or her advice. That advice will probably be to go through the treatment program for rabies, the injections of which—from my standpoint—were no different than having a bunch of flu shots. If the animal who bit someone is a pet, officials will likely just order home quarantine for ten days.

The most significant thing anyone can do to avoid another’s contracting rabies is to vaccinate pets and livestock.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bad Dog Days During Flight: Owners Beware!

All dog owners, particularly those of bulldog-type dogs, should be aware of shipping these animals through the air. In "DVM Newsmagazine" (September 2010) the article, 'Short-nosed dog breeds more likely to die in flight' by Rachael Whitcomb, says, "Half of all dogs that died on commercial fights over the last five years were short-nosed breeds, like pugs and English bulldogs, according to the Department of Transportation."
Here's more information from that article: In a study running from 2006 to 2008, Continental Airlines had the highest number of animal deaths (53 deaths) followed by Alaska Airlines (31 deaths) and then American Airlines (23 deaths).
Two million pets are transported by air in the US each year, and in 2005, for the first time, airlines were required to file monthly pet mortality and injury reports. From 2005 to 2009 122 dog deaths occurred. Out of those 122 dog deaths, 25 were English Bulldogs and 11 were pugs. It appears that breathing problems and other genetic problems may have contributed to the Bulldogs' and pugs' dying. One should note that most of those deaths occurred while the animals were in the cargo hold rather than in the passenger cabin.
The Department of Transportation advises anyone who wishes to fly their pets to first get the animal checked out by a veterinarian.
Since Continental's 53 dog deaths, the airline had put an embargo on carrying bulldogs, pitbulls, and American Staffordshire Terriers. However, in 2009, Continental is allowing puppies of those breeds to fly in temperatures below 85 degrees.
People thinking of flying their pets should also check out Animal Airways, which offers in-flight vet services, and the average cost is $99 each way. Not too bad to insure the well-being and safety of the animal.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Part Five: Lost But Not Forgotten

What the people in the cars were thinking was anyone’s guess. One thing they all did realize, however, was that there was a wild buffalo in the middle of a road with a woman dressed in a very silly outfit, yelling and gesticulating in its face. They weren’t getting out to help for no amount of money.
And what Gay was thinking as she ran after Buffy, who, then, skipped out of the road to join Scotty in Edgar’s parents’ vegetable garden, was, “Why aren’t any of these people in all these friggin’ cars helping me herd the buffalo and the steer back into their pasture? What’s the matter with everybody?” For at least fifteen minutes Gay first ran after Buffy, and Buffy, prancing lightly into the air, leaped away and galloped on tippy-toes up through the garden, mangling tomato plants and zucchini plants as she went. With Scotty right on her heels, he plunged, not nearly as light on his feet as she, clomping at a gallop, over the garden. Then, spying a particularly lush patch of grass, they both stopped to eat.
Gay was frantic, running another quarter mile to get to the patch of grass at which the two stopped. Meanwhile the cars and trucks, many of which she had noticed as she raced past them, sat stock-still. And most of the pick-ups had men in them—MEN! Why in the world wasn’t anyone helping her round up the animals? Were they afraid? She couldn’t believe no one would help, but she didn’t have much time to ponder the questions.

In an effort to keep weight gain, a hereditary trait born to most all of Pennsylvania Dutchmen and women, to a minimum, Gay had long ago taken up running. Daily she put on her sneakers and headed out along the woods where Edgar kept a mowed path for her to run and ride the horses. At last her stamina came in handy in a practical sense: for chasing down escaped animals. The main trouble was, with very little effort the two animals could bound away as soon as she ran up to them, and while their steps were three times hers, they covered more distance with less effort. Herding them on foot seemed futile: why would they ever go back into their comparatively barren pasture when all this wonderful grass was outside their pasture. The task was daunting.
By some stroke of luck, however, Gay charged up to Buffy, arms out and spitting syllables Buffy found distasteful, “Git awt! Sh—sh—sh—shh! Sh—sh—sh-shht! Sh-sh-sh-sht! Go on! Get back!” Buffy obviously didn’t liked being “shushed,” and she, with Scotty lumbering behind, finally trotted indifferently into the pasture with Edgar’s father closing the gate behind them.
When the auto audience saw the animals finally locked into their pasture, Gay got a horn-blowing ovation from the cars backed up on Cherryville Road. Drivers tooted their horns, and Gay heard a couple others cheer. Exhausted, Gay raised an arm to acknowledge their support then disappeared, acutely aware of her silly garb, behind the farmhouse until the traffic had disappeared. She locked the animals out of the pasture with the torn fencing, and that evening Edgar fixed it.
Buffy continued to leap the fence a few times a month, and each time Scotty barreled down the fence so that he could be with her. But the neighbors and travelers in this area, ones that used the road regularly, soon got used to driving slowly on that stretch of Cherryville Road where on any day Buffy could be standing in the road or out in the middle of an unfenced alfalfa field. The Balliets received many nonchalant calls from people on their way to work, “Your buffalo and steer are standing by the side of the road again. They must’ve escaped.” And then Gay and Edgar would go down to the farm and herd them back into the pasture.

