Tuesday, December 30, 2008

better late than never?

The candles were carefully positioned to lean, of course. Alanis was not given an opportunity to sample any of them.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Alanis takes up a new hobby

Alanis decided to take up pruning. The other night she started nibbling on the leaves of my 8-yr-old hibiscus plant. It's a special plant because a friend gave it to me after my husband died. I've had to prune it sometimes because it tends to get scraggly, especially in this house where it doesn't get enough light. Late in the summer, it blooms with vermillion flowers.

It was sitting by the front window with leaves like this:

The yellow parts are from the flash.

Alanis' attentions left leaves looking like this.
When I said, "Alanis, no," she stopped. A couple of hours later I was lying in bed, just getting to sleep when I heard pad, pad, pad downstairs, followed by rustle, rustle. I ran downstairs and caught her with a leaf sticking out of her mouth. I took it away and hauled the huge plant over to the kitchen counter. Aside from the fact that many houseplants are poisonous to dogs, I can't have her grazing on it every time she wants a snack.

I guess the green beans and snap peas I give her just aren't enough.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Spell that "chutzpaw"

In case you didn't see this little news story:
"A thief remained at large after pulling off a daring heist in the pet-food aisle of a supermarket in Murray, Utah. Surveillance video at the market caught a dog shoplifting, KSL-TV reported. The video showed the dog walking in the front door of Smith's Food & Drug and heading straight to Aisle 16, the pet-food aisle, where it grabbed a bone worth $2.79. THe pooch wasn't even perturbed by a face-to-face confrontation with store manager Roger Adamson. 'I looked at him. I said "Drop it!"'Adamson said. 'He looked at me and I looked at him, and he ran for the door and away he went, right out the front door.'"

I'll bet there are dogs on this blog circuit who would have gone for the $5.99 variety at least.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

too much snow

Where have all the bugs gone?

OK, had enough. Ready to see green grass again.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

the hens don't like snow

Everybody stayed inside the tarp-covered barn (L)until I scattered some grain and Punkster stepped out, only to disapprove.

The others peered out but that was as close as they wanted to get to any snow.

Meanwhile, Alanis checked out the cup that held the grain

and took it to a place where she could settle in for an investigation.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Verrrrry Cold

Along with most of the country, we're having unusually cold weather. It began Saturday night with snow falling on wet ground, rapidly turning to ice. A week's worth of temps ranging from 15 to 30 F is predicted, along with more snow. The chickens don't like it! Nobody does. The hens are spending much of the day inside their barn, which I've wrapped with a tarp to keep out drafts.

Then there's the water problem. The barn (a tiny coop shaped like a barn) is too small to put the waterer inside. I ransacked the garage today searching for the heated waterer I used to have but it seems to have disappeared in one of my several moves over the last 8 yrs. Guess I'll be checking the water several times a day.

Like most Airedales, Alanis frisked through the snow when she first saw it. Now it's ho-hum, just stuff on the ground. The stuff on the ground, however, is preventing us from taking our usual walks because I don't want to slip on the ice. People are just made wrong--dogs don't fall on ice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

She played!

I was sitting in the living room, reading when I heard squeak, squeak behind me. Quietly, I turned and watched Alanis chewing on her disc-shaped fuzzy toy with her size XL Airedale canines. Then she used her front teeth to pull at the fleece. Play!

I jumped out of the chair and we each did a play-bow toward each other before I grabbed the toy, squeaked it, and tossed it across the room. She ran after it and pounced. Then she ran back to me.

No, she did not retrieve the toy. I didn't expect her to. Some Airedales will retrieve; but most prefer to run after the object and either grab it and run, expecting you to give chase, or pounce on it and then indicate that you should retrieve it. After all, you were the one who threw it away.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Alanis and the chickens

I toss the leftover parrot cooked food into the chicken pen. Six chickens rush over and start pecking at the beans and peas. Alanis stands for a moment, watching as I start up the rock stairway to the upper part of the yard. When I’m too far away to grab her, she rushes at the pen, bouncing happily when the chickens scatter.

From the top of the stairs I yell, “Lanis, no.” Remarkably, she trots away from the pen to the nearby trees to scuff in the leaves and scratch her back under low-hanging branches. At least I know what she would do if the chickens were loose. Flappy-squawky toys!

Earlier today I spent some time at Target looking for the right dish. It had to be plastic, not metal. It could not be a bowl. It had to have enough depth to hold at least a half cup of water. It had to be cheap because I didn’t know if she would eat from it. Sadly, I had to pass up the cute child’s bowl with the monster printed on the bottom in favor of the plain black dish. These dishes are made of melamine. Just what we want touching our food.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fetching Alanis, days eight and nine

Day eight
She ate indoors this morning, the usual mix of sardine, canned and dry food and water. She stopped and backed up every time I moved from one part of the kitchen to another. The food is presented on a purple plastic plate with sides high enough to contain a quarter inch of water.

Later I tapped the metal water bowl lightly. “This is water. Everybody drinks it, dogs and people.” I made no impression.

She followed me upstairs with only a verbal prompting for the first time.

Day nine
Last night she got hungry enough to eat kibble from the stainless steel bowl, though the favorite dish is the purple plastic dish with a high rim for food or water. She’ll eat canned food mixed with water from the cream soup style bowl. I don’t want to keep her water in a plastic bowl, having read all sorts of warnings about components of plastic that leach into the water.

Part of the problem is that she won’t eat from any bowl when it’s placed on the dog mat under the overhang of the kitchen island. The bowl must be pulled away from there and placed on the runner—i.e. in the line of traffic. Preferring not to walk on wood floor, she has never been in the kitchen or eating area. I miss having a dog dart in to clean up any food I drop on the floor.

I have to learn new routines, new interactions and so does she. The older you get, the harder it is.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I hear parrots.

Fetching Alanis, day six

This morning Guinevere, the neighbor’s Great Dane, barked from the other side of the wood fence. Alanis barked back with the thin, husky rasp of a dog that has been debarked instead of the usual Airedale’s loud baritone, known as the BigBadBark. I will have to get used to it. I have been told debarking is not uncommon among show dogs. It's done to serve people, however, not the dogs.

I took Emma, our first Airedale, to a new vet. While chatting, I mentioned that I called her inside the house when she started barking in the back yard. He said, "You'll be training her to bark when she wants to come inside."

I laughed, "No way. She loves being outdoors and doesn't want to come in."

He said, "You could have her debarked. It's a simple procedure and doesn't harm the dog."

We didn't go back to that vet.

After barking, Alanis stood up high on her toes, head up in the sparring stance and pawed the ground like a bull. Despite the display of spirit, she was still afraid of the food bowl, doing her approach and retreat dance when I held it out. She clearly wanted the food and would accept anything (canned food, pumpkin) I offered by hand. Mashed in water, sardines are still the best way to get her to drink. I’m starting to call her Fish-face.

I feel like Wiley Coyote with his failed inventions exploding in his face. I tried feeding her in her crate where she’d feel safe and private in her own den. It works for some dogs but she just stood there, neither sniffing at the bowl nor lying down.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fetching Alanis, cont.

Note to my fellow dog-bloggers: thank you! This blog has proved to be an unscientific experiment showing that dog people read and respond to each other's blogs far more frequently than chicken people.

Now back to Alanis' story.
This morning we discovered sardines mashed in water after I prodded her along by holding up a piece of sardine enticingly in front of her nose. I fed her outside because she seemed more comfortable there. After scrubbing my hands with lavender soap, I wondered if I would be smelling sardines all day. Sardine-flavored dog kisses, sardine breath. At least she ate and drank a little.

How did this dog ever travel with a handler to strange, new places and prance around a show ring with enough spunk to win her championship? Certainly Darwin could have, if I had wanted to spend thousands of dollars and send him away with a handler, thus depriving myself of his company for a year.

