Tag Archives: animal rescue

The pooping peacock

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I haven’t had a lot of sleep just lately, because I’ve been stressing over my cows. We have three, and until recently they were all pregnant. We now have two cows, two babies … and one cow who still hasn’t bloody popped … so sleep continues to elude.

You have no idea how many things can go wrong during cow childbirth. And the longer I have to wait, the more I google, and the more I google, the more convinced I am that, sooner or later, I’m going to be up to my armpit in a cow’s vagina, wondering what the hell to do next. And then – I know this will happen because I have been present at a few calvings by now – the cow will poop on my head.

When this happens I will tell you all about it, assuming I survive, but for now I want to share something that gave me my first belly laugh of spring: a WhatsApp message from my niece, the intrepid Princess Swan, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

And so the adventure goes: I am sitting in reception and I get a call from one of our boardrooms. Grace, one of our cleaners, screams, “SWAN! COME HERE!”  I run up the stairs and see, in the passage, a magnificent beast. 

A peacock.

And that peacock had shat everywhere.

How did it get inside? you may ask. It came from the roof, is our only guess. Swaggered down the stairs and into our lives.

Courtney's peacock.jpg

Peacock, looking a little ruffled

I call Free Me, an organization that rescues birds. (I have called them in the past with dying baby birds and they always come get them and make sure they survive.) But a peacock is not an indigenous bird, therefore they can’t help. They tell me to call the bird vet in Bryanston.

The vet is more than willing to take him in until the owner comes looking. Good – problem solved … almost! “How do you catch it?” I ask.

“Oh, simple. You merely put a towel over its head and it will sit down and calm down.”

Oh, if it were only that simple. Reuben, our IT guy, turns out to be not very good at this. He doesn’t want to get too close, and the towel keeps missing the peacock, which starts to get flustered. There is poop. And feathers. Eventually I, being an animal whisperer, intervene. I take the towel from Reuben and gently drop it over the peacock’s head. The peacock promptly panics.

But only for a minute. I guess the vet people know their stuff, because he does calm down, and I pick him up and cradle him like a baby. “Now what?” I ask Dalize, my center manager.

“We take him home,” she responds. But … where is home? We call around and learn he lives at the British International College just down the road. Dalize and I hop into her car. I am still holding the bird. For some reason no one else seems to want to have anything to do with it.

When we arrive, Dalize steps out of the car and walks to the security guards’ booth near the gate. “We have your bird,” she says.

Puzzled look. “You have our bird?”

“Yes, we have your bird.”

“Where is our bird?”

“Your bird is in the car.”

I get out of the car, still cradling this peacock wrapped in a towel like a newborn, and place him on the grass. Immediately about fifty kids run up, screaming, “Gerald! They rescued Gerald!!” Apparently Gerald has been missing for weeks.

Back at the office I run straight for the bathroom, because I have poop aaaallll over me.

So that is what happened to me this morning. What’s new with you?

After reading about Princess Swan’s adventure with the pooping peacock, my tribulations with the popping (and non-popping) cows pale into insignificance. I am left with two questions – and these may be among the Great Questions Of Life:

  1. Why do all true animal stories essentially revolve around poop?
  2. Who the heck names a peacock “Gerald”?

So what do you think? And what’s new with you?

When your best is not enough

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Jane

Jane

Himself and I spent most of yesterday driving around 300 miles to help a scrap of a dog get home. We were just one small part of a big effort. To get Jane from Denver, Colorado to Spokane, Washington involved 14 drivers working in relay, after hours of intensive work by the coordinator who put the project together.

It feels pretty special to be part of something like that. Yes, you can argue, “Why put so much effort into one puppy when there are so many in desperate need?” And yes, maybe, differently managed, that same amount of human love, time and energy, not to mention the cost of the gas alone, could have been directed into saving a whole lot of dogs – or whales – or children.

