Sunday, June 10, 2012

Animal Immersion

I finally figured out what I want to do with the rest of my life, which is a relief, because I've been pondering this very subject for years. I was so tired of graphic design that it gave me a twitch just thinking about it. Being an administrative assistant was just not for me; it wasn't interesting enough. So after years of volunteering with animals, it finally hit me: "hey, I should work with animals." Ya think? This decisions seemed obvious to everyone except me. After all, I'm the person who, at a party, is talking to and making a fuss over the resident pets. (Instead of the people, who are no doubt very interesting and funny).

Anyhow, after a few months of class work at Pima Medical Institute, I'm doing my externship at a very nice veterinary clinic in Lynnwood. There are lots of former Pima students there, and it's an active teaching hospital, so I'm continuing to learn something new and interesting every day. I come home totally happy and physically exhausted every day. I realize that having a computer job and basically sitting on my rear end for endless years has left me out of shape. I'm looking forward to quickly getting back in shape, what with all the lifting, restraining, and general running around that we do all day, every day at the clinic. It's really great fun.

This week, our more memorable patients were: a bulldog who snored all morning (after surgery); a west highland terrier who had the run of the clinic when we had no other dogs; a guinea pig who needed a nail trim; a cat who hissed and meowed at the same time (try it!); and a teeny chihuahua who trembled like crazy, but was very good for his bath and nail trim.

Among all of the veterinary issues this week, what has really struck me is how much people love their animals. We had several animals in this week who had a variety of life-ending diseases, but their humans are spending the time and effort to keep them comfortable and healthy as possible. These people aren't rich; they just care so much for their pets and have chosen to treat their animals like human family members. I'm not saying that euthanasia is not a kind option for a terminally ill animal: it most definitely is. But these folks just want a little more time with their dear friends. What with all the shootings currently going on in Seattle, and all the bad news you hear every day, it's a nice relief to see such kindness poured out.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Upstairs cat/downstairs cat

We have had Gir for a few months now; actually almost a year. She has only come upstairs voluntarily one time. We think it was to ask the kids where the heck mom and dad had gone. (Husband and I had been gone for a few days). My son almost died from shock when he opened his bedroom door and there she was. "Meow?" was all she had to say to him.

Usually, some brave soul carries her upstairs by her armpits (Leg pits? What do you call those on a cat?) and places her on a shelf in the upstairs living room. She sits still as a statue, or she growls when she spies Rex, our "upstairs" cat. Poor Rex actually doesn't seem to mind Gir. She just growls, hisses and howls wildly when he enters "her" space downstairs. Anyhow, eventually, Gir will slink back downstairs. She's not as stealthy as she thinks. The dog does in fact see her as she passes by.

We've discovered that she may be a Snow Bengal, which is a cat breed. On the description of the Snow Bengal in our breed book, it says, helpfully, under "penalties" against the breed in show,
"Aggressive behavior which threatens to harm."
Well that's our girl. Gir has so far sent my husband and a vet tech, and lord knows who else to the emergency room with a severe bite wound. Where was this helpful book when we were adopting her from PAWS?

Anyhow, we try to watch TV once a day with her, the TV being downstairs in her area. She's mostly friendly, until she gets that crazy "I am consumed with the thought of chomping you" look on her cross-eyed face. Then you know it's time to move away from her, or gently push her off of your lap with a pillow.

Sheesh, the things we do for our animals.

Monday, May 2, 2011

English riding for dummies

After the saga of my horse-ownership (see "Horsin' around"), I decided that I can't own a horse AND take lessons. Too dang pricey. So, now that I have no horse, I'm taking some lessons. Which I most likely needed BEFORE said horse ownership, but I digress. And just to spice it up a bit, I'm taking English riding lessons, after being a die-hard western rider as a child, and later as an adult rider.

