Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mute Swans in Greeley, Colorado

I believe we have a pair of Mute Swans at the Bittersweet Park lake in Greeley, Colorado. I've been walking the trail around the park six times a week for over two years now and this is the first time I've seen them. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

I walk the trail at the park near my home five to six times a week. It is rather exciting--the park is filled, daily, with hundreds of Canadian Geese; squirrels; hawks; red-winged blackbirds perched on the cattails; children walking home from school; walkers; runners; parents pushing baby strollers; children on the playground and neighbors of all ages playing basketball. 

A small gathering of Canadian Geese at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Hawk watching my chihuahua from a tree at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I wrote about this park before--it is one of the most beautiful neighborhood parks I've had the pleasure of visiting. Besides the many neighbors who use the park and the never-ending sound of laughing, giggling children, there is a surprising amount of wildlife in the park and great views of the sunrise and sunset. 

 A parting glance at Bittersweet Park in the evening. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The park also has a heart-wrenching memorial to Weld County Veterans that is absolutely beautiful. I believe it is important to honor our heroes. In addition to the Veteran's Memorial there is also a memorial to officers who died in the line of duty in Weld County. 

Veteran's Memorial at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

And, as I stated at the beginning (apologies for the digression, but I felt I had to set the scene) as a recent added attraction we now have two Mute Swans, and what appears to be two baby cygnets. 

Mute Swans (feel free to correct my identification) at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. 
All photos by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I was surprised when I first saw them. I've never seen them at the park before, and as you can imagine I use the park often, walking the trails nearly every day. My neighbors told me they've never seen the swans. But I was walking the park with my granddaughter a few weeks ago and there they were!

The evening I first saw the swans it was near dusk, which is why some of the photos have a colored tint to the water and on the birds, but they are always just gorgeous. Such graceful creatures.  

Okay, this is not a swan, but she's mentioned in my story. My chihuahua puppy, Emma adores children and attracts a lot of attention when we take her for walks, but she is surprisingly well-behaved for a puppy. Even though she can't do much damage at only four pounds, she is always walked on a leash. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

The evening we first saw the swans my granddaughter had my chihuahua puppy, Emma, and Emma was attracting more attention than the swans, running up to strangers, rolling onto her back, begging for belly rubs. My granddaughter tried to tell me there were swans in the lake, but I was busy trying to retrieve the dog who was literally rolling around the shoulders of a runner who stopped to pick her up and say hello.

Mute Swans at Bittersweet Park Lake, Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

"Grandma, did you hear me?" Layla asked. "Yes, I told her. You said he's sending a text." Where on earth that came from I have no idea. The man standing before me finally managed to unhinge Emma, who was climbing all over his shoulders like a chihuahua coat collar, and hand her back to me, then he pointed at the lake and laughed as he told me Layla had actually said there were swans nearby. 

"They arrived a few weeks ago," he said. "Everyone in the neighborhood is talking about them." He pointed at the water. I followed my granddaughter down to the water's edge and sure enough, there was two large Mute Swans and two babies following behind. 

Mute Swans at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Swans are a somewhat rare sighting in Northern Colorado. I tried to do some research and found a news article stating that a black swan was spotted in 2008 near Loveland, and swans have also been seen in Boulder and Longmont, but they're generally found in lakes and ponds at hotels where they were purchased for display. I've asked many people about the swans, including quite a few lifelong residents of Greeley, and they said they could not remember ever seeing swans in Greeley, and never at Bittersweet Park. 

Mute Swans at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Mute Swans are large birds, considered among the largest waterfowl, slightly smaller than the popular Trumpeter Swans. I think they are lovely. They have a wingspread of up to 7.9 feet. The males weigh around 26 pounds and the females weigh 20 pounds. Males are identied from females by a knob on their bills. Mute Swans are also a protected species in most states, but for some strange reason, they are considered an invasive species in Michigan!

Bottoms up! Two swans fishing in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Fossils of swans have been found in four states in the U.S.--California, Arizona, Idaho and Oregon--and their ancestry is believed to be at least 6000 years old. Mute Swans are also thought to be most closely related to Black Swans of Australia.

I believe these may be their babies based on the curve of their long necks. Photo taken at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado by Darla Sue Dollman.

Baby Mute Swans are called Cygnets, and they are a gray color until they reach maturity at around a year old. It is shocking to watch their speed of travel--the babies can cross the lake in a matter of minutes. Surprisingly, they reach mature size at around three months old, but retain their gray feathers until they are closer to a year.

Mute Swans lay four to ten eggs and it's possible these swans are carrying more on their back, but I walk this park nearly every day and have only seen two.

The back of a parent swan is flat like a boat. Their wings rise up like doors on hinges and the babies climb onto their backs, then the adult lowers its wing, protecting the babies from rain, hail, cold, and the view of predators so they can sleep.

