So long, sweet and crazy

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My beautiful girl left us tonight.

Destra came to us as a five month old puppy who needed a safe place to recuperate after breaking her leg. She’d been in the very early stages of training for a career with the police or military when she broke her leg while playing with her trainer. The trainer was going to have her euthanized but a rescue stepped in and arranged for her to have surgery. After a month of crate rest they asked us to take her in for a month of R&R while she finished her recovery.

A few days after she arrived we started seeing bloody footprints all over the house. It took a while to figure out who had been injured – she wasn’t limping, because either the initial accident or the surgery had damaged the nerves in her leg and she couldn’t feel anything. By the time we figured it out, she’d run the pads right off her foot.

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Nine long months of fighting infection followed. Every morning I’d throw a blanket over my dining table and she’d jump up onto it and flop over onto her side with a sigh of resignation, and I’d clean and treat and dress her foot, and then all day she’d fuss and beg to be let out to play with the big dogs. I tried to keep her occupied with games and toys; she loved “packaged meals” – I’d wrap up her kibble, a few bits at a time, in layer after layer of newspaper, each layer thoroughly duct taped, and she’d get to spend a glorious fifteen minutes shredding her way through it. But every few days she’d sneak out, or brazenly break out, and go running in the pastures with the big dogs, and come back with her tongue lolling with joy and her paw bloody. Sometimes she ran it clear down to the bone.

So of course she developed a bone infection, and it didn’t get better no matter what remedies I tried – and I tried everything from a poultice of raw honey to various creams and unguents the vet recommended, in addition to pills that had to be rammed down her throat because she never, ever, ever consented to swallow them, no matter how deliciously disguised or carefully wrapped. She’d nibble off the tasty stuff and spit the pill on the floor. The vet recommended amputation. The rescue that had been providing for her care cut off funding; they said it was time to euthanize. We didn’t have the money for surgery, but we found another rescue that did.

Her amputation surgery was scheduled for a Thursday afternoon. I called the next morning. “So … how is she doing? May I visit her? Maybe bring her something to chew?” She loved to chew almost as much as she loved to run. They said I could, and on my way in I stopped at our local butcher. It was late fall, the time of year when butchers are usually very busy cutting and wrapping farm raised beef, but they didn’t yet have ours. I rushed inside and demanded to speak with him. “My dog just had her let amputated and she needs a really big bone!” I informed him, and after only the briefest pause for bewilderment he gave me the biggest, juiciest, meatiest bone I ever saw.

At the vet I sat in the little consulting room, waiting for them to wheel her in on a trolley (they’d warned me, before the surgery, that she might need help learning to walk). Well, she’d heard my voice and came barreling through the door, dragging the vet tech behind her, and flung herself joyously into my lap. They told me they’d knocked her out after the surgery, wanting her to have a good night’s sleep, but when they’d come in that morning she’d been standing up on her one remaining hind leg, tail wagging, waiting to hear what fun was planned for that day.

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She spent the weekend at the vet, working her way through that bone, and by Sunday afternoon she was well and truly ready to come home. We pulled up at the gate at the end of our long driveway. One of her favorite tricks before the surgery had been to jump out of the car and take off up the driveway, her feet hammering the gravel and ripping her pads to shreds. She’d always got into trouble for that. But as I pulled through the gate I asked her, “You want to run?” She looked at me, not quite believing. “Go on. Run!” I said.

She leaped out of the car and took off up the driveway, and she didn’t care one iota that she had only one hind leg to hammer. That was my girl … Her focus was always on what was in front of her. Hind legs? They were history, and she paid them no mind.

We were still planning to give her up for adoption. I loved her, but even with only three legs she was capable of so much in terms of training – and I was so taken up by rescue that I didn’t have the time to give her what I felt she needed. But then she let us know that she really didn’t like kids – she said they were creepy, stunted and weird, and needed to be bitten. The Malinois rescue that had taken her on had a zero tolerance policy for aggression – and rightly so; Mals can be dangerous. So we kept her; we don’t often have kids visit, and after a few years she decided maybe they were okay after all and the issue went away.

She remained a complete lunatic – really smart, quick to learn how to please, even quicker to learn how to get away with murder. She slaughtered a couple of my goat kids and numerous chickens. She shrieked with excitement, bossed the other dogs, made me laugh every day, and drove the Hubbit crazy.