What I've discovered about English riding:
  • there is no saddle horn
  • when the horse gets frisky, you fall off (see the first bullet point)
  • it requires a lot more concentration than western (for me anyhow)
  • you don't ride English "casually" with reins flopping about; you ride purposefully
  • it's challenging, in a good way
  • I'm rather clumsy at it
My instructor, Lisa, is a really great teacher. She's a young woman who was raised in a home which had a horse facility on the property. This woman knows horses, and best of all for me, she knows people and I swear she can read my mind as I'm riding around her in circles. She can read horse body language like nobody's business. She trains people and horses to work together.

My other instructor is a 20-year-old mare named Jackie. Jackie can also read my mind. If Jackie thinks you're a wimp, she'll take advantage of you, which is really great training for a novice rider. How does a horse take advantage? By moving around when you're trying to get into the saddle, walking wherever the heck she pleases, tugging on the reins, and completely ignoring your commands unless you "show her who's boss". Lucky for me, it only takes gentle, firm reminding to bring Jackie around. (OK, it did take me a little while to get her to go where I wanted to go). She still thinks I'm a wimp, but she's figured out that I will in fact continuously use training aids until she gives in. Also, she's so smart it's scary. She knows in her head what people want of her, but she's too smart to just give in: you have to ask correctly.

Jackie sent me to the ground with an embarrassing thud a few weeks back, another reminder that I'm not the great rider I thought I was. Lucky for me, my human instructor was there and helped me back into the saddle and to work through my fear of riding Jackie any further on that day. I'm happy to say I made it through that lesson, and have since gone back for more lessons, although now I am a bit more careful about easing Jackie into our lesson. (For you horse pros, I lunge her).

Weekly, I am reminded that I have much to learn. For some reason, I can't seem to remember to put the billet (the thingy that holds the saddle on the horse) on the correct way. I struggle with it until Lisa comes over and reminds me. Furious blushing ensues. I can't remember to put the stirrups up when I'm leading Jackie around. (Many horses will bolt if the stirrups bang them in the sides). More blushing as the coach reminds me. Today I couldn't tell "outside rein" from "inside rein", and I seem to have forgotten everything that Lisa taught me about leg position in the saddle. I can't see her face, but I think that Jackie is rolling her eyes as we stop and correct Yet Another Thing Letitia Has Forgotten.

So why do I do something that makes me look stupid at best? It's the most fun I've had at any sport in years. I love skiing, but it takes a bit of effort to get me packed and up to the hills. I love bowling, but I think one just gets fat sitting around a bowling alley eating fries and drinking root beer. I love roller skating, but seriously, how many middle-aged women do you see skating in your neighborhood? You'd call the cops, I bet.

With English riding, I'm learning something new every week (sometimes re-learning) and I love how working with a horse is so different from anything else I do in my life. You need to be patient, kind and firm with a horse, and also know that you can't always do the perfect thing and be the perfect rider. If you can't get a partnership with your horse, you're not going to have a successful ride that day, no matter how perfect your horsemanship looks. Which is a really great lesson for working with people too. Gee, thanks Jackie (and Lisa).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ink Spot

Today on Facebook, one of my friends asked people whether she should get a dog or a cat as a pet for her family. This sort of quesiton makes my family jump up and down and wave their arms in the air. "Don't EVER get a dog!" my kids and I shout. Husband just smiles smugly. He warned us. "Dogs are foul," he said as we waived the shelter flyer in his face, some 8 years ago.

Husband grew up with dogs. He had a dog in college, a husky-wolf mix, that lived with him until someone stole the dog. Zeke was his name. Zeke did many foul things that I won't discuss here. Still, the kids and I persisted. "Three against one!" we shouted gleefully. He just sighed. I should note that I only briefly had a dog as a child, so I had no idea what I was getting into. I tend to ignore facts like these when making decisions, not my best attribute.

Ink Spot was adopted from PAWS, a great local shelter which I've mentioned in an earlier post. He was so popular online from PAWS' website, that when we went in to visit him, there was a drawing to see who would be first to visit with Ink and hopefully adopt him. We got all our paperwork in order and dropped our name in the hat. We won.