The first time he heard a firecracker explode in a neighbor’s yard, he ran toward the noise, barking, and then back to me, as if to tell me there was something exciting happening and we should join in.

I stripped the last yellow grape tomatoes off the vines and tossed them into the chicken pen. Watching the chickens pecking and scratching, Alanis pawed at the wire gate. She circled the pen, interested, but not in a hunter’s crouch.

I took Darwin with me to my son’s soccer game. Walking on leash beside the field, he suddenly began stalking a shape in the long grass ahead. His body flattened down, neck extended, legs lifting high and slow. All his attention was fixed on that shape. It was a little girl, one of the player’s younger sisters, sitting in the grass. Swallowing a laugh, I let Darwin continue the stalk. Several yards away, he saw or smelled what the “animal” was. His head went up and his tail wagged as he trotted forward, ready to be petted.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day four

In the morning after her night downstairs, nothing had changed. All the kibble was still there and the water bowl had air bubbles clinging to the sides, as it does when sitting undisturbed for many hours.

“Try the pinch test,” a friend suggested when I said that Alanis was still not drinking normally.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that." In the pinch test, you pinch up a bit of skin at the nape of the dog’s neck and release it. If it returns to normal quickly, the dog is hydrated.

With very little fat under his skin and his coat no longer as thick as it had been, it was easy to take up a slack between thumb and forefinger and see how slowly it returned to normal. Darwin was dehydrated again. The vet tech inserted an IV type needle just under the skin of his right shoulder and let half the bag of fluid flow in. After she emptied the rest of the bag into the other shoulder, she said, “Now he looks like a linebacker.” He did, indeed, have the look of someone wearing outsized shoulder pads. The fluid would flow through his system, flushing out his kidneys, and he would eat. Until the final day when the subcutaneous fluid did no good and the fever did not go down despite an antibiotic injection.

What was I supposed to grab on Alanis? When I put my hand behind her head, she lifted it, folding the skin into two rows. There was a healthy layer of fat covered by thick, wiry coat. I closed one roll between thumb and forefinger but the skin was too tight to pull up. I tugged and let go. The dog stretched her head back farther and looked at me with those round, dark eyes, as if wondering what I was doing. So much for that idea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day three

I left her alone in the house while I was gone for 5.5 hours. When I got home and saw her standing by the door, I said, “Lanis, Lanis, let’s go outside” on a rising pitch with “outside” emphasized, the way I had always said it with Darwin and Keeper. An enthusiastic voice got them following happily. I held the door and screen door open for her to go ahead and coming behind her chanted, “Lanis is bow-legged. She’s bow-legged.” She turned to look at me and I did a play-bow. She did one back.

I laughed and we were off, bouncing toward each other and away, running around the sumac tree first one direction, then the other. I grabbed her and with both hands scrubbed down her back. Around we went again before I took off down the gravel path to the lower yard with her following, then back up again.

No dog of mine had played in months. Nor had I laughed with my dog in months,since Keeper's death, being worried and anxious every time I came home and saw the reminder that Darwin would not be with me much longer.

I entered the house through the front door and saw him asleep on the large bed I had fashioned out of memory foam and an old comforter. Too deaf to hear me, he would not know I was there until I touched him or spoke his name loudly. Then he got up slowly, stiffly and walked with me out the door to relieve himself. I could not remember when he had last greeted me at the door, stuffed toy in his mouth, eyes gleaming and tail wagging, ready to run.

On a towel spread on the living room carpet near her bed lay one metal bowl of water, one Fiesta ware cereal bowl of water, one plastic bowl containing kibble and a handful of kibble directly on the towel. I lured her over with a piece of canned food proffered in my hand. She sniffed at the kibble, nose moving closer as she extended her neck without stepping forward. Out went the tongue to curl around a few pieces. I did not move or speak. She stepped forward and ate the rest. I tapped the food bowl lightly. She sniffed but would not eat. I lifted the cereal bowl of water to her and she lapped a bit.

When I went upstairs to bed, she was standing a few feet from the towel, watching me. “Gonna come up?” She did not move. “I’m not going to help you this time.” I continued up the stairs to my room, then went back a few minutes later to peer down between the banister rails. She stood in the same place. I flicked off the lights over the stairway. Maybe she would eat or drink later, when the house was dark and quiet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day two

She ate maybe half a cup of kibble. I mixed it with water because she refused to drink. I was not worried about her eating; her sides felt as if losing a pound or two would not hurt. Drinking, though, she had to drink.

During Darwin’s last few weeks of life, I lived in a state of nervous suspense. Would he eat today? Would he drink? Would he keep the food down? When he refused, would subcutaneous fluids at the vet’s revive him or was this the final refusal that meant it was time to die?

When I spoke in a happy voice and leaned over, hands on thighs in imitation of a play-bow, she waved her tail gently. I dashed around to the other side of the room. She stood there. Normally, the best way to get a dog to come to you is to playfully run the other way. You can run in a circle in my house from living room, to hall, to kitchen, dining room and back. In the middle of the circle are the fireplace, part of the kitchen and the guest bathroom.

Darwin grabbed a toy and shook it. He trotted a few steps and looked back, inviting me to follow. I ran up and tagged him. He ran off around our indoor track with me in pursuit, as we had done in the much larger house where he had spent the first few years of life. Sometimes I turned and ran the other way, grabbing the toy and throwing it ahead of me for him to chase. Sometimes Keeper joined in, leaping like a deer but getting in my way instead of chasing. She reminded me of the younger sibling who tries to do what the older ones are doing but can never quite figure it out.

I ran a circuit by myself, patting my leg, calling, “C’mon, Alanis, let’s go,” my voice pitched high and light to entice her into the game. She did not speak this language. I stroked her head. This part, she understood.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fetching Alanis, day one

I walked her into the house and showed her the bed. She sniffed at it. She stood looking at me, dark brown eyes rounded and ears close to her head. Abashed? Frightened? Easy to assume, impossible to know because the only lense through which we can view a dog is a human one.

That morning she had been put into a crate, loaded into the cargo hold of an airplane, taken out in a strange place with roaring noises overhead, put in a van for a bumpy ride to a parking lot and finally put in a car to ride several hours to this strange house with a person she had met only a few days before. She stood frozen in place, not knowing what was expected of her or what was permitted. I walked her around the living room before squatting and patting the dog bed, inviting her to sniff it, which she did in that delicate way of being ready to leap back if it proved dangerous. She turned away.

To me, her action said, “That’s another dog’s bed.” But the dog had not slept in that bed for two weeks. The familiar feeling opened in my chest, part hollowness, part raked with claws, part a feeling of swirling into unending emptiness. Grief. I began to cry. Again. The dog who had slept here was never coming back. I did not expect this one to take his place or make everything better. I brought her home because life without an Airedale was unthinkable. I brought her home to have someone to wake up to in the morning, to fuss over, to be silly with.

This dog was a retired show champion who had had two litters and was recently spayed. She had lived as an indoor dog for only one of her nearly eight years of life. I wondered if she would learn how to play with a person or if she would always have the air of subdued gravity I had seen over the previous days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CH Terrydale HK No Doubt moves to the States

Now retired from showing and mothering, Alanis has come to live at my house. She gets a place where she can be fussed over as Head Dog and I get a much-needed Airedale companion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

not eaten in the night

After staying up late computer-wrangling, I showed up at the chicken pen later than intended this morning. Chickens inside the barn complained loudly at their confinement--I don't know why, since they had the food. Zora and Edna were wandering around in the pen, whining as if it were my fault that they got lost during the night. Good thing they didn't go over the fence this time. They're all in lockdown until I clip the bantams' wings again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Zora and Edna Go Walkabout Again

I thought we had a routine. I thought events were quieting down for the winter. I thought Nora and Edna knew where they lived. But noooo, life has been too dull; they think, "We're still young and beautiful. We must go out in the world and seek our fortune. Besides, we've already molted and grown back our flight feathers."