I wish I’d done more with her. I think she’d have enjoyed being challenged more. But life was good all the same … For most of her life she went everywhere with me, and right up to a few weeks ago she loved going to the river. She loved to swim.

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Over the years, inevitably, she slowed down. Her forequarters, which did most of the work when she ran, grew big while her hindquarters became skinny. Her spine twisted into an S-curve. She needed heavy doses of medication to manage the pain of arthritis. She still liked riding along but needed help getting into the car, and being in unfamiliar places began to bother her. She shared car-dog duties with Argos, and increasingly was content to be left at home.

The vet found a lump on her throat, an inoperable tumor, probably thyroid cancer, about a year ago. It didn’t seem to slow her down, though – no more than she was already slowing down just from being old and achy. We’ve been monitoring her health; last time she had blood work it looked pretty good, and she was due to go in for another test around about now. She collapsed a few weeks ago and I thought then that she was on her way to the Rainbow Bridge, but she rallied and has been her usual self – bossy and impatient with the other dogs, but eager to eat, play, get loves, ride in the car,

She went down this evening, though, and an hour later she was gone. She’s on her cushion near me as I write this. I look at her every now and then, and even though I know she’s gone, it’s hard to believe she really isn’t breathing. I stare at her ribs and they seem to move. I know I’m just imagining it, but all the same when the Hubbit suggested moving her outside for the night I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her out in the cold.

Tomorrow we’ll bury her in the yard in front of the house, and in spring I’ll plant a tree on her grave.

And that’s all there is to say about that, really. I feel this post hasn’t done her justice. I’ve spilled out a whole lot of words and, in the end, they don’t say much. I haven’t told you how soft her coat was, or how intensely alive she was, or how maddeningly shrill her bark was, or how funny and smart she was, or how totally she didn’t give a shit about being a tripod. I haven’t described how, when I took her and Argos to the park and threw the ball, I’d have to keep her on a leash so she didn’t hurt herself trying to beat him to it, and every now and then I’d make him sit/stay and toss the ball close by so she could have a turn without hurting herself. She would never bring the ball back to me and if ever I tried to take it from her she’d be so excited I’d get bitten, so I learned to wait until she decided where to drop it, and then Argos would fetch it. And when she was tired she’d take the ball back to the car, and that was the end of our outing to the park.

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I guess that’s what happened this evening. She got tired, so she grabbed the piece of my heart I threw for her and she’s taken it to the Bridge. I’ll get it back one day, but there’s no hurry. It’s hers, after all.

Please talk to me. There’s no easy way to lose a friend, but sometimes shared stories help.

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Sometimes life demands cookies

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Last week I mourned. I took time out to be happy on Wednesday, when Argos and I drove Cojak to his new family in Seattle, but made up for it on Thursday by refusing in any way celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday I despise despite quite liking turkey, candied yams and green been casserole. Usually I avoid it by sending the Hubbit to visit his sister, but this year that wasn’t an option, so instead I channeled the Mean Wife and abandoned my plan for a feast, and the Hubbit had to fry up a pathetic little piece of ham for himself and the Cool Dude. Friday was no better – I was sad and my face sprang a leak that I couldn’t stop up all day.

Clearly drastic measures were necessary. So I invited 15 people to a cookie party.

A cookie party is a simple and wondrous concept. You invite everyone you know who has an oven to bring 6 dozen cookies to your house.  You then ply them with delectable comestibles and let them entertain you with their conversational brilliance. (Note: Any lack of conversational brilliance is your fault. Bring out another bottle.) When you’ve had enough and want them to leave, you do arithmetic. For instance, if eight people have each brought 72 cookies, 72/8=9, therefore everyone gets to take nine cookies off each platter. Invariably people bring extra, and those are yours – the spoils – and while you can share them if you want to they’re probably better used to distract Hubbits while you hide your stash. And that’s it! For the rest of the year, people will trumpet your name as the hostess who sent them home from a great party with 6 dozen assorted home-baked cookies.

Anyway, having invited a hungry horde to descend upon my humble and chronically untidy abode, of course I then I had to clean my house. And also bake a whole lot of stuff. I thought of canceling the party, but that would have been just too feeble – plus I kept getting texts from happy wannabe cookie-eaters about how their individual baking efforts were going.