Hawk at Bittersweet Park picking at a bird wing. I don't think it killed the bird, which appears to be considerably larger than the hawk. It most likely scavenged the remains after dogs attacked the bird. Photo taken in Greeley, Colorado by Darla Sue Dollman. 

 Sadly, many people bring dogs to this park without leashes (I am all for dog-walking and enjoy seeing the many dogs at the park, but unleashed dogs kill the wildlife) and I have found feathers near the water's edge. I've also seen hawks that appeared to be cleaning up after a kill. I took a walk around the park this afternoon and couldn't see the swans, but the cattail patch has grown huge over the past few years. I have prayed for their safety and the safety of their young ones, hoping they are resting safely and peacefully in the cattails.

Mute Swans in their nest at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Mute Swans build their nest at the water's edge and these swans are too close to the walking trail for my comfort, but they are large birds and hopefully will be safe.

Mute Swan at Bittersweet Park in Greeley, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I am a little concerned about this bird. I've seen it with its leg raised in the air a few times now and will call the wildlife rehabilitation center in a nearby county to see if they can check it out and make sure it wasn't injured by other animals. If you go back to the photo showing the two swans fishing you can see that one of them appears to be holding one leg at an odd angle behind it when it is upside down in the water. That's what happens when people walk their dogs without leashes!

Mute Swan at sunset. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The swans are beautiful and I hope that local residents respect their great beauty and help protect them. They mate for life and return to the same nest every year, even though they migrate, so they will be a lovely addition to this gorgeous neighborhood park in Northern Colorado. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Emma, the Universal Healer

Emma is a universal healer. Her name means "Universal Healer." Look closely--see her smile? She's saying, "You love me! You know you love me!"
 Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Meet Emma. Emma was adopted while I was grieving. In my family, everyone has worked with animals during some--or many--times in their lives. We have so many people in my family who are trained to work with animals that I've lost count. 
The expert advice comes in handy, but I have experience, as well. 
Through the years I've had various jobs working at dude ranches, race tracks, shelters, pet stores, and other places that taught me the good and bad sides of the "business" of animals. 

Emma loves to snuggle. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When I was trying to recover from the sudden loss of my elderly fur friends I volunteered to work at the local Humane Society, taking photos and writing descriptions of the animals because I wanted to do my part to help the animals find homes. Emma came in while I was introducing myself and my first thought when I saw her was, "She's too small." 

I didn't want to think or say that I was afraid she wouldn't make it, but it was clear she'd been on her own for too long. She was just a baby. She had all of her baby teeth, didn't know how to hunt or defend herself, and weighed a little over three pounds. She still doesn't have fur growing on her belly.

But she was smiling. Just like my chihuahua, Chewy, who died months ago from heart disease, Emma smiles all the time, even when she's sleeping.  

Chewy, who has now joined his fur pack over the Rainbow Bridge to wait for me, is shown cuddling with Elvis. When I brought Elvis home she immediately sensed that Chewy had health issues. She would follow him around and snuggle up near him, then slowly place her paw on his shoulder as if to comfort him. She cried for weeks when Chewy died, pacing the house, searching for him. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

I wasn't looking for a dog. Although I'd just lost all but one of my "pack" in a little over a year, I was still grieving painfully, but when I looked at her tag it said her name was Foo Foo. I knew it wasn't Foo Foo. Her name is Emma. I knew it the moment I saw her, and when I looked it up I knew her name with absolute certainty because Emma means Universal Healer. I also knew that some day, Emma would be with me. 

Peek-a-boo! Emma with my granddaughter. Emma adores children. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When I received the call informing me that she was strong enough for adoption and two couples had already tried to take her home and returned her, I knew she was the dog for me. She has felt loss and abandonment. Confusion and fear. She needs a family, and a forever home, and I am in the position to offer her that and everything else she will need, including love, patience, and compassion.

So, this is Emma.

Emma is...elegant.

Emma in her holiday dress. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

When it comes to party dresses, Emma rocks it! She has two sweaters and a pale green snuggie that looks like a robe, but she loves her red dress.

Emma is...a haunted chihuahua.

Emma's favorite toy is a stuffed chihuahua named "Chewy" after my blessed little creature I discussed above who died just a few months ago. 

Emma with her Chewy toy. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When she sees her Chewy she leaps on him, grabs him by the ears, shakes him back and forth and growls fiercely as if she is playing with another dog. She also snuggles with her Chewy toys, sleeps with them, plays with them, and appears to be trying to convince them to chase her. 

Emma snuggling with her Chewy. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Then there are times when she holds her Chewy tight to her cheek as if they are having secret conversations. I suppose it's possible that Chewy has returned to teach her all those sneaky chihuahua habits that made him so endearing because she loves her Chewy! 

Emma is...a cat. 

