Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas gifts

Li'l Ralphie, Elliot, Evelyn, and Lyla have been batting around our discarded wrapping paper after we opened our gifts. If I didn't tell you before, Elliot and Evie are the two kittens we rescued right after Li'l Ralphie came to live with us. But before we had found Li'l Ralphie by the side of the road, I had applied to adopt a cat at a shelter in North Carolina. She was brought to us by a pet shipper early one Saturday a few weeks ago. Though we have a bunch of cats already, there's always room for another in need of a home.

I have so many gifts this Christmas, but I didn't just get them today: I've had them all year round. Of course, my husband is my greatest gift, as well as my parents. I've got some special friends I cherish: like Sheryl, Mare, Terri, Tecu'mish, Samantha, Jeannie, Mary, Ruth, and Debbie, Judy and the Kennies. Then I've got my literary agent, Diana Flegal, who loves my writing and continues to forge ahead with my mss., despite the poor economy and the lousy state of publishing. I cherish her, and I told her so in a Christmas email this morning.

I am equally thankful for having most of my pets this Christmas, though I wish Fancy, in particular, could be enjoying it with us. And I'm taking time today to think about other pets, other horses, pot-bellies, and cats, llamas, and donkeys that have lived with us and have left us. Christmas this year resembles, in some ways, my special memorial day--thankful I've been lucky to have shared the gifts of those animals' lives.

I have to tell you all something that occurred to me the other day when Li'l Ralphie jumped into my lap and looked up at me. Though he has one blue, blind eye, I looked carefully at the markings on his fur coat. I never really noticed his beautiful white collar that stands out against his orange-striped coat. He sort of looks like a nun. And all his markings are so symmetrical--he's classical living art.

Ralphie's outstanding handsomeness made me think of the consideration, deliberation, and trouble that this force called Mother Nature takes for each of her creatures, no matter the vast number of them on Earth. Whether one believes in a Mother Nature as a force, an entity, or whatever, somewhere, something drives the genetics that gives each creature his or her own distinction. Each insect, fish, mammal is mapped out as an individual, no matter the sheer numbers of those creatures. Though the people who dumped Li'l Ralphie out on the road regarded him as just another burdensome cat, whatever fashioned him did not overlook him in such a way, instead, gifting him with distinctive markings and beauty that distinguishes him from the rest of his kind. Even though hundreds of thousands of cats are born each year, Mother Nature, masterminding the designs of all kinds of critters, still put her heart and soul into Ralphie's design--making him one handsome being with all internal parts working and jiving in a way that makes him the living, walking sweetheart that he is.

If Mother Nature or this genetic force or whatever, could be so precise, so detailed, so intent and careful with one kitten's design, then who are we, as humans, to discard him as though he were worthless? No human could ever fill Mother Nature's moccasins, yet some people are out there dumping her precious, carefully-fashioned gifts as though they had no more value than a clod of dirt.

In this time of gift-giving and love among family and friends, I hope that people will be able to think beyond their new iPhones and stuff and feasting and take an appreciative look at the gifts that may be already lying under the Christmas tree or sitting right at their feet or out in the barn or the field or woods: living gifts--a deliberately fashioned cat, pig, dog, bird, horse, hamster or woodland creature-- created, mastered and designed by a force that values and puts much effort into each being as though it were the only one of its kind.

Merry Christmas to all and well-being and content to all animals.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Enlightment on the Human Condition

I have been enlightened by Stella's comment on my most recent post.

Essentially, if people don't care about how animals suffer and endure inhumane conditions in the factory farms, during transport, and while awaiting death at the slauighterhouses, then perhaps they should care about the effects that kind of stress has on the meat they eat. In other words, let's examine, in an admittedly unscientific, but logical way, some facts, at least, about hormone production in people who are stressed out. People under continuous stress produce various hormones--corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), GH, norepinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol. If people's bodies react to stress by producing hormones, it follows that animals, particularly if they find themselves continually under stress for months and for every moment of every day in factory farms, also produce hormones. These completely stress-out animals have no respite, and the hormones keep jacking up inside them during transport and while awaiting slaughter. Then, they are cut up and shipped to our grocery stores.
We meat-eaters are consuming these hormones without knowing their consequences to our health.
I'm not a scientist, but I do know that over-usage of antibiotics in cattle may be dangerous to the humans who eat antibiotic-treated meat. So, why wouldn't all those stress hormones created from continuous, inhumane treatment at these factory farms, etc., be detrimental to our health as well?
While you are slicing into a juicy steak,t think about the possible hormones caught in that tissue. Enjoy your dinner, if you can, and then do your research on meat saturated with hormones. Inform yourself, and then take appropriate action.
Thank you, Stella, for your insightful comment.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Help Farm Animals in Factory Farms

Sometimes my blog won't always be comfortable. This one is not. You don't have to watch the video if it is your custom to protect yourself. But if you really want to see what happens to factory-farmed animals raised for our dinner plates, please steel yourself and watch the video because pictures do not lie. And know that, afterwards, you can take action that may help spare other animals.

One of Hatfield Quality Meats’ pork-producing farms includes Country View Family Farms, an industrial-strength hog plant in Pennsylvania. They also have over a hundred other farms in Ohio and Indiana, as well, and market themselves as the Trusted Producer of Wholesome Pork. Their animal-handling philosophy, as stated on their website, reads: “To be responsible stewards of the animals placed in our care, . . . to constantly maintain the highest level of integrity in animal welfare and biosecurity, . . ..”
However, Country View Family Farms are not the “stewards” of the pigs they factory farm. Caught on video by an undercover worker equipped with a hidden camera, (Please see it for yourself at, the abuse is absolutely horrific: tossing piglets by their ears and legs into cages, removing piglets’ testicles, cutting off their tails—all without anesthesia—throwing sick and dying and injured piglets into shopping cart-sized boxes called “gassing carts” where they’re gassed to death by CO2. Pigs in these carts gasp for breath for many minutes before succumbing. Handling of the pigs include striking them with heavy mallets with numerous spikes. And more instances of torture and abuse and neglect abound at these farms. The video will bring anyone with any heart to tears followed by the urgent need to help these intelligent, sensitive creatures and punish those who commit such atrocities.
Unfortunately no federal laws protect food animals during the gestation, birthing and nurturing, and raising of the animals to slaughter. Likewise, no state laws, with the exception of seven states, exist to prevent neglect and abuse of farm animals at any time before and during slaughter as long as the acts are “undertaken in normal agricultural operation.” Therefore, any activity a farmer uses in raising his animals is considered legal in Pennsylvania and in other states where Country View Family Farms operates.
Here’s what you can do to help insure humane treatment of farm animals. First, please sign the petition from Animal Law Coalition’s "Stop farm animal cruelty" on Click this link to view the petition--
Second—Boycott purchase of and consuming of any Hatfield Products.
Third—Call on USDA and Food Safety Inspection Service officials to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Secretary Tom Vilsack
US Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington DC 20250
Phone: 202-720-3631

Alfred V. Almanza, Administrator
Food Safety and Inspection Service
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington DC 20250-3700
Phone: 202-720-3700
Fax: 202-205-0158
Fourth—Call on Congress and US representatives: < Call on US Senators: < and demand they provide laws for the humane treatment of farm animals.
Fifth--Call on Pennsylvania lawmakers at <> and <> and ask them to apply animal cruelty laws to farm animals and adopt a simple law that 7 states have already enacted that would ban gestation crates and unnecessary violent handling and neglect of farm animals. Sixth—Ask the above Pennsylvania lawmakers to join forces with Michigan, Maine, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Florida, and California in their efforts against cruel and inhumane handling and raising of farm animals. You may access this information at http://www.animallawcoalition,com/farm-animals/article/938#new. Seventh—Send an email to all your friends, relatives, and people with common sense asking them to view the undercover video of Country View Family Farms at and ask them to boycott Hatfield meat products. A Country is only as civilized as its treatment of its animals.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Case of the Missing Ralphie

Yesterday Li’l Ralphie went missing. We didn't realize it, but when Edgar and I took the horses out for a ride, several people had visited, knocking, trying doors to see if we were around. They even opened the door to our cat room to see if we were home. When we came back, the visitors were still there, but Li'l Ralphie wasn't. He was GONE!

The moment we found Ralphie absent from the living room and garden room, our relatives and we headed a full house search, but no one turned up a little orange kitten: nothing--no Ralphie. After an hour of searching inside, I figured he must’ve gotten outside somehow, sneaking out when they had opened the doors. I was frantic Li'l Raphie was gone but reasonably sure a little kitten couldn't go far and that, since it was only late morning, I'd have plenty of time to find him before dark. With better things to do, our visitors left with the salutations that they hoped Ralphie would turn up soon.

They couldn't have been more wrong.

Edgar and I approached the search analytically: "Where would a kiten go? Why wasn't he answering us or appearing to us when we called?" The answer was obvious: he must be stuck somewhere--in a pipe, a vent, a cabinet. It was more likely, we reasoned, that he was still inside the house, so we expanded the house search to opening every indoor space capable of harboring a kitten-sized object--every drawer, cabinet, closet, etc. We searched each room several times, calling his name—no Ralphie.

Finally, with the inside exhausted of finding the kitten, we took our search outside--driving our cars through the alfalfa fields surrounding our woods, taking the golf cart along the brush beside the road, and walking through the woods calling Ralphie's name—no Ralphie. At 2:30, after opening every door to every outside building and callling inside, shining the flashlight around, after getting on hands and knees and prying our heads down an opening of the deck to look around underneath, I really began to worry.