I let everybody roam the yard for a few hours before nightfall, as I do several times a week. When it's dark enough for everybody to be inside, I go down and shut the door to the pen. Zora has even been sleeping in the mini-barn with the big hens, leaving Edna stubbornly occupying the hutch. Tonight, no Modern Game bantams in the barn or the hutch.

I shut the door to the barn and left the door to the pen open, not that this makes any difference because I get up before it's light enough for the chickens these days. I shone the flashlight all along the fence line, all over the yard. They are somewhere in the trees, sitting ducks, so to speak, for the raccoons that climb those very trees to get to my roof. I hope the raccoons don't hunt around here tonight.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The Oct. 6 issue of Time Magazine has an article about snake massage. I've been proved right. Let a cornsnake slither across your shoulders and you'll smile.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The horse's ass

As a volunteer at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, I groom and saddle up a horse on Friday mornings before trekking along in a parade of rider, therapist, leader and sidewalker (me). The first week, the assigned horse was Spencer, who scooted over to rest his butt against the stall door when I tied him up to be brushed. The person with me said something about his being difficult today. Translating from dogspeak, I guessed what Spencer wanted. I grabbed the curry comb and gave him a good scrub at the point where tail meets butt, just as you'd do with a dog. Problem solved. He stood nicely for the rest of the grooming session.

Dogs and horses generally speak the same language but I guess tail-ends often do.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


This morning Darwin followed me up the stairs for the first time since his attack of vestibular disorder. When I left my study to return downstairs, he followed, as he always has. Although I walked close beside him, he still slipped because he walks diagonally to the left--the direction in which his head tilts--and continues to be unsteady.

He decided to sit down in the middle of the stairs. I wonder what's in a dog's mind at times like this. If he sits long enough, maybe something will change? (Been there, done that.) Maybe the stairs will evolve into flat ground or he'll float to the landing at the bottom. Of course, he's really just thinking, "That didn't go well. I'll stop."

I tried some coaxing. Finally, I tugged on his collar and got him down the rest of the way by keeping one hand at his left shoulder and one on his collar, with high praise all the way.

The liver treat he received for making it to the main floor must have inspired him, for he followed me up the next time and we went through the same procedure to get down. This does mean he's getting stronger and his balance is improving. The people at the veterinary clinic would be cheering if they could see him.

But I see his whole life.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Panic week & vestibular disease

This is an especially long post,sharing information with others who may have experienced this with their dogs.

A week ago Darwin was hit with an especially bad case of idiopathic vestibular syndrome. On Monday morning, he threw up. Since he still looked nauseous, I rushed him outside, then rushed back in to clean up. Rushed back out and saw him walking stiffly, staggering slightly. He looked “off” enough that I took him to the vet’s, by which time he was recovering.

There’s a complete blank in my head where I’m trying to remember where and when the second, worse attack occurred. Later on Monday? During the night? I took him to the vet Tuesday morning, an awful trip because he was so difficult to pick up and get in the car. He’s not a big Airedale—50 lbs at his prime-but he twisted and thrashed so hard that I couldn’t keep a grip on him. That part I remember—his eyes wild and flickering back and forth (nystagmus), body twisting like a large fish and legs clawing every which way.

The vet described the syndrome as feeling as if you’re spinning in space, with no way to know what’s up, down, or sideways.

Darwin was too nauseous to eat or drink and couldn’t stand up. He spent several days at the vet’s where he could receive sub-cutaneous fluids and lie on a towel in a stainless steel hospital cage with a tray below to catch the endless diarrhea. For a couple of days there was no change, although most dogs begin to recover in the first 48 hours. The vet said that if this wasn’t vestibular syndrome, then the other possibility was a brain tumor or lesion, in which case he’d need an MRI to confirm. But there would have been no point in locating a tumor, no point in performing brain surgery on a 12-yr-old dog who also has a mass on one kidney.

So we had some suspenseful days, with me visiting him at the vet’s, sitting with him inside the cage, grateful for once that I’m short enough to do so, and crying when the assistants weren’t looking.

Then he lifted his head. His eyes were still flickering back and forth but he was gaining some stability. He started to eat a bland food called EN, mixed with water. Because his head was—and still is—tilted to the left, he only ate from the left side of his mouth from a shallow dish held up in front of him. He still doesn’t have the muscular control necessary for eating kibble.

On Thursday, the vet tech carried him outside. The vet described it this way, “He stood there for a few minutes, then thought, ‘Oh, I’m a boy,’ and he peed on a bush. You should have seen his tail wagging, he was so happy. He’s a very proud dog and you could see him light up at being able to pee outside.” (She also said at one point, “You shouldn’t have to go through this, not after having just lost Keeper. I know this is really hard.” I’ve never heard anything even remotely resembling that from the veterinarians at the specialty clinic.)

On Friday, he could totter for a few steps, leaning to the left (politically appropriate). I took him home. For the next 36 hrs., we went through a lot of towels, as his diarrhea hadn’t entirely cleared up. I got up so many times during the nights that I felt as tottery as he. I also discovered that if you have to pick up a now-45 lb dog over and over and carry him outside like a lamb, he gets heavier and the floor gets farther away when you’re lifting him.

I had thought to keep him in the bottom portion of a plastic crate to keep him confined in a safe area and to make it easier to clean up accidents. He settled into the crate but, for some reason, thrashed and slipped around in the crate when I tried to pick him up, as if he had regressed to the way he was days earlier. Now the living room is carpeted with dog beds, the largest being one I made out of the foam used to top mattresses.

On Monday he could stand up. As I led him to the car Monday afternoon for a recheck at the vet’s, he was so happy that he tried to dance around but would have fallen if I hadn’t caught him. When I got him out of the car in the clinic’s parking lot, he was so eager to go in that he walked in a wandering, staggering way, all the way into the clinic, the first time in nearly a week that he could take more than a couple of steps. He had received a lot of attention at the clinic. The techs and assistants would spend time petting him and talking to him. No one knows how to work a crowd like an Airedale. Even sick, he charmed all of them.

I overheard a woman at the front desk telling how she had had to bribe her Golden Retriever with ground beef to get him into the car and out again for his trip to the vet. Ha!

This is Wednesday. He still eats four small meals a day, food mixed with water because he rarely wants to drink water. He walks slowly, staggering. A couple of times outside, he has fallen. He does not like being left alone in the living room when I go upstairs to work—the short, sharp bark again that acts on me like an electric shock.

One of the times I was picking him up and he was struggling, he must have hurt a muscle because he’s limping on his left front leg. Or maybe it just happened from his lying on it wrong, for yesterday he was able to walk down the block to the mailbox and back.

He’s recovering but he is not himself. He walks outside and stands, four legs planted for stability, a blank look in his face. Then he remembers why he’s out there and finds a place to pee or poop. Or he starts walking across the yard and suddenly veers in another direction, forgetting his original intention. His head might always have a tilt or it might straighten out, given time. If we’re given time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

wildlife sighting

From my second-floor study a few minutes ago I saw a flash of the brown and cream barred pattern of a Red-tailed hawk flying across the yard. It disappeared in an evergreen tree not far from the chicken pen. Although there had been no warning squawks from the chickens, everybody had taken cover except for Punkster, who stood frozen beside the egg-laying hutch. I watched for a while. Punkster didn't move, could've been cement. No sign of the hawk.

I wasn't too worried because there's netting over the top of the pen. I went outside, followed by Darwin. Punkster and everybody else didn't move until I reached the bottom of the stone steps leading to that part of the yard. The spell broke, all the chickens emerged from inside the mini-barn and under the hutch. A squirrel started chattering from a tree to the right and a Steller's Jay screeched from a tree to the left. The hawk was gone

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Found a link to the chicken book that's better than Amazon:
Chickens in Your Backyard

Eggs for winter

This about wraps up a year of chickens. The hens are still laying regularly but will slack off as the days get shorter. They'll need the break, so I don't plan to add artificial light to the coop until much later in the winter. Meanwhile, I'll have eggs for cooking because I'm freezing them.

