Thursday, September 24, 2015

Small Blessings

Layla Lou, the queen of my bunny herd, has a broken leg, but she's fat and sassy and happy as can be hanging out with the rest of the bunny family. (Yes, a group of bunnies is called a herd!) 

Chewy the chihuahua loves posing for pictures...when he's not barking at squirrels, neighbors, the neighbor's dogs, fire engines...

I'm in Loveland now. It's been a long three months with many trials and tests of faith, but I'm learning who my true friends are and who to turn to in my family when I need help the most, and that's an important lesson. 

I've also learned there is great value in having a house full of little creatures. While it may be true that they're a lot of work, and they certainly can do damage sometimes, they greet me each day with unconditional love and what I believe is a deep-felt compassion. 

Skipper is the trouble maker in my bunny herd. His adorable looks are deceiving! He likes to make me chase him around the yard. I know he enjoys the chase because he occasionally pauses to leap into the air and smack his two hind legs together, which is rather comical to watch. This is his "Who, me?" expression, which is the one he uses the most. 

Each day I find myself growing closer to these animals who share my home. They have unique personalities, but they are all so loving toward me and each other. 

Late in the evening when the sun begins to set is now my favorite part of the day because the animals become more active and I love to spend this time sitting in the backyard watching them at play. For some people this may seem like a waste of time, but those of us who are spiritual find tremendous joy in small blessings such as time to sit and watch the world around us. Watching my animals at play is a peaceful way to end the day and it gives me the opportunity to remind myself of how truly grateful I am to have these blessed little creatures in my life. 

Buddy and Holly cuddling on the floor after Holly's cancer surgery. It may be difficult to see, but Holly is actually smiling. She is happy to be home with her brother and always smiles when she's around him. Dogs often smile, and it's such a loving expression. 

I've recently found myself researching the topic of animals and emotions (which I will discuss in my next post) even though I know in my heart that they do feel emotions, and that no amount of scientific research can ever truly determine the depth of their emotions or the many ways they express emotions because we speak a different language. It's like the age-old argument over translations of the books of the Bible and which books were included and why and how we'll never really know because we live in different times and even if we do believe we know how to interpret the languages of long ago these interpretations can never be exact. 

I choose to believe that whatever we are missing in translations of ancient writings are actually far more profound than we could ever imagine, and believe the same about the emotions of animals--they feel, think, and express themselves in ways that if we were ever able to discover the exact truth of what they are feeling and saying we would be stunned and amazed. 

When Baby puts his head down like this it may appear to someone who doesn't know him as if he is depressed, but this is actually how he lies down when he is feeling sleepy and content. In fact, after I took this photo I walked up to scratch behind his ears and he flipped over onto his back and started rolling on his bed, then held still with his paws in the air--his signal that he wants a belly rub.

I've also spent much more time with my rabbits. I deliberately rearranged my home so this could happen--I've always believed it is senseless and somewhat mean to have pets in your home if you don't intend to spend time with them. So, I moved the rabbit hutches into a shed in my backyard so it would be easier to clean their living spaces and so they could play outside then jump back into their cages if they feel uncomfortable for any reason. I also had them each spayed and neutered so they could play together without fighting and the result is amazing.

Find the bunny!  

The only problem animal is the smallest animal, my grandson's rabbit, Black Bat. He is the father of the two bunnies pictured below. He is a Netherland Dwarf and absolutely adorable. He is smart and easily trained and the grandchildren love to set him in the middle of a line of stuffed animals because he holds very still and it's difficult to tell which animal is the live one. Unfortunately, his two sons, Skippy (the white rabbit) and Hoppy (the black and white) attack him whenever he is outside. I still put him outside, but I remove one of the cages from the top of the hutches and keep him enclosed so his sons cannot get to him. They are shockingly aggressive toward him and I wish I could figure out why because it's so much fun to watch the rabbits run and play in the yard, but poor little Black Bat has to sit and watch, too, from his enclosure.

Brothers Skippy (white) and Hoppy (black and white) spend most of their day together or with their mother, Layla Lou. They enjoy lying around in the grass and when the sun begins to set they will return to the rabbit barn and jump into their own cages. However, if I am running errands and try to put them in their hutches early, they make me run around the yard for at least half an hour chasing them down. I call them my personal trainers. 

