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The Wonder of Animals

The Hunt For Sir Bud No. 2

The Wonder of AnimalsOver two years ago, I lost my very best friend, my Arab gelding Sir Bud, to a cancerous tumor on the left side of his brain. Those of you who love animals, especially horses, know how devastating such a loss can be. It has taken me this long to begin seriously looking for another horse.

To start my search, I first checked the area where I live via newspapers, vets, horse people and anyone else I could think of, but with no luck. Either the horses for sale were advertised as something they were not or the prices asked were astronomical – like $10,000 and up. I wanted another Arab, but not a show Arab – I wanted a companion Arab, a trail riding buddy.

I love my Buddy. 

Next step - I went to the computer and began an on-line search. Let me tell you, what is presented in an on-line ad, more often than not, is far from the truth. For example, “14-year-old gelding, bomb proof …”. Right. Translated that meant age somewhere between 14 and 18, usually 18+, and hasn’t been ridden in five or more years. Bomb proof is supposed to mean calm, steady and dependable. But what I saw were horses who could not be caught, horses who would not stand still, owners who would not ride the horse in front of me (something a horse buyer must see before getting on an unknown horse), and horses whose feet had not seen a farrier in years. Apparently, the net was not the place to look.

Buddy 

On the off chance I would find my trail riding buddy, I decided to search for a suitable barn/stable (I say barn – sorry, old habit) and to find one whose owners shared my philosophy about caring for horses: daily cleaning of stalls; stalls with at least one window for light; stalls large enough for a horse to have “moving space”; either water buckets attached to the wall or automatic waterers daily cleaned and filled with fresh water; barn, arena and outside areas devoid of accumulated dust and debris; food, supplements and medications properly labeled and located in an area away from the general population of the barn; friendly, competent, knowledgeable staff who have the care and interest in horses to daily observe any unusual behaviors that might indicate illness or injury; the stable’s horses appear to be in good condition; plenty of pasture space so only two to four horses are pastured together, preferably mares together and geldings together; an indoor arena with good footing and devoid of piles of manure; and, access to outdoor riding areas.

Now, in my fantasy world, this kind of barn is available. Unfortunately, in the real world, it seldom is. However, if I could find one that had MOST of what I wanted, I would be happy.

Next post: The Search Continues.

The Haven: The Middle

“An inability to stay quiet …
is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind.”

– Walter Bagehot, 1826-1877

The Wonder of AnimalsI agree with British journalist, businessman and essayist Walter Bagehot who said that the inability to stay quiet is a failing of mankind. We humans seem unable, or unwilling, to leave our radios, televisions, Internet, cell phones and smartphones, to name just a few, to spend some quiet time with ourselves, to think about life, to reason, to define and to plan our lives. Such a place should not be that difficult to find, if we really want to look. (Ah, but that thought is for another time.)

Well, I need quiet time in order to deal with the “stuff” of life and my favorite quiet-time place is out-of-doors, surrounded by trees, birds, squirrels – things of nature – thus, my dream of The Haven.

My initial plan called for a garden surrounded by flowers and plants and featured, what else but a swing, where I pictured myself swinging afternoon hours away while I solved the ills of the world. Unfortunately poor soil and too many close-to-the-surface large tree roots dashed that plan; however, I am most willing to forgo the garden in favor of the roots because vegetable stands and farmers’ markets are readily available while trees are not, and so, Plan II was born.

An aside: My small backyard had been neglected for a few years before I moved in. Being on a decline, rain water washed the top soil away and left only something akin to dirt but a few steps below it, I think. There was no grass, only strange greenish colored weeds and even they were not flourishing. Being a neophyte, though, I spent my first two summers trying to grow grass in that poor soil but at the end of last summer, accepted the fact that grass was not to grow unless top soil was added (remember, I am a neophyte – it took me awhile to accept the obvious) and in the fall of last year, top soil was added, gently spread over the yard, and we all bedded down for the winter.

Getting ready to stay a while in The Haven. 

Back yard before top soil.

Ransom likes being outdoors.

Ransom helping clean up the yard.

The month of March was rather mild so I was able to begin serious branch picking up, weed pulling and general raking so that by the middle of May, my yard had a nice, smooth rich black look to it. I’ll tell you, folks, looking at my small plot of land and seeing that the few hostas I previously planted were thriving, was a thrill and I realized that my dream of The Haven just might come true.

Part of The Haven is for the garden.

Hostas, beautiful hostas.

Till next time … 

The Haven: The Beginning

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant;
if we did not sometimes taste of adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcome.