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I was going to show you some before and after pictures of my kitchen, but really, why would I do that to you? Or to myself? This photograph of Cairo’s butt, from the perspective of my early morning pillow, pretty much says it all.

So I hurled together a double batch of Refrigerator Cookies, as well as a cheesecake and a malva pudding. Other people brought more goodies, so I canceled my plan to make Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake, but you really should try it – it’s wonderful! The end result was good and a vast amount of sugar was consumed by all. And since I couldn’t invite the denizens of the blogoverse to share, I figured I’d at least pass along a few recipes. You still have time to organize your own cookie party in plenty of time for Christmas!

Refrigerator Cookies

Fridge biscuits – aka “Refrigerator Cookies” for my American friends, who have given the humble biscuit a strange and perverted meaning involving gravy – were one of my Marmeee’s standbys. The dough is easy to make, you chill it for half an hour, and then you roll it out into sausages, which you wrap in wax paper and store in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to slice and bake them. The only downside to this is the cookie dough is irresistible, so if you’re planning to hold them for long, make extra. And then, damage control: store them where no one but you will see them.

The basic recipe isn’t wildly exciting, but it is incredibly forgiving and permits many complex variations on its simple theme. An option that kids love is to make two separate batches, one chocolate and one vanilla. You can then roll them out flat and lay one on top of the other before rolling them up into sausages, as described in the recipe. The end result is either a spiral pattern or Rorschach cookies – and which you choose will tell us much about who you are in those deep parts of you that cookies don’t go. For this year’s cookie party I made one batch of chocolate and ginger (I replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder, and added several generous spoons of ground ginger) and another batch with chocolate chips and chopped walnuts (I just made up a batch of plain dough and then, using my hands, squeezed and mixed in as much chopped nuts and chocolate chips as I thought it would hold). You could also add raisins, or lemon or orange rind and juice (plus a bit extra flour), or nutmeg and raisins, or cranberries – just have fun with it!

I roll up my sausages so that they’re about 1 1/4  inches (just over 3 cm) in diameter, and I slice them about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. Based on those measurements, a single batch will make about 4 dozen cookies.

8 oz butter
13 oz sugar
3 eggs
3 ml vanilla essence
17 oz flour
3 ml salt
3 ml baking powder
3 ml baking soda

  • Cream butter and add sugar, creaming well.
  • Add eggs and vanilla essence and beat well.
  • Sift flour with salt, baking powder and baking soda, and add to mixture.
  • Chill until stiff enough to handle.
  • Form into rolls, wrap in wax paper, and store in fridge.
  • When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 340ºF.
  • Cut slices and place on greased baking tray, spaced to allow them to spread, in center of oven until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. (Time depends on how thick you slice them. I cut mine about a half inch thick and they were done in 12 minutes in a convection oven.)
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Argos thought I should bake a pumpkin pie, and even went out into the yard to find the necessary pumpkin, but that is something I would never do … so this picture is for the self-proclaimed Queen of All Things Holiday, including pumpkin pie.

Easy Baked Cheesecake

This is a good cheesecake recipe, but it does present a few challenges. First, it’s important not to over-bake it. Remember that it will continue cooking after you take it out of the oven. I’m still experimenting with how to get a firm but soft filling, and I imagine you’ll need to do your own experimenting depending on your altitude, your oven, and your preferences.

Second, I’d like a stronger hint of lemon than I managed this time. A “drop” of lemon juice doesn’t really cut it; I think next time I’ll skip the vanilla and add a “dollop” of lemon or lime juice … and maybe I’ll stir in some lemon or lime zest while I’m at it.

Lastly, although it tastes wonderful it doesn’t look that pretty. In my experience the topping tends to crack. So plan on slathering the top with whipped cream!

Base

1-2 pkts of graham crackers or tennis biscuits, crushed
8 oz butter, melted

  • Mix, making sure the crackers are saturated but all the butter has been absorbed.
  • Press down onto base of 8×8″ pie plate.
  • Refrigerate until the butter sets.

Filling

18 oz cream cheese
10 Tbsp sugar
Drop of vanilla essence
Drop of lemon juice
3 eggs
2 Tbsp flour

  • Preheat oven to 390 ºF.
  • Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice until they’re smooth.
  • Add eggs and flour and mix well.
  • Pour over base.
  • Bake 35 minutes until just turning brown round the edges, and remove from oven.

