Tag Archives: life with animals

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.)

dog watching GIF

I already had my hands full with our other foster, Cojak, a German Shepherd with a dangerous dog label 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 was 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.

He failed to get better, and at some point he also broke his lower left canine. It just snapped, revealing raw nerves . I figured he must have got it caught in the wire crate (he sometimes worked at the gate to get it open) or maybe got it hooked in a bone and yanked it out with excessive force. (Everything a Malinois does involves excessive force.) He also had a large hematoma inside his left ear; he was on crate rest with leashed walks but with a Mal that doesn’t necessarily mean much – they have a way of breaking loose and playing hard. Not that he was doing much hard play, poor puppy – but what else could it be? Odd that the tooth and the hematoma happened at the same time, and were on the same side of his face, but … Well, at least a hematoma isn’t life-threatening, and when he was neutered we had the tooth removed – an easy fix. I just hope that as it heals his left ear will once again stand up properly.

Meanwhile 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 he 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 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. She knows one doesn’t just casually abandon someone, whether they have four legs or two.

Of course there was no ghost – just a changeling, a wicked sprite masquerading as a human boy.

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?

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 out what was happening. 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.
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?

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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

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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?

Skunked

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The problem with skunk spray is, once you have the smell of it in your nose, everything smells skunked.

Yeah … not so much about flowers.

Take this morning. Around 3.00AM Argos woke me by blowing in my ear. Usually he just stands next to my bed and s.t.a.r.e.s at me while breathing softly on my hand. He’s trained me well; even though I fully expect to sleep through the apocalypse, I faithfully stagger out of bed and let him out to do his thing while I bumble around in the dark until I find someplace appropriate to sit down and do mine. Then I let him back in and we go back to bed and the night continues as usual.

This morning, apparently, the need to go out was urgent, hence the ear treatment. And this time Flurry, the Hubbit’s English setter, went too. A few minutes later I was in mid-bumble when the Smell wafted through the house. No wonder they’d been in a hurry to get out. We had a visitor.

I said something profane (I’m trying not to say fuck in here because it’s tacky and unimaginative, so just apply the profanity of your choice – it’ll work fine) and rushed to open the door. Argos and Flurry rushed into the house and rushed around in circles, Argos shaking his head vigorously. I said another profanity (or maybe it was the same one) and grabbed him, and got some kind of oily substance all over my hand. I kicked him outside and grabbed Flurry. By now my nose was well and truly skunked and I had no idea whether or not she’d been sprayed. I didn’t feel any goop; however, full disclosure, it’s possible that some of the goop on my hand was transferred to her. Or maybe not. I still didn’t have my contact lenses in at that stage, and between skunk spray and three o’clock in the morning my senses may have been blunted.

This is my first actual encounter with a skunk, and I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do. However, I’d heard that tomato juice came into play when one was dealing with a skunked dog. We do have some tomato juice, but what was one to do with it? Pour it over the dog? Throw the can at the skunk? Add vodka and swallow?

Sometimes life demands a bloody Mary.

I woke the Hubbit, because this is what I do in moments of crisis. I didn’t like waking him, mind you – not because it bothers me to disturb his beauty sleep (which doesn’t work, by the way) but because I’m not speaking to him at the moment, owing to the fact that even the best of Hubbits is sometimes an asshole. That’s all I’m going to say about that; I provide the information purely for context – which in this case is that I was sufficiently discombobulated to swallow my pride and ask for help.

The Hubbit started rambling about hydrogen peroxide, so I went off to look for some. More context: about six weeks ago when I was frantically trying to finish my novel before the PNWA writers’ conference I realized that it was imperative that I reorganize all the pharmaceutical, toiletry and random shit supplies in the bathroom, so I emptied about half of them into boxes, which I dumped in the tub. I then realized that I was procrastinating, and went back to the book. So looking for hydrogen peroxide involved tipping out boxes and scrabbling through crap in the tub, while using profanities.

I found an old bottle that had about a half inch of very old (in other words no longer functional) hydrogen peroxide. While searching, it occurred to me that maybe I needed to empty the tub in order to wash Argos, and I was halfway through doing that when it occurred to me that one might not want skunk residue in one’s personal bathroom. So I went to ask the Hubbit, who was still rambling about hydrogen peroxide and was pissy about being interrupted. I explained for the second or third time that we didn’t have any profane hydrogen peroxide and what about tomato juice? He got more pissy and said the tomato juice thing was an old wive’s tail, and started reading from an internet source on his phone that explained scientifically how hydrogen peroxide worked and why tomato juice didn’t.

I headed out into the dark and windy predawn to find hydrogen peroxide. The Hubbit, ever helpful, texted me directions for how to use it when I had it, and went back to bed. I found some hydrogen peroxide at the little gas station store a few miles from our home, and bought up their entire stock. This is a country store; the assistant didn’t even blink … and as I was leaving, with a completely straight face, she wished me a lovely day.