Over the years of Edgar’s being a large animal veterinarian, he has had some clients finding it difficult to pay. Their resolution: give us another animal we don’t need in exchange for services. So, under these conditions we received a llama as payment. So, Edgar brought home Larry the llama, put him into the same back barn stall that Scotty and Buffy adjusted in, and in two weeks he let Larry out into the field. By now Edgar had begun supplementing the pasture grass with feeding hay morning and evening.
Larry immediately latched onto the only remaining sheep, but shortly after being let out into the pasture, he found himself the victim of two bullies: Scotty and Buffy. By then, Scotty was sporting two two and a half -feet-long pointy horns. He was a huge animal, weighing well over a ton, and he knew to use his horns to his advantage. Lar;ry had a taste of Scotty’s horns on many occasion. If Larry happened to be in Scotty’s way in the barnyard, Scotty shook his horns at Larry, and the llama scooted out of the way. Because Larry was the weakest of the animal family, he was the one the bigger animals picked on—no different from diffident kids being picked on by the school bullies.
One morning Edgar had gone across the street to the barn early in the morning to throw hay to the animals. He heard a high-pitched whining coming from the back stall. He ran, opened the door, and found Larry pinned in the corner, Scotty looming over him. Larry had sat down in a submissive posture, and Scotty was brandishing his horns in a threatening manner, warning Larry not to move or he’d give him a good poke.
Edgar yelled, Scotty turned to look, then Edgar took the pitchfork and waved it at Scotty. “Hey, ya big bastard!” Edgar yelled as all 2,000 pounds of Scotty squeezed out the barn door. “Let Larry alone!” Edgar decided then and there to get Gay another present—this one for being a wonderful, tolerant wife—a donkey.
From another client who had some trouble paying his veterinary bills, Edgar received a donkey, an animal, he had heard, likes llamas. Edgar’s reasoning for accepting the donkey was because Larry needed protecting from Scotty and Buffy. So, one day a mammoth jenny was delivered to the farm and put into the pasture with Scotty and Buffy. At this point Scotty and Buffy were the royal keepers of the jewels: the pasture. Each took turns calling all the shots and deciding pasture decorum for the one lone sheep, Lois, and Larry. Of course, Larry and Lois, had absolutely no rights in Scotty and Buffy’s pasturedom. But the tides turned immediately when Sophie, the donkey, arrived.
Sophie was a yearling when Edgar brought her to the farm as Larry’s bodyguard. Immediately the llama and donkey became good friends, and, as well, Scotty and Buffy didn’t care for the donkey, who would have no funny business and who could have cared less who thought he or she was boss of the pasture. Sophie was her own boss.
One day while Edgar was working in the barn, he heard Larry’s pitiful wailing, and, figuring Scotty was bullying him again, he ran to help. But Sophie had gotten there first. Sure enough, Scotty had Larry pinned in the corner, and he was shaking his huge horns at him. Sophie galloped into the barn and, seeing Larry cowering at Scotty’s feet, went immediately to Larry’s defense. She ran into the stall and turned around. With that Scotty turned his huge, concrete-block head toward her, and “BLAM!” her back legs shot him a double-barreled kick to the forehead.
Edgar watched, shocked. For a second Scotty just stood there, and in another second, he simply dropped to his knees. Edgar had no bell to ring as they do in the boxing matches, but for sure Sophie had knocked him out for a few seconds. Minutes later Scotty got up. Then, on shaky legs, he lumbered out the barn and headed to the pasture. Never again did he pick on Larry. Sophie had fixed his head right.

Buffy, though she didn’t pick on Larry and so didn’t get into any tussles with Sophie, busied herself leaping the fence. Her habit became so routine that Edgar decided just to let her go. Several times he watched her leap over, eat for an hour or two, and then she hopped back over the fence to be with Scotty. On the other hand, depending on Scotty’s neediness to be right alongside Buffy, he either did or didn’t plow through the fence. One time Buffy’s escape even hit the local newspapers with an article entitled, “Where the Steer and the Buffalo Roam.” Edgar spent many days fixing and re-fixing fencing.
One evening Scotty and Buffy had escaped their pasture for the last time. This time someone had called the state cops. Gay’s father and Edgar managed the herding, though dusk had already settled, and darkness was rapidly descending. Gay’s father, Ralph, was the first one on the scene: Scotty and Buffy were a half mile from the farm—still on Balliet farmland—but far from the pasture where they belonged.
When the cop car pulled up, and the officer saw Ralph, a man in his late sixties, yelling and waving his arms in Scotty’s face, the cop said, in the bravest voice he could muster, “I think he’s gonna charge.” With that he took out his revolver, and Ralph said, “What do you think you’re gonna do with that gun?”
The cop said, as Scotty watched him intently chewing grass, “He looks like he’s gonna charge. If he does, I’m gonna shoot.”
“Listen, asshole—this steer is not about to charge anybody. He’s just having a good time eating grass. Now, go find something better to do, and my son-in-law and I will get this critter back in his pasture.” Probably relieved to be dismissed from that job, the cop got back in his car and drove away. Hours later, after the sun had set, Ralph and Edgar finally got the two escapees back to their home.
That incident was the back-breaker. The phone was always ringing, “There’s a buffalo and something else really big and red-headed standing in a field without fencing.” So, Edgar arranged for Buffy to go back to the Game Preserve. Though Scotty was devastated to lose his buddy, he eventually adjusted. Buffy rejoined her old herd at the Game Preserve and began having lots of buffalo babies.

Scotty was always the pensive type, so characteristic of bovines in general. As he got older, he was content to lie in the shade under his mulberry tree and chew his cud. Lois eventually died as did Larry. Edgar had another burro given to him as payment for a vet bill, and the burro, Benji, bred Sophie, and together, they had Thumbelina. Scotty learned to accept Sophie and her entourage, but during his last years his was king of the pasture and kept mostly to himself, except for accepting hand-outs from people visiting the farm and dog biscuit treats from Edgar and his father.