Animals

Written For Me

“Do you know what you need? You need a service dog.” 

That was how my husband proposed the idea after I began battling with severe vertigo and had passed out a few times. I had seen several doctors but we still didn’t have an explanation for the new bizarre symptoms that were honestly ruining my life. That wasn’t even my only health issue. I also had been spiking chronic low-grade fevers. I had issues with a butterfly rash across my face, joint pain, exhaustion, a stomach disorder, a kidney disease, blood pressure problems that I had never dealt with before, and ocular migraines where I would suddenly lose my vision.  

I couldn’t figure out how to handle everything or where to go next. My quality of life was greatly diminished and the issues with my body would easily wreck the kind of havoc that made every-day tasks nearly impossible… especially when things hit me at once. I could go a couple of weeks feeling amazing when out of left field I would be knocked on my behind for a month or two… or longer. I once lost my vision while I was in the middle of driving. I never saw the semi that was barreling down the highway towards my car. It happened so fast that Nikolai and I were almost taken out of this life for good. Something had to change. Anything! I was desperate.

Still… a service dog? Dogs like that are expensive right? Was I “sick enough” to have one? What did “sick enough” even mean? Was there a person behind the scenes who would qualify sick people for service dogs? What would people think of me for having to rely on a dog to make me a more functional person? The questions swirled around in my brain until it made me feel that much worse. I decided to do the only thing that make sense to me… I sat at a booth hunched over my keyboard inside our local coffee shop and I googled the heck out of it.

I learned that the only one who could approve my service dog request was my physician. I also came to the realization that people used service dogs to do all kinds of things, from helping with PTSD, to managing anxiety, and other health problems as well. Yet the biggest thing I discovered was that I was over qualified.

Incapable of preforming daily tasks due to a disability or illness?  

Check.  

Hospital visits that are frequent?  

Check.  

Official diagnoses on my medical records?  

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check! 

I read that owning and training your own dog with the help of a professional trainer was the fastest way to obtain such an animal. Otherwise, you might be sitting on a wait list for a couple of years or more. It takes a minimum of two years to train a service dog and you need to be committed to the endeavor or you both will fail. It’s one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things that you’ll ever do. Finding the right kind of dog would be a whole other mountain to hike. Temperament testing the dog’s personality for service dog traits and willingness to learn was just the beginning. Even that wouldn’t guarantee success. Dogs have a high rate of flunking out of service work.

Most people don’t have family who raise purebreds at their disposal. Most don’t have an army of people in their corner who have physically seen them suffer over the years either. I was blessed enough to have both. My grandparents had been raising Rough Coat Collies for well over fifty years. They came from a long line of calm, quiet, and gentle dogs. On top of that, my grandmother’s adopted daughter Isabell had worked for a neighbor who raised search and rescue German Shepherds, police dogs, and yes… even service dogs!

My mind was made up. I needed a service dog and with my doctor’s approval in hand… I knew exactly where to get one. I picked up my cellphone and called my grandmother. From that moment on, my life was forever changed by the most amazing dog my family and I have ever known. The events of her birth and that of her siblings are of such epic proportions that you almost had to be there to believe it.  

“I’m not positive, but in my gut, I think that Bambi is pregnant!” 

“How do you know Grandma?!” 

“Well, I don’t know for sure… but I feel it.” 

A week before easter my grandmother had felt that Bambi (Isabell’s German Shepherd) had been filling out her naturally lean frame. Bambi had connected multiple times with my grandfather’s dog Sampson, which was within itself rather miraculous. You see, Sampson was an old man for a purebred Collie. Even though my grandfather had passed away years earlier… Sampson (who was the last generations of purebred collies on my grandparent’s farm), was still very much alive.

We had wanted and loved these puppies before they were born. It was the end of an era for my grandparents but the beginning of an era for me because one of the babies was going to be my service dog. I spent many nights lying awake and praying for a pregnancy to take place. Begging God to provide the kind of dog who would help me become a more functional person for my family. It wasn’t a cure, but I needed to be more confident in my abilities to manage my household and health on my own while my husband was away for work.

The day before easter I was sprawled out in bed with my husband by my side and my 6-year-old son’s foot in my face. Nikolai had crawled into bed with us and spent the night kicking me in the head. It was a beautiful Saturday, there was a periwinkle hue over the mountain peaks and the fireball in the sky was just beginning to show off. It was going to be a lovely, relaxing weekend… until my phone rang.

“You’re aren’t going to believe this! You just aren’t going to believe it!” My grandmother’s voice was lively and animated. 

I yawned, stretched my legs out before me and mumbled sleepily “What time is it? Why are you up so early?”

“SHE DID IT! WE HAVE PUPPIES!” 

I flew to a fully awake sitting position among piles of blankets and maneuvered the limbs of my family away from me. “What do you mean? How?! Last week you weren’t even sure if she was pregnant and now, we have puppies? WE HAVE PUPPIES!” 

I squealed and my body shook with excitement “I HAVE A SERVICE DOG IN TRAINING!!” 

Had I stuck to the typical service dog rules… it may have made my life easier. Rules such as, “not choosing a puppy until you have them professionally evaluated first” are important to a higher success rate. My wonderful trainer lived in Georgia with me and these puppies were located in Arizona with my family. I decided to trust God and do my best to evaluate them myself through facetime. I don’t recommend doing what I did, but if I had done things any differently… than this would be a different story. Tallulah wasn’t the right dog but she was right for me.