I heard the same argument back when I ran a mission school in South Africa. I often asked people I met to make a small donation, or maybe sponsor just one child. The cost of sponsorship was equivalent to maybe one fast food meal for four, once a month. Several times wealthy people, who routinely spent more on a single dinner out than the families I served spent on a month of eating, replied, “But what’s the point? There are so many kids like that – I can’t change anything.”

The argument is valid, but it misses the point completely. We can’t change the whole world, but anyone can touch a life. As long as you stay safely outside the war zone of life, you can think in abstract terms and pray for world peace and argue on Facebook about which political party “cares” more. But, with heartfelt apologies to the Democrats and Republicans out there, no government program will magic away poverty, and nor will setting the market free enable everyone to pursue life, liberty or happiness. There is no global solution to the problem of human failure and imperfection.

If you want the world to be better, you have to make that happen yourself, one act of kindness at a time. And I honestly believe it doesn’t matter whether you direct your kindness toward a kid or a puppy or [Insert Cause Here]. Any act – large or small – that adds to the sum total of happiness, peace and beauty in the world is worthwhile. One of the best things to happen to me this year was when I was having a rough day, dealing with physical pain and a whole lot of sadness, and the guy ahead of me in the Dutch Brothers drive-through paid for my coffee. He didn’t save the world or change my life, but he transformed that one day for me, and while he has certainly forgotten the few dollars it cost him, I still remember how good that coffee tasted, and how it warmed my heart.

Sometimes a few dollars, or a bit of time, is all it takes. Sometimes it’s more about a change of attitude. Sometimes you get to take on something big.

Sometimes it costs a whole lot more than you bargained for. I have been trying for months to write about what it was like to create a dog rescue organization, and pour everything I had into running it, and finally – just as I broke beyond repair under the strain – to hand it off to people I trusted, and then to find that my trust had been misplaced. But writing about that kept leading to what it felt like to start a school out of nothing but a gang of children, and pour everything I had into running it, and finally to break when people I trusted turned against me. I wanted to write about what it’s like for your best never to be enough, about the pain of broken trust and shattered dreams, and also about the soul-scorch of burnout.

Here’s the thing about burnout: you hold it at bay for as long as you can, because the need – whatever it is – is unrelenting. You feel the heat, you know you won’t hold out forever, but you keep going in an effort to save what you can while you can. When you finally quit, you think that at last you’re free. That’s when you find out that all that’s been holding you together is the purpose that has also been devouring you from the inside out. Rid yourself of the purpose, and whatever is left collapses upon itself.

So I wanted to write about that, but I couldn’t figure out how to do so without sounding like I was whining or – worse – looking for a pat on the head. And while that might have been the case a year or even six months ago, whines and pats are irrelevant now that I’m through the pain.

I’ve just realized that what I want to write about is the fact that sometimes the cost of kindness is so high it seems to bankrupt you – but it’s still worth it.

Don’t get me wrong: it sucks when you take on something too big, and it eats you alive and hacks you up and leaves the remnants lying in the dirt. Burnout sucks, and being disappointed or betrayed or blamed sucks, and feeling guilty and ashamed because you know your personal flaws contributed to the crash-and-burn sucks most of all.

But it doesn’t suck enough not to risk it. I believe the key to riches is to give fearlessly whenever you see a need and have the capacity to respond, no matter how little you’re able to give. A small act of kindness may be to humanity like the perfectly timed flap of a butterfly’s wing – and even if it isn’t, it will still give wings to that one moment. And if you are blessed to have the freedom and opportunity to pour yourself out, do so with a lavish hand – because that may indeed change a small corner of the world, and it will certainly transform you.

The truth – my post-burnout truth – is that there are a whole lot of alive-minded young people out there whose kids call me granny. One of them, a girl who grew up in unimaginable poverty, is a qualified and highly paid engineer who now helps support my parents. Another is a musician, some are teachers, a few are entrepreneurs. One is a single mom who occasionally needs help with her kids’ school expenses. Also, hundreds of dogs and people are happy because we brought them together, and the rescue Himself and I started is still the best in our town and doing just fine without us.

