Category Archives: Menagerie

RIP, River

It has been a hard month here. On Feb. 27, we lost our retired mare, Guin. On March 22, we suffered a much more unexpected blow: we lost our precious River, our youngest curly coated retriever, to bloat.

When I woke up in the morning, River would give me kisses, washing the sleep out of my eyes. It’s much harder to get up now, to convince myself to crawl out from under my warm covers. Maybe I just don’t want to.

Then we — I and all the dogs — would go walkabout. Every morning I would have to tell River not to chew on his brother’s ears, not to chew his sister’s face, not to push Pax down the stairs, not to stop in front of me and trip me. Walkabouts are boring now.

Mornings are the hardest.

I occasionally get a bit wrapped up in my computer. (Hard to believe, I know.) River would come over, paw my leg in a most annoying way, and gaze up at me in the most endearing way. He was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Ever. He would persist with this until I got up to feed them.

I was half an hour late feeding Pax and Pflouff this morning. Neither said a word. They might starve to death.

Mealtimes are the hardest.

When he was a puppy, River didn’t nap. He would lie sternal, looking around, for hours, waiting for someone to get up and entertain him. That is, until I sat on the couch. Then he would throw himself at me, shiver and sigh, and settle close. He would fall asleep almost immediately.

A form of that ritual persisted throughout his life. Someone on the couch was a lap for him. He snuggled close, gave sweet kisses, and then lay down with his head on your thigh. Every moment we sat on the couch, we had a River.

River was an anxious dog, and those moments on the couch were the thing that most soothed him. And me. Now sitting on the couch feels very empty.

Quiet moments on the couch are the hardest.

The very first night River came home, he slept between me and Jay. That was his spot until his legs got too long. That was when we added the dog bed, a twin bed wedged between my side of our king-sized bed and the wall. He slept across the top of that bed with his head on my pillow for a long time. Eventually he moved back between us.

Jason reminded me last night of the time when River had surgery on his hips. He had to be crated for eight weeks. I spent those eight weeks sleeping on the floor next to his crate, my fingers through the bars, stroking him. It was for me as much as for him. I couldn’t bear to be separated.

Most nights, he and I would start the night cheek-to-cheek on my pillow, snuggled as close as we could get. Like when he was a puppy, he would shiver a little and sigh as he settled. Pure contentment. Eventually I would have to turn over, because he kicked in his sleep. It was like sleeping with a jack rabbit.

There’s too much room now.

Night time is the hardest.

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It’s the little things that catch me unaware. Often it’s the things that drove me crazy when he was here.

I miss tripping over his toys and telling him to get out of my kitchen. I miss scratching his riblets. (I really want to scratch his riblets.) I miss the puddle of drool at my feet at the kitchen table. I put away all the drool cloths. I threw away a paper towel tube because he wasn’t here to play with it. I miss his eagerness to be first in line — for anything. Opening the cabinet and seeing his seizure meds brings tears to my eyes.

I talk to him a lot.

Last night I felt a dog settle next to my leg in bed when there was no dog nearby.

Breathing is the hardest.

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I love you, River.

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RIP, Guinevere

My sweet Guin went to the Rainbow Bridge today.

Guin was a half-Percheron / half-something-small-we-guess-Quarter-Horse who spent the first 10 years of her life as PMU mare. That means the farm would breed her, wean off the foal early, and then keep her standing in a narrow stall for 6 months while they gathered her urine to be used in Premarin, the hormone replacement drug. The farms downsized drastically in 2002 when artificial hormones entered the scene, and she was rescued.

I got her in 2004, the same time I got Blue. I suppose it’s fitting that they’re leaving my life so close together. Guin was an amazing mare. She had very little training, but she filled riders with confidence. Riders who were afraid to ride other horses wanted to ride her and trusted her to see them home safe.

As she aged, she developed a problem in her feet that prevented her from being ridden, standing for very long, or for standing on three legs — something horses must do to have their feet trimmed. Guin and I were blessed to know Leslie Peeples, a farrier and clicker trainer, who not only taught her to lie down to have her feet trimmed, but also took my dear girl into her home for many years just to make sure she had the best foot care.

Miss Guin was queen of her farm for a long time. When Leslie moved to a new property, Leslie’s (and my) dear friend Jennifer moved in to her old place. They didn’t want to disrupt life for my old girl, so Jenn became her caretaker. Jenn took amazing care of my girl this past year, and it was Jenn who saw her off on her journey to the Bridge this morning.

I love Leslie and Jennifer with all my heart both because they are the best friends I could imagine and because they loved Guin as much as I did. I could not have asked for better for her, not even if she had been at my home all this time.

