Sunday, April 16, 2006

my life with the animals

I dedicate this post to the devoted members of the Full Moon Farm rescue team, in particular Nancy Brown, and all others, all over who take care of animals as their life's work.

I am an animal person. As a little girl I was crrr-azy about horses. I longed for my own horse desperately, and in lieu of acually being able to keep an equine companion in our backyard in suburban Pittsburgh I submerged myself in stories of fictional horses' lives; I read all of the Black Stallion series and Marguerite Henry's Chincoteague pony and horse stories.

When I was fifteen the planets magically converged to allow me to have my first dog. As unexpected as it was at the time, my mother and my grandmother, with whom we then lived, both agreed that I could bring home this shepherd-husky puppy that some young man had found himself too busy to care for. There could have been no accident to this situation because that dog was my beloved Sierra, rest her blessed soul, who was my most darling and precious canine friend for 15 1/2 years, and about whom I could write pages of stories about our mutual love and devotion. I believe that dog may have saved my life because she was a child and a friend to me during the years of my most serious emotional hardship, providing unconditional love and a reason to live when at times nothing else seemed worthwhile. I miss her dearly.

As that young girl I always imagined that as an adult I would live out in the country on lots of land where I could keep my own veritable farm and rescue shelter. Turns out, that may well be where I am heading.

My sons (and their father, ahem) just recently found a stray rottweiler in Ohio and somehow managed to beg me into submission so that this big fella could come and stay here on our land. That brought my personal dog ownership to a total of three, and with the three other dogs belonging to tenants on my land, our grand total is six dogs on this 13 acres in Bat Cave. That's not too bad, right? That's over two acres per dog, much better than the days I was trying to keep three dogs in my downtown Asheville apartment years ago. Well, throw into the mix my three cats, the three cats that belong to the tenants next door, and our two snakes (well, I think we may be down to just one snake. It seems someone wriggled their way out of their tank this week and we haven't found him yet. But that is the way with owning this many animals. They come and they go...), the tank full of mice we keep to feed the snakes, and the mama hen and her 10 chicks we are expecting later this week, and now we've really got a little sanctuary thing rolling.

But it is so much work! Yesterday alone I spent $112 at the vet on medicine for dogs and another $100 at the hardware store on materials for the chicken coop. I don't have this kind of money! And the time investment is astronomical. Because the new rottweiler is having trouble getting along with some of the other dogs on the property I have had to keep him contained or on lead for his stay here, which means my life schedule is now dictated by dogs. I wake when they are ready to wake, which is usually just after sunrise. I am forced to schedule in walks as needed around my job and other obligations, and I don't sleep until I know everyone has been fed and watered and petted and securely bedded down for the night, then I go to sleep and dream about all of them, and wake to the sound of "Get up, Mommy!" yips in the morning and start it all over again. Oh, and then there is all of the shit shovelling, too. Sigh.

And yet it is so rewarding. When I see Aleksie, my new husky-shepherd puppy that we adopted out of rescue last year, running all over this mountain and sweetly adoring Lucy, my now aging 10 year old lab mix, and all the other dogs in her pack, my heart swells with joy. She is so beautiful and so happy, and I made this life possible for her. And despite the rottweiler's challenging disposition toward some of the other dogs, he is very loving to all of us humans, humble almost as if he knows the sacrifice we've made for him, and by the way I see that he is very good to Lucy and Aleksie with whom he shares his home, I believe his other animal aggression is rooted in his desire to protect us from the perceived threat these other dogs on his property pose to him. Plus, his stay here has forced me into a more active role, literally, with the dogs, as I am now obligated to get my butt out and walking every day so I can be sure that he is getting his exercise. This new walking plan has become a source of great adventure for the kids and me, and certainly has provided me with some much needed daily exercise.

And though my thoughts seem constantly dominated by who needs feeding what and when and whether there is enough money in the bank to get it, whose health is challenged and why and how to fix it, who has been out or needs to come in, and what time they are going to get me up tomorrow morning, I am feeling good. I am successfully juggling this crazy mess of animal responsiblity, and I am really grateful to some of the other people who have made that possible. This week I managed to cajole a friend into picking up an awesome, big, sturdy doghouse I found through the used newspaper from way the other side of town and delivering it all the way out to Bat Cave. Another friend, one of my tenants, picked up the chicken house in his truck and brought it home for me, and a third friend is on the schedule for pick up and delivery of an outdoor kennel enclosure that I also found used. Thanks to all of these folks, as they have saved me hundreds of dollars and have helped improve the life situation of a number of animals in the process. It takes a village to do EVERYTHING!

I don't know yet whether the rottweiler will be able to stay. He is a sweet boy and I would like to be able to continue to care for him, but this is new territory for me. I have never had a male dog, and I have never had a "difficult" dog before, so I am willing to give it my best attempt to see what comes of it. I suppose once he's neutered he may chill out a little bit, and I am even willing to give some sort of obedience training a try. I truly feel obligated. After checking out the NC rottweiler rescue website my commitment to him is galvanized. I checked the site to investigate what my options might be for safely pawning him off if we found him too difficult to deal with and what I found was a rescue operation in desperate need of MORE homes, MORE volunteers, MORE money and space and time. Duh! Is there any other kind of rescue? After viewing pages and pages of dogs in kill shelters in need of fostering before they reach their already scheduled execution date followed by pages of dogs that had been featured on the site then died anyhow because there aren't enough homes, I realized that the inconvenience this dog poses to me is nothing if it means I can save a life and keep another animal at my home thereby freeing up space for the rescue and other possible foster homes.

So here I am, sore from walking, tired from not sleeping enough, broke from buying food and medicine and shelter materials, and content. This is what I had always wanted, right? I pray it keeps going well. I pray we keep having enough. I pray the chickens don't break me, 'cause next year I wanna get goats! And maybe someday we will get horses. And llama. And alpaca...

I miss the wolfdogs at Full Moon Farm since I've been so busy taking care of my own brood, but my commitment to them is also solid. When we're not feeding, watering, and scooping poop here, my boys and I plan to try to go do it some there, too. To folks who aren't aware: wolfdogs and rottweilers are animals that are routinely killed in shelters without ever even being given the chance to get adopted, so I feel even more strongly about doing whatever small amount I can to help their plight. Of course there are other dogs and animals for whom this is true also, and there are many, many good causes to support human well-being on the planet also, so I figure do what your heart moves you to do. If you can alleviate any suffering on the planet at all, human or animal, then you have done good, loving work. Thanks.

P.S. I figured out how to insert links! Yay!

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