Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Just How Much Can One Little Store Do?

Susana Vasquez and Roberto Holness with Bindi, 
a regular customer at Pet Food Gone Wild. 

There seems to be a problem in New Mexico, a problem with abandoned animals. As the economy continues to worsen, so does the situation for large dogs. They are often abandoned, and in dangerous places, such as the desert where they are prey for roaming packs of coyotes. There is also a law against abandoning animals and the local no-kill shelters are filled with large dogs, dogs that are often considered un-adoptable due to their size and the expense of their care.

Those who care, do what they can. I recently adopted a medium-sized dog that I found in the desert. We have two chocolate labs that we bought from a woman who had ten puppies in a hot truck in a parking lot in Colorado. The next day, the rest of the litter was found abandoned on the side of the road. Our chihuahua was abandoned in the Texas forests and our cat was found in a dumpster 12 years ago. With four rescue dogs and a rescue cat I am at my limit according to city ordinances--five animals. There are so many people in New Mexico, like me, who want to help, but in times like these, how much can one person, one much can one little store do?

In Rio Rancho, New Mexico there is a tiny pet food store called Pet Food Gone Wild. In addition to selling only natural, organic and holistic dog and cat food, the owner of this store, Susana Vasquez, and her husband,  Roberto Holness, frequently provide foster care for dogs. They also donate dog food to local shelters.

"We actually foster animals through different rescue groups," Roberto explained. "So far, we have fostered animals for the Austin Stripes, New Mexico Dogs to Serve Better, and Eco Pink Weinermeiner Rescue.

"Every month, we also donate 500 lbs a month to different rescue groups, we ask people to nominate different groups on our Facebook page and people vote and the one that gets the most votes gets the food. Once the group gets food they do not participate for 90 days to prevent the same group from winning every time. So far, we have given food to seven groups."

The owners of Pet Food Gone Wild also have two rescue dogs, Lexie, and Leopold. They came up with the idea for the store when they moved to New Mexico from Chicago and realized they would have to drive to Albuquerque to get the quality food they needed for their dogs. Eventually, they realized a need for other services in the area, such as foster care, when they learned more about the situation dogs are facing in New Mexico. They realized they wanted to help in ways other stores don't.

Blue, one of many foster dogs 
who found homes through Pet Food Gone Wild. 

The owners of Pet Food Gone Wild are sometimes asked if they know where people can buy purebred dogs and they firmly tell them no. they do not believe in breeding dogs when there are so many good dogs in New Mexico desperate for homes.

They also urge people to look into more healthy options for their pets, such as healthy foods and healthy diets. "People think it's more expensive, but I tell people you're going to end up spending more money at the vet if you give them lower quality food," Holness explained. "Our goal is to try to better educate people on healthier options for their pets, but we also try to bring a small town feeling to our store with customer service. People bring their pets into their store to meet other dogs and other people." The store also has a dog bath facility in the back, which is very convenient, and they are working on finding a groomer to provide full-time grooming services.

Pet Food Gone Wild
2415 Southern Blvd. SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

Friday, September 28, 2012

Layla Lou the Bedroom Bunny

Layla Lou the Bedroom Bunny

I have a bunny in my bedroom. She is very sweet, well-behaved, paper-trained, and loves to play. She runs circles around me when I come to see her then climbs on my back to sniff my hair (I think she likes my shampoo) or climbs onto my lap so I can pet her. She loves to rub noses and when I make kissing noises she makes soft kissing noises in return.

Layla Lou has had a rough life. Our neighbors pointed her out to my husband one hot afternoon. They said she'd been underneath our trailer on the side of our house for four days and they were concerned she didn't have much longer to live. I crawled beneath the trailer to take a look. She was covered in mites, her ribs were showing, and she was clearly dehydrated.

I gave her some water and spinach, slowly. When she began to perk up, I gave her an oatmeal bath and sprayed her down with a bug spray from the local pet store. The bugs immediately disappeared. Next, I realized the more pressing problem--there is no home for homeless rabbits in my area, and until I could find her owner, I had to find a place to keep her. With four dogs and a cat in our three bedroom house, this would not be easy. I made her a bed in one of the pet carriers and set it up in the guest bedroom, but she doesn't like it. She prefers to sleep on the bed. I also placed newspapers in the corner and discovered she is house trained--carefully house trained. She has never once had an "accident" off the newspapers in the corner.

Layla Lou lounging on the bed. 

Layla Lou has now been with us two months. No one has answered my many advertisements and postings for a lost rabbit, but deep inside, I knew they wouldn't. I knew when I saw her that she was an abandoned Easter rabbit--parents buy bunnies and chicks for their children for Easter, realize it takes work to care for them, and they abandon them, assuming the animals will be capable of caring for themselves in the wild.

There is a night and day difference between wild and domestic animals, and in this situation, a night-mare. Little Layla Lou was released in a city that has an ordinance against lawns due to repeated droughts. Every house is rockscaped, and it only rains once a year during the Southwest Monsoons. I suspect that if we hadn't found her beneath the trailer, she would have been dead within a few days, either from starvation and dehydration, or one of the packs of coyotes that I listen to each night as they roam our city streets.

Layla Lou preparing to hop onto the bed.

We will be moving back to Colorado soon, and when we do, little Layla Lou will have a home of her own--I am working on building one now with scraps of wood, but it is challenging because rabbits chew wood to keep their teeth sharpened. In fact, I buy little packs of wood sticks for her to chew on. These are her toys. If I try to pick one up she makes a growling noise and charges toward me as if she is trying to protect her toy, then I pet her nose and she closes her eyes as if to say, "just kidding. I still love you."