I love you, Guinevere. I look forward to meeting you at the Bridge. Say hi to Princess, Rowan, Paragon, Hoss, Thunder, and Rubin for me.

 

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Wrapping up 2012

Wow — it has been a long time since I updated my blog! There has been a good reason for that: I’ve been heads down on a huge project at work. Lots and lots of overtime. But the largest part of it wraps up this weekend (handoff on Monday), and it’s time to do an update. Lots of changes around here.

Critters
All three dogs are doing well. Pax is getting older, which breaks my heart. I can’t stand the thought of losing him — ever. Most of my critter update isn’t dogs, though — it’s horses. Back in August, Mr. Blue came home again. I was inordinately glad to see him! I’d missed him terribly. Our barn is in no shape for horses, so I’m boarding him at Eden Farms where I’m taking riding lessons. Here’s a picture of him at a clinic acting as a demo horse with Monica.

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A couple of months later, Monica posted the picture of a horse in the Enumclaw kill pen. (Translation: a horse who had been purchased by a guy who sells them by the pound to slaughter houses.) We made a deal: I’d buy him and cover his stall, she’d train him, and then we’d sell him in the spring.

Yeah, that selling part? So not happening. This is Charlie, right after he came in:

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Can’t get a good look at him there — sorry. He’s a quarter horse, extremely similar to Blue in size and build. He is an absolute love! He’s doing well in his training, and hopefully will get his first ride soon. Right now I’m intending to keep him. If he ends up being unsuitable for me under saddle, I’ll go ahead with the plan to sell him.

Miss Guin is still down in Olympia, happily retired at my friend Leslie’s place. I get down there once or twice a year, and Leslie gives me updates. I bought her a new purple blanket for Christmas. Hopefully Leslie will send me a photo!

My long-term plans for the horses are up in the air. We were planning to rehab the barn this spring so we could bring everyone home, but my job situation (and our funds) got iffy, so I’m not sure what will happen. More on the job situation further down.

The remodel
We still have no walls in the basement. However we have propane, and the electrical and plumbing have been done, and we’ve got a brand new whole-house generator installed! That was a huge part of the project, and we’re thrilled to have it done. It means that winter can throw its worst at us, and we’ll be fine.

It also means we can have horses at the house again. See, our well is wired into the house. No power = no water. That’s not a huge problem for humans and dogs, but it’s a MAJOR issue with horses. That generator solved the last big horse-owning problem we had.

The next major step in the remodel is to redo the stairs to the basement and finish Jay’s office. Both parts of that are huge, expensive undertakings. Right now those steps are on hold, because of my job.

Work
The major project was a major success. It was, without reservation, my favorite project ever. I’m extremely blessed to have gotten to spend the past six months focused exclusively on it. I’ll be sad to see it end. Technically, though, it isn’t ending. I am.

As kudos to a job well done, my job said, “We love you! Come take a massive pay cut and work for us full time! And if you don’t want to do that, get out!” Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what they said, but it felt like that. I’m a contractor, you see. My division at work has roughly 15 long-time contractors, and our senior manager put together a report showing how she could save the company money by converting all of the contractors to regular employees.

It’s not as bad a deal as I made it sound. They offered straight conversions for most of us, meaning we didn’t have to interview. (I’ve never heard of them doing that before.) And if you factor in the value of their benefits package, the total worth of what they were offering was essentially the same as what I make now for 40 hours a week.

That doesn’t work for me, though. My husband works for the state, so I don’t need their benefits. I need cash. The job would have required me to work in the office three days a week — 50 miles a day on my 13-year-old car, plus two hours a day lost to the commute. I just couldn’t agree to that, so I declined the “offer.”

The theory is that I will stay until they backfill my position. As I understand it, they won’t be interviewing for it until early January, so I’m hoping I can ride this out until the end of January. The *ideal* would be the second week in February, because I’m going out of town then anyway.

All of this caused me a lot of stress. I had been doing really well with my eating and exercising, and all that came to a crashing halt with the news of the re-org. I haven’t gotten back on track yet. I have processed the changes though, and I’m really not upset about them anymore. I wish the situation were different, but it is what it is.

What’s next?
Good question. I have to get another job in my field without question. My mortgage and those hungry horses insist upon it! But I think this is also a call to pursue some things for myself that I’ve put on the back burner.

I’m signed up for a Reiki Level 1 class in January. I’m going to focus on the animal communication again. And probably most importantly, I’m pulling Doubting River out of the drawer. The Universe asked me to write that, but I got too comfortable in my life and put it aside. Now I’m on the edge of being not-so-comfortable. I’m going to get to work before I become decidedly UNcomfortable! There are a few other things I’d like to work on too. (Honestly, if I didn’t have to get a job again, I wouldn’t be bored. Promise!)

