When I Am Old And Gray

In the animal world, responsible breeding and hands-on rescue activities are not mutually exclusive.  I, like many other purebred enthusiasts, dedicate time, effort, energy and money to helping dogs in need that I didn’t produce. Blood, sweat and tears go into it all with almost equal seriousness.

Almost.

The exception to the rule is senior dogs. I have a special, soft place in my heart for them. I’ve taken in pregnant females, newborn litters, dogs with physical and mental impairments, and given my heart to all of them. Nursed them back to health, worked them through behavioral problems, made the hardest call of all for those beyond assistance and made sure that they didn’t pass alone. There were times when that was the only thing I could do for some.   But nothing strikes me so deeply as the abandonment of a dog who has done nothing worse than become old.

When we bring a dog into our lives, we have voluntarily entered into a social contract with this animal. We provide daily care necessary to a comfortable life, and they provide companionship, guard hearth and home, and a variety of other tasks.  They serve a need for us; we are thereby are obligated to furnish food, shelter, veterinary care when they become ill.

When a person breaks that contract, it is the most vile betrayal possible.  A dog who has devoted a lifetime to sleeping near doorways to protect the dreaming occupants, who has played endless games of fetch with the family children, who has tirelessly herded livestock and defended flocks against predators, is suddenly, inexplicably, deserted.  There can be no higher act of unfaithfulness.

These dogs have earned a warm, cozy place to enjoy their retirement. They have performed their obligations- how can any owner refuse to perform their end of the deal? Sadly, this does occur. And when it does, in my own breed and many others, dedicated volunteers network together to bring these dogs to a place of peace and rest, a small repayment for all that they have done for the people in their lives who could not keep their promises.

My family has taken in these sweet seniors through the Akita SOS program.  Some have been with us just a few short weeks. We are happy that we could make their last days as pleasant as possible. Others have stayed months, and our current “permanent foster”, dear Betsy, will be with us two years this March. My current senior is going through harder days now.  She hasn’t given me the “thousand yard stare” yet, hasn’t let me know that she needs help to pass peacefully with the assistance of our trusted veterinary partner.  I can see that day looming on the horizon, however for now, she is content to curl on a wide pillow in a warm place, and let me come to her to stroke her face. When she decides to travel to the Bridge, it will be in comfort, and in loving arms.  She’ll share a place of honor with the other dogs I have loved, laid to rest with them as a cherished member of our clan, and not  a useless cast off.  Never a cast off. I can’t control what others shamelessly do, but I can take an active part in making it right.  And once our hearts have a chance to heal a while, my husband and daughter and I will welcome another into our home for as long as they choose to be with us.betsy 2

Please- look at the dog beside you.  Understand that there will come a day when the ears cannot hear you call, when the eyes cannot see your face so clearly, when age related conditions cause them to rise more slowly when they come to greet you.  Though every step may cause them hardship, they still only want to be by your side. Do not deny them their due. They have done their part. Don’t let them down. I will always have place in my heart and home for an old gray muzzle, but I shouldn’t have to. That’s your job. You signed the contract. Honor it.  One day you too will be old; who will care for you then?

 

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Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady

If you ask me how it happened, I’d tell you I didn’t know.  If you asked Richard, he’d say in a lightly mocking tone “It’s just a piece of turkey and she looks so huuuunnnggggrrrrryyyyyy”. If you asked Bri she’d chime in with “you’re a sucker for animals!”.

I’ve always been a dog person. People say I speak dog.  Fluent in canis familiaris. Dogs are drawn to me, me to them and I’m able to work with some no one else can.  Its just been that way forever, And while I didn’t dislike cats, I didn’t go out of my way to seek them out either.

Until Pandora. So named because I just had to open that box, didn’t I?

It was our first year in Virginia and we lived in a rural area near Richmond.  Richard’s parents live out on the eastern shore and we’d gone to visit for Thanksgiving. In typical mom fashion, we were sent home with ziplock containers full of roasted yams and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. And turkey. You can’t forget the turkey.  It began snowing in Virginia Beach, and by the time we passed Norfolk it was looking like a real storm.  And hour later into the drive back there was already two inches on the ground and more coming down hard.

When we finally got home, at least 8 inches blanketed the ground.  Our home, set back into the tree line, often saw woodland visitors make up close and personal appearances.   Raccoons who always seemed to know when I was frying chicken were frequent fliers on our long wide porch. Deer grazed in the yard. And feral cats stopped by to see what was for lunch.  Two in particular were around most- a glossy black tom we referred to as “Leroy” (Bri was big into Disney’s “Leroy & Stitch” at the time)   and a stunning tortoise shell calico.  Trudging through the snow to our door we could tell they’d all been around that evening. The calico still was.

Curled on our porch out of the worst of the weather she seemed like she was waiting.   We made multiple trips to get everything into the house and she was  there, watching, blinking, in what my buddy Max would call “standard meatloaf position” for warmth.  We kept looking out and she was still there.  We determined she looked hungry but since we didn’t own a cat, we had no cat food.