Sometimes your best just is not enough, and then failure or burnout may strike with all the devastating effect of a forest fire. But time passes, you begin to heal, and the desire to re-engage rises like sap in a young tree. And then you take a deep breath, and you do the next best thing. Maybe you can’t plunge in too deep, because you’ve grown wary and the burns still hurt. But you can buy one child a study aid, you can help out one cash-strapped shopper at the till, you can give one puppy a ride home.

Swamped

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So there I sat, in the middle of a sweet green meadow separating the off-ramp I wasn’t supposed to take from the road I wanted to be on, hubcap deep in swamp.

I did get out of my car and squish around a bit and take pictures with my cell phone, but this one from Fotolia looks more dramatic.

I did get out of my car and squish around a bit and take pictures with my cell phone, but this one from Fotolia looks more interesting. In the interests of accuracy, I should mention that I don’t drive a 4×4. Also, I had the good common sense not to get the mud quite this churned up.

If this had happened in my hometown, within minutes pickups would have clustered like flies, disgorging big-bellied guys with beards and NRA caps (or, possibly, their equally capable wimmin), and they’d have guffawed a bit and called me ma’am and hooked up chains and popped me out of there in no time. Of course, in my hometown on the dry east side of Washington State, we don’t have swamps lying around sneakily concealed under a layer of green. Here, if you need to pop across a highway median, you glance quickly around to check for inconvenient Highway Patrol officers and then you bebop across with a quick swing of the steering wheel, no problem.

I was not in my hometown. I was in Seattle. Well, Bellevue, if you can tell the difference. There are no pickups there, and nobody belongs to the NRA, and they don’t interrupt their commute to engage with beswamped and baffled strangers. I know this with no shadow of doubt because I sat in that field for nearly an hour, surrounded on all sides by rush hour traffic, so I had ample opportunity to ponder the differences between there and here.

Someone must eventually have called 911 – which it hadn’t occurred to me to do, because I was busy calling my few west-side friends in hopes of finding just one with a truck and/or manly man readily at hand, or at least a useful suggestion as regards a towing company. (These calls took a while because of all the laughing.) At any rate, a state patrol car pulled up and a sweet boy wearing a strangely flat, broad-brimmed hat ambled squishily across the swamp to ask me if I was okay. He seemed to be under the impression that I had collided with something and sailed violently off the road. (Folk in Seattle don’t have enough to occupy their imaginations during rush hour, apparently.) I had to explain that no, I had merely been attempting unobtrusively to sidestep an inconvenient traffic rule having to do with staying on the road.

“So you’re not hurt?” he said.

“Only my dignity,” I replied glumly. He thanked me for my honesty, took my license and registration, and squished back to his car.

I wondered whether telling the cop I was on an errand of mercy would make him more sympathetic. (There was a hound puppy in my back seat. The puppy had a broken leg. His owners had opted to have him euthanized rather than pay for surgery. The vet, who objects to killing healthy young dogs, had called me to ask if I knew who might help her find an alternative, and I’d found a rescue willing and able to save both the puppy and his leg … on the liberal, moneyed side of the state. Of course, it followed naturally that I got to drive the puppy to safety…)

The pathetic yodeler, whose relentless wailing was a big reason why I absolutely could not consider going back and around and in any way prolonging the trip.

The pathetic yodeler who was the cause of all the trouble.

I wondered whether it would be more effective to engage the patrolman’s sympathies for me, a woman old enough to be his beloved mother, lost and bewildered in foreign climes. (At the end of a long drive, heading straight into the setting sun, I’d had to go through all four loops of a cloverleaf interchange. Over and over again, my GPS told me to “take the right ramp”, and I obeyed until dizzy right up to the point that she told me to keep straight and I didn’t and I found myself headed back toward Spokane, and I just couldn’t stand the thought of driving back to the next interchange and turning round and returning along the packed highway and through the loops of the interchange and probably missing my turnoff all over again.)