I used to tell my children that they could be anything they wanted, and it appears as though Emma also follows my advice. She chases the ring of light from a flashlight when you shine it on the floor. She even runs in circles chasing that flashlight until she trips over her little paws and rolls around on the ground. I'm careful not to spin her around too much--she would run in circles until she puked, she is that nutty. She leaps from one piece of furniture to another. She runs up and down the stairs like the cats and is not the least bit afraid of the dark, chasing my two black sister cats around the basement as if she, too, could see better in the night! 

Emma on the prowl. Emma is fiercesome. She will attack anything, including shadows! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Emma also does that strange thing cats do, chasing shadows to try and freak out their owners and make them believe there's something in the room! Emma chases the shadow from my braid when I bend over to pick her up and the light is above my head. She chases the shadows of the cats when the lights shine in the window and the cats walk across the room. 

And when it's time for bed, Emma curls up into a ball, just like a cat (but burrowed beneath the comforter in typical chihuahua fashion). 

Emma is...a sand kicker! That's right--she's the beach bully from the Charles Atlas ads! 

No, really! When she's feeling playful, fiesty, protecting her food dish from the dogs, responding to the sound of a doorbell on television, or if I tell her to go to bed and she wants to play with the cats instead, she turns into Charles Atlas, the body building celebrity from the 1940s--she puffs up her chest, holds her chin high, and kicks out her back feet as if she's the humiliated "Mac on the beach" getting even with the bully by kicking sand in his face. "I may be small, but you will respect me" she seems to say as she hops from side to side, tossing imaginary grains of sand behind her. 

Emma may be one of the smaller creatures in the house (the African Dwarf Frog and hermit crabs haver her beat in that category) but she holds her own. She is creative in her defense. One of the cats loves to tease her by sliding her paw near Emma's food dish. The cat doesn't want the food, she just likes to tease Emma. A few days ago, Emma responded by dragging all of her stuffed animals to fhe food dish and stuffing them one by one on top of her food. She could no longer reach her food, and her toys were covered with kibble, but when she was done she was so proud of her accomplishment that she turned her back on the cat (who you can see in the background to the left) and kicked imaginary sand in her face! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I was on the phone yesterday, removed something from my purse and dropped my purse on the floor. In a matter of minutes she had pawed through my wallet and shredded two checks and a deposit slip I was supposed to take to the bank along with $40 in bills. I picked her up and put her on the bed and told her she was naughty and, yep, you guessed it--she turned her back on me and kicked her hind legs at me as if she was kicking sand in my face! It's oddly intimidating! Let's put it this way--I wouldn't want to meet her in a dark alley! 

Pixie crept around Emma's kennel and actually stole two of Emma's Chewy toys. (Emma has four Chewy toys).  Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Sometimes Pixie Dust will try to steal the Chewy toy and Emma kicks imaginary sand in her face. Elvis, Pixie's sister, will wait until Emma is snuggled deep beneath the comforter sleeping soundly then carefully slide her paw beneath the comforter and poke Emma to wake her up. Emma jumps up--which isn't easy to do when you're beneath a layer of down comforters--shoves her way out from beneath the comforters, chases Elvis off the bed then turns around and kicks imaginary sand in her face. Elvis licks her paw, pretending not to notice. She looks at the ceiling, at the floor, at her sister. When Emma is satisfied that Elvis is sufficiently covered in imaginary sand she will go back to bed...and Elvis will jump back up onto the bed, creep over to the lump beneath the comforter, slide her paw...

Emma's kitty companions. Elvis is on the left and her sister, Pixie Dust, is on the right. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

 The Chewy toy originally belonged to Elvis, who cuddled with the toy after Chewy died to help her cope with the grieving process (true story) and oddly, Emma leaves Chewy alone if Elvis is cuddling with the Chewy toy. The animal politics in this house are mind-boggling 

Emma is...confusing!

She is not the only troublemaker in the house. All of the animals tease her, including Big Baby Dog, and Emma holds her own. Baby, however, also treats Emma like a baby! He's so careful around her that he refuses to walk when she's nearby because he's afraid of stepping on her and she moves so quickly he can't see her. 

Baby's not sure what to think of Emma! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I think the cats find her amusing. She's only 1/4 their size, but she chases them through the house, up and down the stairs, leaps on their backs, chews on their ears, and they do nothing to stop her. I tell them not to encourage her, but who listens in this nutty house! 

Baby is a different story. Baby is an innocent in this situation. He recently had a surgery to remove a strange fatty tumor that developed right in the center of his armpit preventing him from walking. Now he exercises, but it wears him out as he's still recovering. 