Li'l Ralphie wasn't anywhere in the house, not the basement, the furnace room, the exercise room, the pantry where I stored my canned products from the summer harvest. And he appeared not to be outside either. We had literally looked everywhere humanly possible--even down groundhog holes in the woods. I had bounced across the alfalfa fields, searching and calling through the brush under the power lines. I had roared with the cart through the fields scanning the rows for something orange--nothing, except for an occasional fall leaf. I called down across fields, inspected the Pig Palace where lived four of our pot-bellied pigs, and I had driven alongside the road in search of a little red body--nothing. And all of the searching Edgar and I did separately, together, and numerous times. Each out-building was inspected three times, at least. And, in between searches to the outside, we went back into the house, checking the rooms upstairs. It was simply unfathomable that a kitten could have walked half a mile away, yet a small woods a half mile away was another area we searched: not once, but twice. Going back inside again, we tore up a couple of ceiling tiles in the exercise room, shut down the air exchanger and tapped on the huge python-like pipes leading to away from it--no movement or cries for help.

Finally, in late afternoon and without anymore options for searching, and absolutely exhausted, Edgar gave up, but I continued to walk the woods--calling, pleading for my kitten to magically appear and come to me. I had already changed to my winter coat, a scarf and hat and gloves--the temp was plummeting, which only made me more anxious and tearful because Ralphie was too little to survive freezing temperatures. Behind every bush, every tree stump, I imagined finding Ralphie, sticking his head up. I imagined his running up to me and purring as I held him in my coat, but my images never panned out, and the day steadily darkened.

Finally, I, too, could go no more. Darkness made searching outside impossible. So, imagining him somewhere out in the alfalfa field or woods alone, lost, and scared, I came in and just stared outside into the woods—no Ralphie, and we had absolutely looked everywhere, under the pool cover, even under the hoods of cars, in the barn loft, listening and tapping on the air-conditioning vents. But Ralphie had, simply, disappeared into thick air. I resorted to tears because I was out of all other options.

At around 6PM it was completely black outside, so the only place we could hunt was in the house, and we had already searched each room several times. The search seemed futile. In one last ditch attempt to locate the missing kitten, Edgar decided to turn off the air system in the house: perhaps we could hear a kitten’s meow better when the swooshing noise was silenced. He flicked the switch, and the house went quiet. At the bottom of the stairs, I called for Li’l Ralphie. The next moment I heard a tiny meow. I ran to the kitchen and called again: nothing. I ran back to the foyer and yelled: a tiny, tinny meow answered. I tore upstairs and opened, for what was probably the sixth time that day, the door to my craft (junk) room, and, suddenly, out ran Li'l Ralphie. I gasped. He ran past me, down the steps, with me following in a fury (in an instant my worry turned to anger: Why hadn't he come to us all the times when we called for him in that room?) I followed him to the litterbox where he hunkered down and peed for what seemed like a full minute.

It’s certainly good to know that, to Ralphie, we rate lower than a litter box. The only thing that mattered to Li’l Ralphie was having to empty his bladder. One piece of advice I can offer anyone with kittens is to teach a kitten to respond and come to his name as soon as possible. Had I conditioned him to do that from the beginning, he might have come to me from behind wherever he was hiding in that room.

I can't tell you the relief Edgar and I both felt at sight of Li'l Ralphie in his litterbox. I was happy because now I didn't have to imagine him in a fox's lair, being ripped limb from limb by the predator. I didn't have to worry about his being lost and scared and freezing through the night. I didn't have to worry about my own state, how I'd cope during the night and the next days and weeks wondering what ever happened to the kitten we rescued from shoulder of the highway. I was, at once, so irritated with him for ignoring us when we searched that junk room, yet so glad he was all right.

The rest of the night Ralphie was playing with my hair and romping all over me, but I refused to indulge him. I was pissed and wasn't speaking to him--just as he hadn't spoken to use when we called for all those hours--his disappearance had sucked up my entire day; I had been exhausted from worry and had walked through woods, fields, barn lofts for hours. Who knew how far he had driven up my blood pressure?--probably to dangerous heights. He had deliberately ignored our calls until, so bursting full of pee, he had no other choice but to ask for help.

This morning Ralphie greeted us when we came downstairs. I shook my head, remembering yesterday's awful experience, and still feeling a twinge of anger with him. But I'm over it now. I'm speaking to him this morning.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I am anonymous.

I posted the comment about Li'l Ralphie and his two buddies a moment ago. It was in response to Stella's and Jeannette's comments about their rescues. However, I didn't realize that my comment wouldn't have my name--so much for understanding computers and blogsites. I'll take my animals any day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Li'l Ralphie Revisited

A month has passed since I snatched a tiny orange and white kitten, eyes and nose pasted shut, from the side of a major road. Li'l Ralphie is a survivor: he has endured being thrown out of a car onto a highway; he has conquered a terrible upper respiratory illness and an abscess; and he has found himself a lasting home with us.

Li'l Raphie, named after our old Ralphie who died a couple of months ago, entertains and warms my heart in mysterious ways. The typical kitten, he struts when he's feeling proud; he hides when the tea kettle whistles; he skips sideways in a threatening stance when I sneak up on him. And when he's all worn out from playing, he jumps onto the sofa with me, sprawled out, and drapes himself along the front of my neck. With his two-pound weight on my throat, I have a little trouble swallowing, but it's all right: Li'l Ralphie's is in sound sleep.
Admittedly, I'm a person who thinks too much and too weird thoughts; it's why I write--you know, the old "outlet" thing. But this two-pound, fur-wrapped creature is so puzzling and endearing at the same time. For instance, I watch Li'l Ralphie skipping along the carpet in a prelude to an attack upon his catnip spider. He springs then wrestles it into submission, and I marvel at the ferocious creation packed within those two pounds. And then my imagination takes over, and strange things begin to happen.

Two pounds of fur and wonder. Two pounds composed of guts, a little brain, bones, tendons and ligaments to make the bones and muscles work, a pancreas, liver, stomach, lungs--all put together so ingeniously as to allow this creature to jump, stalk, leap, twist in the air, and, in all ways, thrive. It just seems as though there's not enough "stuff" inside the fur-covered skin to allow it to manifest itself as a playful, curious, proud, wild being. And I can hardly fathom, too, how all the organs and whatever else inside him allows him to wrap his arms around my neck and purr his love for me. Such manifestation of what I consider, in many ways, human behavior, all comes out of a body weighing only two pounds. For some reason, I can more easily comprehend a human being mysterious, vain, egoistic, etc., because there's obvious size and capacity to contain the machinery for such feelings. In Li'l Ralphie's case, his being a character with strong personality and loving attributes just seems harder to fathom--yet it's all there--inside that tiny body: at times contentment, ferocity, playfulness, trust of another, very different and, in comparison, very huge body--i.e. mine--that sweeps him off his tiny paws, into the air, and plants sloppy kisses on his nose.

Because this tiny, two-pound creature is capable of reacting, feeling pain, and expressing, in his own way, love for me, and because I always like to share, I have a favor to ask of my followers and anyone else who happens upon this blog. Here it is: Li'l Ralphies exist in animal kill-shelters all over this country. In these facilities in cages stacked high, sit gorgeous two-pound kittens just like Li'l Ralphie waiting for a chance to blossom--skip, leap, purr--have a decent life. They never asked to be born and never did anything wrong to warrant being taken to a shelter to live one or two weeks in a cage before being euthanized. So, as a favor to me, to the Li'l Ralphies in shelters, and to yourself, please go to the website of your local shelter--I beg you. Scroll down the images of the cats and kittens that have never been given a chance to skip, play, be curious, and run and leap through the grass as Li'l Ralphie has. Look into their faces and make the decision to adopt one or even two. And then call, ask about the kitten and commit to adopting him or her. I promise, you won't regret it. In return the kitten will reward you with hours of entertainment--little two or three pound wonders that will make you laugh and feel a warmth of spirit that, in this world, we feel too few times. If you're worried about the commitment, don't. They don't expect much--just a small breakfast and dinner each day and a dry, warm place to sleep. And a litter box would be a good thing. If you give one of these cats a home and basic care, they will repay you hundredfold just as Li'l Ralphie has repaid me.

Adopt a cat or kitten--two kittens, if you can afford it, from your local kill-shelter. Relish the experience of rescuing a creature who really, truly needs you and appreciates you, and then write to me on this blog and share your experiences of your two-pound wonders. Your efforts will not go unnoticed or appreciated, and I promise you will feel more complete, more fine, more satisfied than you have in years.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Li'l Ralphie

Our bellies filled with a sumptuous outdoor lunch of smoked chicken wings and baked potatoes, we drove towards home on one of the last beautiful, sunshine-filled days of autumn. What a difference from the day before when our rain gauge reported an inch and a half of rain.

Going 50 mph on the main drag towards home, I saw something sitting by the side of the road, but the form didn't register with my brain as the typical groundhog or possum. Suddenly I knew what it was, and then a second image flooded my brain: a paw stepping out onto the road. "TURN AROUND!" I yelled to Edgar. "HURRY! Turn around! There's a kitten by the side of the road!"

Edgar whipped the SUV around in a cut-out alongside the highway and pulled out just as a school bus came charging up behind us. "Where is it?" Edgar said, peering ahead, his knuckles white on the steering wheel.

