Category Archives: Farm animals

The Deep Things of Dog

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Sweet, stinky cheese, dog.

In our 25 years of marriage, my wife and I have brought into our home a total of three dogs, two cats, five bunnies, one bird, twelve chickens, hundreds of insects, dozens of fish, and none of them could ever be considered even remotely attached to my wife (except for the praying mantis that landed on her pregnant belly and wouldn’t let go).  She has this anti-animal thing going on that manifests itself in a mutual animosity.  She barely tolerates our pets and they avoid her like she’s a corpse.

Her aversion has a specific, genetic component, just like blonde hair and blue eyes.  She was born into it.  I know this because I have it on good authority that her mother used to “accidentally” let the new dog out of the house without telling anyone, in hopes that it would R-U-N-N-O-F-T.  D.C. has never just let an animal free to wander the barren land, but she has made it very clear when her tolerance for a specific animal has run its course.

I, on the other hand, grew up with parents that loved dogs and I knew that my own family would one day have a dog.  But, before you start thinking that my kids and I are shoe-ins for the SPCA caring members of the year award, I need to confess that only four of the animals ever stuck… and those just barely.  The countless others were either carted off to “the farm,” given away to unsuspecting friends, sold on Craigslist, let loose or left in the freezer to die (the insects, not the cats).

It turns out that the reason I loved animals growing up is because I never had to actually deal with the animals, other than show them the occasional attention.  My parents fed, housed, walked, washed, cleaned, doctored and scooped.  They did everything nasty and I got all the good parts.

Fast forward to me being a parent and the poo was on the other foot, so to speak. I had to do it all.  Since D.C. hated animals and made it perfectly clear that she would have nothing to do with any animal that I brought into the house, the nastiness was left up to me to take care of.  Anyone who knows me knows that I hate nastiness.

I blame the kids.  It always started with an oath,  a promise made in all sincerity.  “We solemnly swear to feed and clean up after the X” (insert animal type here).   All I can say is that I must have had Alzheimer’s from a very early age because my short term memory is only filled with good animal memories and kept promises and I am, somehow, always surprised at how quickly the shine wears off of a new pet.  At the end of two months I usually had to step in with my Hazmat suit and pressure washer just to free the animal from its tightly packed excrement apartment.  This usually led to the animal living out the rest of its life on the “farm.”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are currently 108 official reasons why X animal didn’t get proper care, but that number is added to daily.  Mostly, I stand in awe at the length to which my kids would go in order to not have to care for an animal.  It would have been easier and quicker just to feed the stupid pet.  I’m also an enabler which doesn’t help.   There are self help groups I should be attending.

Since it turned out that we weren’t really pet people, the continuous circulation of animals through the house always seemed to baffle Dream Crusher.  In fact, the origination of my wife’s nickname came about because of her innate ability to cut off at the pass any request to bring an animal into the home.  The first word out of her mouth when the kids got that look in their eyes and asked for, say, a rat or a snake, was always “no.” The first word out of my mouth was always “sure.”  The NEXT words out of my wife’s mouth can’t be printed here.

I’m not saying that she wasn’t always right.  She was spot on about why we shouldn’t have had that particular type of animal in the house, or about the kids not taking care of X animal, and that I would eventually end up doing the dirty work myself.  She was always right.  It’s those darn puppy eyes that get me every time (the kids’ I mean).  I just have a really hard time saying no.

I may have never said no, but I wasn’t the kind of husband that would add another member to his household without first discussing it with his better half.   D.C. and I always discussed her minuses and my pluses before I brought our “next trip to the farm” home.  I credit her levelheadedness with keeping a good many bad ideas out of the house – like the de-scented skunk.

“Honey, the kids really want a dog.”  I brought this up at breakfast.

“No.”  She said this without looking up from her book.

“I think it would be good for them.  It would teach some responsibility. Besides, I had a dog growing up.”

“No.”

“Honey, think how fun it would be.  Think how much they would love a dog.”

“You’re crazy.  Why would we need another pet?”  She had set her book down by this point and was staring me directly in the eyes.  “We have four kids, for goodness sake!”

“It would be great.”

“No way.  Not a chance.”

“Please.”

“We already tried a dog.”

“But, that was a stupid dog.  This would be a better dog.”