Back home, I set myself up in the only outside place that wasn’t in the throes of a gale – the far side of our workshop. I mixed up the solution as directed and applied it generously to Argos, who explained that he didn’t like that and would prefer me to stop, while yanking my arm out of its socket. The instructions said to let it stand for ten minutes, so I waited for fifteen then dragged him out into the gale and profanely hosed him off. I stuck my nose up close … relief; he no longer smelled skunky.

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I can’t help it … I love this dog so dang much, I’ll forgive him anything!

We went back inside and … oh my word. Gahhh!

Flurry was on the bed, cuddling with her daddy, and – now that my nose had had a chance to recuperate – it was clear that while she didn’t get a direct hit, she definitely qualified as collateral damage. Well, she’s the Hubbit’s dog; he can deal with it. I don’t care any more. My home will forever more smell of skunk, but it doesn’t matter; my nose is now permanently disabled, which means I never again have to invite uninteresting people to dinner. (Interesting people, aka my kind, take the occasional whiff of skunkiness in stride.)

I’m going back to bed. You please have a lovely day on my behalf

Have you, or anyone near and/or dear to you, ever been skunked? Did the smell ever go away or did you happily adapt to life as a social pariah?

A man and a dog, on the road home

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I picked up a hitchhiker on my way home from the writer’s conference a week ago.

The way it happened was, I left the highway to buy gas, and on my way back to the highway I saw a dog lying just off the on-ramp. As my foot shifted to the brake I saw that someone was already there, so I thought, “Okay, not my problem.”

Bubba on the onramp

A dog, a backpack, and a highway.

I was halfway up the ramp before I heard that still, small voice that speaks to all of us, if only we listen. “Go back,” it said.

“What? I can’t reverse down an on-ramp!” I argued indignantly, but I was already braking. I know that voice. I don’t always like what it says, but I’ve learned to pay attention. I reversed down the on-ramp, and I didn’t hit anyone or go off the road or get fined.

When I was close to the dog, I stopped and honked my horn. The man kneeling next to it looked up, and jogged over to my car. In my rear view mirror I saw the dog raise its head, and then move to a more upright position. I realized it wasn’t hurt – it had just been sleeping … but I was there and the man was leaning to peer through my side window so I rolled it down.

“Is that dog with you?” I asked him. “Is it okay?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, and smiled. I glanced at my rear-view mirror. The dog – it looked like a pit bull – was watching us. It looked healthy, well-fed. I looked back at the man. He was dark, and had gray hair in a long braid down his back, and wore a red bandanna. Even with him outside the car I could tell he needed a shower, yet he looked … well, not clean, exactly, but put together, as though he’d taken some trouble. The air billowing in through the open window was hot and heavy, and I turned up the fan on my air conditioner.

That voice wasn’t saying anything. It didn’t need to; I knew what I had to do. I sighed. “You need a ride?” I asked.

His face split in a huge grin. “Yes ma’am!” he replied. “Are you going near Ellensburg?” I was going 100 miles beyond Ellensburg – further than he’d hoped to get that day. We stashed his backpack in the trunk, and the dog, Bubba, jumped into the back seat and settled down with a sigh.

He introduced himself – I’ll call him Cajun. I’ll pick up hitchhikers when the voice says it’s okay, but I don’t feel obligated to entertain them, so I told him I was in the middle of listening to the final book in the “Wayward Pines” trilogy and didn’t want to stop. I brought him up to speed on the story and we listened together, but every now and again he’d drop a comment, and I’d switch off the CD and we’d chat. That’s how I heard his story – in bits and pieces interspersed with the bloody destruction of the last humans on earth – until I decided his story was more interesting than the book.

He told me he was part Cajun, part Mexican, part African, and two parts Native American. He’s been a mechanic for Boeing and a Marine, and a street preacher to the poor. Now, he does construction work and roofing, and picks up odd jobs here and there when he needs to. He’s a musician and songwriter and has supported himself and Bubba more than once by playing on sidewalks and street corners. At the moment his guitar is in Idaho, but he played me one of his songs that he’d recorded on his tablet. The recording wasn’t good, and I really wished it was. That song sounded worth hearing.

His regular-people life fell apart around 2001. The Man kicked him in the ass, so he gave The Man the finger, acquired a backpack, and hit the road. Since then he’s lived on the streets and wandered the highways of the USA, trusting God to provide, which He does mainly through the kindness of strangers. A few years ago he picked up a job in Sedona, Arizona, and within a few weeks he’d saved enough to rent a home. That job was followed by a couple of others. Life was good. He celebrated Valentine’s Day in 2015 by visiting the local animal shelter, where he found Bubba, and since then they’ve been inseparable.

But things fell apart in Sedona too, and soon Cajun and Bubba were back on the road. I was puzzled that he gave up on a place where it seemed he’d been content. This is not a lazy or stupid or unskilled man. He likes a cold beer at each end of a hot day, but he seemed sober to me. I asked him what had happened and he didn’t want to go into detail, but he said, “I don’t define my work as who I am. My purpose is to live in poverty and share God’s love with the discarded people in this earth.”