I love Ink, don't get me wrong. He's a good friend, really sweet, very cute, loves people, is generally good with other dogs, and surprisingly, does not bark. (Unless the UPS truck or our paperboy comes by). But I must say, the degree to which husband was right is embarassing, and he likes this fact. In the time we've had Ink Spot, here are some of his more memorable behaviors:
  • trotted by us with a roast in his mouth
  • knocked my daughter head-over-heels on one occasion; down the stairs at least twice
  • ate an entire plate of chocolate truffles
  • gets into the neighbors' unsecured garbage (usually around Thanksgiving)
  • after the above step, proceeded to be sick all over the downstairs carpet, instead of the upstairs wood floor
  • ate an entire bag (Halloween size) of Jolly Rancher candy
  • greets all new people by shoving his face in their crotch
  • adores the cat boxes and the tasty treats found within
I could go on, but don't want to ruin any snack you might be eating right now. And it's not just Ink: my friend's dog once got into a cupboard, seized a bottle of cooking oil, and proceeded to douse her couches and carpet in Wesson.
That being said, dogs need to be walked, cleaned up after, and taken to the kennel when you go out of town. Ink doesn't care if we hire the nicest house sitter in the world for our vacations. He howls when the house sitter leaves to go to work, or just to the mailbox. They need vet care, and your vaccuuming duties will increase by tenfold unless you adopt a poodle. (They don't shed as much as other dogs, apparently).

So get a cat. Or a parakeet. You have been warned.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rescue Them Ponies!

Recently, I started volunteering at a horse rescue operation. I know why I volunteer there, but a question has been bugging me, especially since this rescue is currently looking for a grant writer to raise funds.* Why in the world, with such a lousy economy, and many human problems which need addressing, would anyone want to give funds to a horse rescue? Why should anyone even care what happens to horses, which many people see as a luxury item?
These horses have not simply been abandoned. They have been starved and beaten. One horse at the rescue has had his tongue cut almost in half by what I can only guess was cruel restraint. Several of the horses there were seized by the county from a well-meaning and respected horse breeder who simply didn’t ask for financial help with her horses, or simply was too blinded by her own problems or pride to see that she was harming her beloved horses. There is one horse that ended up in the unfortunate situation of lax ownership: he was a local champion racehorse, and ended up in the stock yards for slaughter. A watchful person recognized him before it was too late. You know what’s weird though? All of these horses seem to be willing to give new humans another chance, after all that they have endured. Some are beginning to trust again.
So, why not just euthanize these guys and put them out of their misery? Because their new human companions want to give them a measure of comfort in exchange for the torture they have endured. Because as horse lovers, we can’t turn away. Because as humans we feel moved to provide comfort where there is pain and fear, and animal suffering is a hot button issue for many people. Because as a civilized society, we take care of those who don’t have a voice.
Those are the emotional issues, but what are the practical issues? If this rescue gets a grant to manage its manure collection and disposal system, the local environment benefits, and the earth benefits by having properly composted materials returned to gardens. If they get a grant for a new barn, there will be a beautiful, safe new place to store hay, tack, and house more horses, not to mention the great aesthetic improvement to the property and the neighborhood in which the rescue sits (the current storage situation is unattractive but affordable).
Rescued horses have another chance. Some will never be ridden again, but that’s not the case with most of the horses. Some will lead productive lives as mounts, companions, show horses, and as any horse owner can tell you, a life-long pal who just happens to be a great “therapist”. Horses can be used to rescue people, as well. In many cases, people have been helped by simply working with horses. You can’t be violent with horses and achieve good results. The only way to achieve great results with a horse is to treat him with the same behaviors which make for a good human life: healthy boundaries, firm but kind expression of your wishes, and working together. The only real difference is that the person needs to be the leader in the relationship with the horse, but a kind, decisive leader, sort of like a parent.
Luxury items or not, the good I get from the horses outweighs the good they get from me, I’m sure! (Although I hope they like the clean, poo-free paddocks I leave behind when I go home).
*Are you a grant writer? Contact me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Horsin' around