Topping

9 oz sour cream
Splash lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar

  • Mix well.
  • Pour over hot cake, and return to oven for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve chilled with whipped cream.

 

When rescue fails

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Last week a thing happened, and I feel.

The problem with words is, we talk too much. They get overused and shabby, and when you really need them to say something they’re worn out and not up to the job.

But something happened, and I must tell, and words are what I have.

Where to begin? I’ll start with this text from the Hubbit, received while I was at a writer’s conference in Seattle in September. That’s as good a place as any.

“Scarlett died unknown causes. Suspect the food as several dogs don’t wanna eat it. Am buying new food.”

There was also a photograph. If I hadn’t read the text first I’d have thought she was sleeping.

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Scarlett – what she really looked like.

Scarlett was one of our rescues … I’ve told you I rescue dogs, right? Kuja and I started a small group last year. So far we’ve rehomed around 75 dogs and 30 cats, and also helped owned pets that needed vet care, food, and so on. Anyway, Scarlett was a beauty. Her mother was a Belgian Malinois, daddy was a German Shepherd / Husky cross. She was the last pup left from an accidental litter, and when she came to me she was around eight months old and still didn’t have a name. Her people hadn’t been cruel to her, but they’d never wanted her, and it showed. She was pretty shut down, and I figured she’d be a good project for Peter Pan.

I’ve mentioned Peter Pan but never explained his place in the Took menage. He showed up several years ago with a teenage girl we knew. They pitched a tent in the backyard and all was roses for a day or two, then early one morning I saw her spinning her wheels as she roared down our driveway, and I went outside to find him forlornly folding his tent. That’s when I learned he was homeless. He was just a boy – 22 years old, and had spent the years since he aged out of the foster system couch-surfing and drifting back and forth across the country.

Well, he stayed for a few days, which turned into weeks, then months, until he was ready to move on in spring of the following year. I was sorry to see him go and missed him – both the help around our farmlet and the laughs. He’s high a lot, which makes him giggly; this annoys the Hubbit, who is sternly anti-weed, but amuses me. He showed up again a few months ago – I told you how happy I was to see him. Anyway, he took his puppy training responsibilities seriously. Scarlett didn’t warm to him – she was a shy pup, easily scared – but I kept encouraging and advising him, and he kept her with him all day as he went about his work on the farm.

Then we took in Cairo, a a gangly, goofy Malinois pup produced by a backyard breeder who sold him then wouldn’t take him back when the buyer changed his mind. (Mals are like velociraptors – not for the fainthearted.)

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I already had my hands full with our other foster, Cojak, a German Shepherd designated “dangerous” that I’ve been rehabilitating. But it was no problem – it’s as easy to play with two puppies as one, and I hoped Cairo would bring Scarlett out of her shell. Peter Pan started going around the farm with two puppies prancing around him. He got less farm work done but I was good with that; the dogs were more important.

It saddened me that that none of the dogs really liked Peter Pan. He tried so hard to win them over, coaxing and loving on them … I felt bad for him. It didn’t help that Cairo got banged up in an encounter with one of the cows when he was out in the pasture with Peter Pan and got too close to her calf, and also both pups got badly stung by yellow-jackets while out in the shop with him. They were miserable, with their swollen faces and crusty, oozing sores, and they clearly blamed him for the hurt. I kept reassuring him and offering advice – “Don’t force it – let him choose to come to you and then reward him” … “Don’t try to bribe them; just let them know you keep treats in your pockets, and wait for them to come and ask” … “Give her space – she’ll come to you when she’s ready”. My advice was good – it worked. Puppies love treats.

Then it was September, and the conference, and before I could go I had to process a pile of adoption applications for a commotion of chihuahuas we’d rescued from a hoarding situation. So I was distracted, and when Peter Pan mentioned that some of the dogs were off their food I didn’t pay attention.

By the time I received the Hubbit’s text he’d already buried her, and he flatly refused to dig her up again for a necropsy. (Yeah, I’m that wife. But I was right this time.) Peter Pan had found her just before she died, and when I spoke with him over the phone he sounded devastated. Cairo was also sick; they rushed him to the vet, where he went onto a drip and had a bazillion tests, all of which came back looking scary but inconclusive. We sent the food off to a lab to be tested, and I fantasized angrily about the costly vengeance I would wreak upon the manufacturer … but then those results came back negative.