Bambi had her babies in a field, choosing to hide them rather than be cozy and warm inside the house. My mom and my grandmother saw blood and found a hole that she dug to hide them in. The first two (and the oldest) puppies never made it into the foxhole. Their bodies were discovered lifeless several feet away. My mom ran her hands over them, rubbing the puppies with all her might. She breathed life into their mouths and gave them CPR to revive them.

One of the two puppies yelped and began rooting but struggled to latch or eat. The other laid limply underneath my mother’s hands. She called me with tears pouring down her face and I listened to her voice quiver as she whispered a prayer over the tiny animal’s body. Hours went by and she continued begging the fellow to live until his body became cold to the touch, stiff, and ridged. There were no more soft sounds from a beating heart. No shallow breaths being taken. He was gently set aside in the dumpster behind the house so that the other dogs couldn’t take him away before she had a chance to bury him. She devoted the rest of her time to encouraging the puppy who didn’t want to eat, to nurse.

Tallulah was found with one of her brothers in the hole her mom dug out of the earth to save them. The moment I saw her picture on my cellphone… I knew that she was mine. It was as if God took the extra time to write my name on her. She was the only puppy born with a large black letter “L” marking on her back… a characteristic trait that she eventually grew out of. Yet she had been written into existence especially for me. Her marking was a beacon of light within the whirlwind of darkness that my health had plunged me into once again.

After a long day, my exhausted mother had to dispose of the dirty towels and blankets from Bambi’s birthing room and move them into the dumpster. She had helped Bambi’s babies to nurse and even delivered a few more puppies along the way. The sky was fading from blue to silver and the stars were making a dashing appearance of their own. It was almost time to bury the body of the first born. The closer she got to the trash can the louder a scuffle from within became. Twelve or more hours had passed and there had been no sign of life or a will to live. Yet she lifted the lid and there he was! A living, breathing, wiggling miracle searching for his mother. That’s how “Lazarus” changed my mom’s life. A puppy that was completely dead came back to life with nothing more than faith and a prayer… the day before Easter.

My own prayed for puppy, has rescued my life countless times. She has warned me when it wasn’t safe for me to be driving. She has told me when my blood pressure became dangerously high. She helped chase an intruder out of my house and away from my son. She’s watched over my baby as if he were her own. I’ve seen her soothe Nikolai on sick days, and giggled to myself over the joy of her bubblegum pink tongue kissing away his sadness until laughter was all he had left. She has put herself between me and those she didn’t trust on multiple occasions and I’ve learned that she’s the best judge of character that I have ever meet.

There were moments within this amazing first year together when I thought that she wouldn’t make it as a service dog. We have been through trials that I never saw coming. Yet between my wonderful trainer’s advice (thank you Sharon!) and Tallulah’s desire to learn, my relationship with this incredible dog has only strengthened. She has saved me again and again. I owe her my life.

If you enjoyed this post about Tallulah, I have written other posts about her as well that you may want to check out! You can find those posts here, here, and here!

Animals

Tiny Terrors

Nature hasn’t always been kind to me. There have been a number of instances where my love for animals has gotten me into trouble. Nothing reminded me of this more than the meme that came across my Facebook page a few weeks ago. The bold writing prompt stated to “Name an animal you’ve been chased by other than a dog.” The more I sat and thought about it… the more interesting my list became.  

I decided to re-post the meme to Facebook along with the catalog of events that I had created without any further explanation. Several friends came across what I had written and had questions about how I got into such unusual circumstances to begin with. I had some of them laughing hysterically while others were horrified. I’m not entirely sure how to justify everything other than to say that I am and always will be, a lover of four legged and feathered creatures. I prefer their company over human beings and I just can’t seem to help myself.  

A picnic basket slung over my arm, I laced up my salmon and slate colored tennis shoes to aid in the search for the perfect location. My family and I had been hiking through the mountains of North Georgia to find a lake that we had never seen before. The temperatures were sweltering into the upper eighties so it was imperative to find the perfect shady location to prevent my skin from turning the same shade of pink as a rosy maple moth. After a lip-smacking meal, we decided to discard our trash before heading out on our next adventure. 

Within seconds of pushing the lid back to drop the contents inside, a squirrel launched itself at my horrified face. I barely had a moment to react but somehow dodged seconds before its outstretched claws grabbed at my gaping jaw. I screamed and ran but the tiny terror chased me around the parking lot. I used the car tire to lift myself up onto the hood of our vehicle yet the little jerk was persistent. My husband, who attempted to aid in my rescue (while uncontrollably cracking up) unfortunately became the next victim.

There we were, two grown adults being chased around our car by an animal who didn’t weigh more than a couple pounds. The evil little thing stole the uneaten crust that I dropped off of my son’s sandwich. He chirped angerly at us before finally racing back to the bin with his treasure and diving underneath the can’s swinging lid. That’s the last time I’ve ever tossed anything away without double checking for squirrels. I later came into contact with a woman who had been bitten and attacked by a squirrel herself, she was forced to get a series of rabies shots and even required surgery! Never underestimate the size of a creature or the damage they are capable of inflicting. 

Before the sun had graced the day, my girlfriend and I tacked up our horses so we could enjoy a foggy trail ride through the woods. Moody mornings have always been among my most favorite kind of mornings. There was a clearing where the tall grass swayed in the breeze and tickled the bellies of our horses. It was the best spot to allow my chestnut mare to take her time so she could gather enough sweet grass in her mouth to turn her lips green. I was enjoying the gentle sway of my hips rocking to her gait when I noticed her swiveling ears and felt the flick of her tail. All at once I felt the warning of danger as her body tensed underneath me. 