Pet care can be expensive. I have three animals over 16 years old--my cat, Niblet, and the chocolate lab twins, Buddy and Holly. My pets cost me nearly three thousand dollars in vet bills this year, mainly because I have two with cancer, one with severe arthritis, and I had all five rabbits spayed and neutered at the same time. However, I recently found a vet in Loveland, Colorado called Twin Peaks Veterinary Clinic that has an insurance plan. When I added up the cost of the required one year agreement I realized it was less than the cost of the last vet appointment for only one of my dogs. I have decided to insure the three oldest dogs because I know they will require the most care over the next few years, but I am grateful to have found the clinic and the vets who work there because they not only will save me a tremendous amount of money, they are also kind, compassionate, and honest when it comes to making decisions about my pets. I highly recommend pet insurance. When I discussed the options with the receptionist she told me they had many clients who were forced to deny procedures or tests, etc., for their animals because they couldn't afford them, but the insurance plan makes a huge difference. 

This is Big Nose Kate (You may recognize the name if you read my Wild West History blog--Big Nose Kate was a famous prostitute in the Old West!) Holly is standing behind her. I'm not sure why, but Holly has decided Big Nose Kate is a fun companion and the two spend a surprising amount of time together. When she is inside, Holly cuddles with her brother, Buddy, but in the daytime she prefers to spend her time in the yard with Kate, following her around or just lying in the grass watching the other rabbits play. Kate is a very large rabbit, larger than Chewy the chihuahua, and I think Holly was originally intrigued by Kate's size and unique appearance, but Holly has slowed down a bit due to her cancer, and Kate moves slower than the other rabbits, too, so perhaps they enjoy spending time together because they both like to lie around in the shady section of the lawn where the grass is cool and soft and they can relax away from the more active animals. 

Animals are small blessings that leave big paw prints on the heart, but those who care for animals and understand that our pets are part of the family are blessings, as well. 

(All photos were taken by Darla Sue Dollman and are the property of Darla Sue Dollman. Do not use without permission. Thank you.) 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

There's Always a Rainbow

Bumble Bees on Sunflower.

It's been a difficult year. I lost three family members, two who were just starting out in their loving marriage, and the grieving process was painful. Feeling a deep connection with nature and the cycle of life and death did help, but in this case the losses were so close together and so severe that all I could do was hold onto my grandchildren and animals and remind myself daily to breathe. Just breathe. 

I believe this is an Oriole. Photographed by D.S. Dollman near Carter Lake, Colorado. 

I loved living at the lake. My grandchildren and I spent many hours at the lake. We took my two chocolate labs to the dock and they would jump into the freezing water, swim to shore, then jump in again. I was certain they would grow tired of shivering, but they loved the water play and considering they are now 16 years old it really was amazing to watch. 

Buddy and Holly are 16 years old now and Holly is battling cancer, but they still play and love like little puppies. 

The Colorado mountains are filled with wildlife, lovely creatures that leave you breathless, and when they finally tired of leaping into the water and allowed me to wrap them in warm towels, the dogs would join us watching the birds sitting on fence posts and the fish leaping from the lake and the small herd of deer that roams among the yards and gardens and in the park. 

Deer photobomb. Photo taken by Darla Sue Dollman near Carter Lake, Colorado.

Eventually, I moved into town so I could live closer to my family. It is a small house, but a cozy fit for cuddling with the grandchildren, four dogs, five rabbits and my cat. 

Chewy the Chihuahua tries to take a selfie while cuddling with me on the couch. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman taken in Loveland, Colorado.

However, I still carried that dream in my heart, the dream of paying it forward to the community to all those people who helped me when I was a single mother by raising goats for goats' milk and chickens for fresh eggs and growing vegetables and herbs to donate to needy families. The yard is small so I decided to work with raised gardens and experiment with vertical gardening. Within a week of moving into the house I planted the seedlings I started up in the mountains, then someone poured an egg and cheese mixture on my plants and the children's playhouse and I had to throw everything away and sterilize the wood. It was yet another blow in a long, painful year. However, as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons make lemonade. I filled the gardens with rabbit droppings and planted sunflowers, which are now 12 or more feet high. I have never in my life seen sunflowers so high and they tower over the six foot fence staring across the neighborhood like guards for my garden. 

Sunflowers tower over my house in Loveland.

In my heart, there is always hope. Sometimes life is so hard that I have to search and search to find that speck of hope, but it is always there. I began to think I would never be able to fulfill my dream of starting a garden and raising animals to help needy families. I tried fund-raising options and they were useless--I was told people prefer to donate to money-making businesses, not charities. Times have changed, but I haven't. I kept praying, seeking an answer for my dream...and it has come. I now have a small farm in a nearby town and will move within the week. It has fruit trees and raised gardens and is fenced and cross fenced for animals. It has a brick barn with electricity and a space where I can build an American Ninja workout gym for the grandchildren. Once again I received help from an unexpected source, and I will show my gratitude by growing food and raising animals and helping others. There is always a rainbow after the rain. 

Rainbow near Carter Lake, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.