Eeewwww, you think, frozen eggs. Warning: do not freeze in shell unless you want to eat crunchy bits of calcium after you thaw out exploded eggs. According to the book Chickens in Your Backyard, mix fresh eggs with half a tsp salt or one tsp honey for each cup of egg and freeze them in ice cube trays. When they're frozen, put them in plastic freezer bags and they should keep all winter and more, as long as the power doesn't go out for three days or somebody leaves the freezer door open....

One egg equals about 3 Tbsp of thawed eggstuff. Yolks and whites can be frozen separately if you're really picky and only the yolks need the salt or honey. I have been known to forget a bag or two in the freezer and find their little frozen bodies in the spring--the following year. But I'm sure other people are much better organized.

Friday, August 29, 2008

mud season begins

The chickens are confined to quarters more than I'd like because Darwin is fond of chicken poop, which makes him throw up. Both dogs are entering the end stage, which could last days, months, a year. No telling. This does put a damper on the blogging.

Also dampness in the chicken pen. I believe the rainfall for Aug. was an unusual 3 inches, turning their dustbathing spots to mud. I painted weatherproofing on the chicken barn but it's a flimsy thing. I wonder if caulk will stick? Just down the street there's a nice garden shed I'd like to levitate into the yard for the chickens.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Darwin's winning photo

Darwin's a top dog, winning the most votes in GalleyCat's Dog Days of Summer
cutest dog contest.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Unhappy Hens

The chickens are staging protest marches, lining up along the side of the pen facing the house and stomping back and forth. If they could carry signs, they'd say, "Freedom to forage!" and "We demand scratching rights!"

They've been in lockdown since Darwin, the older Airedale, developed expensive stomach trouble that appears to be aggravated by consumption of fresh chicken ca ca after the hens have been loose in the yard. This may last until the rainy season and I fear the hens will go on strike.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Escargot and other matters culinary

Growing up here in the Pacific Northwest, I've seen plenty of slugs but never had snails in my yard until I moved here. Lots of snails, whose shells make them less gross than slugs. The chickens, it turns out, are very particular about which snails they'll dine on. They turn up their beaks at adult snails. I found a small one the other day and threw it into the pen with some other snacks. Muffin gave it a few whacks to break the shell and happily dined on young, tender escargot. Good thing they don't expect to dip the snails in garlic butter.

Snakes supposedly don't hear, except for feeling vibrations, and they definitely don't understand English. But there was a moment tonight...I put Matilda's thawed mice in the tank and she started sniffing around. She opened her mouth to start eating one from the tail end. I said, "Not that end, start at the other end," because it's easier for them to eat nose first (think of which direction the mouse's legs bend). She lifted her head toward me, paused, and went to the other end of the mouse to start eating. Coincidence, of course, but I like to imagine we are communicating.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The hen wanders again

I was on the phone a few days ago, talking to a friend, when a loud knock sounded on the front door. I opened it to see the two young women from the other side of the fence, both grinning. The one with the short hair and tattoos proffered her hands, clad once again in yellow work gloves and holding the black hen Zora. This time nobody was out of breath from chasing around--apparently Zora was getting to know them.

Telling my friend that I'd call her back because an errant chicken was at the door, I put down the phone and took Zora, clasping her between my hands the way my neighbor had. I said, "Again? I clipped her wings!"

After they left, I remembered I was barefoot. With reasoning that now escapes me, I shut the front door and turned to carry Zora through the house to the back door where I could slip my feet into clogs before venturing onto the hazards left by chickens and dogs in the back yard.

Speaking of dogs, there they were, jumping around, eager to sniff at the thing I held. Zora wriggled her wings out of my hands in the expert way of chickens and took off for the back of the couch. Thinking, "Please don't shit, please, please," I raced after her ahead of the dogs, scooped her up, tucked her against my side like a football and made for the back door. On the way, I grabbed a pair of scissors and we headed out to the coop, shoeless.

Zora got a little more barbering before I tossed her back with the other chickens. Either the trim worked or she has decided that the grass isn't any greener on the other side because she hasn't escaped again. Yet.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The great escape

Zora and Edna levitated the other day and shot out through an opening at the top of their pen. Remember, they are bantam Moderns—light-bodied and able to fly high into the trees. Not knowing they were out, I walked outside with the dogs and, oops, there were dogs and hens goggling at each other in surprise. The dogs charged after the chickens, I charged after the dogs, Edna flew for the coop, and Zora zoomed into the trees bordering the yard.

She landed somewhere on the other side of the fence and, despite much searching, I did not find her. I searched the surrounding yards at intervals throughout the evening but had no luck. When I finally gave up and went to close the door to the pen for the night, Zora had rematerialized and was pecking and scratching like everyone else.

I didn’t wring her neck. I don’t know how and it’s something you need to get right on the first try.

The next day she decided to go walkabout again, even with no one chasing her and all the hens together in the yard. I left her to her fate until evening when I heard her in the yard that backs onto mine. There's no gate between yards.

Fetching the container of meal worms in case I needed a bribe, I ran down my street, around the corner, down that street and around again to the other house. Knocked on the door. A young woman came out and I explained the problem. We searched around in her yard--no Zora, not a rustle or peep. It was time to leave her to fate or the neighbor’s Great Dane, whichever came first.

A half-hour before dusk I heard the musical sound of two young women’s chatter and uncontrollable laughter. It reminded me of nights in the college dorm. I wondered....

So I was not surprised a few minutes later when they appeared at my front door, all three—women and chicken—slightly out of breath. The women were grinning and giggling as they handed Zora over. Dodging and darting after an erratic chicken can be pretty fun.

“She’s like a little furnace,” one said.

Zora was indeed over-heated but that was her own fault. I gave the women some eggs. When the chicken books comment that keeping chickens is a way to get to know the neighbors, they are referring to eggs, not escapees.

I clipped Zora’s wings.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bulk mice

I ordered 40 jumbo mice for Matilda, vacuum packed and delivered overnight in dry ice. They come in styrofoam trays of 20, neatly lined up in rows like a tray of sausages but pearly white instead of those unappetizing sausage colors.

Last week I had only one adult mouse left, so I knew she'd be hungry. I thawed out a jumbo and brought it to her. As soon as I dangled it into her tank, she struck, grabbing it at the side and in the same movement, coiling her body around it. I've seen her do one coil before but this time she was wrapped all around it as she maneuvered her mouth up to its head.

A snake strikes faster than our eyes follow, so it's a beautiful and dramatic thing to see--as long as it's not a venomous snake striking at Moi.

Friday, June 13, 2008

what chickens know

Why is it that chickens know where you want them to go so that they can head off in the precise opposite direction?

They're tucked up for the night and you hurry down to the coop to shut the door. That's when they decide they'd rather do some more foraging. They hop off their perches and scatter in six different directions. After all, if you're out, there must be some reason for them to be out.

Four chickens return. Two have forgotten where the door to the pen is. They hurry back and forth at the wrong end of the pen, thrusting their heads at spaces in the wire. ("It was around here somewhere...I swear that door was right here...it couldn't have gone far.")

The least effective thing to do is try to herd the errant hens in the direction of the door because, of course, they'll run all around the pen along every side except the one where the door stands open. If you walk away, they'll find their way back into the pen, at which time the other chickens will hop off their perches to see if the newcomers have found something interesting. After all, if they're out, there must be some reason not to go to sleep yet....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

chickens rule

Yes, Olivia's chicken video won $1,000 worth of books for her school library and $500 worth of books for her. She won because there's a large, devoted, literary chicken community in cyberspace as well as real space.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

vote for chickens

Stacey, a fellow chickeneer, writes that her daughter is competing in a national video book review contest for kids. Finalists were chosen by libraries but winners are being chosen by popular vote, so Stacey is asking all chicken fans to vote daily (one vote per person per day) between May 29 and June 4. Winner gets $1,000 worth of books for her library and $500 worth of books herself.