“Mia” who was normally quiet and steady, balked and danced a jig using her long slender legs. My eyes searched the wood line looking for the obvious such as a herd of deer, a bear, or a bobcat. Instead, my girlfriend pointed and gasped while holding her own mare steady from surging forward into the thicket. There under our feet were six bottle brush black tails with striking white stripes through them. We immediately stopped holding our girls back to allow their hooves to fly. I looked behind us as we galloped away only to realize that we were being chased by a family of skunks. They ran after our horses but thankfully our girls outraced them before they had a moment to spray us. I have no idea what it would take to get the smell of skunk off of a horse and I didn’t want to find out but it was a close call! 

One of my most bizarre encounters occurred while taking a walk through a Florida subdivision. Out of my peripheral I saw the ground move below the towering pines and realized that I had stumbled upon a roll (also known as a herd) of armadillo. They typically don’t come out during the day and I had never seen one alive before. I had to bury one that our dog Moose killed on our farm. I remember being shocked to come across one on our little mountain… but this situation was something else entirely. 

I got a little too curious and stuck around to watch them in order to understand what they were eating. Unfortunately, that’s when they noticed me as well. I’ll never again assume that armadillos are slow moving and social animals because once they realized I was there, they began to chase me. I had to run for my life past a row of houses and a gawking girl in pigtails that was sitting on her tricycle. I was convinced that if they caught up to me that I might contract leprosy. I never did figure out what they found so delicious but I left my dignity behind so I could escape with my health intact… and that was good enough for me. 

It’s no secret that I loathe swimming (see last week’s post on this subject here). Since I was young, I’ve hated water activities of any kind and preferred to read a book pool side than join my peers. I’ll happily wade out into the water but once its lapping at my belly and I can no longer see my toes… I’ve had enough. Nikolai (my son) and Rob (my husband) talked me into going swimming at our favorite mountain top lake with them. I was having a wonderful time cooling off until I felt something bite me on the rump. Swirling about to save myself, I brushed it off as a fluke until it happened again. Then again! Only that last time… really hurt!

I screamed for my life and tried to run through water to get to shore but the stupid thing just kept biting me! I couldn’t figure out what it was and I couldn’t get traction. I shoved past a group of kids, stubbed my toe on a rock, tripped, and landed face first with an epic 10/10 worthy splash. Rob and Nikolai didn’t even try to hide their amusement and neither did the locals. When I finally made it close enough to shore to search my swimsuit bottoms, I felt humiliated to realize that the culprit which had bitten on my derriere was a small but apparently hungry fish. There wasn’t a soul on that beach that wasn’t laughing at my horror show and azalea-red cheeks.

Among all the birds in the bird world, Sparrows and Canadian Geese are my least favorite species. Sparrows are known for being territorial and Canadian geese… well they’re known for attacking people. My most traumatic memory as a four-year-old was when I attempted to feed bread to a Canadian goose only to have it come after me. It bit my finger, took some of the flesh off of it, and then beat me with its massive wings. Now having owned a farm as well as geese… I’m older, wiser, and far more prepared to handle them. Yet I’ve held a grudge ever since.

When Tallulah (my service dog in training) was around 11 weeks old, a territorial sparrow at a hotel gave both of us a lesson in PTSD. There we were, enjoying a walk together to stretch our legs outside our hotel room when a ninja in trees began to nail me repeatedly in the head. I never saw it coming! Poor Tallulah was caught off guard as well. One moment she was squatting to pee and the next, this insane bird was slamming into her nose pointy beak first. My brave half German shepherd girl yiped and attempted to hide behind me for cover.  

This bird wasn’t giving up. As we ran from it, the bird flew from one tree to the next in pursuit of execution. Our only chance of escape was to run inside and allow the glass side-door to slam behind us. I will say that although the bird made Tallulah’s bathroom breaks a nightmare… we enjoyed watching the show from our hotel window as it attacked other unsuspecting victims. One woman clutching the hand of her lover had screamed and tossed her pool-side reading material at the bird. Another gentleman walking a Pitbull had to pick up his dog and run across the parking lot to his car when his dog became paralyzed with fear.  

A horse, a donkey, a group of pigs, more than one rooster, an evil goat, a turkey, a snake, a swan, a bear, a feral cat, a racoon, a buffalo, and so many more have chased me. I have enough stories that I could probably fill the pages of a book. You would think that it would deter me but somehow, I only love them more which is probably why my neighbors know me as “the crazy animal lady.”  

Is it just me or have you had some crazy experiences too?  

Nikolai and Winnie (don’t worry I’m not a horrible parent, just a photographer)
Animals

The Most Unlikely Friendship

Other than being a pretty face, Aspen arrived on our farm without a true purpose and with very little expectations from me. I had heard that geese made wonderful guardians for chickens and livestock, but I really only picked him out because I thought he would look lovely swimming around in our creek. He was a sight to behold for sure but in a very short amount of time his real worth came in teaching my family that the best friendships happen organically and when you least expect them.

Noelle and Bells we’re Aspen’s mates and even though he loved his girls, to our delight he still made time for us. He would spend the early morning hours preening his stunning white and silver down and then take his daily walk to the creek with a dame (female goose) on either side. Shockingly Aspen set aside the late afternoon warmth in order to sunbathe right next to our front door by himself. He would peak into our little house and watch our every move. If he caught someone walking by in the living room he would tap-tap-tap on the glass and horrify them with what sounded like a bike horn inside of a megaphone.