The puppy, who had been singing his hound dog lament on and off since about the time we crossed the Cascades, started another aria. I wondered what the cop would do if I leaped from the car, tore off all my clothes, and ripped off the puppy’s head with my teeth, before plunging into the swamp and disappearing in a swirl of greasy bubbles. While I was still considering this option, he returned.

“I’ve called a tow truck,” he informed me.

“Are you going to fine me?” I asked, with a demeaningly pathetic quaver in my little-old-lady-puppy-saver voice. (Heck, yeah, I’ll demean myself to avoid another black mark on my car insurance!)

He chuckled kindly. “I think the cost of the tow will be penalty enough,” he said.

He was right.

I did think about a few other things while I was sitting there, in the blazing late afternoon sun, breathing swamp gas and traffic fumes and waiting for a tow truck while a hurting hound puppy made music behind my head. For example, I wondered what it said about my claims to feminism that the first thought to come to mind, after my car oozed to a stop, was, “Oh bugger … Himself is too far to call. Who’s going to rescue me now?”

And later, after sun and swamp gas had softened my brain a bit, I got to wondering how different my situation might be if, say, I’d been a buff young black man, instead of a fat useta-be-middle-aged white woman. If I’d been a muscular young man engaged in hauling that car out of the swamp by sheer brute force and testosterone at the time the state patrolman pulled up, I might have reacted a little differently to questioning by a slightly-built youth in a cute hat. And if, in addition to being muscular, young and male, I’d also been black, would that sweet boy in his hat have felt sufficiently threatened to shoot me?

Mostly, though, I thought about how completely screwed I will be in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Really, I’ll be meat in no time at all.

Probably not me.

Probably not me.

Is it just me, or do you also ponder strange and random things when sitting in the middle of a swamp? Have you ever been embarrassed by a sloppy failure to break the law?

The Day of the Chicken

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Yesterday ended with a chicken. I told you about her. To wrap up that story: she didn’t make it. I’m sad, of course – and became sadder when I saw my beautiful Mr. Roo calling and searching for her this morning. He knows one of his girls is missing, poor guy.

Mr Roo and his harem

Mr Roo and his harem

On the other hand, I did eat an omelet for breakfast this morning. How emotional can I get over the death of a creature whose unborn young I eat almost daily? Not very, to be honest! I love Mr. Roo, and I enjoy the kippies – watching them scratching in the dirt and crooning to each other is immeasurably soothing. I’m really happy that we are, at last, putting a dog-proof six-foot fence around our huge veggie garden (which contains the chicken run), because that will give them access to a much larger area for crooning, scratching and nibbling. But when it comes to deciding whom I’d rather cuddle – a chicken or a chicken-killing dog – I’m going to pick the dog every time.

So last night, after posting yesterday’s blog, I forgave Miss CeCe and let her crawl into her usual spot under the duvet. Snuggled up with her it dawned on me that yesterday began as well as ending with a chicken and a rescue dog, and I sleepily wondered whether there was some mystical connection between these two separate events.

The morning’s story started about a year ago, with a call from a vet who was poised to load up a big syringe of blue juice and inject it into a gorgeous German Shepherd pup. His name was Rip, and his owner had brought him in because he had killed a chicken. In our county that crime carries a death sentence.

A bit of history: Rip had been dumped out in the country on a cold day a few months previously. The people who picked him up didn’t actually need a puppy (contrary to popular belief, not every farm-dweller is in want of a dog) and they weren’t up for the hard work of training him – but he was a sweet, affectionate fluffball, and he needed a home, and they had room. So they kept him, and it was all happy-ever-after until the weather warmed up and their neighbor let his chickens out to roam.

None of these people had fences.

Fast forward through the inevitable, and there Rip was, happily washing the tears off Doctor A’s face while she tried to steady her hands enough to load the syringe. She couldn’t do it – it was just too wrong – so she called me.