We had turkey though.    And so I ventured out to the porch, moist meaty offering in hand, and made a new friend.   The walked to the door after being fed and gently pawed it. We allowed her inside. She walked calmly around, settled in for a nap for a bit on the couch, walked about some more meeting the dogs then quietly padded back to the door, giving a soft “mew”, until we let her out again.

This became routine and she was christened Pandora. It would have stayed this way too until we realized she was getting rather round about the middle.  We had assumed the notched ear was a sign she’d been through the local TNR program- a program we participated in, too.  We were wrong. When it become apparent that this friendly feral was going to soon be an unwed mother, we gave her a space in the kitchen to stay warm and safe from predators.  She delivered five adorable balls of cuteness in late February, though she chose a dim corner or Bri’s room under her desk to do it.   We kept cat and kits indoors for a while for their protection, then Richard built a kitty enclosure outdoors where nothing could get to them.  Our sweet Brooklyn loved them and never missed an opportunity to swipe a baby or two to snuggle and love on until momma cat threw a real live hissy fit demanding their return. Eventually, the kits- all girls- were spayed and mom too, with all ears properly clipped under sedation to mark them as altered.  Much friendlier now, and used to daily human interaction, we found homes for momma (happily enjoying the good life with my mother and father in law on the shore!) and three of the kits.   Penny and Whiskers (aka Whiskey) stayed on.  We tried without success to ever trap Leroy for a snip, but we kept another generation of girls from producing more cats than the local colony could handle.  On the day we relocated to the New River Valley, Leroy glared at us from the driveway, long thick tail sweeping from side to side, eyes narrowing in his scarred face. He never liked us much but enjoyed the food.  This reinforced my belief that cats were not the greatest. But Richard and Bri were in love with the two kittens in their laps. What could I do?whiskey romeo

Skipping ahead a bit, Bri comes homes in tears one afternoon from school. Seems her teacher had found a stray cat, quite friendly, declawed, and couldn’t keep her. She’d taken her to the vet for a check up and shots but since her apartment didn’t permit pets, the cat couldn’t stay and had to be gone by the end of the week. She ever so thoughtfully turned to her impressionable group of middle schoolers and asked them to ask their parents if they could have a cat.   Miss Manipulative, the teacher, had spoken of a sad, tragic place called The Pound, where animals go in and never come out.   This instigated a long, serious talk with my daughter about the responsibilities of pet ownership, and in the end, my little girl’s sense of compassion won the day and Katniss came to stay with us too.   Penny and Whiskey were unimpressed.  I had the first twinges of concern that I was leaning towards becoming a CCL.

A visit to the vet with a sick puppy brought Salem into our lives. As I sat there and listened to this idiotic wretch go on and on about all the reasons she just couldn’t keep her cat after ten years- TEN YEARS- of ownership and he had to go RIGHT NOW and she couldn’t even wait another day for a shelter to open…and being a volunteer with my Akita breed’s Save Our Seniors and knowing first hand the dismal rates of adoption for old pets- I stepped up and said four words in a chilling tone meant to brook no disobedience. Give. Me. The. Cat.   Long story short (I’ll share his tale on another blog), Salem become cat #4.  I said we were done. I lied.

A kennel club meeting one evening in the park and…yeah you know where this is going. Soft ,warm,  no  more than 6 weeks old kitten tucked into my jacket and headed home. The others left with her found homes with my fellow club members. We must all suffer from the same form of Suckeritis.  Echo joined our crew and with a grand total of five, I resigned myself to the title. I’d become a cat lady.  Adding crazy to the front is an honorific earned once you get past four; and just kind of comes with the territory.

As I type, Salem  has crawled across the furniture and deposited himself on the narrow space between my waist and thighs not already occupied by my HP laptop.   He’s purring like mad- he’s a real talker- and either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that I’m trying to accomplish something here. I suspect the latter.

Life had become a series of picking things up that the cats toss off shelves and dressers, crockpots full of fish or rabbit to cook down into easy to digest meals for the senior, morning removal of a living hat on my pillow and playing guessing games as to which is responsible when I hear a crash in the other room. It’s also full of the contented sounds of a happy feline who knows he is safe and sound in my arms, laughing along to the mid evening marathon, loads of “awwwww” moments when the dogs and cats join in social grooming sessions, and realizing the thing that used to be up a tree or down a hole in my yard now lying motionless on my porch was a treasured gift from an independent creature who wanted me to know they like having me in their life, too.

 

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, RANGE DAY!

I love range days!  What’s that you ask? You must be new here….
Range day is when we pack up the guns and let freedom ring in a safe and sane environment. It’s where we get to try out something new, something cool, something unusual, or just hone our skills in marksmanship for personal defense and sustenance hunting.

Did I mention I LOVE RANGE DAYS????