“HONK!!!”

If he was ignored further, he would waddle down a step or two so he could peak into the other window and tap on the glass over there. He would make as much racket as possible in order to get the human contact that he felt he justly deserved. Back and forth this crazy bird would go from one window to the next even long after we had tossed him kitchen scraps in an attempt to silence him. His nemesis the broom would shoo him down the stairs to prevent Aspen’s poop from sticking to our welcome mat but even that wasn’t a strong enough deterrent to keep him away for very long.

In the middle of a weekday Noelle went missing and Bells became Aspen’s leading lady. Several months went by before Bells went missing as well. Predators are an unfortunate hazard of farm life and in the summer, we become surrounded by hungry mating coyotes. Aspen kept to his routine without his girls but his love affair with people (most particularly my husband) grew stronger than ever. As Rob (my husband) would leave for work, Aspen would fly the entire length of our driveway and chase his car all the way down the dirt road just to catch up to him. This crazy goose would then hitch a ride home in the car so that my husband could drop him back off before attempting to leave for work all over again.

I was sitting on my bed distracted from having deep conversations with my grandmother over the phone when a deafening “HONK! HONK! HONK!” overpowered my ability to speak or listen to anything that was being said to me.

There in my bedroom stood our insane goose. His big blue eyes swirling suspiciously to get a better look at my face from his position on the floor and his feathers puffed out for full effect. Apparently, Rob had been bringing in groceries and left the storm door open just enough for Aspen to slide his beak into so he could finally make his way inside the house. He had been trying to follow the dogs inside for ages but this time he finally made it! There he was filling my bedroom with his megaphone voice box when my husband and our son Nikolai sprinted to my rescue in order to aid in chasing him back out again.

This bird somehow dodged three people only to escape by waddling between Nikolai’s open legs. He pitter-pattered as quick as his flippers could take him into the living room where he helped himself up onto the sofa. When he thought he was cornered he spread open his stunning wingspan to fly around the kitchen counter before landing with a wicked “THUMP!” back onto the living-room floor. It took some football style tackling but my husband was successful at scaring him out of the house again. Rob then caught the big guy outside and brought him back in to make a round of apologies.

He once had a week-long vacation spent at one of my best friend’s house. While farm sitting for me, he made it a point to climb up into Heather’s truck and out-right refused to get back out again. Luckily for Aspen, Heather spoils my farm more than I do. She came to the conclusion that my poor goose was lonely so she hauled his kiddy pool all the way to her house. She created a pen of his own where she fed him all the kale he had ever dreamed of… until Aspen fell in love with Jimmy (Heather’s husband).

Poor Heather got caught up in a love triangle between Aspen and her beloved Jimmy. Aspen loved Jimmy so much that he would bite at Heather if she tried to get between him and the whirlwind love of his life. Aspen would fly to Jimmy so he could sit on Jimmy’s foot, where he would love bite the heck out of Jimmy’s knee caps before making sweet love to him by humping his foot. I have never laughed so hard or snorted so loudly as the night I got that phone call from the hysterical and gasping for air version of my friend Heather.

We had joyful tears poring down our cheeks as Jimmy exclaimed in the background… “It’s not funny!!! He tried to mate with me!”

Aspen also tried to mate with Rob as well. As Rob was sitting outside working on our broken-down dodge in the driveway, Aspen would get upset over any lack of interest in him by the men within his vicinity. He would steal Rob’s tools and haul them off into the woods. I would watch the two of them as they interacted with one another from the window while clutching my heaving sides. Rob would yell and chase down this massive goose while carefully searching the bramble for his missing equipment. However, the longer Rob went on ignoring him the angrier Aspen got until… he would love-bite Rob in the knee cap and start dry humping Rob’s leg and foot. Whenever Rob wasn’t home, our poor farrier became Aspen’s next love interest whenever he popped by to trim the hooves on the equine.

Until Aspen we had no idea that Geese would hump the objects of their obsession. We also had no clue that they might get so attached to one person that they make the decision to mate with them for the rest of their lives. We bought some baby ducklings who liked to follow behind Rob and I. Aspen took to them as if they were the fruit of his love for my husband. He looked after them, took walks to the creek with them, and scolded Rob for neglecting them.

We had a family movie night one summer evening and while being emotionally invested into the plot, Aspen snuck in to join us on the sofa. When I got up to grab a second helping of popcorn… I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. That crazy goose had his eyes glued to the screen and watched the movie as if he understood everything that was being said. He even reached over to steal some popcorn that Nikolai had dropped between the cushions.

I think my most favorite memory was when a car pulled into my driveway to deliver a package. A man stepped out of the passenger seat carrying a box that they thought was mine but he only got halfway to my front door before spotting Aspen. That bird spread his wings open and screamed a battle cry that I could hear from within my house. The poor unsuspecting man’s face changed to several shades of white. He threw the box at Aspen and made a run for the car door. His foot lost grip and slipped in the mud underneath his boot as he scrambled to reach the door handle. Aspen had already surpassed the runway for flight and landed directly on top of this poor soul. He was bashing his wings against this man’s head while biting the guy who was now screaming for his life. To this day that car made the fastest three point turn that I’ve ever seen.

We loved Aspen so much that we created a dating profile on Facebook to help him find the perfect mate. It got thousands of views and spread joy to everyone who got to know him through social media. We also tried to keep Aspen safe by penning him up at night in our big coop with all the chickens. Yet he made his opinion on the matter VERY clear to us when in retaliation and anger he would grab the chickens by the back of the head and launch them through the air behind him. Like a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum at the expense of the poor chickens. He would thrash his wings against the wire pen, and stomp around throwing chickens in his wake.