—Anne Bradstreet, c. 1612-1672

The Wonder of AnimalsFor those of you who create corn, beans, potatoes, and hundreds of other foods from acres and acres of dirt; for those of you who create red, blue, yellow and white flowers from acres and acres of dirt; and, for those of you who produce food and/or flowers but on a smaller scale, spring is a joyous time.

However, for those of you, perhaps like me, who have small plots of land waiting to become food and/or flowers, spring can be a time of adversity. Why? Because we know, from past experience, that we have “black thumbs,” defined as “the inability to bring anything out of the ground other than dirt clinging to your thumb,” and have had little luck gardening. But this year will be different. Right? Right! We will become members of the “Green Thumb Society,” defined as “the society designated only for that rare, talented group of humans with like-thumbs who bring food and/or flowers out of the earth.” Intimidating! But I’m up for it. Let the battle begin!

Armed with gloves, hat, rakes, kneeling pads (notice – plural), shovel, spade, hoe, and numerous other tools I was told I needed to become a green-thumber, I survey my small plot. Instead of a feeling of “let’s get at it”, panic took over and I fought hard to not drop all of my newly purchased equipment and run back into the house to the safety of my computer. However, I took the “Road Not Taken” (thank you, Mr. Frost), stood still and talked to my yard. I told it I would learn all I could about taking care of it and together, with its cooperation, we would have a yard to be proud of. Sound strange? Well, in the face of impending defeat, we humans often do strange things. However, before I go any further in this narrative, let me describe my little corner of the world.

Southmore 

My home is part of the Southmore Mutual Housing Corporation. I know, the name sounds rather cold and unfeeling, like a steel and glass high-rise in some large city – but Southmore is far from that. We are located in South Bend, Indiana, and enjoy 48 acres of grass and trees, with woods on one side. There are 72 buildings housing 314 condo/apartment homes – an idyllic environment for people, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums and deer. Southmore is “a little bit city and a little bit country” and a marvelous place to live.

in the backyard 

Southmore has an interesting history, dating back to the early war years of World War II. During the War, the government made available grant monies and loans for factories that were producing needed war armaments throughout the United States. These monies were used to build housing for workers who relocated to assist with this effort. In South Bend, at least three such housing developments were built – the company that built Southmore was Studebaker. At the end of the war, some of these housing areas were turned into apartments or businesses and some were torn down. Fortunately, the people who lived in Southmore decided to form a corporation, buy the housing complex and convert it into a privately owned housing community. Those who invested in Southmore purchased their units; however, the corporation kept some units as rentals to pay for expenses on the property. Through insight, foresight and love of the area, what started as war housing is now a wonderfully comfortable place to call home.

Now that the scene is set, the next post will feature The Backyard. Oh yes, Early says hi.

Early

Early does love his apples.

Squirrels, Abused and Abandoned Animals, and Gardening

The Wonder of AnimalsWhat a wonderful way to begin a lovely, sunny day – watching Early the Squirrel, and a bright red cardinal sharing breakfast and enjoying the sun. (Trivia: Did you know that the cardinal is the State Bird of Indiana?) Early is one of my yard squirrels who has adopted my dog, Ransom, and me. He greets us nearly every morning either by sitting on the porch railing waiting for breakfast or talking to us from the top of the yard shed where I put his food.

Early at breakfast

In a previous post, I wrote that I was going to share with you my research about squirrels. However, in my search for squirrel information, I came across an excellent article entitled “The Secret Life of Squirrels,” written by GRIT’s own Tim Nephew (May/June 2014). Tim covers such categories as: Destructive Guests; Good Grub; Biology; (descriptions of) Gray Squirrels, Fox Squirrels, Red Squirrels and Flying Squirrels; Removing Squirrels from Structures; and Fun Squirrel Facts. Tim’s article is thorough, well-written and informative. I see no reason to duplicate his work so I am referring readers interested in squirrels to read his article.

And with that said, I am refocusing (or is the current term “re-grouping”? I’m never quite sure what terms are “Politically Correct” – truth be known, I’m not even sure what “Politically Correct” means) my posts to include dogs, cats, horses, and my attempt to turn my not-in-good-shape small yard into a restful place for us all. The challenge here is going to be the yard, just now christened The Haven. Much reading and talking to successful gardeners is in store, and to that end, I began with Tobias Whitaker’s super GRIT blog post “Successful Small Property Gardening,” (3/23/2015) … a must-read for neophyte gardeners like me.

My yard.