"Just up here--in this wooded area. It was . . . " Up ahead we could see cars' break lights going on and off.

"Where is it?" Edgar repeated.

And then we saw the kitten--an orange one the size of a Campbell soup can--crouched in the middle of our lane of traffic. "THERE! RIGHT THERE! PUT ON THE FOUR-WAYS. STOP!"

Even before Edgar had brought the car to a complete halt, I was out the door and running. Cars zipped past us in the other lane, and the kitten turned away from the whoosh of the traffic-wind. I called to the kitten, and it slowly turned toward me, its face a mass of crusticles and snot. Surely it couldn't see where it was walking. I scooped the creature into my arms, turned, and ran back to the car.

Back in the car I held the tiny creature against my chest, plucked a Kleenex, and began pulling the pus-scabs from around the kitten's swollen-red eyes. The nose, too, was concreted shut with dried snot. He must've known he was in kind hands because he let me pull all that junk from his fur without any fussing. Then, as we headed down the road, I noticed a quarter-sized scab dried on his fur. I scraped at that with a fingernail, and it opened up, allowing a river of pus to run down his side--an abscess. I caught the pus with another Kleenex, and a fleeting thought passed as to whether my cashmere sweater was also catching any of the nasty fluids. But the sweater didn't concern me much All that mattered was the kitten's welfare and comfort.

As we drove toward home, I held the trembling kitten against me. Though he was safe now in my hands, I broke down into tears. How many other kittens are disposed of so violently, so nonchalantly by people who have no sense of responsibility, no sense of charity or empathy for an animal that can't care for itself? I cried because of our unfathomable inhumanity, our crass egoism that values cell phones and blackberries more than creatures that can feel pain and misery. I cried because the little creature in my lap didn't deserve being discarded like some piece of trash. I cried because, had we not rescued him in that perfect split-second, the school bus would have pulverized him for sure. I cried because luck and good timing had been on the side of this kitten but that luck and good timing usually didn't benefit most creatures cast off by heartless people. Most creature-trash succumbed by the side of the road.

That was yesterday afternoon.

This morning, after an evening of intensive nursing, antibiotics, ophthalmic treatments, and nutritious food, Li'l Ralphie, named in honor of Ralphie, one of our barn cats who died about a month ago from old age, came running to me from the garden room: one eye wide open, the other half shut with more dried pus. He squeaked at me but suddenly fell quiet--his feline enthusiasm interrupted by a fit of wheezing and sneezing. But he was happy, and he was grateful to be alive. And I was just as ecstatic for him and for me.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Remembering Fancy-III

As I said before in "Remembering Fancy II" blog, Fancy's birth back in 1979 was a traumatic one. After her mother gave birth on the crest of a hill, the foal must've lost her balance and plunged down the hill and into the creek below. Luckily, from his bedroom my father-in-law heard Fancy's mother, Merry, whinnying and snorting. He rushed into the pasture in his nightie, shined his flashlight around, and after spotting the newborn foal in the rushing waters, plucked her from the creek and delivered her safely back to her mother.

Here is my description of our newborn foal right after her rescue from the creek. The excerpt is from my book, Touched By All Creatures: Doctoring Animals in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country:

Edgar lifted the baby into the stable where the floor was thick with good-smelling straw. In the light we examined and caressed our new furry wet gift while Merry nudged it protectively. Edgar, checking the sex, announced we had a baby girl, a filly, and we decided to call her Fancy, for, indeed, she was.

She stood on skinny, shaky legs, less than an hour old. Her body was thin but healthy looking, and she sported a shiny fur coat. But this young, freshly-made equine model looked, at the same time, old, for around her thin pink muzzle had grown long whiskers that resembled a grizzled old man. These hairs would help her feel for her mother's udder when she was ready to nurse.

Her eyes, big and set too wide apart for the size of her small head, glinted a kind of crystal translucent brown. She glanced curiously from her mother to the sides of the stalls, to the straw bedding, and to the three of us. She looked perplexed, and it was no wonder, for only moments ago she had been inside her mother's womb in darkness. Now she searched, inquired, and marveled at this new world, and we three, enthralled with this newborn's wonder at a world into which she was so rudely thrust, could merely watch in silence and awe.

She seemed as fragile as a china doll, as though she would crack if she fell against something. Even her fur had pale highlights to it, resembling the color of bisque. We knew, of course, that within a few months she would shed that coat for a new, more fashionable color, possibly bay like her mother or a rich mahogany brown like her father. . . .

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Petless Person

First, not all people who live without pets do so because they dislike them. Usually, however, in the case of the petless person claiming he or she just isn't an animal person, this person has never lived with an animal. This lack of experience explains part of the misunderstanding about a pet's gift: their total acceptance and nonjudgmental approach to us.

Our pets don’t boss us, don’t judge us, usually seek to please us, and are always there for us—actions often the very opposite of most human friends and relatives. And when someone like you or me realizes the importance of pet companionship and when we prefer our pets to these inexperienced humans, our privileging the animal makes them feel inferior, smaller, and decidedly uncomfortable. What they sometimes don't realize is that they helped create the sticky situation—by ignoring you in your time of need, by laughing or snickering at your love for your pets, by criticizing you over your lifetime choices or goals--things our pets never do and wouldn't do even if they could speak, for their love and admiration for us is unconditional.

People who do not like animals usually see things in one-dimension. Their world revolves solely around people, and because of this, their personalities, motives, and values become one-dimensional as well. Though they my think themselves superior to the pet lover, they realize that you, as a lover of animals, consider them inferior because you recognize their lack of knowledge and their narrowed viewpoint of the world.

Some who claim they aren't attracted to animals seem proud of that fact. Why? Perhaps the claim makes them feel superior--but it shouldn't. They’re missing out on a whole other realm of life. The ability to communicate and respond to a different species makes us so much more able to communicate and empathize with other people who may not be like us. With a whole new set of communication skills, we animal people can more easily get past our limitatons and communicate with anyone who is of a different culture, religion, or political party simply because we have learned the nuances of communicating with our pets. This ability makes us superior to the petless person, doesn’t it?

Consider the horse and dog and cat whisperers who truly reside in a different world than most people. They are attuned to body gestures and eye contact. They are wise and compassionate people because they have learned to communicate in a way in which none of us were taught to communicate in school. Having this ability to break through to the world of animals makes us more sensitive, more intuitive, and we can bring this experience to our relationships with people as well.

So, if you are one of those people whose relatives and friends criticize your love of animals, rest proudly knowing that you reside and operate on a far higher level of understanding and sensitivity than do they. Stand proud for nurturing your ability to transcend the human condition.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Remembering Fancy II

Strange things have occurred with regard to Fancy's dying.

With Fancy's body on the bucket of our tractor, Edgar drove through two pastures--past the remaining four horses grazing in the field--to bring her into our horse pasture cemetery, where a large hole had been dug and where she would lie for eternity next to Nicky, Shadowfax, Lillie, and Merry, her mother. I walked alongside the tractor, and through my tears I saw the other horses, their heads down. Three of them were grazing as usual, undisturbed by just another piece of machinery driving past. But my hair stood up along the back of my neck at sight of Timmy.

As we drove slowly past, careful not to jostle Fancy out of the bucket, Timmy, our old Saddlebred, picked his head off the ground and snapped to attention. His head was high, his body as still as Fancy's. But it was his expression that unnerved me. His eyes held to the bucket wherein Fancy lay, and they were as wide as I've ever seen them--struck still, staring, staring hard. His expression was, in no uncertain terms, one of complete horror.

I nodded at Edgar, and he glanced at Timmy. And when he saw Timmy's reaction, Edgar, began to cry. I was already sobbing at the disconcerting sight of Timmy's shock seeing Fancy in such a compromising and ultimate position. Clearly Timmy was stunned, horrified, to see her being carried, helpless, across the pasture.

His reaction spoke volumes about the ability of an animal to realize death. To see this old horse stand so erect and in catatonic attention was proof, as far as I was concerned, that he knew Fancy was gone. His expression told us he was overwhelmed with the realization that her position in the bucket was unnatural and, therefore, final.

Here's the other odd thing about dealing with death, and it's no stranger to us, having been through many of our pets' deaths. It has to do with what our brains are accustomed to seeing. It happened with Nicky and Fax; I suppose it happens, too, when humans die. One's brain does not adjust very quickly to an animal's or person's absence. The brain "sees" the pet on her cushion, in her favorite chair, at her food dish in the corner of the kitchen. In my case, when I went to feed the horses last night, Fancy's stall was obviously, screamingly, vacant. It erupted a lump in my throat. Every time I passed by her stall, I had to deliberately adjust my brain for the absence because if I didn't, the fact of her death came pouring unmercifully over me. Habits die hard, and Fancy had been a fixture in that stall for a little less than thirty years. Fancy's presence in that stall had become hard-wired in my brain, and it was struggling to adjust.

This morning's feeding wasn't any better--still the horrific emptiness of the stall hitting me. And Julie, Fancy's sister and her pasture mate, stood by the wall between their two stalls, waiting, waiting for Fancy to come back. Julie's brain, too, had become conditioned to Fancy's presence beside her.

Until our brains adjust to this robbery, I vow to help Julie deal with her loss, too. I'm going to visit her several times a day while she's out on pasture. I'm going to fuss over her so that the 28 year old horse feels just a little less deprived of Fancy's company. And I'm going to pay extra attention, too, to poor Timmy, who almost had the life shocked out of him.