We came to the understanding that his happiness revolved around his ability to go where he pleased… even if that meant I was scrubbing goose poop off my front porch every single day. His zest for life was more important than our desires to keep him as safe as possible even if at some point we would have to live without him. Besides that we were sure that even the neighbors could hear him scream/honking in anger over his confinement. The quality of a life is far better than the quantity of days in which that life is on this earth. We knew that his days were numbered and yet we had our dogs on patrol to keep him around for as long as we could.

Even still, when that day finally came it hurt our family deeper than we could have ever anticipated. We missed the sound of Aspen’s voice echoing through the mountains. We searched the woods for a body to bury but we never found one. Whenever we went hiking around the farm and looked behind us to where he normally would be… the only thing left was emptiness. Aspen became a beacon of light within our lives, an endless supply of humor, but most of all… he became our friend.

Aspen watching Nikolai play, taken with my “good camera”
Aspen, Noelle, and Bells
If we took a walk… he had to come too!
Sneaky boy!
My husband with Aspen enjoying a bonfire
Watching over his ducklings
One of the MANY times we had to escort him back home 🙄 😅
Animals

The Art of Being Patient

The quickest way to ruin a watercolor painting is by rushing to add layers. Every stroke needs time to swirl, bloom, and dry before tackling the next one. If you get overly excited to see the finale by rushing through the waiting period… the end result may be a muddy image. Before you know it, a piece that had potential is ruined and the only fix is to start again.

Photography editing works in a similar way, choosing to walk away from an image can help things stand out that need correcting. Key details easily get overlooked when you don’t give yourself a chance to see it with fresh eyes and a new perspective. So many times I would get overly excited to share something and I’d post an image online or E-mail it to a friend only to discover a day or so later that I needed to go back and perfect it. Choosing to be impatient caused mistakes to be made.

Unfortunately I’m the queen of rushing things. When I see something I want to tackle, I don’t stop until I get what I’m aiming for. There’s something to be said for having tenacity but having a lack of patience is not a good character trait. My husband often gets frustrated with me when rather than waiting on him to help me with a task, I do it on my own and end up messing it up. I get flustered with life in general when I have to wait on the outcome of events.

Life is constantly teaching me invaluable lessons on the art of being patient no matter how many times I need to be re-educated. One of my biggest teachers as of late has been Tallulah my service-dog-in-training. When we started our training sessions, Tallulah would growl or bark at any stranger who came across our path. One beautiful summer day a jogger on my favorite walking path spied Tallulah and I enjoying a walk together.

“Oh my gosh! What a BEAUTIFUL puppy!” She gushed as she bent down to pet Tallulah.

Tallulah’s body became stiff, ridged, and alert. She growled deep within her rib cage, barked with her “big girl” voice and backed up into my legs. The woman’s outstretched hand trembled, she recoiled in horror, and quickly went back to jogging… in the other direction. Tallulah had no interest in being touched by that stranger or any other strangers we came across. She reacted over a little old lady working in tractor supply one morning. Refusing to take a treat from the woman’s fingertips. Another time she became terrified of a 4 year old boy even though she had always been amazing with my own kiddo.

Upon seeing how fearful Tallulah’s reactions had been, I had some serious concerns about her service dog training. A cashier at a grocery store even made the remark that they considered petting her… but she looked way too nervous and it made them feel uncomfortable. One night I stayed up late discussing my fears about investing money into Tallulah with my husband. We went over all the options together and decided that giving up wasn’t one of them. I desperately needed this dog, and she needed someone to work with her.

Every time I took Tallulah out I used positive reinforcement to correct her behavior and create better habits. Somedays we had setbacks that shook me so much that I would send texts about my frustrations to my trainer. I continued to have doubts over my abilities to teach Tallulah and I worried over her ability to learn and adapt. My impatient nature wanted to see results in Tallulah’s behavior immediately but she needed to learn at her own pace.

Little-by-little, Tallulah began to change. We would spend an hour, or thirty minutes in town together doing training sessions and I could see her dark brown eyes searching to grasp what I was trying to teach her. I would watch her think through a situation and after sleeping on it and tackling it again, she would suddenly choose the right behavior. It didn’t come naturally to her, we had to work on it every single day.

We continued to have setbacks (and still do) but rather than getting comments like “Your dog looks really nervous!”

I started getting compliments along the lines of “Oh my goodness, that’s the most well behaved dog I’ve ever seen!”

I once even heard a stranger in a grocery store gasp and say “I wish MY dog behaved that well!”

I found that Tallulah enjoyed learning as much as I enjoyed teaching and having her with me. I decided to take Nikolai to school one morning and leave my girl at home because there wasn’t any errands that I needed to accomplish in town. I got Nikolai buckled up but I had forgotten something in the house. Without much thought I left my car door open to run inside and get what I needed. Upon my return, Tallulah had found the open car door and was patiently waiting in her spot in the back seat for me to put her vest on.

Another time Tallulah chased my car down the dirt road and I had to take her back home again. It took a lot of training to teach her to stay home when asked and even then she would stand in the driveway looking forlorn as I pulled away. As much as I wanted to always take her with me, some situations (such as MRI’s at the hospital) required her to stay home. She needed to learn to be able to respect that. When she finally understood what I was asking, she stayed home but that didn’t mean she was required to look happy about it.