When we come into the room, Layla Lou runs circles around our feet. I sit on the bed and she climbs up my back with her front paws--she likes to sniff my hair--then climbs onto my lap so I can pet her. I lay my palm flat across her nose and slowly move it over her face and ears as she falls asleep. I do this three or four times a day--she's a bit spoiled.

Oddly enough, Chewy the chihuahua and Layla Lou have decided they like each other. Chewy snuck into the room once when I had my hands full of Layla's water and food dish. Chewy sits beside me while I pet Layla Lou. Sometimes they sniff each other's noses. Sometimes Layla runs around the room and Chewy runs from one side of the bed to the other, not chasing her, just watching her run. He does not bark or growl, he just watches. Maybe some day they will learn how to play with each other, but until that time I still keep my fingers wrapped in his collar when they are close together--just in case. I don't know that it's really necessary. Layla Lou is fully recovered now. She is fat and sassy, bold and assertive.

Layla Lou and Chewy the Chihuahua touching noses. 

This is a bit of a surprise to me because rabbits are prey to all creatures. They cannot defend themselves in any way. Their mouths are beneath their head and very small. Their claws are small. The bulk of their body is completely vulnerable and exposed. It is as if God made them to keep other animals alive. I believe this is why God has brought this rabbit to me. I am disabled. I, too, am vulnerable, exposed, and find it difficult to protect myself. I believe God brought Layla Lou into my life for a reason, to remind me that I must be cautious, protective, and yet bold and assertive. Layla reminds me that even when the situation seems dire, and it seems as if I can't possibly go on, there is always hope. There will always be someone willing to slide a bowl of water beneath the trailer as I shiver in fear, someone to offer me food, shelter, safety, and love, enough to get me by until I am strong again. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Know that the same spark of life that is within you is within all of our animal friends, the desire to live is the same within all of us." --Rai Aren, 'Secrets of the Sands'

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dog Friends, Coydogs, and the Summer of Dogs

It has been awhile since my last post. I've been spending my time with my grandchildren in Colorado, playing in the parks, riding the train, photographing bugs and making friends with new dogs!

When I first arrived at my daughter's house she was watching over her stepsister and brothers who are all under seven years old. The children spent quite a bit of time at her house over the past month as they were evacuated from their own house twice due to the High Park Fire along with their parents and two dogs. One of the dogs is a massive Black Lab and Great Dane mix named Coltrane.


I am highly suspicious that Coltrane is actually a black bear that the family is trying to pass off as a dog. He has the largest head I've ever seen and carries around 140 pounds of solid muscle. When you scratch his belly he makes loud groaning sounds of pleasure that can be heard two blocks away. He can clear the dining table of scraps in a minute flat and I suspect he finished off half a birthday cake in one gulp when I turned my head to check on the children. In addition to his eating habits, he also enjoys climbing onto my chest when I'm trying to take a nap and sticking his tongue in my ears and nose until I wake up--Coltrane loves attention!

As you can imagine, Coltrane needs constant supervision, and his companion, Lucy, is perfect for the job. Lucy is what is called a Coydog--part dog and part coyote. If her mother was a coyote she would be known as a Dogote.

Lucy the Coydog

Some experts believe the mating between dogs and coyotes is rare, but as always, there are others who would argue that it happens all the time. There is an article online discussing this issue. I suspect it happens often. Instead of taking them to dinner first, the dog may end up as dinner later, (sorry, bad joke), but I've seen plenty of coydogs roaming the Southwest and Lucy is one of them. She was purchased from an Indian reservation and her previous owner is confident that her father is a coyote.

Apparently, there has been experiments in Germany with breeding poodles and coyotes, but Lucy is definitely not part poodle. Her former owner said she was part chihuahua. I was trying to figure out the logistics of that match, but truthfully, she does have a chihuahua look. Coyotes have also been known to breed with wolves. These pups are called coywolves.

Lucy, the coydog, is one of the gentlest creatures I've ever known, except when Coltrane misbehaves. She seems to have taken on the role of his conscience--if he so much as thinks of being naughty, she is nipping on his ears. It's rather amusing to watch since she is probably 1/5 his size, but he clearly recognizes her as the alpha dog in the house and becomes quite submissive to her demands. Lucy also likes to jump up on the bed and stick her tongue in my ears when I'm sleeping. So, I had very wet ears for a few days.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my son-in-law brought home a new puppy. Marley is his name, and he's adorable. Training new puppies is always a challenge and I've discussed this on my blog before, but my son-in-law takes extra precautions to make absolutely certain any animal he brings into their home will adjust to being around little children. He is also taking extra care to make sure Marley is comfortable with other animals since most of their friends have dogs and the dogs--like Coltrane and Lucy--sometimes stop by for visits. While I was in Colorado, my daughter's house was filled with children and dogs. It was a grandmother's Heaven.


And there is yet another family addition! My grandchildren's other grandparents have a new dog named Hooch. Hooch is a competitor for the largest dog I've ever seen and yes, you guessed it...he also likes to wake me up by sitting on my chest and sticking his tongue in my ears. Hooch is lovable, cuddly, and a rescue dog, saved from a horrible fate. He was being trained for dog fighting when he was rescued and is now being trained by one of the best dog trainers in the state of Colorado to be a family pet.


You may recall from my last post that I also have a new dog, Baby, who we rescued from the desert. This has become the summer of the dog!

Baby sleeping at my feet.