Here's the link:
Storytubes voting

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Evening meal

The chickens were very impatient by the time I let them out in the early evening. They charged from the pen and across the wood-chipped area to the lawn. The two little ones had no trouble flying. We know from experience that Edna can fly 40 ft up into a tree. Even Muffin, the zaftig variety of chicken, got a foot or two of lift-off, flapping madly and letting out squawks of excitement. They reached the lawn and their dirt-bath and immediately got to work, scratching, eyeing the ground, pecking, as if they hadn’t eaten all day.

If they are planning a food strike against chicken pellets while dreaming of meal worms and melon, they will be disappointed.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Chicken stereo

This morning I was awakened by the sound of a young rooster practicing his crowing, half a crow sounding like er-AH-erga, strangled at the end. I wondered if a half-grown member of the flock down the street had escaped. They had hens and a rooster; therefore they could make more roosters. The sound seemed to come from their direction but closer, maybe my front yard. I looked out the window by my bed but didn’t see anyone.

The hens down the street started calling buck-buck-BUCK-BUCK. They start that noise when excited about something and, like dogs barking, keep going even when they have forgotten what they’re excited about. I listened carefully—noise from chickens down the street coming in the bedside window; noise from my chickens coming in the window across the room. Where, then, was the young rooster?

Later in the day I heard the noise in my back yard. As hens are apt to do when there is no rooster, one is attempting to crow. But which? I suspect one of the Polish chickens is asserting her right to be Head Hen. I hope lucky accident shows me which one is crowing because I’m not going to spend the day watching them to find out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Matilda's dinner

I went to the pet store today to get a couple of mice for Matilda the corn snake and meal worms for Chilibelina the leopard gecko, who is here for the summer. As before, the meal worms came in a plastic tub with a lid and the mice came in a box with pictures of mice, budgies and hamsters on the sides. I got home and opened the mouse box to find four teeny red eyes looking at me and two quivering pink noses and white whiskers being raised inquiringly. One of the mice wore a little brown mouse poop on his head—you would be amazed at how much poop two mice produce in twenty minutes.

Instead of saying “frozen adult mice,” I must have said, “adult mice” at the store. Frozen is generally the default state for feeder mice, so I didn’t even consider that I’d find live mice in the box. Matilda has never encountered a live adult mouse. Most likely, the several generations of captive-bred corn snakes from which she’s descended haven’t, either.

Reflecting that the cost of gas was making these very expensive mice, I drove back to the store to exchange Chuck and Lola for two frozen mice. Frozen mice don’t have names and can’t bite back.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The hens are landscaping

Sitting in my second floor study, I can see the back yard where the former owners’ play area carpeted deep in wood chips meets the lawn. There is no barrier. The chips stayed on their side, the lawn on its, until I started letting the chickens out. Now the chips are creeping across the lawn, thrown to scatter like confetti behind the chickens when they dig. Too late, I realized I can’t mow the area of mixed chips and grass, now several feet across, unless I want to wipe out the mower blade. Oops.

The outside always looks darker from inside than it actually is. At 8:10 I thought the chickens might be settled for the night and went out for the ritual of lifting protesting but relaxed bantams from the nest boxes and putting bantams inside the hen house before shutting the door. Getting them at dusk instead of full dark is preferable because I don’t have to bring a flashlight and there’s enough light outside for them to find a perch on their own.

When I got there, three of the four hens came out of the house, a little sleepy, like children in their pajamas wandering down to the living room for one last attempt at staying up late. DartMouth was the only one to stay on her perch. We hung around a bit together until they decided there was nothing exciting happening (no food) and they might as well go back to bed. Then I put the banties inside. Edna seems a little better with this than Zora. Zora is a fully committed sitter and grumbled mightily. She was still grumbling when I shut the door, leaving her to find her way to a perch.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hen in lockdown

Zora and Edna still huddle together in a nest at night, so I have to pull each one out, kicking and grumbling, and place her on a perch in the coop. During the afternoon when I open the door for them to run to the dust spa, they all charge through the doorway together, except for one day when Zora ran here...

..and couldn't figure out that she should have gone in the opposite direction here:

where she paced back and forth, apparently expecting a door to magically appear. Being broody does not sharpen the brain.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The moods of broody banties

Both the bantams, Zora and Edna, are still feelin’ broody but Zora seems to take it more seriously. When I open the gate of the run, Edna watches the other hens scamper out. I think she can’t stand sitting there seeing what a great time they’re having, so she hops down to the ground and flies across the lawn, screaming like a falling plane, to join the crowd. Eventually, Zora comes out for a while (gotta get those dust baths) before returning to the nest to sit on nothing because I’ve taken the eggs.

They both want to spend the night in the hutch where the nest boxes are. The coop itself is a different “building” because each is too small to contain both roosts and nesting areas. Every evening, I have to stretch my arms through the awkwardly small opening in the hutch to lift out reluctant Zora and Edna, one at a time, and carry her over to the coop. They don’t make the angry, whining noises of large hens; they sound more like the way puppies grunt when you pick them up. Another difference: Edna will perch or sit on my hand; Zora is less tame even when broody-sleepy and has to be contained in both hands.

Zora stands on the coop floor looking bewildered—more bewildered than a chicken usually looks if you take note of the body language. If it’s not dark out, I let them figure out that they’re in the coop and eventually join the others on a perch. When it’s dark, I place them on a perch because I don’t know if they’ll venture up on their own.

Which brings up the question of how well can chickens see in the dark, anyway? Having really poor night vision would be a reason why they stay put when it’s dark.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A chicken makes a decision

It is axiomatic that people with small flocks of chickens are easily entertained. It is also true that chickens don’t make decisions because decisions require a consciousness that chickens do not have, which is why people find them entertaining in the first place. Consider my use of the word “decision” as a metaphor for the chicken thought process.

Yesterday I watched Zora, the black bantam Modern, try to decide what to do after I opened the door of the pen. She had been sitting in the nest. Like all the others, she rushed out the door but instead of running across the yard with them, she stopped. She took a few steps back toward the nest, then forward toward the others, then a few steps back. She hesitated. Back and forth again, unable to decide. Hunt with the others? Follow her instinct to remain broody on the nest? Try to understand the impossibility of choosing between these equal urges.

Fortunately she was rescued in the form of a small worm appearing in the dirt in front of her. When she bent to get it, the distraction wiped out all other thoughts and she continued scratching and pecking, gradually joining the others, leaving only me to remember what had happened.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Snow, April evening shouldn't be allowed

Insane weather

I'm personally insulted by the snow. It never ever snows in Seattle in the middle of April. It began with hail, slush and ice falling from afternoon to early evening, now regular snow sticking to roofs and trees and the lawn. To see snow falling at 8 pm before the sun is due to set--well, if other people around here are not unnerved, I'd like to hear about that.

The chickens go into their house, then step outside looking bewildered, as if the snow should have reconsidered and gone away while they were indoors. They whine. I whine. I locked them in early tonight.

Last week I was wearing shorts and listening to the frogs in the evening. Yesterday evening it was not too chilly to stand outside and breathe in the perfume of all the blossoms. This evening I'm wearing fleece and wondering how many frogs and young birds are dying in this sudden cold. It's as if everything has gone into reverse.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The invasion

With the training completed, the hens are growing bolder. They began by roaming through the ivy-covered slope that separates the upper from the lower parts of the back yard. Then, like an invading army breaching the walls of a fort, up they came over the edge onto the cement patio. The patio pattern reminds me of crazy-paving. Instead of being flat cement, there are irregular grooved lines to give the appearance of paving stones. Those grooves make wonderful (for the hens) collection points for dirt, leaf debris, moss, and bugs. Now the dog pooper-scooper is also a chicken pooper-scooper.

Next, they’ll be knocking at the back door.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Basic training is complete.