He has a grown daughter whom he hasn’t seen for years. He had planned to connect with her when he passed through Seattle a couple days before I met him, but something went wrong and a payment he was counting on was delayed. He didn’t want to face her with empty pockets so he canceled, and now Seattle was behind him and she was pissed.

“You think she’d have cared that you were broke?” I asked.

“I wanted to at least take her to lunch,” he replied.

“You’re an idiot,” I informed him. “You should go back, or at least apologize.” (I am so good at telling other people how to run their lives!) I don’t know that he cared much what I thought – why should he? – but a bit later he was texting with her. He didn’t want to go back, though – he was focused on his next destination.

Dream home

When Cajun is surfing the net, imagining his dream home, this is the kind of picture he’s likely to save.

Before Seattle, on their way up the west coast, he and Bubba got a ride with a long-haul trucker, who told him all about the trucking life. So he was on his way to Salt Lake City, where he’s signed up for a training course with a trucking company. Not too far down the road he reckons he’ll be able to buy his own truck – apparently trucking companies contract with drivers and help them do that. He was excited at the prospect of having a real home, but one that wouldn’t involve staying put in the same place.

“Do you think of yourself as homeless?” I asked. I was trying to puzzle him out. He’d told me he could not “live the American life”. Some of the things he says sound as though he’s on the road by choice – a hobo rather than homeless. He says he has no regrets. But then he’ll say something else that aches with hurts and disappointments, both suffered and dealt out, and I wonder what he’d change, if he could.

“I can’t afford a home,” he said, and he sounded sad.

“So you’re not like Reacher – just choosing to live on your own terms?” I asked.

“Jack Reacher? Like in the movie?” He laughed. He liked that idea. He said he personally didn’t want a home, but he thought Bubba would like one, and that’s what mattered most.

Just east of the Cascades he asked for a restroom break, so I pulled over in Cle Elum. While he was taking care of himself and Bubba, I texted the Hubbit to let him know I might be bringing someone home for dinner. The way things work with the Hubbit and me is, we each make our own plans and the other accommodates, but each of us has veto power. So I waited an hour or so, until we were near the Tri-Cities, before I said, “Okay, you have three options. I can take the next exit and drop you in town – there’s a McDonald’s, Walmart, etc. Or I can take the exit after that one and drop you there; there’s nothing there but you say you do better getting rides from country people. Or you can come on home with me, and tomorrow morning I’ll drop you at the truck stop.”

His eyes lit up, then he looked worried. “But won’t your husband mind?” he asked.

“I texted him hours ago and he hasn’t said no. And he’s used to me picking up strays,” I said. Plus, if the Hubbit won’t remember to keep his phone with him and check for texts from his loving wife who is driving along a lonely highway through the barren wastes of Eastern Washington, that’s on him, right? “You’ll be welcome, so it’s up to you. It looks as though you could use a shower and a washing machine,” I added, ever tactful.

So he came home, and the dogs weren’t assholes when I introduced them to Bubba, and the Hubbit was surprised but welcoming. Well, resigned, anyway – and once Cajun had showered and dinner was on the table, the Hubbit discovered for himself that the company was good, as promised.

Cajun's feet

Cajun prefers his tent to a bedroom indoors.

Cajun didn’t want the spare bedroom. He pitched his tent under a tree in the back yard. The next day we offered him the option of staying on for a few days, helping out a little on the farm in return for his keep, and giving himself and Bubba a rest – but he was in a hurry to continue his journey. He repacked his backpack – traded me some cheap dog food that the chickens like for the better stuff we feed our dogs, and left a small blanket and an umbrella on the washing machine. I guess when you have to carry everything you own, you don’t hang onto an umbrella during the dry season.

It turned out that the truck stop near us, that I’d planned to take him to, was on the wrong route, so we drove into Oregon, and he kept studying Google Maps on his tablet and saying, “It’s pretty soon … I think the next turn-off … Or maybe the next one.”

“I’m not taking you all the way to Salt Lake City, you know!” I groused – not because I minded so much as I was worried about running out of gas, and it was nearly the end of the month so I’d already run out of money. The truck stop was at the next turnoff after that, and he put $30 in my tank, because he may be homeless but he’s not a bum.

I texted with him while writing this story. I had to ask his permission to use photographs off his Facebook page, and I wanted to check in with him anyway. He’s in Utah, just outside Salt Lake City, feeling down in the dumps. It seems people there don’t respond to a “Hungry” sign, and no one is stopping to give him a ride. He’s hoping a trucker will come by soon, because they usually stop when they see Bubba. He’s moving on, going to Laramie, Wyoming, where he reckons he has a better chance of finding work. His course is in September and it lasts a month, and he can’t have Bubba with him while he’s training, so he needs to save up for a boarding kennel.

I hope they get a ride soon. I hope they make it home.

Do you pick up hitchhikers? What about hitchhikers with dogs? And … what do you think, when you see a homeless person?