Unfortunately, as soon as I left my camera and computer both broke. I have so much to write about, including a massive dragonfly invasion this summer in the Southwest, and I promise this will come within the next week as soon as my technology is back on track.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sea Shepherd's Captain Paul Watson

“Remember, always, that it is the nature of a warrior to act. Do not be daunted by the formidable strength of the opposition. Do not be depressed by doom and gloom predictions. A true warrior must welcome challenge and transform the impossible into the possible. Because you are living in these trying times, it is your task to confront situations created by human ignorance and apathy, and focus your actions through love for the future and all the children of all the children of all species.” — Captain Paul Watson in “Earthforce!”

Paul Watson is an animal rights and environmental activist devoted to marine conservation.

“To slaughter grand and beautiful creatures like these tuskers, whether terrestrial or marine, solely to obtain a few teeth indicates that we have not evolved very much since the days our forebears lived in caves and saught to prove their superiority by adorning themselves with teeth and claws.”
― Paul Watson, Ocean Warrior: My Battle to End the Illegal Slaughter on the High Seas

Friday, August 3, 2012

Wild Horses...

Wild horses on the Nevada Test Site.

"When the federal law to protect wild horses was passed, wild horses were managed on 306 Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in 16 states. Since the law, however, the HMAs have been reduced — illegally, mind you — to 195 in just 10 states; six states have entirely lost their wild horse and burro populations. That means that all the horses, once living in viable herds in those management areas (as mandated by law) have been removed.." ~American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Praying Mantis, the Baby Blue Mystery Bug, Orb Weavers and Mud Daubers--What's for Dinner?

Sweet little baby blue "assassin bug."

While it's true that all of God's creatures must eat, some tend to be a bit more aggressive when fetching their dinner. Perhaps grotesque would be a better word, or disgusting, even freaky! I have found this to be the case in four creatures that I have photographed. Three that I have been blessed with opportunities to observe and photograph often--Praying Mantises, Mud Daubers, and Orb Weavers--and another I have only seen once and called the Baby Blue Mystery Bug, but identified this morning with the help of, mantis experts who also respect the beauty in all of God's creatures. According to the experts, although the Baby Blue Mystery Bug I photographed in Texas is not a mantis, it is considered an "assassin bug," a deceptively vicious killer!

Now, before you jump to the defense of those adorable praying mantis, let me assure you that I love them, too. When you see them with their (deadly) forelegs clasped together as if in prayer, the first thought is that they are praising the Lord, and perhaps they are giving thanks for a yummy meal. However, it is those spiked forelegs that the mantis uses to grab and hold its victim. (Oddly enough, its closest relatives are cockroaches and termites, though I would think most people find the mantis a bit more appealing!)

Baby praying mantis sitting on my finger. 

Mantis are predatory creatures and only eat food they catch themselves, though they are kept as pets. Their prey includes scorpions, lizards, birds (sad, but true, they do like baby birds), fish, frogs, snakes, and rodents. They use camouflage to ambush their prey. In fact, I first learned about the predatory habits of the mantis when I spotted one on a vine on my bedroom patio where small birds liked to build their nests. This particular Praying Mantis was a mix of brown and green camo colors and blended right in with Texas!

Baby praying mantis in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

My young neighbor was visiting my house in Kingsland, Texas that day. I stepped onto my patio to fetch something when I noticed the mantis. I ran to fetch my camera and tell her about the fascinating bug. She shook her head and told me they were "vicious killers!" At first, I thought she was kidding, then she explained that she had just finished watching a video about their eating habits in her science class at school. I photographed the mantis, then moved it closer to the creek, away from the baby birds.

A few months later I was in nearby Marble Falls, Texas when I noticed a very tiny, baby blue creature on a plant. I was fascinated by its beauty and ran for my camera. Something told me not to try and pick it up--strange bugs can sometimes leave strange bites! When I downloaded the photos I was suddenly grateful for the wisdom not to touch the creature--it had a large hook, called a probiscus, protruding from its chin! I contacted many of my usual resources trying to identify the creature, to no avail. This morning, however, I received an email from had a name for my baby blue mystery bug! This beautiful little creature is called a Wheelbug, and it's in a class of bugs called--get ready for this one--the ASSASSINS! That's right! That cute little blue baby is a fierce and deadly killer!

Wheel Bug nymph in Marble Falls, Texas. 

According to my morning email from, the Wheelbug is the largest species of assassin bugs in North America. They said the one I photographed was a half-grown nymph--still pretty small and without its adult wings. They also said newly hatched young are bright red, which would be equally interesting to see! The spike, or probiscus, is used to pierce the armor of other insects. They then inject the insect with digestive juices to suck out the contents of their prey. (Remind me to stop reading my email during breakfast!)

Wheel Bug nymph turning around to get a better look at me.

"They are the only type of animal/insect that will prey on such nuisance species as squash bugs, mexican bean beetles, tomato/tobacco hornworms, and other pests that birds and such won't eat," I was told. "They are generally pretty gentle, but if they should happen to mistake your finger for prey, they will pierce it and can cause a nasty wound by injecting those juices. If you are allergic to bee stings, it could cause a life-threatening reaction." They are currently attempting to breed these creatures at to offer them as beneficial insects for gardeners.

Wheel Bug nymph creeping away...

The behavior of the Wheelbug reminds me of the Orb Weavers I saw in great abundance in my Texas gardens and occasionally found in my Colorado gardens, as well. Orb Weavers weave lovely, spiral or wheel-shaped webs, huge webs, sometimes double webs connecting trees and shrubs. The Golden Orb Weaver is highly prized for the thick, durable silk it emits from its body. In fact, there is a tapestry made from the silk of the Golden Silk Orb Weaver on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The females can be as large as my hand and the males so small they are difficult to see. The males, of course, are eaten by the females, so they sometimes sneak up on the female and impregnate her while she is busy eating. I actually saw this happen once.

