Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Dog Shrink Cometh

The dog shrink came to our house last Friday, to visit the dog formerly known as Noelle. She was with us from 2 in the afternoon until 5:30, and charged us $50. Diagnosis- Depression, lack of socialization and anxiety.

I was not surprised that Bonnie, the Dog Shrink, found Juniper (what we now call the Dog formerly known as Noelle) to be depressed; after all, she has spent more than half her life living in a 4 by 5 cell at the local animal shelter. Brought in with her litter mates as a 6 month old puppy, she lived in the shelter for about 6 months, when she was adopted. Sadly, her adopted family had to return her to the shelter 9 months later, where she spent the next nine months waiting to be adopted. If that were my history, I'd be depressed, too. But my biggest concern, and the reason I called The Shrink, is Juniper's fear of Chuck. She is terrified, running from him, slinking out of the room when he comes in, refusing to come out of her crate when he opens it, backing away or collapsing into a pitiful heap when he tried to put the leash on her. I hated to see her so fearful.

Oddly, once the leash is on, Juniper is happy to walk with Chuck, and she will take treats from him when he is sitting down. We were doing all the things we knew how to do to make her more comfortable, and I thought we were making progress. But after five weeks, she still woke every morning a blank slate, losing all progress we had made the day before. When she started "rumbling" around Chuck, I knew we had to call for help. It wasn't quite a growl; no raised hackles or baring of teeth, but it wasn't a friendly noise, and she made it while backing away from him. I know a fearful dog can quickly become a biting dog, so a quick call was definitely in order.

Bonnie spent about 45 minutes talking with us about Juniper, her diet, her behaviors, our behaviors, and our expectations, before meeting the Dog. I told her my greatest hope for Juniper was for her to be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. I told her I didn't care so much if we actually got a certificate, but I wanted a dog who could meet the 10 behavioral expectations. Our last dog had a number of personality tics that made dealing with him difficult, and ultimately limited the life he led. When he died, I wanted a dog who would be able to go more places and do more things.

After talking, we brought Juniper out, and worked with her on some basic obedience. She already knew some commands, and we reinforced them, while adding some new ones to her repertoire. Bonnie told us that working with Juniper on basic obedience would help her see us as the alpha members of the pack. This would build her confidence and allow her to live her life with less anxiety, knowing that the alpha pack members were in charge so she didn't have to be. It was a long session, and we were all tired out at the end of it, but Bonnie told us she was very encouraged by our progress. Juniper had responded to Chuck, had worked well with the commands he was giving her, and had actually approached him to sit beside him and be petted. We were left with homework assignments to complete before our next meeting, suggestions for a change in dog food, and lots of handouts.

On Saturday I had to work all day. Chuck and Juniper were at home, and he said they worked quite a bit on the commands we had gone over the day before, with great success.

On Sunday, I took my turn and attempted to work with Juniper on our homework. Right away, we hit a big brick wall. If Chuck was in the house, Juniper was so worried about where he was, what he might be doing and if he would be coming into the room that she was unable to give me her attention. If we were working in the living room while he was downstairs in the family room, she had to continually go to the top of the stairs and check to see if he was coming up. If Juniper and I were in the kitchen and he was in the living room, she had to watch him from the doorway.

It was a dismal failure, she was unable to do anything I asked.

On Monday, when I got home from work, I let Juniper out of her crate. She checked every room in the house, looking for Chuck. When she established that he wasn't in the house, she returned and sat down beside me, as if to say "OK, now what."

I decided to try working with the three things we had trouble with over the weekend. To my great surprise she did each and everyone with very little practice! Apparently she knew what I wanted but her fear of Chuck was so great that she couldn't concentrate.

So it appears that we continue on, being consistent, being alpha, giving her enough time to realize that Chuck is not going to hurt her. She's a good dog, and a smart dog. I am glad we were able to give her a home, even if it will be a long row to hoe helping her become more confident. And that $50? Money well spent, I think.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Tomorrow we are getting a lamb. And that is something about which I have mixed feelings.

This morning, when the sun came up, this lamb was out in the field, thinking sheepy thoughts, looking for edibles in the snow. By now, dinner time, it is no longer alive, and on Saturday, it will be in my freezer as chops, roasts and ribs. That is an awesome realization, that this lamb is no longer alive simply because I like to eat lamb chops.

All of my sisters are vegetarians, and they chant “No food with a face.” I understand why they chose that path, and was, in fact, a vegetarian for several years. Pregnant with my first child, however, inexplicable cravings for Sonic’s chili cheese coneys brought an abrupt end to that, and since then I have been a carnivore. And besides, as I have pointed out to my sisters, if everyone was a vegetarian, then cows and pigs would become extinct.