When I first brought Emma home Baby just stared at her. He couldn't figure out if she was a dog or a fruit bat! Emma loves him, though. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Baby is a happy fella, though, and loves to wag his wide, thick tail, and when he wags that tail Emma latches on with those teeth and flops up and down. Sometimes he growls at her, sometimes he snaps at her, but most of the time he ignores her. 
Baby had a tumor beneath his armpit and could not walk for months. He literally hopped on three paws and gained weight because he couldn't do anything. He is recovering well with the love and support of little Emma. She keeps him busy, but she also loves to snuggle up to his big belly. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I suspect this situation will change as soon as she loses those baby teeth! When she doesn't get the attention she wants she will leap onto his side and pounce on his belly, just as she does on the cats. That doesn't work, either. A four pound dog leaping on top of a 100 pound belly is like a fly landing on a horse. 

Emma is...confused!

If she hears someone whistle on television she comes running, but she doesn't understand the word "come." She understands "go to bed," and will do so obediently, but when I tell her to "come" she runs in circles around the house. The whistling situation would seem to be helpful, but I don't know how to whistle! 
Emma responding to someone whistling on television. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Emma is...addicted to television.

It's true. She will sit at the end of the bed and watch an entire movie with me. I have to be careful, though. If there are children in the movie and the children are upset or cry, Emma cries, too. If someone is fighting, she jumps up and kicks sand at them. 

I once wrote a post about rescuing animals, how we never know what they've been through. Emma intrigues me. I can't imagine what her previous life was like--why would she spend so much time watching television? She was only three months old when I brought her home. 

Emma waiting for a holiday visit from the grandchildren. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Emma is...madly in love with children!

The day I brought Emma to her forever home we stopped took to visit my grandchildren. As soon as Emma saw my granddaughter walk out of the house she went so crazy I thought she would dig a hole right through the passenger window. When my grandchildren are at my home, I do not exist. She follows them everywhere, and when they leave, she cries for hours. She literally walks around the house searching for them, crying. It's heartbreaking. 

Emma is...loved. 

With all of my heart. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Year of Loss and Grieving

Buddy and his sister, Holly, cuddling. They were always wrapped up beside each other. 

I don't know how to explain it. I can't. 

It's been a year of loss. But why it happened this way I'll never know. 

It started with a divorce. Niblet, my ex-husband's 19-year-old cat started pacing the house, howling. He wouldn't eat or sleep, he just kept...searching. Animals don't understand divorce and I've learned that cats have a unique way of grieving, which I will write about at a later time. 

My nephew and his wife died in a horrible accident. I was his nanny while I was in college. They died before I could meet his lovely young wife. 

My 15 year old chocolate lab, Buddy, was poisoned by the neighbors who parked in front of my driveway, barking at my granddaughter and I, taunting us as Buddy died in my granddaughter's arms. He was my service dog. He was gentle, goofy, fun. He never barked. It was an act of cruelty beyond comprehension and it was made clear to me that it was all done because I told my neighbor I would not hire him to mow my lawn. (When we moved my boxes out of the house we found my lawnmower in pieces with the gas tank filled up with water.)

Silly old Bud. He was the leader of the pack. So playful and funny, but always protective and he never left my side--until that one night when I left my home.

Yes, I do believe cruelty to animals should be a felony offense. 

A week later, my Flemish Giant rabbit, Katie, was dead in her hutch, paralyzed, with antifreeze all over her paws (I don't keep any chemicals anywhere near my animals). She was so deeply loved and adored by everyone. 

Katie with her friend, Layla Lou.

She had been to the vet for her checkup the day before. The vet was angry. She knew something was wrong in my neighborhood and said so in her sympathy card, but you cannot force the police to respond when they choose to look the other way.  

Such a loving creature. Katie, you are beautiful. 

My family and friends arrived in the middle of the night, packed their trucks and moved me out of my new home. I had only been in the home three months. I didn't even have time to unpack because I was still painting and redoing the floors. According to a speech made by the local sheriff, crime has increased in this county 90% over the past two years. It would have been nice to have that information before I moved to that neighborhood.

Holly, Buddy's sister, was diagnosed with cancer four years ago. Chewy, my chihuahua, was fine. Then we moved again and everyone became sick. Chewy suddenly developed a previously undiagnosed heart murmur, which turned into previously undiagnosed heart disease. 

Niblet was lighter than he was as a kitten. He was dying. We raced through a hailstorm to get him to the vet and ease his pain. Lightning hit a tree and started a fire. A tornado touched down nearby, but we made it to the vet and my granddaughter and I held him in our arms as he died. 

Niblet was handsome, playful, and huge! He loved his humans. The vet never did figure out why he died in spite of all the tests. He just stopped eating. 

Mama dog, who belonged to my grandchildren, was acting strange after they moved, too. She seemed traumatized. She was also chasing the cats. I had a dream that if she stayed in that house she would die. I asked permission to adopt her since I didn't have a cat any longer. I found a new house and moved. I left the movers with a family member and returned home to pick up Mama dog. There had been a horrible thunderstorm and the animals were already wound up from the moving. 

I tried, Mama dog. I heard you. I really did try.

When I walked through the door I felt as if I had entered a war zone. I couldn't find one of our living animals, but Samson, my daughter's giant cat, was dead. Samson was featured in a post about the "mystery drawer." I tried to take care of him before my daughter saw him. 