Whenever I rushed Tallulah into grasping something, it took twice as long for her to learn it. She wasn’t interested in my timeline. She could sense my frustration which only served to feed her own frustrations in me and got us nowhere. Our relationship grew only when I respected that some things required more time and patience than others and that her timeline was more important than my own.

Not giving up on Tallulah has payed off countless times. One day I tried to take her into Walmart with me but she refused to get out of the car. I couldn’t figure out why I had to coax her into it. She now loved going into stores with me and it was an unusual behavior for her. About fifteen minutes later my blood pressure was so high I thought I was going to pass out in the middle of the pharmacy department. Tallulah had been trying to tell me something was off the entire time. She helped me make my way to the blood pressure cuff and my reading was something like 178/146. She kept bumping me with her nose but I never registered that something was very wrong. My heart rate looked as if I had just finished running a marathon.

On my way out, even the greeter asked me if I was feeling okay. My cheeks were on fire, I was breathless even though I hadn’t walked far. Yet Tallulah guided me safely back to the car where I sat resting until my head felt clear enough to drive home. When I crawled into bed to take my medicine… she laid across my chest. Big brown eyes full of concern and tongue lapping at my neck. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom or kitchen without her there to guide me.

Tallulah’s ability to teach me the fine art of being patient has drifted into other areas of my life. It’s been easier to take a step back and accept things as they are. I’ve also learned that sometimes the journey is sweeter and more valuable than the outcome. I wouldn’t have the kind of bond that I have with Tallulah if we both hadn’t worked so hard to get to where we are. I also wouldn’t appreciate our relationship nearly as much if it had come easily to us. We still have a long way to go, but I know that having the patience to overcome obstacles will help us get there.

Animals

Winkin, Blinkin, Nod, & Night

We have hit the ugly phase of winter where the trees look pitifully dead. Any snow left on the ground has clods of dirt marring it’s purity, and the grass is so saturated with rain that walking turns into wading ankle deep in sludge. With fifty five days left until spring, I find myself cheerfully thumbing through seed catalogs to pour a little sunshine into this tediously gloomy waiting period. I dream up garden fencing ideas, farm life additions in every size, and carefully map out how my cut flowers might grow best for the most lovely bouquets.

Spring is the busiest time of the year for our little farm. Seedlings are started before the last frost hits. Pods of sprouts will line every spare surface in our little house. Large bags of mulch, compost, and rabbit manure is hauled from one area to another. Particularly warm and dry afternoons are allotted to re-staining porches and flower boxes so that that they may look breathtaking once they are overflowing with blooms again. We take care to plan out our vegetable gardens and landscape around them accordingly. The briars are dug up, unwanted trees are cut down, and any hardwood is cut into rounds and stacked to season until winter. Even our stalls and enclosures get a facelift with a fresh coat of paint just in time for new arrivals.

The highlight of spring’s blessings are the tiny poof balls that bathe in our farmhouse sink and follow at our heels during farm chores. Or the long ears and scrunchy noses that we can hold and plant kisses on while they rest in our hands. One year we had around thirty ducks on our little farm. I would sometimes have to take a walk up to my neighbors house in order to chase them all back home again. They thoroughly enjoyed riding down the creek to go exploring.

Some of their quacking sounded more like an old woman cackling, and I’m sure it made for a funny scene to bystanders. My wet red hair piled onto my head, a fuzzy pink bath robe tied at my waist, sporting gum boots and bare freckled knees. A cup of tea probably sloshing over my fingers, while chasing our ducks home who were laughing as I was scolding them. Occasionally my neighbor up the hill will drive by and wave at me while giggling to herself and shaking her head. I’m known as “the animal lady” by everyone in our neighborhood, but there are worse things to be called.

The chickens have already begun to hide their eggs in the funniest of places in order to start nesting. Just the other day when it was unusually warm, I discovered a pair of hazel eyes glaring at me from within Harlow’s round bale. I had reached my hand into the bale to pull hay and nearly jumped out of my skin when I discovered something fuzzy instead. Not a broody hen in sight but instead, our barn cat Tetley was diligently laying on a clutch of colorful eggs hidden within a pocket that Harlow had eaten out of his hay.

Nikolai couldn’t contain his hysteria and announced that Tet would forever be known to him as “Mama Tet”.

We haven’t had bunnies on our farm since last summer when “Jellybean” (Nikolai’s bunny) passed away. Violet our other bunny was so strongly bonded with Jellybean that when her friend passed, she passed shortly after. We truly believe that Violet died from a broken heart. Nikolai was a wreck over it. I had to tell him what happened after I picked him up from school one sunny afternoon. The hardest part about farm life is loss. Loss to predators, loss to ailments, and loss to senselessness. Sometimes animals die and we don’t have a clear cut reason to bring us closure. Nikolai’s arms wrapped around his knees, his voice shook, and the sobbing left him struggling for air.

Our very first bunny was named Fed-a-lot and we called her Lottie. She was deeply loved by all who knew and meet her. She was a Giant Flemish Rabbit who was the size of a small dog. She lived in our house and knew how to open her cage door to run around and play. She would thump her foot when she wanted cilantro and would race you to the refrigerator. She was something wonderful. When she passed we buried her on our farm with a bulb of purple star shaped florals that would bloom yearly and I promised Nikolai that someday we would own another Flemish Giant. Recently when I went to pick up feed at the local feed store, I inquired about bunnies for sale. Nikolai held his breath when I asked about Flemish Giants.

An image I took of our Lottie

“We don’t have any or keep any here… but I can order some for you from our breeder!” The clerk said enthusiastically.