I waited all of my life for my first horse, literally! I've been a huge fan of horses and riding since I was about 2. Thanks to the kindness of my aunt and uncle, I spent my summers at their house, petting, brushing, cleaning up after, dreaming about, and riding their horses. This photo below is of me and my cousin Kim, on an unnamed horse (simply because I can't remember its name) in my aunt & uncle's pasture. This is about when the love affair started.

My mother was a single parent. She sometimes worked 2 (once even 3) jobs so that we could have things that others had. So that I could have some semblance of a normal childhood. I have so much respect for the single moms I know.

Anyhow, this extra money went mostly for groceries and necessities, but it also went for riding lessons, horse camp, and making sure I had access to the furry love(s) of my life, even though it was impossible for me to own one.

When I moved away from access to my aunt's horses and to riding, I sort of gave up. We lived in what was a small town in the high desert of California, and if there were horses around, I wasn't aware of them. And when it came time for me to pay for college, horses weren't even on my list of priorities. I was just trying to survive; to grow up, educate myself, and find a job that would pay a living wage.

Fast forward 22 years: I'm married to a great guy, with 2 super kids and a job. I'm at work one day, when my friend comes in to the office where I work and proceeds to tell me how she's in the process of purchasing her first horse. She had no experience with horses, other than a childhood love for them, as I had. Bells went off in my head. I followed my friend's progress with her horses (yes, plural). I started thinking maybe this was something I could do also. Heck, I was employed, why not?

Zips Crimson Whiskey needed a home. No, it's not a new brand of hooch, "it" was a handsome sorrel gelding, who needed a home. His family had 3 other horses, and no time for him. He was a wonderful, horse, spending his life as a pasture pet. Here's a picture of him:

I adopted him, and was absolutely in heaven being a horse owner, until the reality of owning one of these intelligent, emotional creatures hit home. I had no time for him. two teenagers keep two parents very busy. Not to mention work, and any other thing I might want to do. I was only riding him one or 2 times a week. It was a problem of distance to the stable (45 minutes from home) and the fact that no one else in my family is interested in horses. My daughter loved "Whiskey" as a pet, but thinks that horses require too much work (which they do; I love horse-work). I kept him for about 1-1/2 years, and sadly, had to give him up for adoption. He now lives in a great home, with people I trust, and is a lesson horse who gets ridden daily. Also, he's learning a new job: team penning. (google it).

What does the future hold for me and horses? I'm not sure. I'd love to own horse property, or at least live very close to someone else's horse property. I'm in the process of reinventing what I do for a  living, so who knows? I really hope that horses are in my future. Right now, I don't want a future without them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


We've had Gir for almost 4 weeks now. Poor thing has yet to emerge under her own power from the downstairs bathroom. It's usually dark in there, so she may actually change into a bat, eventually.

We adopted her from PAWS, which has some great cats up for adoption if you're looking. She is our 3rd PAWS animal, and we couldn't be happier with them and how they handle adoptions. (Our dog Ink Spot and our cat Rex are both from PAWS).

Her PAWS name was Ophelia, which we all really liked, but daughter wanted dibs on naming this cat, so she is now known as Gir. Which with all the growling this cat does, is a really appropriate name.

So far, she has caused husband a trip to the emergency room (bite) and in the middle of the night this weekend, she gave him a good gash when he tried to move her. Things aren't going well for the two of them.

Gir seems to love people, be indifferent about other cats, but the worst thing is she seems to HATE dogs. She is terrified of our dog, and interactions with the dog are what caused husband's wounds. Ink barked at her on her first day home with us, and that caused her to go into hiding. In the bathroom.  I hope eventually she will overcome this fear. The vet said it could take awhile.