We will always love and miss you, Samson.

My son-in-law found Mama dog. I never had the chance to say goodbye to her. He returned and we buried Samson's remains together.  

Then I had a dream. My granddaughter was spending the night, and as she cuddled in my arms we fell asleep watching a funny movie...and I had a dream. I had a dream of a woman on a hospital bed with tape on her eyes. There was a wheelchair beside the bed. I was walking through the room trying to comfort the family. I woke up screaming.   

It seemed like only days later when Chewy died. It was painful and traumatic. I gave him Rieki every night, but could not relieve his pain. 
Chewy was a fighter. He wanted to live. He was also so loving and kind. He could sense when another animal was sick just by smelling their bodies. 

Two weeks later, my younger sister died. As I walked through the hospital room trying to comfort her family I realized I was living my dream. She had tape on her eyes. Her husband was in a wheelchair beside her bed. I cannot explain. The words are in a knot in my throat. 

Two weeks after that, Holly died in my home. She collapsed in my granddaughter's arms. I pulled her onto my lap and she died there. I held her in my arms. 

The vet warned me it would happen that quickly, without warning. She was tired. She had lost her pack. She felt alone. I think she just gave up when Chewy died. She loved him so much. She loved them all. She needed them, and she knew how much they needed her. 

My favorite picture. I love your gray haired face my Holly. So beautiful. Love you forever. 

Some day I will write about my blessed little creatures and say goodbye, one by one. I will write about animals and grieving--I have learned so much about animals and grieving. 

But not now. It's too painful. Too much. 

I still dream about them, though. Nice dreams. I see them together, running through fields, running through the New Mexico desert, chasing each other. I see Chewy smiling in his sleep. I see the dogs following Katie around the backyard, sniffing her, wondering how a rabbit could possibly be so big, then sleeping by her side. I see them all in my dreams sleeping side by side. 

I will revisit them when it's time, but I've been writing this blog since 2007 and it's time to continue on with my stories of the mountains and the birds, the insects, the buffalo, antelope, deer, elk, and everyone else who crosses my path. 

All of my love Christina, Erik, Holly, Buddy, Holly, Niblet, Chewy, Katie, Mama dog and Samson. I cannot say goodbye. I won't do it. Until we meet again I will see you in my dreams.  

Buddy, Holly and Chewy soaking up the Texas sunshine. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Help Baby Dog Walk Again

Baby the night I brought him home. Photo by D.S. Dollman.
Baby was rescued from the New Mexico desert, and like all rescue animals, he rescued me during a frightening, painful time in my life he stayed by my side. His loyalty has cost him the ability to walk. This is his story. At the bottom of the page there is a link to a campaign to help Baby walk.

When I lived in New Mexico I drove Buddy and Holly (my two chocolate labs) and my chihuahua, Chewy, out into the New Mexico desert so they could run free. There was a reason why we went to the desert, which I will explain in a moment. One day I kept seeing this image in my mind, the word "dog." I don't pretend to be a psychic. I have no idea why I saw this word, but I had run-ins with coyotes recently and my first thought was that this was a warning that my dogs were in danger.

Coyote watching us from a distance when I was walking one of my dogs on a street near the desert in New Mexico. 

When I pulled up to our usual spot the image in my mind was so strong that I panicked. I apologized to my dogs and started to turn the truck around. That's when Baby crawled out from beneath a sage brush. He was covered in sage. His ribs were showing, and he could barely stand.

I left the other dogs in the truck, grabbed their water dish and a water bottle and walked over to Baby. I poured water into the dish. He looked up at me as if he was afraid I was going to hit him, then he slowly approached the dish and began to drink. 


Baby the day I found him in the New Mexico desert. So beautiful. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

There is a city ordinance in the town where I lived in New Mexico and people cannot have lawns due to constant drought, so they often take their dogs into the desert for walks. We watched out for each other, keeping our animals in separate territories, picking up "runners" that strayed from their owners and returning them. The desert holds many dangers for dogs, including humans. There was a section of the desert that we always avoided because hunters would go there and I was certain I'd heard them shooting and shouting about trying to hit a "dog" a few days earlier. (Baby has scars on his arm that look like he was whipped, or tied and tried to get away). 

The night I met Baby another dog walker came by and asked if Baby belonged to me. He said he was watching from a nearby hill as Baby approached me and he wasn't sure if Baby was an abandoned animal because he appeared to be familiar with me. 

Abandonment is another problem in New Mexico. Most towns kill animals after two days in the shelter, but it is also against the law to surrender your pet. I once interviewed the employees at the local Humane Society and they said it was an ongoing issue they had fought with the counties for years, begging for more time, trying different ways to discourage animal abandonment, which happens often when the economy goes down and people can't afford to feed their pets--they take them out to the desert and leave them to the coyotes. 