That made Nikolai’s entire week. We spent the car ride home discussing rabbit names. We decided on getting two females and I racked my brain for something clever to call them whenever we got to pick them up. I typically keep a name bank in my head for times when I come across unusual names that we like and I save them up for animals that are exceptional. While leaning in to curvy mountain roads, I recalled a story my Grandmother told me. It was about her mother, four tiny kittens, and a nursery rhyme.

My Grandmother’s father was given a pregnant Siamese cat from a friend that didn’t want anymore cats. The mama cat (who was sweetly named “Siami”), gave birth to four beautiful squirmy kittens. My Great Grandmother (Jessie) had a knack for coming up with unique names for both animals and people. The incredible woman was born with one arm that wasn’t fully developed. With one usable hand she raised several children and was an avid animal lover like myself. Although she had a hard life… she never let anyone call her disabled or say she couldn’t do something. She could hold a wiggly kitten in the crook of her “bad arm” while changing a baby diaper with the other. She stumbled across a nursery rhyme about resting (see poem below) and decided to call the kittens “Winkin, Blinkin, Nod, and Night.” Nod and Night were given away to good friends while Winkin’ and Blinkin’ stayed in the family.

My grandmother told me that Winkie was her cat and he would drape himself around her neck and stay that way for hours. He would climb trees and follow her on walks. Wait for her to get home and spend all day curled up in her lap. As I was racking my brain for bunny names… the story about my Great Grandma and four little kittens flashed into my mind. It was perfect fit. I ran it by Nikolai and he agreed. If we got another black bunny (or two) like Lottie we would name them “Nod and Night” and if not… we would call them “Winkin and Blinkin”.

Baby Lottie in an Easter basket
Animals, Uncategorized

Tallulah… in boots!

I don’t know what it is about Tallulah wearing boots that brings out the absolute worst in people. I can’t say that she’s brought out the best in people when she wasn’t wearing boots but I can say with certainty that the boots make interactions with other people far worse than usual. It’s as if people see them and suddenly lose their manners.

Tallulah and I can’t go into a store and be left alone. If I go in for a single item, along the way we will get stopped at least two or three times. Can you imagine everyone at a grocery store stopping you to ask you what you’re doing there or trying to be friends with you? If the store is larger and more crowded that number vastly increases. These moments happen even more frequently when Tallulah is wearing her boots. Retrieving one item with her boots on can take us 20 or 30 minutes and we will get stopped by almost every single person who passes by. The conversations go something like this:

                “OH MY GOD!!! How did you get your dog to wear those CUTE boots?!”

                “My dog would NEVER let me do that.”

                “DID YOU SEE THE DOG WEARING BOOTS?!”

                “So umm… are you like a dog trainer or something? I could use your help with my dog.”

                “Why do you have a dog in here?”

                “Is this a Seeing Eye dog?!”

                “Why is your stupid dog wearing boots?”

“What’s wrong with you that you would need a service dog? You look fine.”

“My cousins uncles ex-wife’s sister had a service Dog. I know ALL about how to train them. I’m getting one for myself too.”

I’ve had grown men bark at Tallulah when we’re out and about, in an attempt to get her to react poorly. I’ve had people call me names for having her with me and that was without the boots. Adults have grabbed at her face and pulled her tail and have run up behind her to grab her. She’s half German Shephard and ½ Rough Coat Collie. Their behavior makes for some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen adults do.

Still, worse yet are the more recent interactions I’ve had while Tallulah was wearing her boots. I needed to take Tallulah into Kroger with me so I could pick up some items. Rob, Nikolai, and I were staying in a hotel while Rob was working on a downed life-flight aircraft that needed his attention and mad skills. As I was driving I could tell that I wasn’t feeling right. My heart was flip-flopping in my chest but I decided to ignore it because I really needed to pick some things up and I knew that I was going to bring Tallulah in with me.

I pulled into a parking space and Rob pulled into a different parking space because we had taken two separate cars. He decided to take himself and our son to Great Clips for haircuts, this way he would look more professional and Nikolai would look cute for school when break was over. I grabbed my wallet, gave Tallulah her command to unload from the car, and off we went.

The second her feet hit the parking lot I had four people staring, pointing, and commenting. No big deal. I use moments like this to help train Tallulah to be at the top of her game. We walked into the store and an employee is squealing with delight at the sight of Tallulah. I don’t feel the best so I ignore it and make a path to the Dog food isle. We get less than one fourth of the way there when a little old man tries to stop me so he can pet Tallulah. Not a problem normally except that I felt off and I wanted to get in and get out. Tallulah ignores him as I taught her to do. I smile politely, Keep my eyes on where I’m going and decided to “Korea” the situation.

While living in Korea in the “Ville,” salesmen would stop us every few feet to sell us something. We quickly learned that while it’s polite in the States to stop and make small talk with some vendors… you wouldn’t get very far in Korea if you chose to do that. You would open yourself up to a haggle over the pricing of an item that you never wanted in the first place. Since vendors line the streets in Korea you would never get to your original destination on time. After making eye contact, every attempt to continue walking would have them stepping in front of you to cut you off and stop you from leaving.

The only way to avoid a situation like that was to smile but keep your eyes focused on where you were going and ignore everything else. If they stepped in to cut you off, you push past them as if you never saw them in the first place. Most people (state side) think you’re too focused to have heard them correctly or that you’re in too much of a rush. It’s better to be rude than to never get where you need to go.