Remembering Fancy

My best equine friend died this morning. My misery is indescribable--my death wound red raw, my face stained with tears I cannot still. But I want to keep her memory alive--death won't ride off with her that easily--if I have anything to do with it. Through my tear-blurs, I write this tribute to Fancy, my first show horse, the horse I learned to ride on, the kindest horse I have ever had the pleasure to know.

In my various books, I have written often about Fancy, my muse, my confidante. When her mother gave birth to her, we were living fifteen minutes away in a house trailer--something we could afford while Edgar went to veterinary school. That night Edgar's mother awakened us with a hysterical phone call--something about Merry, our mare who was due to foal, having trouble. While in bed that nigh, Edgar's father had heard a horse screaming in the pasture and had gone out to see what had happened. Tripping over pasture rocks and shining his flashlight up the hill, he spotted the mare racing back and forth across the crest of the hill. She was looking toward the bottom of the hill. Directing the flashlight down, he saw a lump the size of a German shepherd lying in the rushing waters of the creek. Running down the hill to the foal, he leaped into the water, wrapped his arms around the newborn and hoisted her out. She was shivering and soaked. Then, wearing bedroom scuffies on his feet, he pushed the foal up the hill where Merry ran and joined her new baby.

Fancy's birth was traumatic: for us and her. And other incidences were as memorable, like the first show I took her to in Quentin, PA. Because I was showing Fancy in the weanling class (a model class that judges conformation of baby horses), I could not take Merry into the ring with her foal. She could only go into the ring with a handler. So, I strapped a lead rope to Fancy's tiny halter. She was so soft and beautiful with a big bright-white star on her forehead, black mane and tail, and a buff-colored coat. Then I walked her to the ring where a huge crowd had gathered to see the weanling class. At the start of the class, I led little Fancy into the ring (I had practiced leading her and parking her out many times at home) following other weanlings and their handlers. We walked around the ring and then were told to line up in the center and park. Fancy was unsure of herself without her mother, and I was trying my best to reassure her that she was safe in my care. But growing anxiety soon burst into full-blown hysteria as the crowd in the stands began to clap for all the cute weanlings. At the sound of people hooting and clapping, Fancy went ballistic--she dropped over on her side in a dead faint. The crowd groaned, and I bent over my little horse, trying to calm her enough to get her to stand up. Finally, she popped onto her feet. We left the ring with no ribbon and hurt pride, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was that Fancy was safe and that I got her back to her hysterical mother back at the trailer.

Before Fancy was sent to be trained at the age of two, I used to walk her around our woods as one would walk a dog. We had many a lovely stroll as fall leaves drifted around us. I was just beginning to learn how horses think and react. And I had a lot more to learn: about riding and my own sense of self and courage.

When we brought Fancy home from the trainers in Harrisburg, PA, I called riding instructor, Gale Remington, renowned for training horses and riders together. Part of a chapter about Fancy in my book, Lions & Toigers & Mares--Oh, My! describes my first riding lesson:

I had expected thunder thighs--a woman the size of Godzilla's first born. After all, I figured, a person uses a lot of leg when riding, and after all her years of experience in the saddle (which, to my figuring, made her about retirement age), her trotters must rival those of a Sumo wrestler. I pictured a steely gray-haired old lady who carried her fleshy saddle with her wherever she went. I would dare her to teach me anything.
But when the little brown sports car skidded to a stop in our driveway, I wished I wouldn't have worn my T-shirt that said I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing. I peeked from the barn door and sauntered out to the car, my chest thrust forward. I caught sight of a perky, blonde ponytail. I stopped dead, and my confident grin fizzled at sight of a pretty, petite face encircled by curls.
My confident expression broke like an earthquake across my face as the young woman alighted from the car. From her docksiders to her jeans and Izod shirt, she was everything I had every hoped to look like. My instinctive jealousy of other attractive women erupted primitively. Had the UPS man with his acne face or the stubby grandfather from the Department of Agriculture come to the house, I would've fought this opponent for my man, ripping her ponytail right out of her head. She was a picture.
She was disgustingly lanky--a Modigliani without the distortion. And her hair--natural blonde tresses--was pulled hurriedly through a tortoise-shell hairclip and curled in quiet disarray around her head. It was a look I tried copying during my high school and college years--the Dr. Pepper look--that messy, windblown picture of loveliness: a California girl.
However, while the California beach nymph perspired sexily and while the sand glistened on her skin like granulated sugar on a vanilla cookie, in contrast I could only rival a lump of unbaked dough. I sweated like a container of cold tunafish salad on a humid day and developed embarrassing water stains under my sleeves. And sand never glistened like crystals on my skin. It just sandblasted the remains of any make-up and caused a rash down my thighs. No--I could never look disheveled with any degree of class.
"Hi, my name's Gale--as in the wind," she said, brushing a stray hair from her face.
"Hi, I'm Gay," I said. I heard a disbelieving giggle. "Well, I'm Gay but not really. Not that there’s anything wrong with it." She laughed.
"I see you have the horse ready to go. This is the first time you've ridden her since she came home from training, right?" She eyed Fancy, sizing up her conformation as I strapped on an old, beat up English hard hat. She turned, saw the moth-eaten thing perched atop my head and said, "Why are you wearing that?"
As the elastic chinstrap bit into my cheeks (I felt like a fat baby with an Easter bonnet), I said grandly, "Better to be safe than sorry--that's my motto." She looked amused, and there was a long silence.
Okay, I better 'fess up. I swallowed the lump of hot pride, "I guess I'm not a very experienced rider; my husband's afraid I'll hurt myself." Smiling weakly, I climbed into the saddle. Only I knew I was wearing that hat because I couldn't stand the sight of my own blood.
But the pride welled up again, stronger this time. "Yes, he's such a worry wart," I said, patting the hard hat onto my head. The dust puffed out around it. "He's so silly--thinks I can't ride." A nervous laugh shot from my mouth.
We walked to the middle of the outdoor ring. "We'll see in a few minutes, won't we? Head her on out and circle to the left around the outside of the ring. Try to find her center of balance." Fancy and I followed the path along the fence.
"That's it: take it easy at a walk, and keep her together between your hands and legs," she shouted. Drive that backend underneath you; we're looking for a bit of collection here. Good riding is the ability to ride a balanced seat on a balanced animal." And so came the barrage of knowledge, filling my well of concentration.
Suddenly as "balanced seat," "collection," and "drive from behind" swam dizzily in my head, I heard a loud bugle-like sound issue from below. Tossing her head and snorting, Fancy sudddenly stepped into a high-headed prance. I felt my blood turn to glass as my seat went out from under me. All of a sudden I abandoned my steed for a white-water canoe. First the front end pitched, then it came up--and I lurched atop it, loose, like a ragdoll--my legs flying in the stirrups, my hands clinging to the mane.
Fancy was "hot" as horsemen would say. Such behavior did not phase a professional who could ride out a sudden spurt of energy. But I froze in my stirrups, fearing for my life as Edgar had. Only then did I realize that Fancy was a three year old, fiery animal, only broke to ride just six short months ago. Suddenly I was scared to death.
And then I knew that before this I had probably been lucky with riding my old horse, Nicky, and others at local hack stables. They took care of me, thereby flattering me into thinking I was an adequate rider. They made sure I had always arrived safely back at the barn after carrying me through the woods and along the country roads.
But Fancy was different in her youth. At the trainer's we were confined to a circular path in the indoor arena. Here I was outside on two acres of hills and ditches with their scary shadows, wind, darting cats and lurking dog. At the trainer's Fancy hadn't been distracted by even a tree or any other animals.
In vain I prayed for Fancy to act sensibly and protect me. "SIT UP STRAIGHT! Bring her down into a walk and collect your thoughts and your balance," Gale called.
"I want to see a canter--NOW!" Gale yelled from the center of the ring. "Collect her first; ride the back end, and cue her for the canter."
This is it, I said to myself. I can’t canter. I'm going to hurt myself. I clenched the reins and prayed for a nose-bleed.
"Let's go! Cue her for that canter!" Gale cried. Then, not even thinking that I should just stop the horse and get off, apologize meekly and admit I couldn't ride a toilet seat, let alone a horse, I cued Fancy for the canter.
Like a spring bursting from a broken toy, she leaped into the air. Paradoxically, instead of gripping harder, my body reacted by shutting itself down. My guts sank, loosening from the body wall, and lay in a heap next to my bladder while my arms and legs loosened and hung from their joints--the white flag of surrender. Worst of all, my eyes involuntarily closed, pitching me into darkness.
"Gay, don't fall apart!" Gale commanded. "Stay with her and look where you're going! Don't go forward! Sit up straight--don't grab her neck!"
My heart heaved, and my guts liquified as I grabbed for her ears--an albatross around her neck. I was a dead weight, clasping her gullet in a death grip. But I could not let go despite Fancy's strangulated snorts. Then the white-water canoe mutated into a runaway go-cart, to which I helplessly clung to the wheel. Finally, I opened my eyes but only to see my nemesis--the beckoning ground.
Fancy plummeted around that pasture and banked into the turns. Her head was stretched out straight from the shoulder, and there was no way to stop her in her frenzied flight. I could merely pitch and heave aboard her--my arms clinging around her neck.
"STOP HER! PULL BACK ON THE REINS!" I heard a voice from the sky boom. "GET OFF HER NECK! SIT UP STRAIGHT OR YOU’LL . . ..”
CRUNCH! I hit the ground. The world went black.
I opened my eyes. Fancy was staring at me, blue sky enhaloing her head.
"Do you hear me, Gay? Get back on your horse. You're all right. Just knocked the wind out of you." It was Gale.
A stone was digging me in the middle of my back. "I'm alive," I moaned in a weak voice. My back creaked into place. "Nothing really hurts, only a little stiff," I said twisting my head from side to side.
"You're just fine. Get up. The reason you went off is because all your weight was on her front end. I couldn't get you to stop her; she was out of control, but you should've leaned back when you stopped. Now get back on, and we'll go around a few times at a walk."
I stepped stiffly into the saddle. Fancy seemed calm enough now.
"When she stopped on a dime, you took a swan dive over her left shoulder, landing first on your side, then your back. It wasn't a bad fall, and you didn't fall very far; actually, you were already halfway to the ground, hanging down around her neck.
"It's a bit strange," she said, contemplating the skyline. "It almost seemed as though you wanted to fall off. Of course, that's absolutely silly, isn't it. Nobody ever wants to fall off a horse." She shot me a side glance.
Could it be that a person's subconscious, in expecting something to happen, could almost cause it to occur? Had so many people told me horses were dangerous and that I wasn't such a great rider that I actually, subconsciously, fulfilled their predictions by falling off? Did I hope to erase all their hauntings if, psychologically, I'd just give in and get it over with?
Fancy and I walked around the pasture, and then I dismounted. I had made a fool of myself.
Leading Fancy back to the barn, I listened to Gale's analysis," You've got a long way to go if you want to learn to ride a horse."
"Well, I didn't feel very good today anyway. My sinuses are acting up, and I can't see clearly." I could rationalize with the best of them. "Besides, when I rode Fancy at the trainer's, she had only one little spot in which to run: she had no room to act up--here she has fourteen acres! It's just not fair," I reasoned. "Everybody else can ride a horse without falling off."
Dead silence. Gale was smiling.
She began, "First of all, you don't sound stuffed up at all. Besides, I didn't know sinus problems could cause incoordination. And you also weren't riding in fourteen acres, but only in about two. You are not the only one to fall off a horse, so don't expect any pity from me. Plain and simple--you need to learn how to ride properly--that's all. No one has ever taught you to ride. Once you understand and master the basics, you'll be able to ride with the best of them, . . . but not before then."