Baby playing in the sand in the desert. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The other dog walker told me he saw Baby the day before and was fairly certain Baby was abandoned. He felt relieved when he saw me. Then, of course, as he came closer he realized I was trying to help Baby, so we spent the next four hours making phone calls, trying to earn Baby's trust, and discussing different ways we could convince him to climb into the back of my truck--I already had three dogs in my back seat and he had four.

It was growing dark in the desert, but I refusesd to leave Baby there alone! 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

We stood in the desert debating our options. No one likes to make decisions about strays in New Mexico. There are so many illogical laws when it comes to animals. For instance, if a dog even looks at you in a strange way you have the right to shoot it in self defense. In many states, compassion, caring, and random acts of kindness toward animals are discouraged.

We decided to call the Humane Society and find out if Baby was reported missing, and if he wasn't, then one of us would take him home and try to find his owner to avoid having him killed. I discussed this policy in depth with employees at the local humane society once and they disagree with it completely. They said it is heartbreaking for them to collect animals because they know that most of them will be dead within a few days, and the employees will be the ones doing the killing. Most humane society employees in New Mexico are actively fighting for more "humane" treatment of animals in shelters.

Do you see the coyotes? I didn't, either, until I downloaded the photo onto my computer. There were four coyote standing in the sage brush, watching me take this photograph. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

The man in the desert tried to convince Baby to jump into the back of his truck and Baby refused. I had a spare collar and leash in my truck that I slipped around Baby and the man drove slowly to the road where the desert meets the city roads with his arm out the window leading Baby along as Baby walked beside his car. We finally reached the road where we were told to wait, and we waited. 

The man had to leave for work so I volunteered to stay. I called animal control again. Dispatch said they were still coming and I should wait. I explained that I was now alone, in the desert, in the dark. I waited until 11 p.m. They never arrived, leaving a woman and four dogs alone on a street corner across from where the open desert begins. 

I finally opened the door to grab my phone and check in again and when I did Baby jumped into my truck and sat down on the back seat between Buddy and Holly, my chocolate labs. Buddy looked down at Baby and Baby looked up at him then they both looked at me as if to say, "What are you waiting for?" I knew then that they would be best friends, and they were best friends to the day Buddy died. 

Holly and Buddy. Photo by D.S. Dollman.


So, this is where Buddy enters this story. Baby saw Buddy as his protector. Every animal in the house considered Buddy their protector. All of the animals considered Buddy their protector. When he got into trouble, Baby would actually run for Buddy and try to hide behind him. 

I took Baby home that night and he climbed onto the dog beds. He later moved closer to Buddy and Holly and slept by their sides. I went to my room and turned on the television confident that the dogs would be just fine until I found Baby's owner. Needless to say, I never did find his owner. He is still my fella. 

Buddy, Baby, and Holly. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Evan Almighty

That night, Evan Almighty was on television. If you haven't seen the film--spoiler alert--at the beginning, Morgan Freeman, who plays God, is trying to convince Steve Carell, who plays Congressman Evan Baxter, to build an ark. At the beginning of the movie, Carrell moves his family into a new home and a stray dog walks onto the lawn and pees. 

As I watched the dog I thought of Baby lying on my lvivngroom floor, and how he so confidently walked into my home as if he had been a part of our pack for years. What would I do if I couldn't find his owner? I thought. I already had the two labs that we rescued from a farmer that had nearly a dozen dogs in the back of a hot pickup truck, and a chihuahua that someone abandoned on our property in Texas. As my ex-husband used to say, I don't rescue animals, they literally seek me down, and on that night I was already one animal away from my limit. I walked each animal every day, paid the vet bills, licensing, vaccinations and insurance on my own--it wouldn't be easy!  

Morgan Freeman, Photo by EJ Hersom. 2016. Public domain. 

I was still watching the movie, Steve Carrell tells his children repeatedly to ignore the dog and refuses to even offer the dog a drink. Finally, Freeman, or God, appears and convinces Carrel that he is truly God and that Carrel must build an ark. Carrel refuses. Finally, God pours water into a dish for the stray dog and the dog begins to drink, just like Baby in the desert.

Well, that was it for me--no more questions. I left the room to check on the animals. They were huddled up as if they'd spent years together. I stood and watched them for awhile. They were so comfortable together. Baby acted as if he hadn't slept for weeks, which may be true. 

Dog pile. Buddy, Holly and Baby snuggling up for the night. Photo by D.S. Dollman. 

The veterinarian told me later he was amazed that Baby survived the coyotes in the desert. I asked the vet why Baby insisted on relieving himself on my scented herbs. It didn't make sense--his stomach and the inside of his thighs were scratched and bleeding. The vet said Baby used the scented herbs, like sage brush, while he was abandoned in the desert to hide his scent from the coyotes. He is a very intelligent dog.