The six hens sing and crowd up to the pen doorway when they see me coming. Unable to disobey their request for treats, I always bring a scoopful of scratch feed or scraps from the kitchen. If I let them out and dash across the lawn, they all run after me as if there is some urgent reason to follow my feet. When I stop, the feet are suddenly of no interest, for they immediately start scratching in the lawn and pecking at bugs.

The weather here has been 8—10 degrees colder than normal the past week or more. Snow stuck on the lawns and roofs last Friday; this is unusual enough to be an insult.

By Sunday afternoon the snow was gone and the sun warmed a few areas of the yard, though it was cold in the shade. (I must make a new pen because the current one is in a dark, damp side of the yard.) When I let the chickens out, they immediately began sunbathing, pressing one side of their bodies into the lawn while extending the opposite side’s wing and leg, necks stretched out, looking like dedicated tanners or hens in the last act of a convulsive death.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

hen pics

Edna on the hunt
This Americauna might be named Brangelina--seems an appropriate use for that name

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

over exposed eggs

as opposed to over easy

nest boxes

The birds like the plastic tub box in the hutch for laying their eggs. They do not like the cardboard box beside it. They kicked all the wood chips out of the cardboard box but always leave some in the other.

Edna (formerly Edsel) is the star athlete. When I hold out a jumbo mealworm, she darts in, jumps up and grabs it while the other chickens are still eyeing it, trying to figure out what to do. Even when I'm trying to offer the worm to someone else or holding it low so that Punkster and DartMouth can see it from under their top-knots, she grabs it first. Yeah, she's my favorite, even though she doesn't lay green eggs. I like her style.

Besides, I only want to spend so much time grasping a large mealworm between thumb and forefinger, watching it writhe around with its short legs waving.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Finally peace on the home front

Locking Punkster and DartMouth in the hutch for a couple of days and nights did the trick. They stopped picking on the others. Trimming off the sharp tips of their beaks might have had something to do with it, also. The method is to wrap the chicken in a towel and clip off the tip, up to but not including the vein. This blunted the sharp ends just enough to lessen any damage they could do. Maybe it took them down a peg but I can’t verify that. When a chicken is debeaked in the bloody and traumatic (to me) conventional way, just about half the upper beak comes off. The chicken can eat but not peck at others.

Now all six are co-existing in the usual way, with only the “get outta my way” or “hey, that bug’s mine” sort of pecking. The little ones still won’t go into the coop at night. Every evening this week I’ve had to pry them off the perch in the hutch and put them in the coop. There’s now a second perch in the coop but it’s not as high as the first due to the slanted top.

Genius inspiration struck today. I took the perch out of the hutch and put in a nest box made from a plastic tub. I cut down part of one side so that the hen could step in and not have to hop to the top rim and then down. I wasn’t quite genius enough, however. I cut the side too low. DartMouth immediately jumped in and proceeded to remodel the place, scratching all the wood chips onto the wire floor of the hutch where most fell through to the ground.

I think I have to do everything about three times to get it close to right.

Monday, March 3, 2008

musical roosts

the complexities of roosting door, rooster, wings
the complexities of roosting

When it's time to shut the coop door, does one just say, "Night, night, birds" and shut the door as usual? Noooo, one must first pluck a Modern off the top of the hutch and put her inside. Then one must fetch two Americaunas from inside the hutch. It is not easy to reach both arms through a small door, grab a large hen, pry her feet from the perch, and haul her out the door, preferably without breaking a wing or cutting one's hand on the wire of the door opening. And then do it again.

When grabbing a hen, it's best to hold her wings against her body; otherwise she'll flap madly and you'll have a hard time restraining her. But when trying to do that while reaching arm's length into the hutch, the simple grab isn't always effective.

Here's a tip: when you put the hen on the ground, which you need to do to get a better grip on her, run your hand with a little bit of pressure down her back. She'll flatten her back and stand still, not because she loves your gentle touch but because you have just imitated a rooster about to mount her. Works way better than hypnotism.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Eating and egging

I finally put a light in the chicken coop several days ago. I hadn't wanted to but I'm hearing about everyone else's hens laying except mine. Also, the chicken soup threat didn't work.

There's nothing inside the coop to hang the light from or grip with the attached tongs but I managed to balance it on a corner wingnut where it sort of stays up. It had the desired effect: Punkster laid an egg today. DartMouth has yet to cooperate. Or it may have been the other way around.

Matilda the snake, who hasn't eaten in months, seemed a little less restless today, so I thawed out a mouse and offered it to her. Holding it by the tail--you're supposed to use tongs but it'll be two years before I find mine--I wriggled the mouse, then laid it down on the dinner plate, a paper towel. Matilda came up to it and looked interested, flicking out her tongue and then circling around the way she sometimes does before striking. She positioned her mouth in front of the mouse's nose, got close...then whipped her head away like a kid going, "YUK!" Maybe it's the wrong flavor?

I have no idea how I'm supposed to know when she's ready to eat. It’s not as if she’ll give me a dirty look or make hungry-sounding slithers or sit there with her mouth open. At least she won’t scream or bark at me. I get enough of that from the others.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


At the beginning of February, the Punkster laid six eggs over twelve days. The Poles usually lay every other day, not every day like the breeds cultivated for good laying. Every other day suits my small household but none does not. Despite oyster shell, jumbo meal worms, treats from the kitchen, and the usual chicken kibble, she is taking a vacation from egg-laying and DartMouth hasn't even started. The new girls are still too young, so I'm not worried about them.

Today I threw around some scratch feed to keep them busy and explained the problem. Then I leaned close to the chicken wire and warned them in a low voice, "Chicken soup."

Empty threat but they won't know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

the night after the crawling under the house incident

A few minutes ago, the Amazons were swearing at full volume, then yelling, “Quiet! Stop it!” equally loudly. The cockatiels were whistling, dogs barking. And one banty chicken was going wraaaak—ha-ha-ha.

All except the dogs and myself are in the mud room. Years ago I swore I’d never keep a chicken in the house. But extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary solutions. It’s risky putting an outdoor chicken in a room with parrots but they have no contact, not even from my touching one cage then another without washing my hands. That’s the best I can do right now. And Edsel is really, really cute with her big eyes. I’ve been picking her up so many times to move her from place to place that she’s getting used to being handled.

The circumstances are actually very ordinary. The Polish hens are picking intensely and viciously on Edsel because she is so tiny. They do the ordinary “get outta my way and off my perch” pecking at placid Muffin but she is large enough to sort things out.

Later in the evening I’ll try again to put Edsel in the coop and see if they can stand it. But I think I need two banty Moderns, because Edsel needs back-up.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Going to earth

Thinking all problems temporarily solved, I discovered that Keeper had crawled under the part of the house beneath the mud room and was making desperate clattering and scraping sounds. This projection is bordered on one side by wood lattice screwed into the siding, on the other by a wood wall and entry stairs, and on the side where she crawled in by two very heavy, large, long wooden planters. Filled with dirt and plants, of course. I heaved one away from the house near the corner where Keeper had crawled in, and peered underneath.

Airedales are terriers; terriers are earth dogs. They are at their absolute happiest when digging after small animals. Even a 60-lb Airedale can crawl through a very small space, just as a mouse can crawl through a space the size of a nickel. Or is it a dime?

I called to Keeper and she came over to me, putting one foot on the brick wall on which the planter had rested. That was as far as she got. Her head bumped the overhead rafters.
There was nothing for it but to heave both planters off the brick wall and lie down full length to see if I could fit some of myself through the opening but it wasn’t even large enough for my head.

Sign of intelligence: having no desire to get stuck under the house, I stopped there. Instead I got a full view of the amazing junk a previous owner had left there: long planks of wood, empty soda cans, a thin metal strip, bits of asphalt roofing, a nearly full gallon jug of concrete bonding adhesive. I pulled out what I could reach while Keeper tugged and ripped at a plastic tube of drain pipe firmly stuck in concrete. (Drain pipe is rippled like an accordion and about six inches in diameter.) Occasionally she left the pipe and scrabbled through the other bits of debris. I saw a spot of blood on one hind leg and worried that she’d get hurt on something sharp and nasty in there.