Miss Alice the Orb Weaver who lived near my patio in Texas. 

In 2010 a huge Orb Weaver that I named Miss Alice built her web outside my bedroom patio. The web was so huge I had to duck when I walked through the doorway. I made videos and took photos of her the entire summer and often watched her eating process. They tend to be mostly nocturnal, so she posed quite nicely for me during the daylight. They are not at all aggressive toward humans. In fact, Charlotte in the children's novel by E.B. White, Charlotte's Web, was an Orb Weaver.

Miss Alice the Orb Weaver wrapping up her prey.

Orb Weavers do bite if they feel threatened, so it's recommended that you do not try to handle them, though I have had one on my body before, and I've learned they can be very stubborn. Once, an Orb Weaver tried to build its web across the middle of my garden where I was building a pond. It was a great place to catch those bugs that attacked my flowers, but the web was so large that I was unable to work around it, so my husband moved the spider to a nearby bush. A few minutes later the spider was back, spinning its web. This time I moved it. I thought I was free to start working on my pond. On my hands and knees, I started to dig through the soil with a hand shovel. I felt a tickle on my neck. I thought, "No, it's not possible. I'm imagining this," and continued to work. Another tickle on the neck, then the shoulder. I slowly turned my head. Sure enough, the giant Orb Weaver was sitting on my shoulder, staring at me. THAT was Miss Alice! This time, I moved her to the ivy surrounding my bedroom patio. She seemed to like this better, though when the temperatures reached 110, she moved her web to the north side of the house. The life of Miss Alice is documented in earlier posts on this blog.

Miss Alice the Orb Weaver--notice the design on her web. 
As soon as she finished wrapping her prey she rebuilt her web.

The Orb Weaver, of course, catches its meal in its web. As the web begins to bounce from the struggle, the Orb Weaver is alerted and quickly pounces on the prey before it can escape--I have, by the way, seen butterflies and bees manage to escape before the spider arrived. The Orb Weaver eats its prey in a similar fashion to the assassins. First, it gives the prey a quick bite and injects it with toxin, then it spins its silk around its victim and waits for the victim to die. One source I read said the insides of the prey turns to liquid. However, according Iowa State University's, " the spider will literally vomit digestive fluid over the prey. Then the prey is chewed with the "jaws" (chelicerae), and the fluid is sucked back into the mouth together with some liquefied "meat" from the prey. The spider repeats this process as often as necessary to digest, and ingest, all but the inedible hard parts. What is discarded afterwards is a small ball of residue." Hmm, yummy.

Miss Alice still wrapping her prey.

I have observed spiders become victims of other creatures, too, though not the big Orb Weavers. Mud Daubers eat spiders, and in an interesting manner.(Okay, I know, this is a matter of opinion). We had an infestation of Mud Daubers at our house in Texas. In fact, when we moved to New Mexico and unpacked those boxes that were stored in the garage during the selling process, we found Mud Dauber nests in every single box attached to books, clothes, knick knacks--they are busy little critters! I believe these were black and yellow Mud Daubers. They didn't bother us, and we didn't seem to bother them, so they stayed busy in our garage and I would sometimes watch them as I walked through on my way to the garden.

Mud Dauber, photo by Alvesgaspar.

The Mud Dauber will catch its prey, generally spiders, and sting it once, which paralyzes the creature. The Mud Dauber then carries the spider back to its nest with its legs, which is really wild to watch! The Mud Dauber nest consists of one or more cylinders made of dried mud with a tiny hole for the front door. The Mud Dauber will slowly stuff the spider through the hole--yes, it's gross. It deposits a single egg on the spider, then seals the hole of the nest with more mud. Sometimes more than one spider is inserted into the same hole. I watched a Mud Dauber stuff four spiders into one nest once. The Mud Dauber does not return to the nest. The hatchlings eat the prey and leave their home to deal with their abandonment issues on their own, poor little orphans.

A Mud Dauber nest inside of a box that held books while we were moving. Many of our belongings were in storage for nearly a year during the moving process from Texas to New Mexico and when I unpacked them they were filled with Mud Dauber nests and sunflower seed shells. We have no idea where the shells came from. 

I have to admit I'm a bit excited to finally have a name for the baby blue bug, though Wheelbug isn't exactly a heart-pounding name for such a creature. Now that I understand its eating habits, I think I would have named it "Spiky Blue Beast" or "Powder Blue Terminator." Something along those lines. And now that you know the eating habits of my favorite bugs, I'm sure you've built up quite an appetite. Put down the computer and go get some lunch. If the kitchen is empty, I'm sure you'll find something to eat in the backyard!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Edgo Levine: Eulogy for a Friend

Edgo was always smiling, and he had such a beautiful smile!

There are friends who come and go in your life, and then there are friends who leave their paw marks on your heart forever. Edgo was such a friend. We knew each other for many years. He was a sweet, energetic, protective Aussie who started with my children's other mother, but spent most of his life with my daughter and her family. He died on June 5, 2012, but lives on in great memories we all share of this wonderful dog.

My grandchildren saying goodbye to Edgo.

I first met Edgo as a puppy. He was full of energy and...fur! Edgo was the fuzziest, furriest dog I have ever known. I know Australian Shepherds are supposed to make great sheep dogs, but he actually resembled the sheep! He had the typical herding instincts as a puppy, nuzzling the children in the family, moving them from place to place, but he also had protective instincts that sometimes astounded me.