It took hours and hours of practice to be ready to show successfully against other plantation walking horses. I taught high school English during the 80's and early 90's. I remember coming home from a harrowing day of teaching, and I immediately changed into my riding clothes. Fancy was out in the pasture, and when she spied the lead rope in my hand, she knew she'd have about a forty-five minute workout. I didn't think it possible, but knowing she was going to be working put her into a funk. When she saw me, she hung her head so that her muzzle almost touched the ground. I thought, "What? Is Fancy sick?" But she wasn't sick, at least not physically. She just didn't want to go through the paces. Still, she allowed me to catch her, not complaining at all when I tightened the saddle and fitted her bridle. She was always willing and eager to please me, and that memory of her easy-going acceptance will always stay with me.

Fancy is to be buried at noon. I'm ending this blog for today so that I can go out to the barn and whisper private things to her. I want to hold her head in my arms and tell her that if she was in a better place,then I'll be greeting her there sometime. I want to say good-bye to the best friend I've ever had. Perhaps tomorrow I'll have a little more strength and courage to continue this tribute to my horse.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tax Dollars to Benefit Animals in America

I am outraged that the Obama administration intends to disburse $2.5 million in economic aid to Libya. In fact, $400,000 of it is going to dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi’s kids’ personal foundations. Once again our tax money is being piddled away on a country whose leader resents Western culture and values. Once again, we are funding a foreign country in which most of the people can’t stand us. Doesn’t this administration have anything better to do that fritter away our hard-earned dollars?
Think about all the good that could be done—here in our own country—to aid people, pets, our national park system, and other deprived American sources. Imagine that: Americans’ tax money actually going toward something within our own country! The thought is nearly unimaginable.

I never intended to get political in this blog, but this president has me infuriated with his outrageous spending, his big government looming over us, and his health care reform bill that is so expensive and so untransparent in its language, that more people, particularly older folks, will ail than prosper from it. As the song goes: “He’s killing us softly—with his song—killing us softly. . ..” Most of what this president has given us so far has, indeed, been a song and dance: the Obama Shuffle.

Just think what good all this wasted tax money could do. Let me just quickly throw out some propositions:
1. Instead of shoving the $2.5 million dollars into Libya’s lap, why don’t we take just a million of that and provide free spaying and neutering of pets to people who can’t afford to fix their animals? In turn, thousands of future unwanted kittens and puppies wouldn’t suffer from lack of care and shelter. Likewise, they wouldn’t be a financial burden on people and humane societies.
2. Why not take all the money designated for Van Jones’s salary and purchase pastureland in the western United States for unwanted wild mustangs?
3. Why not take the money meant for ACORN and update struggling zoos and animal rehabilitation centers around the country?
4. Why not sell Pelosi’s private jet and buy some cat and dog food for struggling humane shelters around our country?
5. Why not take taxes owed by Charlie Rangel and Timothy Geithner and fund Catch and Release programs for unwanted and feral cats throughout our country?
6. Why not get rid of all the Czar advisers, elect a president with more experience—one who doesn’t need an “army” to help him steer our country--and assist our wildlife harmed by oil spills, forest fires, air and water pollution, and poaching?
7. Why not take all the money Obama intends for countries that hate America and use it to encourage people to adopt all the unwanted pets from our humane shelters, to set up animal relief organizations during times of catastrophe, to fund education for aspiring veterinarians, vet technicians? Why not fund pet emergency clinics hospitals as well as provide funds for pet cancer research?

Oops! I forgot about the other $1.5 million in aid to Libya.
8. Why not take this money and help farmers raise farm animals in humane ways—let them raise, transport, and slaughter them so that the animals meant for American plates experience no fear or suffering and can live their shortened lives in peace and contentment?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Celebrating the Life of Boo

Mare and I are celebrating the life of Boo, Mare's beloved Siamese, who died on September 9, 2009. His life is one worth remembering, as are all the lives of our pets so dear to us. They offer us comfort when we're stressed; they never criticize, badger, or nag us. They seem to know when we're not feeling well or feeling down in spirit. They need no blackberries, no fancy clothes, no gourmet feasts. They have us.

Boo was an exceptional cat about which the world deserves to know. Before his death he raced Mare's halls, a huge 16 pound ball of fury and love wrapped up in a beige and tan cat suit. As he ran, motorcycling through the living room, he pounded the floorboards with his thunderous paws. When he wasn't skipping through the kitchen, he talked, murmured sweet somethings to his Mare, his human, and lap-sat her to sleep every night. And he shared his catnip, treats, and bedtime dreams with his elderly feline friends, Spotty and Meg, as well as Claudia the corgi.

I commemorate Boo's life and his relationship with his human companion, Mare. His life serves as a reminder to us all of the innocence, the honesty, the guilelessness embodied in our pets. Our pets' love and admiration for us is unprecedented--limitless. What more can a person ask of life than to have been owned and appreciated by a pet the likes of Boo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ralphie's in Heaven

Ralphie died last night. We knew he was going: metastatic cancer. Though, in the end, he was a skeleton dressed in skin clothes, during the day he had eaten a couple mounds of whipped cream I had sprayed from a can. I didn't realize it then, but that was to be his last meal. Now he lies buried alongside all my other feline friends: behind the house in the cat cemetery. I loved Ralphie, a shelter cat who had a penchant for wrapping his front legs around my neck in a big hug.

A few days ago he had lost his appetite for any other food, despite my offering him the most delectable treats I could find. Yesterday we discussed putting him to sleep, but when my husband, who is a veterinarian, went to do it, Ralphie purred and rubbed his head against Edgar's arm--his sign that he wanted to be with us a while longer.

Last night when I went into the garden room where Ralphie rested on a dog bed, I covered him with a blanket, tucked him in for the night, and whispered private things in his ear. His ears were cold, and one front claw was stuck in the material of the bed. I freed his paw, and he looked at me with appreciation. Then, I did something that people who know me wouldn't believe. I baptized him. I lay my hand on his head and said, as our minister told us in confirmation class many, many years ago, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." And I put the finishing touches on it with a soft, "Amen."

Doing such a thing is completely uncharacteristic of me because I'm not a religious person. I was raised Lutheran but do not practice any religion. I make no apology for that. People can fault me if they want, but I'm just not sure there's a God or Goddess out there. I'm not sure. In fact, when I look at the state of mankind and what we've made of this world, more in me tells me that the likelihood of a supreme, caring essence is highly unlikely.

Ya know how as a person grows up, certain things and messages stick with her that last throughout her lifetime. Well, when I went through confirmation class at the age of 14, the minister told us that if we were ever in the presence of someone dying, we should baptize him--just as I had Ralphie. He said we didn't need water or anything fancy. Laying one's hand atop the dying person's head was enough. And he told this class of awestricken teens that doing that would guarantee the person's place in heaven. That instruction stayed with me to this day--maybe I was struck by the fact that heaven could so easily be attained by doing a simple ritual. I don't know. But with Ralphie, a cat who never did anything bad, who was not over-bearing and generous with his bear hugs, I wasn't taking any chances. If there was a God or Goddess, then Ralphie was going to heaven, if there was such a place--provided that minister was telling us the truth, and I wouldn't suppose a minister would lie to a bunch of kids. And if my ideas that a God or Goddess maybe didn't exist were correct, well, then Ralphie and I didn't lose anything anyway. But I wasn't taking any chances with Ralphie's possible soul.