But I feel that eating meat carries an enormous responsibility. I have to understand that I am responsible for the death of this animal. And equally, I am responsible for the life of the animal, as well.

Recently I read an article that voiced my feelings about this exactly. Why I Farm, by Bryan Welch, was published in the February/March issue of Mother Earth News, p. 78. In it he says “People often ask ‘How can you eat your own animals?’ Sometimes it’s a sincere question, meant to explore the emotions associated with raising your own meat. But often it’s more of an accusation, as in ‘How can you be so callous?’ So in response I might ask ‘How can you be so cruel as to eat animals without knowing them? Without knowing how they lived? Without making sure they were treated kindly and with respect?’”

A paragraph later, he says “I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should raise their own meat. But it’s perverse, isn’t it, that many people in our society seem to consider it more civilized to eat animals they don’t know? Meanwhile, industrial agriculture treats meat animals as nothing more than cogs in the machine, without regard for their happiness or basic well being.

“There’s a Buddhist wisdom in the stockman’s cool compassion. The best of them seem to understand that our own lives on this Earth are as irrefutably temporary as the lives of the animals, and that we should provide as much simple comfort and dignity to our fellow creatures as we can. After all, aren’t simple comfort and dignity among the most important things we wish for ourselves and our children?”

When I read this article, I wanted to shout “Yeah! What he said.” If I am going to eat an animal, I have to respect its life. And yet, I don’t raise my own meat. Despite living within walking distance of working farms, the covenant for my subdivision rules out farm animals. Since that is the case, I take another approach.

I’ve always been a great proponent of “voting with my dollar.” Shopping and the purchases I make are political statements for me, and the money I spend stands behind my beliefs. To that end, as much as possible, we purchase meat that has been raised locally. Sometimes we buy at the local 4H auction, other times we buy from local farmers who share our philosophy. Our lamb will be coming from an Amishman who milks the sheep and makes artisan cheese; our pork is raised by his son. We are currently eating beef raised by a local high school boy, who used the money he got from the auction to buy a car. We have the option of visiting the animals, of seeing them living out their lives before they end up on our plates. We are voting against factory farming.

The consequences of this have been greater than I expected, and in fact changed more than the way we eat at home. Eating out has become very different. We eat next to no fast food, we eat very little meat in restaurants, and in fact, we don’t eat out often. Lunchmeats are a rarity, purchased perhaps 4 times a year. Meal planning takes more, well, planning than it did when we could pick up a bucket of KFC and head home for dinner. And the meat we purchase tends to be more expensive than supermarket meat, so we eat less.

I am not perfect at this- we do still eat meat out occasionally; I still crave an occasional chili-cheese coney or Supersonic burger. I’m not at all sure that, given the opportunity, I am in a place where I could raise my own meat. But I feel that I am eating consciously, responsibly, and very well.

Pigs waiting to be shown at the 4H auction

Monday, February 19, 2007

Who's Who at the Bird Feeder

Some days, I think we provide a free breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet to more visitors than some of the Las Vegas hotels!

This month, with a 6 inch snow and ice cover, our birdfeeder is getting a lot of business. At the sunflower seed feeder, we have house sparrows, juncos, a Carolina Wren and a Cardinal pair. The sparrows and juncos come to the feeder, but also congregate underneath in the boxwood hedge, while the Carolina Wren and the Cardinals wait, perched on nearby trees for a space at the feeder. Surprisingly, the Cardinals are shy birds, and are often driven off by other, smaller birds.

The cardinals had a bumper brood last summer, and in August we had 6 or 8 adolescent cardinals coming around. You could tell they were adolescent- they wore thier feathers in unique disarray, and they weren't always graceful. They made me laugh every time I saw them. The young ones have struck out on their own now, and only one pair of adults remains; I assume it is the original pair.

The squirrels didn't bother the sunflower seeds feeder very much until this month, but a pair of nicely plump ones have been making inroads into the sunflower seeds. Usually a sharp knock on the kitchen widow scares the squirrels away, at least for a few minutes. My mother, who lives on a lake, has tried almost every kind of squirrel proof feeder with no luck. She finally resorted to trapping them in a live trap, and rowing them across the cove to release them. I decided to try a bribe.

I remembered that I had some ornamental corn left over from decorating a dinner last fall. The corn was still on the cob, and after I removed the husks, I tossed the corn out onto the snow near the blue spruce trees at the back of the yard. We'll see if that helps keep the squirrels away from the feeder. Perhaps if the squirrels don't like the corn, the rabbits or voles will.