A Bowl of Water as an Act of Random Kindness

I returned to the movie. I was in the living room much longer than I thought. The film was almost over. Toward the end of the film, God prepares to say goodbye to Evan, and of course he leaves Evan with a message. The entire conversation suddenly became a metaphor for my situation. 

God: How do we change the world?

Evan Baxter: One single act of random kindness at a time.

God: [spoken while writing A-R-K on ground with a stick] One Act, of, Random, Kindness.

At that moment, I knew Baby was mine for life. With a bowl of water and a simple act of random kindness I changed his world forever and he changed mine. He is sleeping at my feet now with Holly. They sleep together every night, cuddled up tight the way Buddy and Holly used to sleep as puppies. Holly lost her brother, and gained a new protector. Perhaps it was all part of God's plan.

Still too Painful to Explain, but I'll try... 

I recently experienced extreme, organized harassment, or what is also called "mobbing" in my neighborhood. Tyrants always lose eventually, but this one man and his friends, who psychologists refer to as "flying monkeys,"(a reference to The Wizard of Oz and the flying monkeys who don't think for themselves and do what they're told),  became bored by the fact that I continued to ignore them, refused to make eye contact or speak to them, kept a smile on my face to show they could not change me and instructed my grandchildren--who knew what was happening and refused to leave my side--to do the same. 

"The monkeys caught Dorothy in their arms and flew away with her"—illustration by W. W. Denslow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).

The instigator was violent from the start, pouring toxin all over my garden and the children's playset when I told him I would not hire him to mow my lawn (I wasn't trying to be mean. I owned a lawnmower and the day after he asked me my daughter arrived at my house to mow my lawn. The instigator spent the day drinking in his garage and kicking the walls--our driveways were connected--then pounded on my door that night, accusing me of hiring someone else for "his job." Then he suddenely stopped in the middle of his tirade and asked if my animals ever eat my plants. I told him that was a very strange question and he left. The next morning, my plants--over $200 in garden plants-- and the playset were covered with orange toxin. 

The night Buddy died my granddaughter and I came home and a group of young men, including the son of the instigator, were parked in front of my house barking at us, shouting "How's your dog?" and calling me "Dead Dog Darla!" a phrase the instigator's youngest son continued to shout at me until the day I moved out, three months after I moved in, and all because I said I would not hire him. 

That night, as they shouted at us, I wasn't sure exactly what they meant, but I knew it wasn't good. My granddaughter and I ran inside the house. Buddy was sick. My granddaughter held him in her arms whil I called the local emergency clinic. I was unable to convince the vet tech to wake up the veterinarian. I called every half hour until around four in the morning when the veterinarian arrived for her shift. She chastised me for not bringing him in earlier and forcing her staff to call her. "Seriously?" I asked her. "If I stormed into your office your staff would have called the police and had me arrested in front of my grandchild!" 

I called everyone I could think of to try and get help lifting Buddy into my truck--I have a spine injury and Buddy was huge. My granddaughter and I together could not lift him. Buddy raised his head and looked at us, and all the animals around him, let out a loud sigh, and as he did so the animals became frantic. He closed his eyes, dropped his head onto his bed and died. I later verified through his records that he was 15 years old when he died. He gave me 15 years of love, affection, complete dedication, never left my side, and died a slow, painful death at the hands of my neighbors because I politely explained that I couldn't afford to pay someone 160 dollars a month to mow my lawn and could mow my lawn myself. 

When we took Buddy into the vet, the veterinarian claimed I only called their office once, but I had a list of the times I called on my phone. She finally admitted that she had refused to come in because she didn't realize it was serious. She said, "It's always hard on staff when an animal dies." It was hard on her? It was hell on Buddy. 

When I brought Buddy in I told the vet I wanted an autopsy and she agreed, then she had me sign a paper for his cremation. When my daughter and I returned for the results of the autopsy the veterinarian claimed I "signed away the rights to an autopsy by agreeing to a cremation." Did she think we were going to take Buddy home after the autopsy? It was one lie after another and the stress was unbearable, knowing these sick, cruel people got away with murder, literally, over a lawnmower.  

There is so much more to this story, but it's stuck like a ball in my throat.

The "pack" waiting at the door when they heard my ex-husband's truck. They were all surrounding Buddy when he died, along with the cat. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Since that night I've read many articles about animals and grieving. When Buddy died, Chewy the chihuahua howled and jumped on Buddy's chest. Holly lay down beside him and wrapped her paws around Buddy's, the cat curled up against his back, but Baby was in a panic, frantically butting Buddy on the head, trying to wake him up, crying, crying real tears. After Buddy died, the cat developed a strange disease (the vet never could figure out why he died), Holly developed cancer, Chewy developed heart disease (now there's a metaphor) and Baby, who was afraid to go outside again, developed a tumor beneath his arm preventing him from walking. 

Baby's tumor. The link for the fundraiser to have Baby's tumor removed is at the end of this post. 