So I took a look at the front side and discovered I could remove the lattice with a Phillips screwdriver. (BTW, the house is yellow but used to be blue. There are nice little blue lines where the lattice used to be.)

Now it is time to congratulate me. I don’t like crawling among bugs, I don’t like getting cobwebs in my hair, I don’t like crawling full-length on damp dirt and heaven knows what other crap. And I’m a middle-aged writer who shouldn’t have to be doing these things.

I did these things. I pulled myself in, grabbed Keeper’s collar, and forced her to come out. When we got inside, I tore off my yucky clothes, shook the scary things from my hair, and dragged Keeper upstairs to be washed in my shower. No treats for her! I just threw her in and hosed her down.

Results of a day of chicken-chasing, pen-building, and spelunking with the dog: two scraped shins, cracked fingers, a cut on my forehead. Not so bad.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Transformation of the Chicken Slum

The chicken slum is now an art installation after Monday night’s work. Think Watts Towers built by a disorganized poet. It is constructed of a variety of found materials. All I need now are some colorful tiles to spiff it up.

After getting Edsel home Monday morning, I shut her and Muffin back in the hutch and wasn’t even late for work, thanks to a fast sprint across the Park ‘N Ride lot just in time to catch the bus. I spent most of Monday afternoon until past dark shoring up the pen, cutting and nailing up scraps of fencing, using a beaded ribbon belt to weave together the two ceiling pieces where she had flown through a gap. To close the gap above the door, I put up the piece of nylon netting that was used in the back of my car to hold grocery bags. On another side, I nailed up a large sheet of plastic that had covered a new mattress. And so on to block every opening that had existed above flight height for the Poles but not for a banty Modern.

You never know what will come in handy. As a friend in college used to say and the late spouse used to do: never throw anything away. Sadly, I’ve had to throw away too much when moving during the past few years. Other things, such as my reciprocating saw and a 6-ft stepladder, mysteriously disappeared. I try, with limited success, not to think about it.

Thinking all problems temporarily solved, I discovered that Keeper had crawled under the part of the house beneath the mud room and was making desperate clattering and scraping sounds. (to be continued)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chicken chase

When chasing an errant chicken, you learn a lot about the neighbors. You don’t meet them all because no one who does not have to be outside at 7:15 on a freezing morning is going to be standing around to greet you.

I began by wasting natural resources driving out my street and down the next one over to the yard where Edsel—also known as “that f**$#@! fowl"-- had spent the night. I had seen her silhouette in the tree but by the time I got to the house, she had disappeared.

I discovered that the dog belonging to that house is huge. That is, the size of the poop is huge and it was all over the yard like land mines. These people should clean up more often. They did have lots of useful junk, including spare wood, bricks I could use to line the fence around the chicken pen to keep vermin out, and a shed that would make a great hen house if they'd just get all the junk out of it. Unfortunately, there were huge piles of debris at the back of the yard that Edsel, once I spotted her, ran up, down, and around while I stumbled after her, trying to catch her in the fishing net I had brought.

Finally she flew to the top of the fence and sat there, impervious to the pebbles I threw at her. I showed admirable self-restraint by not heaving a boulder. Because this yard was several feet lower than mine, the wood fence sat on top of a brick retaining wall that was about hip height. Fortunately there was a reinforcing pole that I used to haul myself up the few extra inches I needed before getting a foot on the wall, not an easy thing to do in clumsy rubber work boots.

When I stood there clinging to the pole, she gave a squawk and flew toward my yard. I jumped down, hoping I wouldn’t sprain anything, dashed to my car, dog poop and all, and drove back to my house. Did I mention that I was dressed for work except for the yard boots?

Since my neighbor on the west side was out scraping ice off his windshield, I explained that I needed to take a look in his back yard in case the chicken had gone there. No chicken but an unused dog kennel about 6x8x6 that could make a really nice chicken run. Maybe they want to get rid of it....

Then the neighbor and I had a little talk about the raccoon I reported on earlier. He said, “We sort of took care of it,” in that low-voiced manner people have when they're describing something not quite legal. I feared he was implying that they had set out poison.

I ran back to my yard and there was Edsel looking bewildered on a short deciduous tree. Pure luck. I bagged her in the net and put her in the hutch with Muffin, who is always easy to catch. Edsel complained about the whole thing. As if she had any right!

Next: Lockdown

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The escapist

This evening Edlyn’s name changed to Edsel, after the best-known failed car. There are more expensive failures among cars but Edsel is the one that first comes to mind. Here’s what happened.

Yesterday the new chicks spent the day in the hutch, which still stands in the enclosure as it did before I got the roomier coop. The Poles had the run of the enclosure. After dark, I put the new ones on the perch in the coop. There was some grumbling, like people who have to make room in the bed after getting comfortable, but everybody settled down.

This morning when I let them out, I saw DartMouth was picking on the little Modern Game. Although there is nothing that she does not peck at—I’d name her Jaws but she’s a pecker, not a biter—I played it cautiously and put the Poles inside the hutch. Well, they complained all day long about being stuck in there while the other two ran around in their enclosure.

I went off to do some errands and got home an hour before dark. No little bitty banty in sight or hearing. Not in the yard. Not in the areas of the neighbors’ yards that I could see by climbing up the play platform (a fort for kids).

I let the remaining three be together so that they’d go inside the coop and squabble loudly and perhaps lure the banty home. I heard her in the neighbor’s yard on the east side of my place and ran over. The six-foot wood fence continues all down the side of my property, creating total privacy between the two places, so it was not until I got there that I saw the part of the yard close to my house looked like it had experienced a combination of mud avalanche and dynamite. I managed to get to what looked like a gate into their yard. Couldn’t see or reach a latch. Piled up two cement landscaping bricks (oops, forgot to put them back), climbed up, still couldn’t find a latch. These people didn’t want anyone escaping out or in.

Ran around to the other side where it was easier to get around on the mud but couldn’t see the chicken, though I could hear her. Ran back around to what appeared to be the front door. It was a decorative door and had steps leading up but there was a ladder across two walls of cement landscape brick. Why? You can’t paint in this cold, wet weather. I ran up on tip-toe, banged on the door. Movement and talk inside but no one came to the door. I’m thinking these are strange people. Banged on the door again and finally a man opened it. I hurriedly explained the chicken problem and asked if there was a way to get to the part of the yard where the chicken was. No, he would go out and see and I should run back around to where I had just been.

By which time Edlyn was walking along the fence top between the back of his property and the yard of the one behind him. She had a choice between the names Edsel and Dumbsh**.

The fences meet in a four-way intersection bordering four yards. All I could do was follow cautiously. She crossed over to the fence backing my yard, so I charged back and—no hen in sight. I waited, heard a rustling, and there she was at least 30 feet up in a fir tree.

This was one of those moments when you consider shooting the chicken with something to get it down. At least that way you can sleep peacefully, knowing the chicken has met her maker and not having to worry if some predator has taken her there instead.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

More exotic chickens

Bringing in two new pullets caused more excitement than the Polish girls have experienced since their first jumbo meal worms. They ran back and forth, caterwauling and bok-bok-boking. The new girls are an Americauna and a Modern Game fowl (photos below). For those who don’t know, an Americauna is an Araucana crossed with a good laying breed to produce a hen that will lay green eggs on a more consistent basis than the purebred Araucana. The Modern is the mini version of the English Game Fowl that was used for fighting and is now strictly ornamental—or should be. With their long legs and necks and sleek heads, the banties hardly look like chickens.