Cairo had a series of follow-up visits with the vet, but remained a sad, sore, floppy puppy. X-rays revealed two broken ribs and a cracked vertebra – an ugly shock; my cows aren’t friendly but they’re not mean – it didn’t make sense that she’d hurt him that badly. The vet prescribed crate rest and various medications, but there was a grim set to her jaw, a look in her eye that told me that, after more than ten years of taking my dogs to her, I had been judged and found wanting.

Cairo’s misadventures continued. He snapped his lower left canine, revealing raw nerves, and developed a hematoma on his left ear. I didn’t know how – snagged the tooth trying to break out of his wire crate? Hooked it in a bone and yanked it out with excessive force? (Everything a Malinois does involves excessive force.) Smacked the ear against something while playing too hard during one of his brief bouts of normal Malinois energy? It was strange and frustrating, but a broken tooth and a hematoma could be identified, diagnosed and fixed. My attention was consumed by more bewildering questions.

The vet noticed that he “walked funny”. “There’s something else going on with this dog,” she muttered. Could he have panosteitis? His face was still swollen, the lesions on his nose weren’t healing properly, and the lymph nodes in his throat were swollen. Could it be juvenile cellulitis? But when I tried to discuss it with her she wouldn’t quite meet my eye. She suggested we hand him off to another, bigger, wealthier rescue, because we’d already run up a sizable bill, we couldn’t afford all the diagnostics she wanted to do, and she wasn’t offering any more discounts.

Back home the other dogs were doing well on their new kibble but Cairo wouldn’t eat, so I started cooking for him – elk, home-raised eggs and veggies, home-made bone broth. He began to get better. I thought gentle exercise might help, so once again he was out with Peter Pan as he worked around our farmlet.

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Destra

Then Destra collapsed. Destra is my girl – my first Malinois – an 11-year-old I’ve had since she was a puppy and came to us to recover from the injury that eventually cost her a hind leg. She has an inoperable thyroid tumor wrapped around her throat, so we’ve known for a while her time was limited. She threw up everything in her gut, but once that was done she wasn’t in distress. She just wanted to sleep, wouldn’t eat, and couldn’t really walk. I googled “how to tell my dog is dying”, and all the symptoms checked out. So I made her comfortable, kept her company, and left the care of the other dogs to Peter Pan. Eventually I snugged her up to a hot pillow and went to bed, expecting her to be gone by morning.

She wasn’t. When I sat up in bed and looked at her, she was sitting up and looking at me, and she made it clear that getting her outside to do her business was my most urgent priority. (She didn’t like to be carried but looked very regal in a wheelbarrow lined with blankets.) By the next day she was moving under her own power. I started feeding her the same food as Cairo, and she quickly recovered.

Reading over this I see that I’ve left out so much – but it’s already too long. I just don’t have the space to tell you about the cat Peter Pan found lying dead in the south pasture, or the three perfectly healthy hens that dropped dead without warning. I don’t know if it’s relevant that we brought home a Chihuahua mama and four puppies born by emergency c-section and two of the babies died. One was the runt but the other … I was sure he’d make it. But neonates die, after all – especially after a too long labor, when their mama is still exhausted and too stoned to keep them under the heat lamp.

And then there was Argos. I told you what happened to him. He survived that first night. A test for toxoplasmosis came back negative. The leptospirosis test needs to be confirmed but is a probable negative. Yesterday’s follow-up with the eye specialist revealed that he’s doing well. His eyes may recover fully, but if they don’t … well, he’s a Malinois; he’ll figure it out. Only it makes me crazy that we have no idea what happened to him. We can run test after test, we can speculate about trauma, but we can’t know.

And that’s true for this whole horrible story. We can add 2+2 and pick a number. We can speculate, extrapolate, assume. But there’s not a lot we can know.

Yes, okay … I skipped over the thing that happened last week. Fine. Let’s end this.

I was out, and the Hubbit called and told me to get my ass back home because he’d just caught P beating Cairo. I passed P on the way home and my foot lifted reflexively from the accelerator. He looked so lonely, such a gangly, lost boy walking an empty road on a gray day. “I can take him into town, or to a friend – at any rate, someplace warm,” I thought. “We can talk in the car. There has to be an explanation.”