I have a rare form of arthritis that can sometimes be very severe. One afternoon, as I carried groceries into my daughters house from the car, my knees suddenly gave out from beneath me. The grocery sacks fell onto the counter, and I fell to the floor. Edgo ran into the kitchen and stood over my body, two legs on each side of my chest, his chin straight, eyes forward. I told him I was okay and he briefly lowered his head to lick me on the nose, then returned to his protective stance, waiting until my son-in-law found me and helped me up from the floor.

Edgo, always smiling!

When my daughter was pregnant with her oldest child, Edgo started sleeping beside her bed. This may not have been the best situation for my daughter as she was often kept awake by his scratching and snoring, but Edgo felt it was his job to protect her. No one instructed him to do this, but he knew something was different about my daughter. In his mind, he believed she was in a fragile state and needed to be protected, and that was his job. Night after night he followed her into the bedroom, curled up next to her side of the bed and stayed there until morning. From that time on, Edgo decided his place was by her side. During the day, he played with the children, followed my son-in-law around the yard as he did his chores, and cuddled with me when I stayed at their house for visits, but most of the time, he was by my daughter's side, protecting.

My granddaughter hugging Edgo.

Edgo was attacked by a large dog when he was a puppy and he did not get along with other dogs. He adored cats, and even played with them, but not dogs. It saddened me to think of the joy he could have had in his life if he had not been attacked as a puppy. With his energy and playful attitude, he would have made great friends at the dog park or a wonderful addition to a pack.

And oh my goodness did he have a playful attitude! Edgo loved to play with my grandchildren and watched over them as if they were his own children. He also loved to chase tennis balls. When I came for a visit, my grandchildren often put on plays or fashion shows and while I watched and took pictures I always had to keep one hand free to throw the ball to Edgo. He chased that ball for hours!

I still remember the first time I threw the ball and he didn't chase. Instead, he slowly walked over to my side and lay down at my feet. It was such a shock to me to recognize that he was growing old. In my mind, he was always a puppy. In my mind, he is still a puppy.

Edgo getting ready to crawl beneath the couch.

My daughter's home has a short set of stairs leading from the kitchen to the den. As he grew older, Edgo preferred to sleep in the living room beneath the lounger where it was cool, but if the kids and I got rowdy--and we always get rowdy--he would walk over to the top of the stairs to check on us. When I saw him looking down at us I stood at the bottom of the stairs and did my own version of the Temptation's song, "Papa was a Rolling Stone." I clapped my hands and rocked back and forth on my feet, singing, "Edgo was a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his paw was his home, and when he moved all he left us was a doggy bone..." As I sang my song, Edgo stepped from side to side, mimicking my movements, and howled as if he was singing. "Hey Momma!" I continued, and he hopped from foot to foot as if he was still a silly pup. "I heard Edgo was a dog of all trades! Chasing the tennis balls and begging to play! Momma I'm depending on you to tell us the truth!" I sang, and Edgo followed right along, rocking back and forth with that beautiful, captivating smile on his face.

When my grandchildren were younger, I often slept on the couch in the den so they could find me if they woke up in the middle of the night, even though my son-in-law built a bedroom for me in their home. Edgo liked to fall asleep by my side. Eventually, of course, he would trot up the stairs to check on my daughter and finish the evening snoring away beside her bed, but he liked to fall asleep by me, I think because he liked the never-ending petting that I'd grown used to having two labs--I have so many animals now that I often wake up in the middle of the night and find my hand moving on its own, petting whatever animal has crawled up onto my chest.

I am also a certified Reiki therapist and Edgo was a Reiki hound! He loved Reiki! If I sat down on the floor he ran to my side, roll onto his back and waited for the energy. If I had a child in my arms, he stayed on his back. He was patient. He would wait for his turn. If I scratched his belly or rubbed his head, he was fine with that, too, but what he really loved was Reiki. I did this often in his older years. We had something in common--arthritis--and I knew it helped him feel better. Most of the time, it put him to sleep, and he always slept with that sweet smile on his face.

That sweet Edgo smile!

Oh yes, dogs do smile. Edgo smiled often, especially when he was playing with the children. He also gave hugs. When I came into the house, he would run to my side then roll around on the floor waiting for his hug. I got down on my knees and wrapped my arms around him and lay my head on his chest. He wrapped his paws around my back, just like he was giving me a hug, and he always smiled. I believe animals have rights--not certain rights, but all rights, as humans have rights. The right to shelter, food, safety. I believe respect, compassion, and kindness is a right that all animals have simply because God created them. And most of all, I believe they have the right to be loved, and I love Edgo with all of my heart.

I planned my last visit because I knew it was getting close to Edgo's time to leave us and I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to tell him how much I love him and how much his friendship and protection of my family meant to me.

Once I arrived, though, I realized I wasn't ready to say goodbye. I started searching the internet for alternative medicinal treatments and filled my daughter's refrigerator with pills with strange names and bottles of cod liver oil. My son-in-law stood silently by, shaking his head, but as man who served twice in Iraq, I think he understood this was part of the grieving process. He knew that I knew it was Edgo's time to go, and for the rest of the family the grieving process had already begun, but I was just beginning the denial, prayers, begging God to stop this from happening.

Eventually, I knew it was his time. I had to say goodbye, to hold him in my arms, hug him, rock him, sing to him, and tell him how much I loved him. So I did. Night after night, until I finally left for New Mexico, I held him in my arms and told him how much I loved him.

My granddaughter saying goodbye to Edgo.

When the phone call came from my son-in-law, I was standing in the desert with my chocolate labs, chihuahua, and Baby the Desert Dog, watching them run and play on a sandy road and watching the Sandia Mountains turn bright red as the sun slowly disappeared on the horizon. I looked at the buzzing phone. At first, I refused to answer. Then, as I watched my dogs running through the sagebrush, barking and playing, I realized how appropriate the moment was, with the sky blazing with color, the dogs behaving like little puppies, a cool breeze moving through my hair. Edgo would have loved this moment, I thought, and I realized he was with me. I knew who was on the phone, and I knew why he was calling.

