Monday, July 02, 2007

Farm Report 07/01/07

Life and Death on The Farm

Farming really puts you in touch with the basics of life. You feed and care for animals; they reproduce, if you allow it; then eventually they die sooner or later. We have had three instances of that last part. One death is uncertain; another was not entirely surprising; the last was very unexpected.

The first involves our cat, Mr. Swanky. We got him when he was a kitten, as a companion for our white Siamese cat, Smudgie:

They were inseparable, initially. As they matured, we didn't get Smudgie fixed in time, so she had to have an abortion when she was spayed. After that, they still got along, but Mr. Swanky began to wander far from home, disappearing for weeks at a time.

Smudgie is a good girl and always stays close to home, but Mr. Swanky loved to wander. The picture above was taken after he returned from a three week absence. He was very thin. We were pleased to see him again.

He's been gone now for over two months. I've given up hope that he's coming back. At about the time he disappeared, the dogs went crazy one night, barking at the yard. The next day, there was a bird feeder missing from the yard. I found it several days later, in the woods. It had been ripped from the tree, carried there and crushed to pieces, for the seeds inside. I'm not sure what would do that. A bear?

Could it have anything to do with the cat's disappearance? Who knows. I expect we will never find out what happened to Mr. Swanky, it will likely remain an unsolved mystery.

The next death is a certain one, not entirely surprising but still a bit sudden. It was our old dog, Saffron, seen here in this photo from last year:

For the past two years, she had slowed down a lot, and was having some trouble going up and down the stairs. Sometimes I would carry her. I was very fond of her, and didn't want to end her life as long as she could keep on going.

We got her about 12 years ago, from the SF SPCA. She was an Australian Shepard Mix, with one blue eye and one brown eye. Her owner had surrendered her because she was too rambunctious. They had guessed she was about two years old, but I think she may have been as old as four. The next two photos are from the early days:

She was a handfull; a real Frisbee dog, with endless energy, totally obsessed with a ball, Frisbee, kong, or ANYTHING you would throw. You had to exercise her a lot. She was the dog I had always wanted... when I was 10! As an adult living in a city, I think I would have prefered a dog that was a bit calmer. But she did get me outside a lot and we got lots of exercise while exercising her, so it worked out well.

I never had a dog before that demonstrated so much devotion to me. She would follow me around, and just lay down at my feet, waiting for a command. When I would sit at my desk doing office work, she would lie at my feet and doze off.

Since moving to the countryside, she's spend a lot of time outside. Here she is last year, just enjoying the outdoors, too old to chase balls and Frisbees anymore. She had slowed down a lot. This year, she had even stopped barking at squirrels.

My office in the house is too small for dogs. We had enclosed our large back porch, and partitioned it into two sides. One one side was a room for changing muddy boots and raincoats, which is also where the dogs get fed and sleep at night. The other half is like a den. I've been working on turning a corner of it into an office, so I could once again do my office work with Saffie; she could lie on the floor nearby, under the skylight, and snooze.

It was a nice dream, but one that won't come to pass. Before I could finish the office, Saffie's health went downhill fast. She stopped eating, then stopped drinking water; soon she couldn't stand or walk. She started to have trouble breathing, so we ended her misery. We buried her on the edge of the yard she had enjoyed so much. We planted a flower bush on her grave, so we'll remember her every time we see it.

Here is a photo of her a short time from the end:

Now I really miss her. I hope it doesn't seem morbid talking about it, but I think it's perfectly natural to miss our pets when they die. As much as the absence hurts, I have so many, many wonderful memories of life with her, that I would gladly do it all over again, she gave me so much. The experience had many more pluses than minuses. I'll always think of her fondly, may she now R.I.P.

So on to the NEXT death, which was sudden and unexpected:

Bizarre Guinea Fowl Death

Early this spring we got six Guinea fowl chicks. One was a runt, and died soon after. The remaining five grew quite large, and were integrated into the chicken coup.

They are rather shy, and for six weeks stayed in the coup when the chickens were let outside to forage. About a week ago, they ventured outside for the first time.

They seemed to enjoy themselves, strolling around in a group. However, a conflict seemed to emerge, between two males. The alpha male began picking on a beta male, the one with white tipped wings. The beta began hanging back, and would often get separated from the group.

One evening, the beta male did not return to the coop. Andy went looking for him, and found him... dead! It seems that he had been foraging (or hiding?) in some underbrush, and got his head caught in some blackberry vines. It looked like he had panicked, and in his struggle to free himself, became so fearful, that he pooped his guts out! There were no external injuries, and he was stone cold dead, his intestines hanging out of his rear.

So now we are down to four Guinea fowls. I hope they last, they are strange and kinda ugly, but I've grown fond of them and their funny ways and noises.

Humming Bird Heaven

That's enough death for one Farm Report! I'll end it with this glimpse of the Humming Bird Heaven that our front porch seems to have become this year:

We often have six or eight Humming birds at once, competing at two feeders. Yet they move so quickly; I've not been able to photograph more than two at a time.

I'd really like to get a video of them, as it's wonderful to watch them in motion. That may be my next project.

For now, photos will have to do. And that completes this edition of The Farm Report.


Walker said...

I always love your farm reports, Chas. Sorry to hear about Saffie. I had an old favorite dog die two weeks ago. Haven't been able to put her on the blog because it just seems too hard.

Chas said...

Thank you, Walker. It was over a month after her death before I could even blog about it. I'm glad I made the effort though; memorializing her has been kinda therapeutic.

Some people say "It's only a dog". And while it's true that it's not as devastating as losing a human member of the family, we get very attached to them none the less. They are companions to people in a special way, so it's only natural we miss them.

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. The only way I can think of to deal with it is to just feel the grief, morn the loss, then remember them fondly.

I've had several special dogs come and go in my life. Each time it was sad when they died, but oh, the wonderful memories they left me with! All things considered, it was better to have had them in my life than not. God bless the little tail waggers for all the joy and enthusiasm they bring into our lives.

Walker said...

Well said, Chas. Thanks for your sympathy and the same to you. I just wish for once a dog would die in its sleep rather than suffer and force me to euthanize. Just hurts so much. Sigh.

Chas said...

We had friends who had three big dogs, Great Dane size. One of the dogs didn't get up one morning, so the lady of the house went to him and tried to wake him, only to discover he had died in his sleep.

She was devastated! He was old, but not VERY old; he had been in seeming good health. It was a big shock because it was unexpected.

Everyone kept telling her, "You're so LUCKY he died in his sleep".

That drove her nuts; she didn't FEEL lucky. She wanted to mourn, but people kept telling her how lucky she was! Intellectually she understood how and why that was true; but she and her husband still felt a terrible loss, and sadness compounded by the suddenness of it all.

Since then, every time we have had to euthanize a dog, and I think "Why couldn't it have died in it's sleep?", I remember our friend's story.

I think I would STILL rather have a dog die in it's sleep, than have to... hasten the dying process myself. But I guess there is no getting around the sense of sadness and loss. We miss'em anyway, no matter how they go. But even that is as it should be. It would be strange indeed if we didn't miss them.