But then I let my foot drop back onto the accelerator pedal, because the truth is we’d started to wonder about him before that day. The Hubbit had never trusted him but held his peace until I confessed my fears. Then we’d found a private place and prayed together: “Lord, please reveal the truth, and give us the wisdom to know what to do.” We’d borrowed a motion-activated infrared camera and hoped to borrow more, so we could monitor the house and workshop. I’d begun to watch him more closely with the dogs, intervening when they didn’t want to go with him, feeding them myself rather than asking him to do it. I told Kuja, “It feels like we’re cursed. Like there’s something evil loose on our property. And really I’d rather encounter some Halloween-style ghost or ghoul than…” I didn’t want to say it, but she knew. And she knows one doesn’t abandon someone, whether they have four legs or two, without a clear and certain reason.

So anyway, the Hubbit and the Cool Dude walked into the house and heard Cairo screaming. They rushed to him and found that P had somehow folded himself inside the big wire crate to get at the puppy, who was crammed up against the far end. P was stomping Cairo with his army boots. He scrambled out, made some asinine excuse about Cairo having pooped in his crate (there was no poop, and anyway, what the fuck?)

That was five days ago. Since then, I’ve taken over most of P’s chores. One of them was to put out food and water for the invisible barn cats and clean their litter box. I find they’ve gone from being invisible to not there at all. The food and water I put out is untouched, the litter box unused, and mice scurry boldly all over the shop.

On the other hand, Cairo has gone from being a sad, listless puppy to a wonderful lunatic, leaving a wake of destruction wherever he goes.

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Cairo. This is from a couple months ago, before he got sick. In fact I think it was taken just a day or two before the horrors began with the wasps. Can you imagine hurting this?

So that’s what happened, and I feel ashamed that I didn’t pay attention when Cairo and Scarlett tried to tell me they weren’t safe. I feel stupid that I was so slow to figure it out. I feel betrayed. Sickened. Abused. Disillusioned. Angry.

I think of the lost boy that I thought I knew, that I thought I could trust, that I thought I could rescue, and I feel bereaved.

Let’s talk. Have you ever trusted someone, and thought you and they were walking the same trail, only to realize the person you trusted may never have existed outside your imagination?

Also goats and cows

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If you follow Rarasaur (and you really should) you will find that sometimes she takes hold of your brain and turns it upside down like a pocket in a washing machine, and extraordinary things fall out. This is what fell out of my brain this evening.

I have never milked a cow. A friend, then a neighbor, tried to teach me to milk a goat, and she gave me goats milk that was delicious to drink and made wonderful soft cheese. The Hubbit and I were just just a few years into farming. All things seemed possible. So I decided I needed goats of my own.

Then one day the Hubbit saw two nannies on Craigslist who had been pets for a few years and were being given away for free. They had never been bred, or milked, and we found out after we brought them home that they weren’t really that accustomed to being pets either. I liked them, though, and I named the Saanen-cross Mary, and the La Mancha became Dulcinea.

This is a working farm, and everything is supposed to earn its keep. That is The Rule, as laid down by the Hubbit. (It doesn’t apply to my old horse or any of the dogs, all of whom are more cuddly than useful, but he is adamant that the exceptions stop there. More-or-less. Sometimes The Rule doesn’t really apply to me either … but I’m also always up for a cuddle.) My point is, there is no room for virgin goats on a working farm. Our next door neighbors had a billy goat, so we invited him over for a visit.

Billy goats have a bad reputation for reeking and raunchiness, and it’s entirely justified. This billy, and apparently he wasn’t unusual, would make himself irresistible by sticking his head between his front legs and peeing on his face. I think he peed pure acid, because his face was covered with raw bald patches. If we went out into the pasture he would rush up and try to rub it on us – behavior we appreciated about as much as the ladies did. In the end, however, he did what he was there to do and went home, and in the fullness of time Dulcinea and Mary produced kids.

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Dulcinea and three brand new babies

There is nothing in the world as enchanting as a baby kid … except a whole lot of baby kids . I wish I had photographs, but this was before I had a phone with a camera on it, and anyway I’ve always been more interested in just looking than in recording. With baby kids in the pasture it’s about impossible to get anything done, they’re just so much fun. I set them up with logs and tires and random other odds and ends, and they spent their days leaping on, off and over. It’s the best part of having a farmlet!

Then, when they’re six months old, if you live on a working farm, your husband puts treats in a bucket and leads them around the side of the barn while you sit in a stall on a hay bale with your hands over your ears, and their mamas cry and cry, and you cry with them, and for days afterwards they glare at you with their yellow slotted eyes. Young goat is delicious, but it’s hard to eat; you feel like a cannibal.