After my husband and I buried Ralphie, I came inside and sat down with my coffee, my eyes still thick with tears. How many people are crazy enough to baptize their animals? For sure, I couldn't be the only nut sending their animals to a possible heaven, but I'd bet most people didn't know or think to do it. And, to be sure, I didn't even know the Bible's position on this procedure--as far as it relates to animals. Are baptized animals afforded heaven as are people? Not being a Bible aficionado, I had no idea.

Still, I wasn't taking any chances. Ralphie was baptized--by a heathen--if he wanted it or not. I hoped Goddess wouldn't hold that against him.

Then, suddenly, I laughed out loud. I could only imagine that heaven--so overloaded with people souls. I envisioned a Goddess upon her golden throne who gazed upon all these people souls lazing back in recliners--dotted here and there amongst the clouds--and eating potato chips, ice cream, and donuts; others were playing frisbee; some were playing harps and guitars, others were smelling flowers and skipping from cloud to cloud. They were, after all, in heaven and enjoying fun things.

And, then, Goddess glanced around the crowd of human souls and cast a quizzical gaze. Something was amiss--in heaven! Suddenly other beings appeared before her. There frolicked all my pets. And elsewhere lay other animals that other earthbound nuts had baptized, too. Goddess was probably wondering who on Earth was bending the baptism rules to include animals. My Cornish cat Wendy began chewing on her sandals, and Ricky was using one leg of her throne as a scratching post. Suddenly I saw Nicky, my first horse, looking over her shoulder as my Gramma Eckensberger stood beside him brushing his mane. All my animals were there, everyone of which I had baptized right before they died. Some were chasing each other, happy expressions on their faces. The cats darted behind Goddess's throne and lapped milk from a golden dish that never emptied; the Irish Wolfhounds bounded after a couple of little kid souls. My other horses, Merry, Shadowfax, and Lillie, were grazing in a ray of sun. There were no saddles or bridles in heaven. I smiled: they were all there under the gaze of Goddess--thanks to my attentiveness during confirmation class.

Suddenly I saw Ralphie at the base of her throne. He wasn't skinny anymore, and with renewed strength he began crawling up one throne leg. Goddess held out her arms, and he climbed aboard, working his way to her shoulders. Then Ralphie tucked his head under her chin and wrapped his arms around her in his characteristic bear hug. And Goddess smiled.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dogs and Eagles At Odds: Express Your Outrage at Vick Signing by Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles has signed dog executioner, Michael Vick, to their team, much to the disgust of animal lovers worldwide.

Spending thousands of dollars to equip a dog-fighting training facility and headquarters in Smithfield, VA in June of 2001, Michael Vick, then quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, became the “king pin” organizer of dog-fighting on the East Coast. As such, he participated in horrific executions of pit bull dogs that he and two associates felt were under-fighting in their bouts. Vick, himself, participated, in from 6 to 8 pit bull killings, not limited to drowning and hanging. As a result, Vick spent 18 months in a federal prison as well as several months on house arrest.

During a news conference on August 14, 2009, Vick, appearing humble and contrite, said, “I’ve made some mistakes and done some terrible things. Referring to his involvement with dog-fighting, he admitted he had “made bad decisions” and that he had had “to reach a turning point in his life.”

Vick, with former NFL head coach Tony Dungy at his side, also credited Donovan McNabb for being instrumental in helping him get this opportunity to play football with the Eagles.

During the news conference, Vick questioned why he ever got involved “in such pointless activity.” He said, “If I can help more animals than I hurt, then I’m doing my part.” Vick also said, “Everybody deserves a second chance. As long as you want to come back and do the right thing, then everybody deserves a second chance.”

Whether Vick’s TV audience believes his contrite apologies seems irrelevant. Vick said he was “wrong” and that “he made some terrible mistakes.” What he did was not really about wrong versus right? In fact, his murdering of dogs speaks to a unequivocal deep-seated amorality, something that cannot be righted in a course of 18 months in prison.

We all do wrong things, but we don’t deliberately murder innocent, sentient beings as Vick did. What Vick did strikes much deeper than simply choosing to do wrong over right. His actions speak to his lack of character, his essence of evil, his monstrous motivations and emotions. He is devoid of heart. His drowning and hanging of dogs are proof of a deranged, morally bereft sensibility—one that should never benefit from a second chance and a lucrative football career

Vick’s moral degradation precedes his football career. What went wrong with Vick cannot be fixed by any prison system. What went wrong with Vick cannot be honored with a second chance at a pro-football career. What went wrong with Vick still runs deep within his veins and in his heart; what went wrong with him is not capable of rehabilitation and certainly should not be ignored by fans of the Philadelphia football team.

What can the average individual and animal lover do about the Eagles’ signing Vick to their team? Obviously the Eagles’ management does not value the humane treatment of animals. Hiring Vick speaks to a complete disregard for Eagle fans that love both the game of football and their canine animal friends. People need to let the Eagles’ coach and management know that before we are Eagles fans, we are moral people who respect all life, including a dog’s life. We need to let them know that their signing Vick is, at the very least, inappropriate and in very bad taste..

Eagles fans and decent people worldwide have recourse. We do not have to stand by while Vick stuffs the millions of signing dollars in his pocket. We can boycott anything Eagles, including Donovan McNabb. We can refuse to attend games. We can refuse to watch TV broadcasts of Eagles’ games. We can refuse to buy Eagle shirts, caps, and other paraphernalia. We can refuse any celebrity, company, news station or any other group or individual who aligns themselves with the Eagles.

In addition, we can also contact sponsors of the Philadelphia Eagles and express our repugnance with regard to this signing. Please go to these sponsors’ websites and express your boycotting of their products and/or interests by the following companies:
AquafinNovaCare RehabilitationThe Strauss FoundationVWRJ&J Snack FoodsLincoln Financial GroupMasterCardSovereign Bank

With our dogs, our good friends, by our side, we can turn our backs on a football team that ignores what it means to be a good, decent person.

For more information about Michael Vick’s crimes and his signing conference, go to:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Foster By Any Other Name . . .

Our bellies filled with funnel cake and lemonade, we left the Lorah Family Farm Fest that night renewed and rejuvenated--my faith in the goodness of man and womankind restored. Dusk descended as a river of cars poured from the parking-lot grass field. There was one hurdle to overcome, however: we had to cross the road with a rather lethargic, nobody's-gonna-make-me-hurry-no-matter-what pot-bellied pig named Foster.
The rush of cars was exiting as from a rock concert--people all pumped up and eager to get back on the road. While cars flowed from the field, Sheryl and I discussed the necessity of timing the crossing just right. When we spied a lag in the traffic, we'd have to hurry her pig to the other side.
I looked up the road and saw a break in the rush of traffic. "Okay, Sheryl. Let's go!"
Sheryl ran into the middle of the road. She pulled and tugged, but Foster, all dressed up in his shiny purple nylon harness and lead rope, was not going to hurry for her sake, though he didn't realize that the expediency was intended for his own welfare.
Sheryl pulled harder, "Come on, Foster. Hurry up before we all get run over!" Not in the least impressed, Foster turtle-stepped with his right front hoof onto the macadam. Then, slowly, very deliberately, he stepped with his left hind foot.
"COME ON, FOSTER! HURRY UP!" Sheryl pleaded, tugging on the leash.
To my left a car shot into the traffic and headed towards us. We had to get Foster across the road--fast. With no time to spare, I got behind him and pushed his rump as Sheryl pulled his front end. As usual, I rarely have the opportunity to see myself in action the way others do. So, I invariably have to step back and imagine what a passerby must be seeing and, therefore, thinking. Squatted down, legs splayed apart, both hands a mere eighteen inches from the ground and latched onto the ass-end of a pig who, clearly, resented my intrusion, I saw myself as others saw me. Surely onlookers were stifling laughs at a middle-aged woman bent double, huffing and puffing, leaning her full weight into the butt-end of a recalcitrant pig. Together all three of us must've resembled an Abbott and Costello gig. But I had little time to indulge myself with what others were thinking. In the encroaching darkness I had to help move Foster across the road before the car reached us.
When Sheryl saw the approaching car, her eyes widened like Gumby's, and she pulled harder on Foster's leash. But he was not going to speed it up without good reason, and, usually, for a pig, that meant a bribe of a donut or fries.
As the car drew close, I worried the driver would not see the three of us in the deepening twilight. I leaned into Foster even harder. Both Foster and I were grunting: me because I was trying to move his 250 pounds when he clearly wanted to remain static, and Foster out of rebellion against two weak women trying to manipulate him. He was refusing to move, probably more out of pride than anything else--it was a guy thing.
Stuck in the middle of the road with a vehicle approaching us, again Sheryl yanked on the leash. Though we were in a potentially dangerous position, she recognized the humor of the situation, too. We were like the three stooges--whooping, dancing, and behaving like clowns.
Suddenly, in a last ditch effort to get Foster across the road, Sheryl yelled,
That's all I could take. With the image of Foster as Forrest Gump, my legs and arms went weak. I let go Foster's ass and held my guts as I curled up and let out a gigantic belly laugh, the likes of my dear grandma Eckensberger. No matter the car barreling towards us, the image of the pig likened to the slow-witted movie hero being warned to run from danger reduced me to a quivering, giggling lump of jelly.
Finally, Sheryl yanked Foster into the shoulder of the road, and I, laughing and snorting and holding my guts, tripped behind him, the car flying past. The three of us stood in the field, we two yucking it up, with Foster looking on with some annoyance.
Not only was Foster's road crossing an adventure, but it has also resulted in a major change. Today Foster goes by the much more quirky, homespun, and fitting name--Forrest.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lorah's Family Farm Fest

Last night my friend, Sheryl and I and Sheryl's pot-bellied pig, Foster, went to the draft-horse pulling exhibition at Lorah's Farm Festival in Walnutport, PA. Foster went along for a meet-and-greet session in preparation for a stint at a local nursing home. Foster drew a crowd almost as large as that watching the draft horses pulling a sled full of concrete blocks.