I squared my shoulders, smiled, kept my eyes forward, and disengaged with the man. I cued Tallulah to “Leave it” even though he was trying to pet her as we walked by. The Korea method did the trick and I used it again to get past a group of teenagers. There were a few other adults who also desperately tried to get my attention (and Tallulah’s) but we acted like we were on a mission and we were!

Someone yelled “Are you a dog trainer?!” from somewhere in the store in the store, but Tallulah and I just kept on walking.

We FINALLY gathered up all our items and I was determined to check out quickly. My hands were vibrating. Not from the stress of all the people trying to stop us… but because I didn’t feel well. I ignored my body so that way I could get Tallulah and Nikolai some food but I could tell that I was getting worse. I felt unsteady. Dizzy, and my chest had a horrible pressure that was painful. My hands were trembling harder by the minute. It was really important to get to the car to check my blood pressure and make the decision to possibly take my medicine.

We stood in line to checkout but behind me a small group gathered to get a better look at Tallulah. It was finally my turn to pay. One woman followed me to the self-checkout counter. I tossed my items down to scan them and focused on keeping my breath even. SO much frustrating chest pressure but there was no way I was leaving without my items this time. The woman moved so that she was standing so close behind me that she was breathing on the back of my neck.

                “Hi baby! What’s your name? You’re a cute puppy aren’t you? I love your boots. Come here! Let me pet you. Here sweet baby. You’re too cute in those boots for me not to pet you. Here girl! Come see me. You don’t need to lay there.”

I turned around to look at her and tossed her a disgusted expression. Tallulah scooted closer to me. She felt uneasy. Tallulah’s golden colored ears were constantly flicking in my direction. She looked up at me for reassurance which I rewarded with love and a treat.

“Leave it Tulla.” I cooed over the woman’s outstretched hand.

I was trying to put my card into the pay slot and type in my PIN number. The woman (with no groceries) frustratingly stood past my bubble of what was socially acceptable for strangers and just wouldn’t quit. She stood so close that she was almost touching the back of my head and was looking over my shoulder at the card reader while I was trying to enter my pin. Her eyes then darted back down at Tallulah when she saw that I caught her snooping. I punched in my pin, waited for it to accept my payment, and I gave Tallulah a TON of positive feedback with treats during the process.

“WAY TO GO GIRL!! You did SO well at ignoring the crazy lady! I’m SO proud of you” I said while turning to make direct eye contact with the crazy lady. I then gave Tallulah the cue for us to leave once our grocery bags were securely on my arm. We walked calmly to our SUV. Once we got to the vehicle I opened the back door up and gave Tallulah the cue to hop back in.

A man getting into the vehicle across from mine with his girlfriend in tow, looked over at Tallulah and I. He loudly announced to his partner “Did you see that woman with her stupid dog wearing shoes? I can’t believe she put shoes on a DOG! Some people are so dumb!”

I could have ignored it and walked away. I probably should have but I could feel the anger rising up to heat my throat. I laughed and firmly announced back “We’re right here! My dog is a service dog who’s a lot smarter than you are so I’d watch what you say.”

With that Tallulah was loaded up, tucked in, and buckled. I decided to wait an hour or so before checking my blood pressure because the guy made me angry and I didn’t think that the reading would be accurate. Once we were at our hotel and I had rested for a bit, I decided to check it. My hands were still jittery from not feeling well. My chest hurt, and my heart still felt jumpy. The numbers were 129/101 but I decided to wait a little longer to see if it would come down on its own. I finally caved and took some BP medicine after having woken up later that night to my heart pounding in my chest. My numbers were a lot higher and although it took a while to start working, the medicine helped.

A few days later in the hotel lobby, I was standing at the coffee counter making Nikolai and I a small cup of hot chocolate because I had been feeling a little queasy. We had just taken Tallulah out to use the bathroom and I needed something to sip. Tallulah was sitting quietly waiting for us to get our drinks when a woman behind us piped up and caught my attention.

“Is that dog wearing shoes?! WHY?!”

“Yep! She’s a service dog in training. There’s glass in the parking lot and in the grass where I tried to take her to use the bathroom. She’s wearing boots to protect her feet.” I said with a smile.

                “OH! That makes perfect sense. Plus it probably helps her outrun the drones.”

I stared at her with a blank expression on my face. She looked completely serious. The silence between us grew thick. Nikolai looked at Tallulah, then at the woman, and back at me. Tallulah’s eyes darted from me, to the woman, to Nikolai, and back onto me.

                “Ummm… what?” I said looking for clarification, even though I knew there probably wasn’t any.

                “Yeah! You know… the drones! They’re real. They probably chase her and her boots help her outrun them.”

I grabbed Nikolai’s arm, and wrapped Tallulah’s leash a little tighter around my fingers. I picked up my hot chocolate in the hand that was holding Tulla’s leash while ushering Nikolai to stick with me. I cued Tallulah in that we were making our way to the nearest exit.

                “Why are we leaving so fast mom?” Nikolai asked me

I stared at the woman on our way out and responded “We need to go so we can get very far away from the weird creepy lady.”

Nikolai hit the elevator button and I laughed it off as the doors closed us in and lifted us to safety. Nikolai giggled too. I felt like Tallulah thought the entire thing called for a nap. Instead of sitting in the lobby sipping on our drinks and watching the rain fall (like we had planned), we cozied up to watch some movies on cable TV instead. Tallulah slept on the cool foyer tile for a bit. I was feeling extremely thankful that the bizarre interactions at least gave me something interesting to write about this week.

Tallulah… in boots!
Sleepy puppy