This post started out being about milking, so, to get back to my point… The reason the nannies had to have kids was to bring in their milk. These were specifically milking breeds. You have to milk them and it’s better not to let them feed their babies; their udders get huge, and when kids nurse they slam their hard little heads into those udders and cause damage. But my two ladies would have nothing to do with my rude, clumsy fingers, and in the end they developed lumps of scar tissue from the relentless head-butting, which made it milking them properly impossible.

We tried keeping milk goats for two years, during which my neighbor continued to supply me with milk for cheese (so delicious! Such a frustrating reminder of my farmwife failings!) The first year my first Malinois, Destra, killed one of the babies, which was hugely traumatic. The second year she murdered two of them and I’d had enough. Kill day was just a couple weeks away and I couldn’t face inflicting more pain on my girls. (The cows really don’t care. They’ll stand and watch the kill guy do his work, and then mosey off with their latest calves to find another patch of sweet grass to munch on, and by the next day they’re not even calling the missing members of their herd. But goats are different. They know.)

I feel a bit weird writing about this, having sort of dedicated this post to Ra, who I think is vegetarian. But … well, this is what fell out of the pocket in my head, so I’ll just run with it, I guess.

Anyway, I found a goat rescue and we loaded up Mary, Dulcinea and their three remaining kids (the rescue later named them Wynken, Blynken and Nod and found them a job together as lawnmowers) and we drove in the truck for seven hours, across the Cascades and then up the I-5 almost as far as the Canadian border, and then five-and-a-half hours back home again. (We didn’t get lost on the way home.) The Hubbit has never quite forgiven me for this, and I will likely never get to have goats again, but that’s probably just as well. I have arthritis in my thumbs now, so milking is no longer possible.

Our cows don’t need to be milked. Their udders get large, but their calves can drink all the milk they produce and the head-butting doesn’t seem to bother them.

Rugen - Granny and Grandpa farm's house

Rugen, my grandparents’ farmhouse in the Northern Transvaal. I look at this picture and I can smell the Cobra wax polish that made her floors and furniture gleam. I can taste the pawpaws, blessed with the last coolness of the early morning. My grandmother kept peacocks and I loved to collect their tail feathers, but she would never have them in her house; she said they were unlucky.

When  I was a child my grandparents had a cattle farm in the Northern Transvaal in South Africa. They raised mainly beef cattle, but they had a few cows for milk. When we visited I went every morning to the milking shed, and then I followed the buckets of milk to the room with the cream separator. I had my little tin mug and I was allowed to hold it under the spout where the warm milk foamed out, and whenever no one was looking I’d stick it under the spout to steal the thick yellow cream.

Then my grandfather would take me out into the orchard and we’d pick a few pawpaws for breakfast. My grandmother would slice them and clean out the shiny black wet bitter-tasting seeds, and after we’d eaten our pawpaw she’d dish up big bowls of hot oatmeal or mieliemeal porridge and sprinkle on a thick crust of sugar, and I was allowed to pour on as much cream as I wanted.

Let’s talk. Have you ever milked anything? Or drunk fresh cream? What would fall out of the pockets in your head if I turned you upside down?

Night watch

Standard

It’s nearly 5.00AM. I’ve just wakened Argos. In 15 minutes I’ll rouse him again, and again 15 minutes after that, and again, until the Hubbit wakes and takes over for a while so I can sleep. Argos is irritated by this. He grumbled at me the last time I woke him, 15 minutes ago, when I stroked him and called him a good boy. He hurts and he’s tired and he just wants to sleep, but the vet said he might have a concussion and can’t be left to sleep for 24 hours.

It might not be a concussion. We’re not sure what it is – whether he ingested or inhaled something toxic, or ran into something spiky, or stuck his head into a bush or a hole and got clawed by something – we just don’t know. But the vet thinks most of the signs, although confusing, point to a head injury, so that’s what we’re going with, for now.

Here’s what happened. I was sitting at my computer, working my way through Trevor Noah Steven Colbert Seth Meyers interspersed with random actual fake news bits and also dog rescue stories, because sometimes you just have to have a happy ending…

…and Peter Pan, who won’t try to talk to me when I’m wearing headphones, put a scrap of paper on my keyboard.