(Our first dog Abby had to go for a long visit to the farm.  In hindsight the kids were way too young for an aggressive, but really cute lab/hyena cross that left me bleeding on so many occasions that I seriously got lightheaded from blood loss. When the boys and I and D.C. drove off, leaving Abby at the friends who had agreed to take her, the kids never noticed that she was missing until a week later.  It hadn’t really occured to them that they no longer had to hold their toys and food above their heads and sprint from room to room or stand on a chair when the dog was around, but Kelly and I noticed a change right away.  It was like we had been miraculously cured of leprosy and life seemed fluffy and smooth once again.)

“No way.  No more dogs.”

“Okay. Fine.” I sulked and continued eating my Cornflakes.

The next day I brought home Annie.

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Annie, whom one of the kids wanted to name Darth Vader,  grew up to be a 90 pound Yellow Lab, but when I picked her up from the breeder she was the cutest, fluffiest, ball of yellow excitement on the planet.  She was perfect, all paws and pudge, with a ridge of hair that rain down her nose like a long cowlick.  I wanted to name her “Ridgy.”  NB: The one concession was that D.C. got to name the dog.  Annie was her choice.

When I got home, the boys, who were always up for an experiment, immediately cornered Clark, our tabby, and introduced him to Annie.  The result was spectacular in the minds of the kids and less than stellar for the animals.  The cat was incensed. The dog was wounded.  It was the beginning of a great, long lasting friendship.

Copy of annie louis sitting

D.C. was less than happy with me and never really warmed up to Annie.  At first, when she had that new puppy smell (like freshly washed leather shoes),  I would put her in D.C.’s lap and she tolerated her just fine, but when she started to get into the teenage years (Annie, not D.C.) and lost the cuteness and started secreting that stinky, oily liquid that coats the fur of all Labs, any hint of emotional attachment flamed into resentment almost overnight.

She really was stinky.  We could have attached an oil rig to that dog and lived off  the oil she produced.  It got so bad that the spot on the linoleum near the backdoor where she slept turned from a bright white to a burnt orange and no amount of scrubbing would remove the stain.

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But it’s not like we could bathe her.  She was 90 pounds and had rancid fur that, like Gore-Tex, had been specifically engineered to repel water.  Not bathing was fine with Annie because she hated water.  It seemed ridiculous to me that an animal so well suited to the water hated getting wet.  It was a bad combination of weight, stink and aversion.  In the end we tied her up in the backyard and hosed off the big chunks and called it good.

As Annie got older it became apparent that we might have bitten off more than we were willing to swallow.  Not only did this 90 pound sweet beast of a dog emanate an awful stench that kept us from snuggling with her, her own fur didn’t want to be attached to her either.  The sheer amount of rancid hair she sloughed off on a weekly basis was overwhelming.  It got so bad that the floor in our basement looked like it had a layer of fog on it, only it wasn’t fog, it was fur.  As you walked through the “fog” it would swirl and tumble around you like weeds tumbling along the desert.

Dogs need to come with warning labels because within the first year of her life we discovered that she had magical intestines, but not magical in a good way.  Annie was a veritable poop factory.  She could eat and excrete like no dog I have ever met.  If we fed her a cup of dog food, three cups of NOT dog food would come shooting out the other end.  She averaged a three to one ratio her entire life.

No matter what she ate it came out three times as big at the other end and what she ate was the stuff of legend.  Her appetite knew no limit.  It was like the voice in her head never spoke up and said, “Okay.  Step away from the bowl.  You are at capacity.”  She red-lined her intestinal system way too often.

It was her propensity to eat that caused D.C. to reach out and touch Annie, on purpose, for the first and only time and did she ever touch her.  It was Annie’s first Thanksgiving and, wanting to participate in the festivities, she quietly pulled the turkey carcass out of the garbage and proceeded to drag it and fling it around the kitchen and dining room like it was a play toy.

There were turkey parts stuck to the ceiling, the wall, and we even found pieces years later when we moved the piano.  It was at that very moment when D.C. touched Annie.  There was so much touching going on at that point that I had to rescue the petrified animal by letting her escape out the back door.  Annie was so afraid of Turkey after that incident that we had to switch her from turkey to lamb flavored dog food to keep her from losing weight.

Her eating had nearly killed her a number of times, so I wasn’t too surprised to find her at the back door a few years later dreadfully ill.  I was sure that she had eaten poison and realized that her gluttony might have finally done her in.   I felt awful for her and when I opened the back door her head hung low and she barely made it to her bed before she flopped down, with a sigh, and lay deathly still.  Her stomach was distended and tight like she was in the throws of labor and drool was forming at her lips.  Rat poison was what I suspected.  I put a bowl of water next to her and left her for the night, fully expecting to have to bury her the next day.