I was in no shape to take in a wild child with a chicken habit. I had retired mere weeks before from running the dog rescue Himself and I established in 2008, and I was fully occupied in burning out like a Roman candle. On the other hand, saying no wasn’t an option, so we agreed to care for him for the few days the rescue needed to find a foster home. Problem solved – right?

Wrong. Some weeks later, a couple of sheriff’s deputies pulled up outside our house. They’d heard that we had a designated dangerous dog on our property. That’s right – the chicken-owner was making a case out of the issue, Rip’s previous owner was facing a fat fine for not having him euthanized – because, in terms of the county statutes, a dog that kills a chicken is automatically deemed dangerous.

Semi-random picture of the dangerous dog I keep on my desk.

Semi-random picture of the dangerous dog I keep on my desk.

Well, we told them he’d moved on and was in the care of a rescue that would rehabilitate him and keep him well away from chickens, and off they went. Until … a month or two later, when they returned and we did the same dance again. (Need I point out that their gas alone cost more than a replacement chicken?) And then a month or so later I received a summons to appear in court.

By that time, Rip was being fostered in a different state, and was on the point of being adopted to a home hundreds of miles away. I also had a file full of affidavits from the vet, a trainer, several fosters and my own self, attesting to the fundamental goodness of the dog, as well as my complete absence of personal responsibility for him in any capacity whatsoever. None of this made the smallest difference. A chicken was dead and, by golly, no matter what the cost (which I haven’t figured out, but this was one expensive chicken), they were determined to prosecute to the full extent of the law.

They just needed to figure out whom to prosecute … because everyone involved had complied with their demands. The chicken’s owner had been compensated, Rip’s original owner had been exonerated, and the rescue had removed the canine culprit from this jurisdiction. I was the sole itchy spot on the smooth skin of their butt cheeks. Because they were unable to articulate what they wanted me to do, I couldn’t comply. So they kept coming back, and the more I told them I didn’t own the dog, had never owned the dog, didn’t wish to own the dog, and didn’t even know where the damn dog was, the more determined they were to give the ghost of that chicken its day in court.

Eventually the new head of the rescue group and I met with the Assistant DA, who agreed to give Rip 12 month’s probation, subject to a bucket-load of terms and conditions. The probationary period ended yesterday, which is why I was seated in an otherwise empty courtroom shortly after the sun fumbled its way into the sky. Suddenly the doors slammed open. The judge marched in, her robes flapping like a crow’s wings, with the ADA scampering and chattering in her wake. “All riiiise,” intoned the person responsible for intoning. I was the only one there, apart from the legal folks, but I stuck my finger in my book and rose dutifully.

“Oh my goodness – I didn’t recognize you. You’ve changed your hair!” squeaked the ADA.

“Yes,” I agreed. “It’s been a while.”

The judge stared at me, stared at the ADA, and shook her head. “Case dismissed,” she said, flapped her wings, and left the courtroom.

The ADA assured me it was all over, but gave me no stamped or signed paperwork to that effect, so who knows. We’re short on criminals around here, apparently, and one must do something with those pesky Halls of Justice or the taxpayers get tetchy.

Or … do you think there might be more to this than over-heated bureaucracy? Could we, perhaps, all have been dancing to the inaudible piping of the chicken’s outraged ghost? Could the ghost have taken possession of a naughty mongrel (herself not much bigger than a chicken) in a final effort to have revenge? Could this, in fact, be more than a coincidence?

Nah, I don’t think so either – but, just in case, Argos and I have a date to take Miss Kippy up into the hills this afternoon and lay her in her final resting place. We’ll put her somewhere out of the way (but with a nice view of the river), where coyotes and crows can absorb her into their bodies and so end this unearthly cycle of events forever.

Something like that, anyway.

Well, yeah, we'll take a ball. We'll have some happies. Because life goes on, right?

Well, yeah, we’ll take a ball. We’ll have some happies. Because life goes on, right?

Modern magic

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I love living at a time, and in a place, where I just have to point my finger and KAZAM! – magic happens. Take this evening, for example. In fact, take just the last 15 minutes.