PP's note

“Argos is running into things. I just noticed this 5 minutes ago. Not sure what’s wrong. I just saw him do this as I went outside for my little walk.”

I ran outside and found Argos cowering on the edge of the veranda, an embarrassed look on his face, his eyes swollen and bloody.

The vet I trust wasn’t answering her phone, so I raced to the emergency clinic. His eyes are scratched and bleeding, with abrasions and puncture wounds in the inner eyelids. He has a puncture wound right in the middle of his forehead, but no other bites or scratches anywhere. He is blind. His blood pressure was high, his heart rate was slow and irregular, and he is still lethargic.

The very young vet was baffled. She had never seen anything like it. (There are probably quite a few things she has never seen anything like. She is really very young – not just by comparison with me. It terrified me that she and her array of beeping machines was all there was between us and an intolerable outcome.)

She flushed out his eyes, treated him for inflammation and pain, put him on an IV drip and ran blood work, then disappeared for a long time. After a while I asked whether he was coming back, and a tech told me she was “doing research”. This didn’t entirely reassure me.

And it didn’t help. When she reemerged she still didn’t know what was wrong with him. I called home and demanded that the Hubbit haul Peter Pan out of his shower to answer questions. That’s when Peter Pan mentioned that Argos had been hassling the cattle and Vos, my big old horse. He might have been inside the corral with them. (I have no idea how he gets into the corral, but he does – and no amount of fence-fixing stops him. He’ll go for a little bit of forever without bothering them, and then he remembers How Much FUN It Is, and he notices that my attention is Elsewhere, and he figures out or creates another way through the fence.) Anyway, I passed the information on to the vet, who decided he’d been kicked in the head. She wanted to do x-rays but I said no, ignoring her disapproval, hammering down my guilt, because there’s not a lot we can do about a bad non-human head injury in this town over a weekend (specialist care is at the vet school a couple hours drive away), and $350 was too high a price to satisfy her curiosity. I said we’d simply assume he was concussed and proceed accordingly.

Then I turned down her invitation to keep him under observation. More hundreds of dollars that we don’t have, and for what? He wouldn’t tell her if he felt worse or different. I brought him home, where he belongs. He followed his nose unhesitatingly from the car to the front door and for a moment I thought he was okay after all, but then he tried to go onto the grass to pee and fell off the veranda. He still can’t see.

It’s getting harder to wake him. Last time I called him several times, then petted him, and finally took his collar and shook him before he raised his head, searching for me in the darkness of my brightly lit office. (It’s possible that he’s ignoring me; he does that, sometimes. That’s the hope I’m hanging onto.)

The vet said if it was a bad head injury, he might become increasingly disoriented, even have seizures. He might never regain his sight. He might die.

I’m pinning my hope on the fact that he’s too darn stubborn to quit.

He’s loud and pushy and he won’t listen to anyone who isn’t me. He’s covered with scars because he won’t quit challenging the other dogs – he thinks it’s all fun, a game, getting up close and screaming and whacking them with a toy or body slamming them until they can’t stand it any more and try to rip his head off. If he gets out when the Hubbit is on the tractor he screams with excitement and bites the tires (and then I get mad at the Hubbit for not bringing him back inside, because if he managed to sink his teeth into the rubber and the tire kept rolling it could break his neck), and if we take too long driving through the gate he bites the front of the car (he’s broken his teeth mangling the number plate ). He’s mean to the Hubbit’s little princesses and ignores the chickens right up until I decide I can trust him (I can’t) and he won’t-won’t-won’t take his stare off the cat. He sneaks onto our bed when we’re asleep, and spreads out and makes himself heavy until I wake with a cramp all the way from hip to toes. When he’s outside and wants in, he stands up and hammers so hard on the french door and windows with his scimitar toenails that he’s scratched the glass. When he’s inside, sometimes he covers my head with kisses to let me know he wants out … and sometimes he just pees on the furniture.

He really is an asshole, and he’s a lunatic, a terror, a deranged genius, and the Hubbit can barely stand him.

He’s my ally. My comrade. My first defence against the Black Dog. Life without him is inconceivable.

And he’s not a quitter.

He’s not a quitter.

He won’t quit.

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Let’s talk. Whom do you love that makes you crazy, makes you laugh, and keeps you focused on what matters? Have you ever been sick at heart at the thought you might lose them?