I was awakened by Christian in the early hours of the morning.

“Um, Dad, Annie threw up.”

I was still groggy.   “Can you deal with it son?”

“Um, I think you should come see this.  I don’t think I can do it.”  I was fully awake now and quickly pulled on my pants and made my way downstairs expecting the worst.  What met me wasn’t a dead dog; it was the largest vomit pile I have ever encountered.  It was as big around as a garbage can lid and a full three inches thick.  It was like an enormous oatmeal raisin cookie.  I looked over at Annie.  She thumped her tail cheerfully against the wall obviously proud of the gift she had deposited onto our new carpet.

It is completely accurate to say that the pile in front of me was like an oatmeal raisin cookie because it was nothing but a huge pile of bile and horse feed.  The stupid animal had gotten into the molasses and oats that we fed the horses and had gorged herself to the edge of the abyss.  I had to use the snow shovel to scrape the epic vomit pile off the carpet.

I think this is the only picture of her wet.  I think I threw her in.

I think this is the only picture of her wet. I had to throw her in.

My Chickens Were Marxists

untitled-5066Guess What?  Chicken Butt!

When I was but a wee lad I used to get picked on all the time.  It wasn’t as though I was a small, sickly kid.  I was actually quite fleshy for my age and if I had it in me to hurt someone, I probably would have been able to hold my own in a fight, but I just could never bring myself to actually make a fist and hit someone who was threatening me in the face.  I’m not sure why, but the thought of punching someone in the eye conjured up slow motion images of a huge, bulbous orb squishing into its socket and then rebounding and popping like an overfilled,  blue and white beach ball of  jello.  It just kind of grossed me out.  Consequently, I got beat up all the time.

Maybe saying “all the time” is a bit of an exaggeration since I really didn’t get beat up all that much, but I did get picked on and threatened to be beat up all the time.  I didn’t mind it very much because I was really good at avoiding most confrontations and developed all kinds of defense mechanisms to keep from getting hit or picked on, most of which have stayed with me to this day.  I think it’s the one reason I get along so well with people.  Watching me navigate my way through a crowded room of people is a thing of beauty because I’m afraid if I don’t make everyone happy, I will have to pop someone’s eye out of their socket using my awesome purple belt skills (I was one test away from being a brown belt when for religious reasons I had to quit – actually, the gym got really stinky and I couldn’t take all the sweaty teenagers dripping on me when we sparred).

Because I was such an easy target for both teachers and classmates, I was pretty much universally abused verbally by everyone and called all kinds of names which still bring up feelings of dread when they come to mind (man, I hated school).  If the anti-bullying laws were in effect when I was a kid I would have been the only kid in school.

Thinking back on the names I was called I can almost universally come up the etymology of each one and realize how and why it applied.  However, I knew the term chicken was a derogatory term, but only because it was applied to me on those occasions where I thought it best to flee than fight, but no one I knew ever had chickens and so how the name came to mean what it meant was a mystery to me. That is, until I got chickens.

The term is absolutely apropos because anything will scare a chicken – noise, feathers, shadows, food scraps, other chickens, small dogs, water, air, leaves, dirt, sun, snow, etc.  If a chicken sees something it’s not sure of, you can bet that the chicken thinks that thing is trying to kill it and will run from it.  And when one chicken gets scared, they all get scared.  You name it and a chicken will run from it.  It’s an amazing defense mechanism and one I employed quite often as a kid.

Imagine for a minute that a group of chickens (or grade school nerds) need to get from one enclosed edge of the lawn to the other enclosed edge 30 feet away.  I say need, but it’s more like an unfulfilled and unreasonable desire. One chicken, the “scout,” will sneak out a few steps and turn its head quickly back and forth and when it feels relatively safe it will start a mad sprint to the other side.  Seeing that one chicken running will set off three thoughts in the mind (yes, it is one collective mind) of the other chickens.  1. I wonder if she sees something to eat.  2. If she’s running then she must be running away from something which means that we are definitely not safe on this side of the lawn.  3.  I need to start running.  This happens in a split second as the pea-sized synchronized brains of the chickens work as one unit and then they’re off chasing after the first chicken like a bunch of old women in a three legged race with their skirts tucked up and their bloomers flapping in the breeze.