We also have 2 suet feeders, and a Northern Mockingbird stuffs herself there daily. She (or he) also hangs around the hollybush, eating the hollyberries. I don't remember seeing mockingbirds in the winter before.

Earlier today, as I was watching out the window, a small Cooper's Hawk, or perhaps a Sharp Shinned Hawk flew in and sat in the beech tree. For the first time all day, the feeder and the backyard were empty; everyone went into hiding. I ran down to get the camera, but the hawk didn't stick around long enough to pose for me. We had a visit from a Harrier Hawk near the end of the summer. I have mixed feelings about seeing the raptors in the yard- they are beautiful to look at, and it is exciting to be able to see them so closely, but I hate to think I am providing a captive buffet for them! (Speaking of large raptors, a few weeks ago my older son looked out of his 2nd floor window in urban St. Louis and saw a bald eagle circling above the vacant lot behind him! I would have loved to have seen that!)

I'll start my robin watch soon. I thought everyone knew that seeing the first robin meant that spring had arrived, but last year I spoke to a young man who had never heard that piece of folk lore. I am always excited to see the first robin of the spring; it amazes me to see how they arrive so suddenly.
We haven't seen many chickadees this winter. The house finches were also missing from the feeder during the severe cold snap, but returned today, along with a pair of mourning doves and a blue jay.
If you are interested in keeping track of the birds that visit your feeder, check out Project FeederWatch

Garden notes- I planted 72 peat pots with leek seeds today. I want to get enough leeks to freeze and dry to use all next winter. To provide bottom warmth for the peat pots, I have the seed trays sitting on the waterbed in the spare bedroom. I discovered last year that this was a terrific way to start seeds. While I realize not everyone has a spare waterbed sitting around to use as a heat source, if you're one of the lucky ones who does, give it a try!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Planning the Garden

We have a great vegetable garden. Ten years of composting has created some wonderful soil.

When we moved here in 1997, we set up 8 4X4 raised beds, using cinder blocks. We grew some tomatoes and peppers, and usually some sunflowers.

Last year we expanded the growing area to 2 raised beds, 4 by about 18, by removing the cinder blocks between some of the raised beds, and tilling up the walkways. I wanted more space because I wanted to be able to produce enough vegetables to allow my husband and me to eat locally for as much of the year as possible.

This year I'd like to really optimize my growing space. I turned to my library, where I had a book on my gardening shelf, Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. It's too bad I didn't remember the book before I changed the size of the beds, but I think we will manage OK.
I also am thinking of changing what I plant- growing things that I am not able to purchase locally. Here in rural Central Pennsylvania I have access to a lot of farm stands where I can purchase most common vegetables. What I can't get are things like dried beans or vegetables that are out of the "norm".
This year we will put in 4 kinds of lettuce- Winter Density, a green Bibb-Romaine, and Eruption, a red Bibb Romaine. We are also trying Focea, a green butter head and Magenta, a red Summer Crisp. All of these can be planted close together to be picked as "mini-heads" at about 5 to 7 inches in height. I'm going to do better with my leeks, as well, planting Tadorna, and not planting so many, so close together. I just couldn't bring myself to thin them out last year.

From Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, my list includes Aconcagua peppers, on the advice of In My Kitchen Garden blogger Susan. I've got these in mind for the Ajvar ,the Bosnian roasted pepper spread I have developed a passion for. Ajvar calls for eggplant; in the past I haven't had much success with eggplants but I think about them every year. I haven't decided yet on them. For a little heat, I think we will go with Black Hungarian peppers, and for the Mexican food I love, Numex Big Jim and Pasilla Bajio.

I also want to try a variety of dried beans this year. We are not very fond of green breans, so they haven't had a place in our garden. But this year I want to try Broad Windsor Fava Beans, California Black Eyed Peas, and an heirloom Missouri Black eyed pea variety. I might also try Missouri Wonder, a dried bean that looks (and I hope tastes!) like pinto beans.

From Victory Seeds, I want to try French Green Lentils, as well as Petite Crimson. I was surprised to find out that lentils are a relative of vetch, and actually grow on a very short plant, that can be planted 20 per square foot. They are a cool weather plant, so I will need to get the seeds soon.

Last year we grew far too many tomato plants. I bought too many, and then allowed the volunteers to grow as well. This year I want to start the seeds, and only grow 2 types; Flame and Striped Roman. I may drop the roman tomatoes. While I can't get striped ones locally, I can buy red ones by the bushel.