I’m lucky to have enough property with a more than sufficient backstop to shoot anything from a bb gun to a cannon (and yes- I have friends with a cannon!).  There isn’t much that a little pew-pew therapy can’t fix and sometimes getting out and plinking with just a little .22LR is incredibly therapeutic.

Group days are best. It’s like an FFL dealer sprinkled fairy dust all over the benches, magically conjuring every item capable of hurling a brass encased projectile downrange at upwards of 3500 fps.  You collect an assortment of your best 2A supporting friends and they all bring a few guns and a couple boxes of ammunition.  This gives you an opportunity to try-before-you-buy, and to gain proficiency with weapons you don’t already own. In a defensive situation, its possible you may not have the gun of your choice at hand; its helpful to have a basic working knowledge and level of comfort with as many as you can.

I grew up in a hunting household, populated primarily by shotguns and rifles.  That’s my comfort zone, and there isn’t much more that I enjoy than picking up the biggest baddest long tall Sally in my ownership and turning skeet clays (which make a highly visible target at several hundred yards placed on the backstop) into a fine orange mist.  Dad always stressed perfection; there was no purpose in shooting poorly and wounding an animal. If you were going to hunt and put food on the table, do it as expertly as possible.

Having the chance to learn the individual characteristics of a slew of new pistols and revolvers in a single afternoon is a delight.  But when someone breaks out an item that immediately causes a syndrome I call Range Whiplash, everything changes.

Public outdoor ranges are a series of small tables, often with a fixed or swivel seat built in called “benches”.   They are each several feet apart to give shooters space to comfortably move and eject spent cartridges without hitting the guy next to you (usually).  Even at public ranges, most shooters are quite friendly and open with one another, forging new networks of People With Guns to maintain contact with. You get popular fast when you bring something unusual.  When you haul out the larger calibers that make a very satisfying BOOM or flip the happy switch and light up a Little Betty Bad@$$ on full automatic fire, every head on the line immediately turns in your direction.

Such was the case one fine afternoon shooting with a known group of friends. I was told one of the crew had, after a nearly year long process, finally obtained his HK51, a weapon in a restricted class of firearms that- contrary to anti gun ownership spokefolks’ claims- is not something you can jog down to the Quickie Mart to purchase with a large slurpee. There’s a fairly long and expensive process to go through to get one.  He was like a kid on Christmas.

It’s chambered in .308. , for those of you unfamiliar with ammunition, that’s each round about the size of the average index finger.  It’s also belt fed, meaning the ammo is connected like paperdolls, one to another, and routed through a ‘bullet box’ attached to the gun.

He takes it out, sets it up, opens with a test shot. Boom!   Repeats a few times. Boom! Boom! Boom!  He flips the selector to three round burst.  BoomBoomBoom!  Repeats a few times. He has now acquired the interest of the closest shooters to us. He smiles, dials it to full auto and pulls the trigger.

BoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoom!

And just like a herd of prairie dogs, SWOOSH went the line of heads in our general direction, and seconds later we’d amassed a crowd that simply wanted to be in the presence of the awesome sound of Freedom.

He handed it off to a few of our group.  Then, with a grin, asked if I’d like to try it out.   I swear I heard the angels singing.

Despite watching him first run through the actions of this weapon himself and observing two other shooters having their turn, I still asked for, and received, a walk through on the specifics of firing and tips on how to hold it correctly; you need to lean into the butt stock (these are typically fired from stationary stands) to keep the force of the fire from pushing the barrel up.  It takes some effort.

………..did I mention I FREAKING LOVE RANGE DAYS????……………..

It was amazing.

 

I’ve had some pretty fun days on my own acreage too. Friends who have never fired a gun before often come here for a little first timer assistance in a non judgmental place. They can get the basics down and get to first base with someone they trust.  The Romeo range has some very simple rules same as all ranges; ear and eye protection will be used, guns will be pointed down range at all times, no one past the firing line when the range is ‘hot’, and enjoy your time here. I laughed for an hour after one guest carefully set up some items his ex wife had forgotten to take when she decided she could do better (she was wrong, he’s a peach!). She’d been packing and hiding things away, shipping them off on a piece by piece basis to deceive him, and these two boxes were overlooked. He got to try an AR style rifle that day, and proudly proclaimed after clearing his targets, “Dishes are DONE man!”  Much less expensive than months of counseling.  Once in a while we are even joined by the local LEOs.  There isn’t a lot that beats seeing a smile spread on the face of a friend who’s never done this before finding their way past the mystery of Big Scary Guns and learning the ropes.


What does? Watching my daughter listen with rapt attention as Richard explains how to shoulder a rifle, how to line up her sights, and talking her through pulling the trigger to take the shot.  She beat him that day, too. Kid is a natural.

Looking for someone to shoot with? Let me know…always nice to make new range friends.  Just show me yours and I’ll show you mine! 😉