I can seldom enjoy myself at such competitions like horse racing, jumping, competitive trail rides, and even regular horse shows. Why? I always worry that a horse will get hurt, drop over from exhaustion, or that something terrible, like a trailer accident, is imminent. When it comes to animals and the sometimes over-zealous expectations people have of them, I'm the biggest worry-wart around. After all, the animals themselves don't sign up for all this competitiveness. They are more content lazing their days on pasture than cavorting around the countryside looking to show off and best others of their own kind. Horses don't understand the point of being trailered off their home patch, taken from their mobile house, saddled up, and ridden among a throng of others like themselves around a showring or racetrack. Likewise, the draft horses at the Lorah Family Farm Fest, even though they've pulled dead weight at other times, don't really understand the logic behind pulling eight thousand pounds of concrete block 27 and a half feet across a dirt lane.

As we watched the horse pulling contest, I held my breath, almost too afraid to look, as the horses strained against their collars, their front legs pulling, stabbing into the ground, their hind legs hopping, galloping against the poundage. And then the laden sled lurched forward, the horses' nostrils flaring under the effort. I grimaced. For sure, I thought, some disaster is about to happen: a horse snapping a knee, a hock, or injuring a shoulder. When each pair of Percherons or Belgians, each horse weighing in at around 2,000 pounds, were hooked by chains to the sled, I gasped, scared to death for those horses who were giving their all, who were pulling with their hearts. I worried their owners, in an effort to win the contest, would push them beyond the limits of their bodies.

My faith in mankind, however, was restored as, in a couple of cases, the owners stopped their draft horses before they could have injured themselves. Their way of competing their animals yet protecting their health and welfare should be a lesson for those in Thoroughbred racing. Racehorse owners owe their large-hearted horses the consideration of and respect for their physical soundness, their lives: no racing before the age of three when the growth plates have closed and the fragile leg bones have grown strong.

At the Lorah Family Farm Fest, great men put aside greed and ego for the sake of their horses' well-being. What a refreshing evening.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Can Dress Her Up, But

With a full half hour before leaving for my allergy appointment (yes, I'm allergic to all of my animals: cats, horses, pigs), I styled my hair, brushed my teeth, swiped on some tinted moisturizer and mascara, and slipped on a pretty, airy summer dress. Then I jumped into a pair of patent-leather, pink-heeled sandals. A glance in the mirror assured me I was "good to go," so I flew out the door and backed the car from the driveway.
At the doctor's office, I took my allergy shots like a girl while Carol, the nurse, fussed over my new look. "My goodness," she said. "You look so nice today. Are you going somewhere all fancied up like that?"
"No," I laughed. "I'm just going home."
"Usually you come here in your barn clothes," she said. "We don't ever get to see you all dressed up."
"Yeah, all dressed up and no place to go," I sang with a big grin.
Everyone laughed. I said good-bye, high-stepped out to the car, and in a half hour I was barreling up our driveway past the swimming pool.
"THE FROG!" I yelled with horror. In a flash I parked the car and ran to the barn where sat the golfcart. Dress hiked to my thighs, I climbed into the cart, pulled the choke and stepped on the accelerator. My trusty cart coughed and spit, and I yanked the wheel to the left. I roared out of the barn but had forgotten something. So, I put the gear in reverse, backed up to the barn door, and leaped from the cart. Inside the barn I pulled an old dirty horse bucket from a pile in a corner. Then I tip-toe-ran through the grass and back to the cart. I wasn't at all used to running in heeled sandals and a dress, but I didn't have time to change: a frog's life depended on me.
I stepped on the gas, and the cart and I jerked forward, hanging onto the wheel with one hand and the bucket with the other. "I'm coming!"I shouted.
I stopped the cart at the pool, ran to the edge, squatted, and looked along the stone border.
Earlier in the day I had seen a frog zi-i-i-i-i-inging through the water--water that I had super-chlorinated the evening before. I was reaching for the skimming pole when I heard the horses squealing in the pasture: a battle of the equines. So, I ran to break up the disagreement before anyone got hurt.
Once the frog was out of sight it was out of my mind. I forgot about him swimming in all those chemicals. I went about my chores for the day and then left for the allergist.
I stumbled around the pool edge in my fancy fuschia sandals, trying hard not to overtread my ankle: Where could the frog be? I'd never forgive myself if he lay dead somewhere--dead from swimming in and inhaling chlorine for half a day.
I ran around the pool edge: no sign of the frog. I ran to one of the skimmers, pulling off the lid.
A frog was swirling, helpless, in the maelstrom created by the pump's vacuum. I reached down and scooped him up. Then I opened my fist, dreading to find him lifeless and bleached pale by the super-concentrated chlorine. Amazingly, he was still alive!
Tripping over the grass, I ran him over to the horse bucket into which I had put a small amount of fresh water. I put him into the bucket, and he began to leap for the edge. But the bucket was too deep for him to escape. Then, I teetered back through the grass to the other skimmer. Where there was one frog, there could be another. And so it was. Another frog! Scooping him up, I ran him to the bucket, too.
Then I hopped into the cart, stomped on the pedal and the frogs and I flew down the driveway, water sloshing all over the floor. We roared across the street, through our grove of fruit trees, and down the hill to the pond.
At the edge of the pond, I stopped the cart, grabbed the bucket with the frantic frogs leapng like pole vaulters, and squidged my way to the water's edge. I glanced at the muddy edge, full of divots made by the hooves of the Belted Galloways. In order to release the frogs I would have to step into the mud. I suppose I could have taken off my sandals, but the idea of squishing through manure-tainted mud and having it come up through my toes really grossed me out.
The frogs were manic and perfecting their vaulting. I had to hurry. So, with much distaste, I gripped the horse bucket handle and stepped gingerly into the mud. Two feet from the edge of the water, I sank almost to my arches. Slime bubbled around the edges of my shoes. I felt sick. Then, teetering on a small stone, I was able to pour the frogs into the pond. They slid away into the muddy water and were out of sight.
I hopped away from the edge. Mud was splattered up my calves and had hit the hem of my dress. What a mess! I would spend the next hour holding my sandals underneath the kitchen faucet and scrubbing them with Dawn liquid.
The most important thing, however, was that the frogs were safe and happy in the farm pond. I could wash the dress, and, though the sandals would never be as shiny as when I first put them on, their appearance is tolerable.
Just another day in paradise.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's all in the bone structure.

Don't think, folks, that just because your pet doesn't wrap his or her hoofs around you and licks your chinny-chin-chin that she's not expressing content or love for you. You must look for other indications that your pet is trying to get cozy with you.

You see: it's all about bone structure.

For instance, neither a horse nor a pig has a skeletal structure that will allow cuddling in the same way that a cat, a dog, or even a guinea pig is able to embrace his or her human. Horses, for one, are way too big to be wrapping themselves lovingly around their owners. That would be life-threatening, for heaven's sake. The same holds true for pigs. Pigs are round, thickly padded, rigidly made animals whose bones don't "give way" in reaction to feelings of contentment and love. It's not their fault; that's how they are designed.

The answer to this problematic attempt in assessing emotion in these kinds of pets whose bodies are a bit challenged is to find a way to contort yourself to receive their cuddles; after all, humans have relatively malleable bone structure. We need to get into position--to feel the love "their way." I found that opportunity, as I wrote last--with The Big Flapper. I was able to get him in a horse hug, which he returned in like kind--nuzzling me on the knee and rubbing his face against my chest. If I hadn't taken the opportunity to get down to his level, I might never have known how he felt about me.

So it is with pot-bellied pigs. I'll tell you the secret for getting cozy with your pig: become a pig yourself. Pigs are very sociable animals; they love the company of other pigs they know. How do they show that affection? Here's the secret: by lying close beside their friends--like shrink-wrapped hot dogs (beef or vegetarian hot dogs, of course). So, if you're ever wondering whether your pet pig loves you, become a pig for awhile. Hunker down on the carpet or grass, call your piggy love over to your side, and after you've been checked out by his or her sniffer, pretend to be sleeping. In most cases, your piggy person will turn his butt toward your face and his face toward your butt. Then, in that position parallel to your body, he'll lie down. And you will feel his affection as he turns his body into you, putting his full weight against you. He will sigh as you put your arm around him, and then he'll fall asleep. This parallel plane of resting next to a cherishd soul characterizes a pig's expression of love.