I also planted too many summer squash last year. This year I will go with one variety of patty pan, probably Yellow Scallop and a winter variety Rouge Vif d'Etampes. I'm tempted by Atomic Red carrots, and perhaps Deep Purple. Last year I put in way too much Bright Lights chard- we'll have it again, but just a couple of plants! And finally, something I discovered for the first time this year is collards- I'll be putting in Flash.
This year I want to let some of the onions get large- in the past we have always pulled them to eat as green onions. And we're going to try a new way of growing potatoes, from a tip in the February/March issue of Mother Earth News, using cardboard boxes.
My biggest problem is that I like the planning of the garden, and the harvesting of the garden, but I'm not so big on the parts in between! I'm hoping that by using the Square Foot plan, I won't become overwhelmed.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New Dog

We have a new dog in our house, and it is an interesting adaptation.

Our dog, Ender, died December 23, 2006. He was 13, so while it wasn't unanticipated, it was a surprise- he really hadn't shown any signs of impending death. I did have a dream, around the first of December, in which Ender was playing with a dog my husband and I acquired one month after we got married, and who had died in 1990. I told him he wasn't to go play with Tanqueray without telling me first.

Ender was a terrific dog, but had a large set of idiosyncracies. He had come to us as a stray in 1995, and our vet estimated he was right at 7 months old. He had been living rough at the Lake of the Ozarks; we tried to find his owners but were unsuccessful. Ender was afraid of feet; wasn't too fond of people other than our family; was probably single handedly responsible for turning my father from a "dog guy" into a "cat person". He had, on occasion, snuck up behind people and bit them. But he learned to love our foreign exchange students (as long as they had ample supplies of dog treats) and co-existed amicably enough with two different house rabbits. If I had known as much about dog psychology when we first got him as I do know, I would have made different choices in how we dealt with him and his fears, and perhaps he would have had a more fulfilling life. But I think he was happy with us. He was difficult to live with, but we adapted and loved him.

Because of my addiction to The Animal Planet, I had been thinking of volunteering at the animal shelter for some time, or perhaps fostering a dog or two. I knew we couldn't do it with Ender; he was too alpha to share his house with another dog. Now that our house was sad and quiet and dogless, I went up to the shelter just after New Years. Unfortunately, our local shelter doesn't really foster dogs, so I volunteered to walk dogs on my lunch hour.

I had some dreams about what kind of dog we would have next. In my family, we have never really chosen our dogs, mostly we are chosen by them. This time, I thought I would take a lot of time, meet a lot of dogs, and find one who didn't bring so much baggage into the relationship. I thought I would like to have a dog who could be walked in the daylight, instead of at midnight (to limit the number of interactions with joggers, bicyclists and other dogs), a dog who could play with other dogs. Maybe even a dog who could become a therapy dog, and go with me to nursing home, and march with the Kindly Canines in the Halloween parade.

Well, the first dog I walked, a pitbull female who had been at the shelter for over 9 months, was definitely Not My Dog. She was incredibly strong, had no leash skills, and I couldn't get her to release the leash from her jaws in order to even WORK with her on leash skills. I left there severely humbled- I had visions of being the Grande Dame, taking the poor unfortunates out for the day. She was delighted to be out, but took all of my strength to even get from the building to the enclosure.

The second dog was also Not My Dog- a young husky lab mix who was sweet, but had way more energy than a couple of 50+ sedentary people without a fenced yard should deal with.

But on the Third Day, I met my match. A pretty 2 1/2 year old Akita Lab mix, she had been in the shelter half of her life, off and on. She had a lot of energy, but seemed pleased to walk with me. I still walked other dogs, but I walked her as well. We walked a few more days, and then I brought my husband up to meet her.

She didn't like him one bit. In fact, she was terrified of him. But she was happy to see me, and he admitted later that she did indeed seem to be my dog. I brought him up another day to meet her, she still didn't seem to like him much. But the shelter was overcrowded because of a recent seizure and we offered to foster her for a period, to see if familiarity helped get her over the fear. After 2 weeks we had to either adopt her or bring her back.

Well, of course we didn't take her back, and we have now had her unofficially for 2 weeks, and officially for 2 more. She is still fearful of Chuck, although less so when they are outside, or when she has a leash on, or when he is sitting in his chair with treats. She's getting better. Today she went into the kitchen and stole some bones off the counter- I guess she is feeling more comfortable. She loves to play in the snow, and can curl into the smallest ball I have ever seen. She's not the dog I thought I would get, but I was chosen, and that's a tremendous honor.

If you would like to share your life with a shelter dog, visit Petfinder.com