Aside from being incredibly stupid, chickens are actually one of the most amazing creatures in the universe. When you see them in their natural habitat, scratching in the morning mist, with the sun coming through the trees, it’s as if they know something you don’t and for a split second you can almost imagine Jane Goodall trying to work her way into their confidence by grooming and communicating with them through sign language.

NB: Okay, that was an inadvertent shout-out to the Far Side.  I didn’t do it on purpose, but after I reread it I realized what I had done.  I guess Gary Larson has wormed his way into my head so deeply that I sometimes don’t realize that I’m writing him out loud.

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If you ever get a chance to look closely at a chicken (other than in the meat department), they look almost prehistoric with their unblinking eyes (they actually have a sheath that cleans the crud off their retina when it gets dry or dirty, which I guess could be called a blink); fleshy crowns of red goo that expand and contract with the weather and often get frostbite, turn black and fall off in the winter; scaly, reptilian legs and huge claws.   When they raise their lips and expose the rows of sharp fangs it brings a chill to my heart.  I’ve seen them peck the crap out of each other just for getting too close to a sunny spot on the lawn.  Vicious and angry creatures they are and, oh, so unpredictable.

Never try catching a chicken if you have a faint heart.  Unless you corner a chicken, it is very difficult to even get close to it and, when you do corner one, you had better be ready for the fight of your life because they will come after you with fangs bared and claws unsheathed in an effort to rip your heart from your chest.  Okay, maybe not, but they will flap a lot and scare the crap out of you if you don’t get a hold of them right.

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Chickens are the original homing bird and probably could have been used in WWI if the letter wasn’t urgent and the recipient could wait for the sun to go down to receive it.  Chickens will always make their way to the coop unless the door is closed or they can’t remember how to get back into the fence they escaped from; then they will lay down outside and wait patiently for something to eat them.  They are the opposite of Dracula, in the sense that when the sun goes down they fall into a stupor (a lot like my uncle Lyman) and nothing will wake them, not even the sharp teeth of a raccoon or skunk as it eats them from the neck down.

I have a great love of all things chicken (especially chicken strips), so it was a sad day when I realized that it might be time to get rid of my chickens.  I had two choices: separate them from their heads or send them to the “farm” (if you know what I mean).  Actually, I did send them to the farm where a friend of mine said they would live out their lives in peace and harmony.   I know it sounds like a euphemism for eating them , but this friend has a good heart and I trust her.

So, if I love chickens so much why did I feel the need to get rid of them? Well, my teenage girls, while fascinated with them for about three years, kind of lost interest when they learned to drive.  It’s not quite cool cappuccino conversation when the boys ask you what you like to do and you say, “feed worms to chickens.”  The boys tend to smile and move slowly away while keeping their eyes on you to be sure that you don’t make any sudden movements (unless they’re FFA boys who say “neat!” but they wear those funny coats and my girls kind of smile and back away  from them;  it’s a vicious cycle).  They stopped digging worms for the chickens soon after they noticed boys and that left the feeding and watering squarely in my lap.

When I started doing all the work, I realized after awhile that  I was running a Soviet style chicken operation where I was feeding and watering and housing and getting nothing in return since their egg production all but diminished.  It was like my little flock of “Olgas” were done with their earthly task and weren’t willing to work any longer.  It was also almost winter and there is nothing worse than trying to keep a flock of chickens alive through the winter when the coop isn’t heated.  They were big-bodied girls and good at keeping themselves warm most of the time, but having to keep the water free of ice and the heat lamp on got to be too much for this old man.  It was time to send them to the farm.

So, how does one transport chickens from one farm to the other without first cutting off their heads and plucking their “fur” you ask?  I’m not sure how others do it, but I used individually personalized chicken boxes (aka beer boxes).  I surely wasn’t going to put them in the back seat of the Wagon Queen Family Truxter and buckle them in.  Looking into the back of my truck , I realized that if one of the local frat kids had broken into the back he would have thought he had struck the mother-load. That is, until he opened one of the boxes only to have a chicken explode out of it and peck his eyes out (which I might pay to see).

It was very difficult getting the chickens into the boxes because of their girth and their large talons and they flapped like heck going into the box, but once in (they were duct taped in), they became like sheep to the slaughter, quiet and docile.  They even talked to us in their clucky soft chicken voices as we transported them to the truck, like they were confessing their sins before heading to the electric chair.

In the end, the chickens got a nice ride on an SUV 4×4, awesome popcorn for dinner (no movie though) and a new home.  Now all I have to do is clean the coop and turn it into a sewing room for my wife.

Seven girls down and two to go.