First, by way of context, a word picture. I am sitting at the dinner table, refusing to make eye contact with a deeply apologetic (if you’ll believe one wag of it, which I frankly don’t) small shithead mongrel. In the mudroom is a punctured hen, trembling and panting in a crate. I have cleaned her up and wrapped her in a warm towel, and she’s resting on a cushion of fresh hay. I think she will probably be dead by morning, and I’m very much inclined to insist that Himself put her out of her misery. Himself is very much inclined to “see if she makes it”. I lack the moral or intestinal fortitude to haul out an ax and Do The Deed myself. As the designated Mother Earth figure around here (you learn to make do with what you have, and I’m the only member of the household with both opposing thumbs and mammaries), it falls to me to ensure that any “making it” is achieved as effectively and with as little suffering as possible. “Fuck it,” I say in motherly tones, directing another unloving glare at the mongrel.

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CeCe the shithead mongrel chicken-chomper thinks that if she doesn’t look at me I can’t see her, and therefore I won’t be mad. She’s our current foster dog, and I’m thinking her forever family better not have chickens…

At that moment my glance falls upon my magic wand phone, and suddenly I know what I need to do. I point my finger and KAZAM! – there’s Google.

Right, yes, I know, most people would have thought of Google immediately – but I grew up in a different era, okay? I remember the day my parents bought a brand new, hot-off-the-press, late 60s edition set of Encyclopedia Britannica, from an actual human salesman who came to our home. They and he and 11-year-old I sat around the dinner table my great-uncle made (the very table that I now sit at, clear on the other side of the planet), and the salesman covered the table with brightly colored glossy brochures. They were full of snippets of information and they had an amazing shiny-glossy-paper smell, and I was only vaguely aware of the salesman periodically inviting my parents to notice how much their brilliant firstborn was enjoying the opportunity to LEARN. Then he went outside to his car, and came back in with a big box and a free bookcase. And inside that box, good friends, was all the knowledge in the world.

I loved those encyclopedias and spent hours browsing through them during the ensuing years, and I can tell you with no shadow of doubt that nowhere in the lengthy, comprehensive, very-small-print index was there a category for “how to treat an injured chicken”.

I started out to tell you about a 15 minute snippet of my day, and I seem somehow to have wandered more than 40 years off course. Let me get back to the point.

Via my phone, Google told me I could give the hen aspirin – five regular aspirins in a gallon of water. It told me how many milligrams of aspirin were in a regular aspirin (325). It told me how many ounces of water were in a gallon (128). My phone helped me calculate how much water I needed for one baby aspirin (about a cup). Then Google told me I could give the chicken sugar for shock, and how much (3 Tbsp per gallon of water), and also that I should flush out the wounds with hydrogen peroxide and cover them with Neosporin, and that I should continue to do this for several days, and that there was every chance she would survive. Google even provided numerous anecdotes from people whose chickens had survived an astonishing array of injuries, and it comforted me greatly to know that there are real live people out there who will put a splint on a chicken with a broken leg instead of … well, say for example, eating it.

I did everything Google and my phone told me to do, and tucked the hen back into bed, using the same phone to record the occasion. KAZAM! (Seriously, guys – pictures. Taken with a phone that fits inside my pocket. And the pictures – which are in full color – are already available to be shared … with you … wherever you live, anywhere in the world. Do you know how amazing this is? Or is the amazement limited to people whose first camera was a Box Brownie?)

Hurt hen

You can’t see it here, but she’s been well-basted with antibiotic ointment, as well as generously dosed with aspirin in sugar water.

Hurt hen

Tucked up for the night. I still don’t really expect her still to be with us tomorrow … but we’ll see. I’ve done the best I can. (Feel free to chip in here with advice, Mother Hen…)

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Argos would SO love to get inside the mudroom… and finish what CeCe started…

So is it just me, or are you also sometimes sideswiped with amazement at this brave new world we live in?