My posts about animals often will focus on rescue, abandoned, abused and unwanted animals and part of this will include the need to alter animals’ ability to procreate.

Until I moved into the condo, I was a foster parent to five dogs, four cats and one horse. (A warning here to anyone considering becoming an animal foster parent … do not do what I did and become so attached to your charges that you adopt your “fosters” rather than allow your “fosters” be adopted. Believe me, it is so easy to do.)

Sadie fast asleep. 

Lucy takes a nap, on my desk.

Sadie (top) and Lucy

Well, yesterday, when I began writing this post, it was sunny and warm for this time of year, and my thoughts kept shifting from my post to an afternoon walk with Ransom. Today as I finish this post, it is snowing and cold and taking Ransom for a walk is not at the top of today’s Must Do’s, although I’m not sure Ransom agrees with this decision.

So much for 24 hours – what a difference a day makes.  Let us look forward to an early spring – like tomorrow!

‘Til next time …

Northern Indiana's Fox Squirrels

The Wonder of AnimalsAfter spending most of the summer and fall observing my neighbor Jo Ann’s squirrels, I decided I wanted my own little group. Naturally, my group also is Jo Ann’s group or at least, part of Jo Ann’s group, and they have their meals at her diner first. I think it is because she has gourmet food and I’m still serving bread bits and unsalted peanuts. I will improve my menu as soon as I learn more about what is healthy for them to eat. I had no idea that certain foods were unhealthy and even dangerous to give to squirrels. I thought that, since they are scavengers, anything would do. Wrong.

Indiana's Fox Squirrel

Indiana’s Fox Squirrel

A note here regarding my research, as I call it. First, posts are limited in size, so information regarding the Fox squirrel will be shared in many posts, and second, I found many websites that spent more time writing about the pesky side of squirrels and little about the value of squirrels. I find that in our world today there is so much negative about everything, I decided to concentrate on the positive side of squirrels. Yes, they can be pests, but then, can’t we all – whether 4 feet or 2?

Early sitting on the porch railing waiting for breakfast.Early sitting on the porch railing waiting for breakfast.

Ending my first week or so of squirrel researching and watching, I have recruited one little squirrel to my diner. I call him Early, and he faithfully waits for me every morning between 7 and 7:15. It took me a few days to realize that I had inadvertently set the breakfast time and this little guy (I think he is a boy) has taken my initial put-the-food-out time as THE time. I realized this when, after three days into my feeding, I opened the blinds to a cute little reddish-brown squirrel sitting on the window ledge looking at me. The next day, he was sitting up on the porch railing, about 6 inches from the door, waiting, and when I opened the door with breakfast, he jumped over to the top of the storage shed (the diner), turned and stared. I got the idea. His behavior seems to be set in stone – he has me trained. If I am late serving breakfast and I hear him chattering, guilt engulfs me and I hurry to get breakfast served. (Funny how we humans are able to train animals, isn’t it?!)

In the past few days, I have noticed that two to three other squirrels are having their breakfasts here – but stay on the edge of the circle of food. I didn’t know squirrels growled, but when they show up, he certainly makes a sound that sounds like a growl. He is protective of his food. Fortunately, the shed top is large. Strange to note that squirrels in this area seem to sit at the breakfast table longer in the mornings than any other time. Guess once they break the fast, the can nibble all day to fortify themselves enough to last until the next morning.

As I searched the web for squirrel information, I noticed that all of the dependable sites also were referenced in Wikipedia; consequently, because the information is basically the same, I am using Wikipedia as my source. I found working from one source was less cumbersome than shifting from National Geographic to Indiana DNR to Purdue University, etc. So, here we go …

Types: There are at least 200 difference species of squirrels in the United States, the Fox Squirrel being one of the largest sub-categories and the primary type that inhabits Northern Indiana. The Fox Squirrel is spread throughout most of the states, other than Pennsylvania and farther East. Fox Squirrels are found in open small forest stands rather than dense woods.

Fox Squirrel in front of his winter drey.

Fox Squirrel in front of his winter drey.

Nests: Nests are called “dreys” and are of two types, depending upon the season. The summer dreys are interlocking sticks high in the branches of trees, and winter dreys are usually hollowed out of tree trucks or thick ground brush and often used 25 to 30 years by various Fox families. Cohabitation in these dreys is not unusual, especially by breeding pairs.

Guess that’s about all for now. More on my new friend, Early, next post. Hope you are enjoying this trip through squirrel land, and again, please feel free to offer any comments, information and/or corrections to what I have posted. Your opinions matter. Thank you, Dave and Elizabeth, for your input. Very, very much appreciated.