Buddy died in his bed surrounded by his family. He was the gentlest, kindest animal I have ever known. He lived a good life, a happy life, never barked or growled or showed a mean moment toward anyone, but no animal deserves to die at the hands of an abusive bully and his flying monkeys.

Buddy a few days before his death. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Veterinarians will claim that dogs do not cry real tears. They will also admit that they learn they are wrong about one assumption or another every day. Dogs cry real tears. My dogs cried that night. They changed that night. They were all deeply traumatized. 

The Mental Illness of Bullies

Sadly, the person who poisoned Buddy will never shed a tear. People who kill animals are psychopathic or sociopathic. They are mentally ill and studies conducted at the University of Chicago have shown their brains are wired differently. They feel pleasure when others feel pain. I pity their families--they will never know true  compassion or love, and the people who pretend to be their friends, their flying monkeys, are friends of fear--they already know the instigator is mentally ill, but they're afraid to admit it, and even more afraid to stand up to him. They know he is capable of doing anything to harm others.

Big-Nosed Kate, the Leader of the Bunny Pack

A few weeks later my rabbit, Katie, was also poisoned. She had seen the vet the day before and that night my granddaughter woke me up to tell me she was certain someone was walking around in my garage. The lid to her hutch was open--something I'd noticed often in the last few weeks before her death--but I knew that if I called the local police to ask for help they would do nothing. The dogs alerted me to Katie's death by howling and scratching at my legs. Chewy jumped on my chest, crying. Katie was paralyzed and there was a green, gooey substance in her cage--antifreeze, something I never keep in my garage. 

Katie and Layla Lou. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

All of the animals adored Big-Nose Kate. She was the bunny version of Buddy. My rabbits, dogs and cat all get along and spend warm summer afternoons together in my yard.  I had moved the rabbits inside when I became aware that a neighbor was watching me through the slats in my fence. There was a mysterious fire in the garage and I took the rabbits in to the vet to make certain they were okay. The vet ran a series of tests and took x-rays, so we know she was fine when I took her home that night. All night long we heard banging sounds on the walls and doors of the garage--typical flying monkey mobbing behavior according to psychologists. 

After Buddy and Katie died, when I took the animals outside they walked around in circles as if they were looking around for Buddy and Katie. They knew, and they were afraid. Baby was afraid. He was already traumatized and suddenly his place of rescue was no longer safe. My family and friends arrived late at night and packed everything I had in their trucks, then moved us to a safe house. It didn't take long--the mobbing started so quickly after I arrived that I never even unpacked. Everything I owned--exvept my clothes and bed--was still in the garage.  

Katie, my Flemish Giant, was also poisoned according to the vet. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

Recovering From the Loss of a Friend

We moved into a new home temporarily. Baby slept snuggled up with Holly and Chewy every night, but he was afraid to go outside anymore and would cry when I made him go out after eating. He just wanted to sleep. We noticed that when we talked about Buddy the animals would wake up and start wagging their tails, so we stopped talking. We didn't want them to hurt anymore. 

One night, my granddaughter and I noticed Baby had developed a fatty tumor beneath his armpit. I repeatedly took him to vets--four times--and they all diagnosed a fatty tumor and told me his leg would eventually deform and he wouldn't be able to walk, but he couldn't lose weight if he didn't walk, and he couldn't walk because his foot was curving inward due to the tumor. 

Finally, I called a vet and asked if he could do a surgery to remove the tumor. He said yes. I then asked why Baby had to go to four different vets before someone suggested helping him--I could have used the money I spent on Baby's vet appointments and x-rays and tests to pay for the surgery! He agreed this was very wrong and offered to do the surgery at a discount. I lost so much, moving three times in a year, so much damage to my house and property from the mobbing, so much money on vet bills, and Baby is still waiting to walk again. I am praying for the day that I once again see him dance for his food. 
Baby sunbathing. I know Baby misses Buddy, but he'll be okay. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

I think Buddy would have wanted Baby, his sister, Chewy, the cat, me--everyone to feel safe and happy, and every day Baby finds some way to show me that he is, indeed, a happy dog in spite of his inability to move much further than his bed. 

And it all started with one act of random kindness--a bowl of water offered on a hot summer day in the New Mexico desert. 

Baby always finds some way to let me know he is a happy boy. He was playing with his blanket one day, tore a hole in the middle then stuck his head through the hole so it looked like he was wearing a poncho, then he curled up for a nap. Photo by D.S. Dollman.

On the recommendation of my veterinarian, and with the help of a friend, I now have a campaign set up to help pay for Baby's surger and help with Holly's cancer medication and Chewy's heart medication until Baby recovers:

"The indifference, callousness and contempt that so many people exhibit toward animals is evil first because it results in great suffering in animals, and second because it results in an incalculably great impoverishment of the human spirit." --Ashley Montagu