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, 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?


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 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, and clicking on the “Donations” tab or by contacting Ginger at

And here’s another way to get involved. If you buy your dog food at 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.