Fox Squirrel 

Why Squirrels?

The Wonder of AnimalsHi, Fellow Bloggers and Readers:

My first blog post is a bit out of my areas of interest - horses, dogs, and cats - so finding myself writing about squirrels is a surprise, but I do hope you will enjoy reading about these little creatures. I am quite sure many of you are well-versed about these little rodents and I will appreciate any help, information or correction of my deductions you have to offer.

My introduction to squirrels began last year when I moved into a condo. Because of all of the trees, the area has many squirrels running around. Prior to moving into the condo, the sum total of my squirrel-knowledge was that they were little furry “rats” who ran around yards, climbed trees and liked nuts. I had no idea that they are such personable little beings from whom I can learn so much about local ecology.

In an attempt to meet my neighbors, my four-legged friend, Ransom, and I began to take daily walks. Our first spring walk turned out to be my introduction to squirrels when Ransom and I met Jo Ann, our 85-year-old neighbor who seemed to have a way with squirrels. These furry things were all over her yard. Jo Ann also was a dog lover and seeing Ransom, she invited us to join her in her large yard swing “to swing away the afternoon”. Her invitation sounded wonderful, but I was concerned that Ransom’s presence might frighten the squirrels. Jo Ann told me not to worry, because the squirrels loved the food more than they feared Ransom - and she was right. Other than a brief look and a wide berth around us, they continued their lunch. I was fascinated. I had heard relationships could develop between humans and squirrels, but I had never observed it.

As the days passed and we spent more time with Jo Ann, the squirrels adjusted to the addition of two strangers to the swing. In fact, they paid no attention to Ransom when he decided to lie on the ground rather than sit in the swing. It appeared that Ransom was now part of the scenery.

Jo Ann was delighted to share her squirrels’ visits with us. We learned that she had names for some of her little friends and, believe it or not, they responded to her when she called. Charlie was the most interesting of the group and the easiest to identify because he had no hair on his tail. We could not figure out what happened to him but we noticed that most of the other squirrels either ignored him or ran him off when he tried to get some food. Then there was One Ear, a little squirrel with only one ear, (makes sense, right?), and Beauty, who, when not eating, spent most of her time primping herself.

So, thus began my fascination with squirrels and my decision to begin a research project about my new little friends. Wish me luck.

Happy Ransom

Happy Ransom

On Being a Failed Foster Parent of Dogs – Molly

Recently, I wrote about being a Failed Foster Parent of Dogs and featured my first foster dog, Grace.  In Blog No. 2, I want to introduce you to Molly, a now five-year-old almost Jack Russell Terrier. 

Molly 

Molly did not come to me through a rescue group – she came to me through a neighbor.  Our conversation was one of those “across the fence” conversations we a tied to a tree ll have with neighbors.  Our conversation centered on family pets.  My neighbor, Reid, mentioned that, on a walk with his best canine friend, Jack, he saw a “cute” little dog on a very short leash tied to a tree.  Reid said he had seen this dog several times before, always tied to the tree with hardly enough room to turn around.  He told me he talked to the owner who she was trying to find a home for the dog (her name was “Dog”).  I listened to Reid talk about how sad this dog looked and how much he wish he could find a good home for her (that should have been my clue as to what was coming).  I agreed that the situation was very sad and hoped someone would take the dog. 

The next day, Reid stopped by again and asked me if I would consider giving “Dog” a home.  I stammered and stuttered but continued listening as he described how sweet this little girl was.  Well, what could I do but say yes.  The next day, the owner of “Dog” brought her to my home, handed her to me and said thank you - and promptly left. 

I looked at this sweet little girl with such trusting eyes and immediately thought of Pollyanna, the happy little girl of books and movies.  I put her down and she ran around my fenced yard barking at everything.  She did that for what seemed like an eternity – I think she was enjoying her first freedom in her young life.  She finally tired of running and came back to where I was sitting, laid down on my feet and went to sleep.  Molly joined our family in 2009, right after Grace came.  She and Grace became fast friends and I think that it was Molly’s love of everything that helped bring little Grace out of her shell. 

(An aside:  Molly was not spade, had worms and some other minor health issues.  Reid said that since he asked me to take Molly, he would pay all of the vet bills.  You know, people can be very, very kind!) 

Molly looks like “Benji” of movie fame and has the same personality.  She loves everyone and everything.  Just being around her makes me happy.  She has made herself the Mother Hen of my four-legged family and does a good job keeping track of them. 

Aren’t dogs amazing?!