I returned Aaron's call. "We spent a long time saying goodbye to Edgo before I took him to the vet," he told me. "I held him in my arms and it was very peaceful," my son-in-law said, but I knew this already, because Edgo was always at peace. He was well-loved, and he loved deeply in return.

Edgo has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. He is no longer afraid of other dogs. Now he plays with them, chasing the yellow tennis balls through grassy meadows, barking to his heart's content, running like a puppy in the cool breeze at sunset. He is a young again, strong, vigorous, full of energy, compassion, and love. Oh, so much love. Yes, Edgo is happy, because he knows that some day he will see his family again. Until that time, we have our memories, and they are all good. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lost Dog in the Desert

Nearly two weeks ago, I was driving to the sandy hilltop to walk the dogs when I suddenly had the oddest feeling that I was going to see, well, a dog! The feeling was so strong that I slowed down my car when we reached the road leading to the hilltop and scanned the fields of sagebrush. Nothing. The feeling grew stronger as we approached our favorite spot and I started to panic, thinking that perhaps this was an instinctive warning that we were going to encounter a coyote.

The place where I walk my dogs, the sagebrush where Baby was hiding.

The feeling grew so strong that I decided to turn around and go somewhere else. As I started to back up my truck, a young brindle male shepherd mix crept out of the sagebrush and sat in front of my bumper. To say I was surprised is an understatement. He was thin, scraggly, and clearly asking for help.

Baby when he first crawled out of the sagebrush. 

I got out of the truck with our water bottle and dish and offered him some water, which he eagerly accepted. I then tried to pet him--he rolled over onto his back and let me scratch his belly. I decided to let Buddy--my friendly meter--out of the truck to see what would happen. Holly and Chewy escaped out the side door. Buddy and the new dog were instant friends. Holly and Chewy strangely ignored the new dog. They acknowledged that he was there, but acted as if he belonged there, as if he had always been there.

When Baby first met my husband he followed my husband everywhere, 
sitting at his feet with his head bowed down. I'm not sure what that meant. 
He is still very attached to my husband. 

It was a bit touchy for a few minutes. When Buddy would get too rowdy the new dog would run back into the sagebrush, then his head would pop up like the coyotes do and he would peek at us for a few minutes before rejoining us. I began to wonder how long he had been roaming the desert to learn this habit.

Buddy and the new dog ran up the road just as another car came down. I ran after them and told the man Buddy was my dog. "Is the other dog yours?" I asked. He hadn't seen another dog. We looked at the sagebrush on the side of the road and there he was, his little brown head peeking up over the top of the bushes. The young man had two labs in his truck and I had three dogs in mine, so we were in a bit of a pickle. He called the Humane Society, though, and they told us they would meet us at a local intersection...if we could convince the dog to come with us. The dog allowed us to clip Buddy's leash around his neck and the young man tried to drive with his arm out his car window as the dog ran alongside. It took quite a while as the leash kept slipping. We were concerned about lifting the dog into my truck bed in case he tried to bite, and had the same concern for putting him in one of the vehicles. We finally made it to the street corner and waited until 10 at night--no Humane Society.

I decided to take the dog home since I didn't have to work the next day. The dog readily accept everyone, even my husband, who was not eager to accept the dog. I started calling the dog Baby--it seemed to fit. He's very young. Baby spent the evening sitting at my husband's feet, staring up at him. I could feel his ribs, so I fed him slowly and he acted as if he was starving, and very grateful. He was wary of Chewy the chihuahua at first, but perfectly comfortable with the labs, (but who isn't?) That night, when I got up for water, I discovered Baby snuggled between the two labs, sleeping. I knew then that I would have trouble leaving the dog at the Humane Society.

I was right, I had trouble. Baby allowed me to put a collar on him and the leash and walked by my side as if he had been trained. He was very trusting and loving. At the Humane Society, they told me he was under a year old and a shepherd mix. He was a little undernourished, but otherwise healthy. They took our information and told me I had a week to find his owner, then I would either have to surrender him or he would legally be mine. If I surrendered him, they had five days to find an owner before he would be "put down." The kennel was full of lost and abandoned dogs. I took Baby with me, along with information on low cost shots and neutering clinics.

Baby and my husband walking in the desert. 

Baby is now a part of the family. He has a love/hate relationship with the cat, but the cat likes to smack him around, which isn't very nice. It took two years for Chewy to get used to having his forehead smacked! He lifted his leg a few times in the house, but no longer. He eats three times a day as opposed to the twice a day the older dogs eat, but he is more active and much younger, and still a bit skinny.

Baby chews on pieces of wood all the time--and he always sticks his butt up in the air. 
I finally bought Kongs for all of the dogs and he plays with his Kong all day long. 

He also sits, gives me paw, understands no, already knows his name, walks on a leash even when the other dogs are running circles around us in the desert, sleeps with the big dogs, loves to have his belly scratched, cuddles me, and smothers my face with kisses if I try to take a nap. I am going to try to teach him tricks--he is one of the smartest dogs I've seen. He gets a bit anxious when there is too much commotion, but we now have four dogs and a cat, so that's understandable. I rearranged the areas around the door to lessen traffic jams and moved the dog food so I no longer have four dogs hovering around me at feeding time. I also feed him outside and the other dogs inside. I am working on removing his food then giving it back to lessen food anxiety. He has no problems with looking me in the eyes or shyness of any kind. Last night, he had his first bath, and handled it beautifully.