Naturally I had set out to buy just one hen but couldn’t resist the Modern, who looks smaller than an Amazon parrot. Both birds are four months old and come with a no rooster guarantee. If a pullet turns out to be a rooster, Bruce the chicken guy will exchange it as long as it’s OK with you that the rooster ends up on somebody’s dinner table. I really REALLY wanted to get one of the banty roosters but this isn’t the time.

And on this farm he had some piglets, grown-up pigs, and turkeys. The turkey cocks strutted around, displaying their wings and tails and puffing out their chests for the turkey hens. Best of all, Bruce had two Airedales--one adult male getting shoulder-deep in mud and one female puppy who hovered at the edge of the mud field. The puppy was three or four months old and absolutely friendly as most puppies are. She had excellent coloring, very black coat and deep rust-colored markings. As she followed me a few feet up the driveway, I wanted to scoop her up and take her home, too, because she was chicken-proofed like the adult dog with no interest in chasing chickens.

On the way home I stopped at the feed store for supplies, looking like one of the guys in my muddy boots and dried mud up my jeans to the hem of my parka (Airedales love to jump up on people). Then I went to the grocery store where I looked a bit out of place among all the well-washed people. At least I checked my boots before going in to make sure I wouldn’t be tracking chicken poo around.


Muffin the Americauna and Edlyn, an old English name for a Modern English Game banty.


She will peck at anything, even my black garden boots.

Polish Punkster

Monday, January 21, 2008

A long story about a short life

On Friday I got off the bus after work across the street from the Park & Ride where I’d left my car. I had a message on my cell phone from the veterinary oncologist. Keeper the Airedale should come in for her chemo treatment that afternoon. It would be a quick appointment because she had had her blood work done the day before.

I was not looking forward to a slow drive north in Friday traffic. I crossed the street with the other commuters, mostly students because this was 2:30 pm, not 5:30. Walking past the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, I saw a crow on the ground close to the cement side of the building, beside a tuft of grass. I stopped. A woman passing said, “That’s an unusual sight, isn’t it?”

I said, “He’s probably dying.” The last time I had seen a crow on the ground, sitting at the base of a tree in my yard, it had died not long after I took it to the wildlife rescue center.

Not a happy camper, I walked up the street to where the sheriff’s office is conveniently located, thinking someone there would know which wildlife office you’re supposed to call when you see a sick or dead crow. Then they would pick up the crow and I would not have to worry about it; I would worry about my dog instead. The unhelpful young woman at the front desk handed me the phone number for animal control—like they’d come rushing over from 20 miles away to pick up a crow.

So I had to pick up the crow and take it somewhere. A lot of people had walked past it, doing nothing more than giving it a glance. I thought of wrapping it in my coat but then I’d have to dry clean the coat if I didn’t want to share it with the mites and such that wild birds carry. Thought of taking off coat and sweater to retrieve my tee shirt, which was the last layer next to a bra, but I’m not the sort of person who enjoys drawing attention to herself.

Duh. The crow was sitting outside a thrift store. I dashed inside and bought the first towel I found. When I came back out, the crow had struggled to its feet and was hopping into the busy street. I put my briefcase on the sidewalk and followed, holding up one hand at an oncoming car like a dorky police officer in a movie. Coming from the other direction was a school bus. Both vehicles stopped while I stalked after the crow, towel ready to wrap around it. I didn’t want it to panic and flap over to an even busier street.

So much for not calling attention to myself—a middle-aged woman in office-work clothes following a crow up the street and holding a towel.

When I wrapped the towel lightly around the crow and picked it up, it didn’t struggle at all, which indicates it was in pretty bad shape. So off we went to the Park & Ride to get my car, drive home, put the crow in a box, wedge the box in the front of the car, look up the address of Progressive Animal Welfare Society’s wildlife rehab. center, get the dog—the one who loves to kill things—and put her in the car, and set off for the town of Lynnwood where north turns into south and east seems to be in the direction of west.

Even with a GPS, it is not easy to find your way around Lynnwood. I decided to drop off the crow before going to Keeper’s vet. Just about any vet will euthanize an injured wild animal at no charge. But not crows. Because of West Nile virus scares, they can’t deal with crows.

The wildlife center is tucked away in an obscure corner of Lynnwood but I got there and handed over the boxed crow to the woman at the front desk. I wanted to look at it one last time but she said not to open the box in the front lobby. She said I was one of two people bringing in sick crows that afternoon.

I’ll bet the other person didn’t get sniffly about it, but I do have a good excuse. I have accumulated an awful lot of dead things over the past few years.

It’s a rare wild animal that dies of old age. Most die from illness, human interaction, or being eaten by another animal. If I see a downed bird in a wooded area where it won’t get kicked by a person or eaten by a neighbor’s cat, I leave it alone. Interference isn’t always a good thing. Prolonging your sick dog’s life isn’t always a good thing. But sometimes they are. I just try to do my best guess at what’s right.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

supposed to publish as a link


the new chicken house

This one can be dignified with the name of "coop" instead of "hutch" like the last one. I raided the front yard for bricks that I used to line the border around the coop. There's also a hardware cloth floor inside under the wood chips because it doesn't come with a floor. The original perch was high up, so we drilled some new holes and lowered it, hoping the hens will eventually figure out where it is.

I bought the coop used from some lovely people with equally lovely chickens and even a banty frizzle house-rooster who wears a diaper and strides around the house all day, commenting on everything he sees. He shares their house with a rabbit,a collie mix, and a teenager (and parents).

My chickens are still getting used to their roomy new quarters, which should be big enough for 3 or 4 chickens. My son and I put it together a few days ago and the chickens still have to be pried off their hutch in the evening and put in the new coop. Yesterday I found one of them trying to get into the hutch, though I had shut the door, and the other hunched miserably on the top, getting dripped on by cold rain. I opened the side of the new coop and put the gold-laced hen on the perch. Once I got the silver-lace in the new coop, she stayed out of reach, so I couldn't place her on the perch.

This morning they were both camped out on the floor. I imagine they'll still need some help finding their way inside this evening.

This is the Chick'N Barn: http://www.mypetchicken.com/Coops_without_Chickens-Chick_N_Barn_With_Run-P316.aspx

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

greatest accomplishment of 2008

We’re talking only one day so far. No big deal, you might say; but I’ve spent the weekend finishing up procrastinated projects, including clipping and bathing one of the dogs without setting up the grooming table, moving the last ten or twelve boxes of books from the garage to the downstairs, and today trimming Peaches’ beak which is the most disliked of many dreary tasks.

Most parrots keep their beaks trimmed by chewing on toys, scraping on perches provided for the purpose, and eating. In the past few years, none of that has worked for Peaches the Amazon. I wrap him in a towel and he swears, struggles, and bites at the towel while I try to maneuver various clipping instruments to take off just the tip. When he needs a major trim, I take him to a vet. Last summer I saw a vet use a cuticle clipper to trim and shape his beak perfectly, so that’s what I tried this time. Because the blade is small and curved, you can clip off bits on each side of the beak’s tip, keeping it pointed and symmetrical. A major load of guilt is now gone, with the trimming followed by major cleaning of cages.

But that is not the big accomplishment. Even the fancy new chicken house (stay tuned for that) is not the big accomplishment.

The big accomplishment is rearranging the garage and putting my car inside. Other than a few weeks in Portland when I put my car in the garage before using it for storage, I have never used a garage for storing a car. In some houses, this was because the birds lived in the garage and in some there was simply no room. In this house, however, the birds live in the mud/laundry room, much to the dogs’ delight because they can nose around for dropped food every time they go in and out of the house. With the books out of the garage and many of the packing boxes flattened and put away, I drove my car inside and pressed the button for the door to roll shut. So now there’s a dark red Saturn LW2 taking up what was this nice, big empty space.

I don’t know if I like having a car in the garage; it makes the garage smell like car. This does not seem healthy for the food, artwork, wrapping paper, portfolios, camping equipment, tools, gardening equipment, extra table linens, and many other items stored there. Will they all wind up smelling like car exhaust?