So, if you get down onto a pig's level, and your pig assumes the position, take it as an expression of his or her love for you. Take a well-deserved nap yourself--with your arm embracing your friend's waist.
Painting by Pat Saunders-White:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More on The Big Flapper

So, the other night I walked into the barn to check the horses one more time before turning in myself. I looked in Bo's stall--nada. There was no horse there. How could such a big horse not be visible in a 12 by 12 foot enclosure?

Bo, otherwise known as The Big Flapper because he wakes us up whinnying every morning, was lying down in his stall. He was resting.

For a horse that probably exceeds 16.2 hands, only a rare moment allows me to be taller than he. Most always I have trouble clipping his ears, dressing him in his bridle, or even seeing over his back--he's THAT big. But this night would be different:I'd tower over him for a change.

Quietly, carefully, I opened his stall door. He was lying sternal (on his chest, not on his side), and his head was only a few feet from the entrance. I squatted down, so that he wouldn't be alarmed by a person looming over him, and duck-walked to him, talking in a soft voice.

His big eyeball had me in its sight, but it wasn't fearful. "Bo-Bo. Are you sleeping?" I cooed. The eye stared.

I stroked his face, neck, and withers, all the while speaking in soft tones. I was amazed by the animal's mass as I soothed him all over--so much strength, so much power temporarily on hold by sleep.

The eye blinked, and then I took advantage. I wrapped my arms loosely around his neck in a huge horse hug. He turned and nuzzled my leg. I held his face close, his warm, moist breath, and I whispered lovey things in his ear. He listened with much intent, swallowed, and slid his nose along my leg again--acceptance.

What a totally different and wonderful moment I had with Bo, who was, no doubt, somewhat tranquilized by the curtain of sleep. With no hint of annoyance that I had disturbed his sleep, he almost seemed to enjoy my cradling him in my arms--a rare and poignant moment between a horse and his human. And, for once, I was larger than he. This usually spirited powerhouse of an animal seemed diminutive, tender, in his resting position. This was a side of Bo that I had never known or realized: my horse of Lilliput, my horse of sweet softness--Cotton Candy Bo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Skippy's Nest

Surely visitors to our home would think us the penultimate slobs.

Though probably not much different from those of millions of homeowners in the United States, our garage, its walls stacked high with crates and bags of wet and dry cat food, rakes, shovels, buckets filled with various things, a working refrigerator filled with summer drinks, and three large cabinets loaded with cleaning fluids, brushes, and brooms, sports one feature that sets it apart from those other million Americans' garages: Skippy's nest.

There, sandwiched between the stoop that leads into the kitchen and a long, rectangular, homemade box with entry holes that I like to call the "cat apartment," lies Skippy's nest--a concoction of all things a pig can find that, together, he or she can call home. When Skippy's occupancy light is on, i.e. he's lying in the middle of his nest, a stranger to our home probably wouldn't think twice about the pile of debris upon which he sits. But when Skippy has had his afternoon nap and then waltzes off into the woods for some tasty morsel, he leaves his nest behind for all to observe and, probably, analyze in wonder or disgust.

Without the nest's tenant nearby, a non-acquaintance of ours would observe a bundle of junk heaped at least a foot high: old blankets torn to pieces, ripped-up empty cardboard crates that had stored soda cans, an empty cardboard Snapple holder in shreds, a bottle of diet Lipton Green Tea, an empty can of cat food, a feather duster that Skippy wrested from the utility cabinet, and, along with that, my plastic bucket for mopping floors, and a tangle of rags, too.

"What a bunch of slops live here," a stranger would think. "Why doesn't someone clean up this mess?"

What the stranger may not notice is that this pile of junk has been compiled out of keen deliberation and effort. Centered in the pile is a neat heap of straw and grass that Skippy had very carefully carried to his bed. Too, the edges of the junk pile are neatly arranged. Skippy's nest doesn't protrude underneath our cars or out the garage doors--for, then, it wouldn't really be a nest. A nest is contained--for the purpose of coziness, no doubt.

I once had the opportunity to watch Skippy building this nest in the garage. With much care and delicateness, he ripped an old blanket I had given him. Then, he nosed the pieces into submission, turning one piece with his nose--just so--and arranging the next one strategically next to it. Another day I saw him with a plastic bottle in his mouth. Evidently I had missed the recyclable can, and he retrieved the bottle: a treasure for his nest. I watched as he carried it in his mouth with the gingerness of a tight-rope walker, for he didn't want to drop it and possibly lose or shatter it on the way to the nest. Stepping lightly, he walked to his nest and placed it, after standing for a moment, thinking. Then, after a long pause, he moved it off to the right corner of the pile. In contemplation, he stepped into his nest, positioned himself just so, and prepared to take a nap.

We have cleaned the garage several times this summer already, sweeping out pebbles and grit that gets caught in our cars' tires. But I have given strict orders to Edgar, my housekeeper, and others who mean well to never disturb the pile of rags, plastic, paper, straw, and cardboard that is Skippy's special place.

"That's Skippy's nest," I say to all who stare and then question with crossed eyebrows. "It's his home, and I don't care how awful it looks. Skippy likes it, and that's all that matters. It stays here until he abandons it."

Skippy's nest is testament to what is important to me, too. Not only does Skippy's nest define him as the careful architect that he is, but it defines me, too, as a proponent of an animal's right to comfort and a need to find his own space in his world and make it his own.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Genevieve and Cookies and Cream

Here is Genevieve (on the left) and Cookies and Cream. At least she had six nice months feasting on grass. That's not their pasture they're standing in; it's the barnyard, which has no grass. The pasture is way off in the background. Belties and bird nests--works of art.
Rest peacefully, Genevieve.

Golf Cart Curly

Here's golf cart Curly, our Selkirk rex cat. A rex cat has curly-coated fur. In a Cornish rex, the haircoat is short; in a Selkirk rex, the haircoat is longer. Curly sort of looks like a feline poodle. He loves speeding in the golf cart. He sits beside me, looking out at the woods, his nose pointed into the wind. I don't hold him or restraint him in any way. He truly loves his ride. But he does have a limit. After about a half hour of bumping around in the cart, he wants out. I think he gets nauseous if the ride is too long.
One time he and I were racing alongside Bo's pasture. At the end of the fence, I had to make a sharp left-hand turn. I kind of forgot about Curly sitting alongside me. When I swung the wheel to the left, we whipped around the corner, and Curly went flying right out of the cart into the soft alfalfa. I stopped the cart, backed up, apologized profusely, and Curly jumped back in. I always remember to take that corner slower now.

Bo: The Big Flapper

Here's my four-year-old horse, Bo, otherwise known as Bo-Bo, The Bo-ster, Bodel-ee-o-do, and, finally, The Big Flapper. Why the Big Flapper? Every morning around 6 AM he sticks his head out his window and whinnies for his breakfast. He jolts us upright in bed. I say, eyes crusted over with sleepy dirt, "Well, Bo has the biggest flapper around--for a horse. None of our other horses ever yelled like that." Then we get up and paddle downstairs, sure to hurry because if we don't get out to the barn pronto, The Big Flapper will have something to say about it.
See the white tail? The bird used some for its nest.
Next: a picture of Curly.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My promise

I have looked at a number of blogsites--just to make sure I was doing things correctly, not that I ever was obsessed with convention or doing what everyone else does. But something struck me as I read some of these blogs. The blogger sites tend to be overrun with neophyte philospher kings. For example, they tell a story then go on to proselytize about how to behave or how to feel or how to make the most of life. "The moral of the story is yada, yada, yada."
My aim with my blog is not to tell or advise you on how to live your lives. I will try my darnedest not to sermonize. If I want to say something profound, I'll try to keep it brief. In short, I promise not to preach, for preaching is self-serving and allows one to place him or herself above others. I am above no one. Hey, was that sermon-like? I hope not.
So, I promise not to blogosophize, okay?
What I want to do in my blog is entertain, tell you stories about our animals, other peoples' animals, and the honesty of animals. I want to entertain. If I slip into blogosophizing, scold me: scold me well.

I am, admittedly, a bit of an odd sort. After a terrific wind storm, I was giving Curly, our Selkirk rex cat, his daily ride in the golf cart. Yes, we have a cat, actually two cats, who love to feel the breezes rushing through their fur as I fly with them on the cart around the out-lying pastures and around our woods. Anyway, a bird's nest had been dislodged from its tree branch and lay on its side in the driveway.
I stopped the cart and got out, picking up the nest and setting it alongside Curly. Such a nicely built structure I had seldom seen: fine pieces of straw so tightly knit together with strands of horse hair--some of it white, which had to have come from my horse, Bo's, tail, and all stuck together with what looked like dried mud, probably from the pigs' wallow. Such work, such determination, such drive went into the building of a nest, I thought. It resembled a hollowed-out grapefruit--heavy, pleasingly palpable--a pretty neat feat of engineering--for a birdbrain.
Somehow the bird's nest ended up in the back seat of my car, and when we took my parents for lunch today, my mother laughed as she crawled alongside me in the back.
She said, staring at the nest on the floor in front of her, "You've got a bird's nest in the car?"
"Yep," I said. "Isn't it neat!"
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Put it on the mantel."
"You're nuts," she said, laughing.
"Yep. I've got a collection of bird nests I've found around the patch. They're all lined up over the woodstove on the mantel. "
With some incredulity, my mother said, "Why?"
"They're the finest art pieces--ever. Why wouldn't I want to display birds' nests? Now, that's the question."
"You're weird," my mother said and laughed.
"Yeah. I know."