Baby walking on a leash with my husband while the chocolate labs follow along.
When we first adopted him we kept him on a leash until he learn to stay with the pack.
Now, I walk him on a leash in the neighborhood every day so he gets continuous exercise
as he tends to get a bit chubby (he has a peanut butter addiction.) 

We are now at our limit for animals--in this area, the limit is five. I never imagined I would have this many animals in this small house, and when the grandchildren come, it will be a challenge--there will definitely be increased noise and activity, so the dogs will most likely be spending their time outside. The week has passed and he is now "our dog." Next week, he meets the vet for his shots. I believe things happen for a reason. I don't know why Baby came into our lives, but it is obvious to me he was meant to be here. He adores us, and we love him, too. My husband still grumbles about "all these dogs," but as I watch him walking Baby down the dusty trails at sunset, I know in my heart that he would never give one of them up.

Sleeping Dogs...

There's something so sweet about watching a dog sleep, the way they curl up tight and rest their heads on their paws. My dogs are very picky about their sleeping habits. The chocolate lab twins have padded beds, three of them, because Buddy is a very large dog. I line the beds up at night next to the couch--Holly likes to rest her back against the couch. The beds are covered with old sheets and blankets that I wash once a week because they love the smell of clean sheets. Who doesn't?

In the summertime, the blankets cover the beds and when it's time to sleep at night, I tuck the dogs in with the sheets. In the wintertime the sheets cover the beds and the dogs are tucked in with their blankets. Buddy likes to have his head covered and Holly likes to have the sheet tucked in tight around her back.

Buddy and Holly. That's Buddy you see with his head sticking up beneath the blanket. 

I'm not sure when this happened, my husband and I originally agreed that no animals would be allowed in our bed, but we now share our bed with two--Niblet the giant black cat and Chewy the chihuahua. Chewy is a fair weather friend. If I'm taking too long to get ready for bed, he slides up next to my husband, wiggles his way beneath my husband's arm and closes his eyes. Most of the time, though, he waits for me then wiggles his way beneath the blanket. He curls into a ball with his back against my stomach.

Chewy refusing to get out of bed. 

The cat used to wait for everyone to settle, then he would make himself comfortable somewhere around my husband's legs, trapping my husband so he could not move. Niblet is now 15 years old, though, and seems to be having trouble getting up onto our tall bed, so my husband moved a chair next to the bed. At first, Niblet used the chair to climb into bed, but he's now decided he prefers to curl up on the seat of the chair to sleep. This makes it difficult for Chewy who frequently wakes up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water--I keep a bowl on the floor of the master bath. Chewy has no problem jumping down, he just leaps over the cat and the chair, but he can't jump back up! The cat is on the chair, the chair blocks most of my side of the bed, and my husband stretches out along his side of the bed, so I am often awakened in the middle of the night to a soft "yip," letting me know that Chewy needs a helping hand to get back onto the bed.

Why does Chewy wake up so often in the middle of the night? Chewy has frequent dog-mares. Chewy was abandoned near our property in Texas--five acres of forest land surrounded by vast acres of the same. He appeared at our home during a thunderstorm. We were later told that he had tried to seek help at the home of many of our neighbors who chased him away. No offense to my neighbors, but he was a tiny, helpless pup at the time and I cannot imagine turning my back on an animal begging for help, but that's the story we were told.


I don't know how long Chewy was roaming the forests looking for a home, but it may have been days, perhaps weeks. He is now solid muscle with a shiny, healthy coat, but when he appeared in our driveway, he was tiny, thin, and his coat was dirty. I can only imagine what happened to him before he arrived at our house, and I do not imagine his life in the forest was easy.

Our other animals have dreams, too. The chocolate twins were attacked by a pack of coyotes once and suffered severe injuries. Holly was bit three times on the stomach by something--the vet believed it was a brown recluse spider, but the local university vet clinic thought it was baby rattlesnakes. We had 35 acres on the Colorado prairies at the time so either one is a possibility. She was so sick the vet sent her home to die. Her belly was black from her chin to her tail. I was desperate and determined to keep her alive, and my daughter was helping me. She eventually found a natural treatment on the internet, a "draw" using flaxseed meal, lavender oil and activated charcoal. I used a paint brush to paint her chest with the mix every 15 minutes for three days before pink started to show around the edges of her stomach. I did not sleep for three days, holding her head on my lap, gently washing her chest, then repainting it with a fresh batch of charcoal. After seven days, only a small circle of black remained. She now has three small scars, and our vet sells activated charcoal in her office.

Buddy sleeping.

Holly Sleeping

Buddy was hit by our truck. He saw my husband coming home from work and took off running down the hill. He darted out from between two trees just as my husband turned into our driveway. The truck hit him softly, but sent him sprawling across the pavement, which scraped the skin from his belly. He was bedridden in serious pain for two weeks. I am assuming these are the sources of my dog's dog-mares, but to be honest, I don't know. They don't speak English.

Our cat has cat-mares. He was abandoned in a dumpster as a kitten and rescued by my daughter's friends, but he was so young! Is it possible he still fears abandonment and dreams of that hot, dark, metal box? I don't know. He used to sneak out of the house (I only have indoor cats) and tease the neighbor's dog by prancing back and forth on the fence when he was a kitten. He is a Maine Coon and has a long, thick, fluffy tail. The dog must have nabbed the tail because he came into the house without any fur on the last half of the tail. His fur grew back, and he stopped sneaking out of the house, but is it possible he still dreams of the near-loss of his tail?

The FYI section in the February 2012 issue of Popular Science attempts to answer the question "Do Animals Dream?." According to the author, Kaitlin Miller, dogs actually go through the same sleep stages as humans, "only faster." Miller refers to research by Stanley Coren, psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and author of The Intelligence of Dogs.

Research has shown that dogs enter REM sleep, or dream sleep, within 20 minutes. I have seen this in my chocolate labs when they lie down at my feet, their limbs and chins draped across each other's bodies looking comfortable and peaceful, then suddenly one of them will start twitching and softly "woofing" as if he or she is "chasing bunnies" as we call it. My chocolate labs are very large dogs, even for labs. They are not overweight, but tall, and each weighs nearly 90 pounds. According to Coren's research, large dogs dream longer, though he does not understand why.

Coren also states that the dreams of little dogs come faster, and they dream more frequently. My chihuahua sleeps on my bed, on my lap, or beside me on the couch, so I have the opportunity to observe his sleep habits more often. When we first rescued him, as I said before, he had been abandoned in the forests of Texas. When he was young, I noticed that he often appeared to be dreaming that he was being chased. I had to wake him carefully because he often woke up frightened. Now, two years later, his dreams are sometimes more peaceful, but he still has those moments when he whimpers or cries in his sleep.

Coren's research also showed that infants of all species dream more often than adults, and I wonder why? One would think they would dream less as they would have less experiences to recall, or perhaps there is an answer to a mystery in this discovery, as well. What do infants dream about? If, as some psychologists claim, dreams are metaphorical, a way that we work out our day to day problems, then why do infants dream?

Another interesting aspect of Coren's research shows that insects and fish do not experience REM sleep, but some birds do, and all mammals. Finches, Coren claims, dream about the melodies of their songs, which is a lovely thought, in my opinion. Rats often replay the mazes they have run through during tests. Again, this piques my interests--how did Coren figure that out?

Coren suggested the possibility that reptiles might experience REM sleep because many scientists believe human dream processes might be "a holdover form our reptilian brains." Of course, this also draws on the question of whether or not one believes in evolution or creationism.

For the most part, animal dreams, like human dreams, remain a mystery, but there is something about a whimpering, sleeping dog that tugs at my heart. I do not know if he or she is dreaming of a fun romp through the woods or being chased by coyotes and I would rather gently wake the dog up than take the chance that he or she is reliving a bad experience.

Buddy and Holly Cuddling

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Devil's Backbone and Coyote Ridge in Larimer County, Colorado

I just returned from a vacation in Colorado with my grandchildren. We hiked the Devil's Backbone and Coyote Ridge in Loveland and searched for robins in the park, which was easy to do since all of the robins in the country seem to be flocking to Colorado right now!

My grandchildren hiking with me at Coyote Ridge.

Devil's Backbone is about two miles west of town. It is part of Larimer County's Open Space project and available for family hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders--you can even bring your dogs! There are bridges, picnic tables, rest areas, and displays to explain the geological details of the area. There are many trails and a few are more than appropriate for little children. My two oldest grandchildren are six and four and we easily made it to the top. Much of the hike is flat trail, but the views are awesome! There is also a mated pair of red tailed hawks that returns every year and since this is nesting time, they put on quite a show for hikers while we were there.

It is also butterfly and bug time. Of course, everyone knows it's best not to hike with scented hair products, soaps, or perfumes on your body, but the bugs really aren't that bad. We had fun watching an army of red ants working on their home--a few feet downhill. Didn't want to get too close! We also made friends with dozens of butterflies that seemed to follow us along the trail.

The Devil's Backbone refers to a series of rock formations along the mountain top that really do resemble a backbone. The focal point is supposedly the rock formation the features the "keyhole," which you can see to the right, but honestly, I think they're all beautiful.

Devil's Backbone. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

To find Devil's Backbone, travel two miles west of the intersection of Wilson and Eisenhower in Loveland. You can see the Devil's Backbone from many areas in town and it's so popular that there is a sign instructing residents how to find other open space areas if the parking lot is full--if the lot is full, the area is full to capacity. However, we have visited dozens of times in all seasons, all times of day, and although it is always busy, it is never full to capacity.

The children were not quite ready to call it quits, so we moved on to Coyote Ridge, another one of their favorite hiking spots. Coyote Ridge is a natural area available for public use in Larimer County and a bit more rustic. It is next to Taft Hill and popular with bicyclists. It is filled with wildlife and great for hiking and biking.

Prairie Dog at Coyote Ridge. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

We've never made it into the hills. We walk the flat trail to the prairie dog village and listen to the prairie dogs chatter. Scientists now know prairie dogs have a unique language. They even have different sounds used to warn that a man is coming and that a man is coming with a gun! (I will explain this in another post as prairie dogs are one of my favorite rodents.)

Once, as we stood listening, a cottontail rabbit suddenly darted from beside my granddaughter's foot. Rabbits will do this at times. They hold so still you think they are rocks until they finally dart away.

Cutest bunny ever! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Coyote Ridge has so much wildlife that it is particularly important not to bring food of any kind as they can smell the food! In addition to the butterflies, dragonflies, rabbits and prairie dogs that we enjoy, there are also red foxes, deer, elk, hawks, owls, eagles, bears, and of course, coyotes, which we are well-familiar with now! There are maps available at the entrance along with informational pamphlets describing the various inhabitants of the area and how to avoid dangerous encounters.

I highly recommend both of these recreational areas. Remember to take plenty of water--we took a full bottle for each of us and an extra. We also had hiking sticks for each of us. I then instructed the children to stay beside me at all times, never run ahead or around a turn where they cannot see me. Even though there are no slow times at these areas, it is best to be safe!