December 22 will bring not the end of the world but the beginning of a new cycle. I think it’s a good time for a new cycle for me as well, eh? Reinventing-Melissa, indeed.

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Communing with horses

Yesterday — a gorgeous, sunny spring day in western Washington — I trekked down to Olympia and spent several hours communing with dear friends and horses.

I started the day at Leslie’s place. Leslie trained my (former) horse Blue, and my mare Guin is retired there now. I can’t say enough good things about Leslie. She’s an AMAZING horse person — everything I aspired to be when I was young. I wish, wish, wish that we lived closer. If so, I would still be in horses. I really appreciate that she spent so much time hanging out with me yesterday!

One thing I wanted to do while I was down there was get some pictures of me and Guin. She had been off property for a while, but she was getting too fat, so Leslie brought her home where she can better control her diet. Guin was none too thrilled about the photo shoot. She didn’t like being taken away from her friends, and so unless she was getting treats, she didn’t have much interest in sticking around. I laughed, because she managed to stick her tongue out in just about every picture.

While I was at Leslie’s, I also spent time with Jennifer, a good friend who keeps her horses there. First we played in the arena with Nemo. I can’t remember Nemo’s breed, but he’s absolutely stunning. He’s also quite the character.

I have some fun video of him as well, but it shows him rearing, and even though it’s on cue, I know there are too many people who would think it was terribly dangerous and reckless, so I’m not going to post it.

This is Izzy. She’s Jenn’s Kiger mustang. She has a reputation for being pissy, but I love her anyway!

This is one of Leslie’s Kiger mustangs. I can’t remember his name, but he was a pocket pony. Leslie described him as a big dog. She decided to teach him to step up on the stump in his enclosure. Clicker trainers do random things like that. 🙂

Leslie, Jennifer, and I ate lunch at Red Lobster, because I was craving snow crab. I’m pleased to say that even though there were cheesy-garlic (crack) biscuits on the table, I not only didn’t eat them, I didn’t WANT them. Yay!

In the middle of the afternoon, Leslie and I went to Heidi’s house. Heidi is the almost-14-year-old girl who now owns my beautiful Blue boy.

Just a note: I didn’t take a SINGLE picture of Blue yesterday. (Sorry, LaShawn!) However, they are going to be showing in quarter horse shows this summer, and I’m going to try to get to a couple to cheer them on. I’m sure I’ll get some pictures then.

Heidi is participating in the Washington Youth Mustang Challenge. She was given a mustang yearling, and she has three months to gentle it and begin its early training. Then she and the yearling will compete against other teens who have done the same thing. The kids can either keep their yearlings or, if they don’t want to do that, the yearlings will be auctioned after the competition.

Her yearling is an ADORABLE filly named Harvey. (There’s a story behind the name, but I love it! I think it’s darn cute for a girl.) Yesterday was day 14 (I think) of their time together. She has accomplished SO MUCH in that time period. While we were there, Heidi demonstrated:

  • Leading at a walk and a trot
  • Backing — light as air!
  • Lunging in a circle on the lead rope
  • Free lunging
  • Touching her all over
  • Lifting and holding all four feet
  • Desensitization (like wearing a Hula Hoop!)
  • Bowing ON CUE
  • Beginnning steps of ground riding

This horse is plugged in and very, very responsive. So soft and light. Gorgeous soft eye. Loves people. Beautiful mover. And very brave.

And, in case I haven’t gotten the point across, Heidi is an amazing trainer.

I don’t want Harvey auctioned off at the end of August. I want Heidi to keep her. Heidi wants that too — at least from the perspective of wanting to do her early training. What Heidi wants is to keep her and start her, and then for me to take her when I’m riding again.

I love that idea, but I’m afraid the timing is wrong. Heidi would have to keep her a minimum of three years, I think, before I would be ready for her. That’s a LONG time for them to feed her, and with us in the middle of a remodel, we can’t afford to pay any part of her upkeep. Plus, ANYTHING could happen in the next 3 years. I could go back to riding, get hurt, and decide I’m too old for horses. Or I could lose my job and have my income cut way back.

Even if Heidi (and her parents) decided that they were willing to take that chance, at the end of three years I’d have one big problem: no truck and trailer. Without a truck and trailer, either my horses live on my property and go nowhere else, or I have to board them. Boarding is very expensive, and unless I suddenly lose Guin — God forbid — I think we would be hard pressed to afford to board another horse.

Is it a possibility? Sure. Would I want to do this? YOU BET. I loved Harvey, and Harvey liked me. She’s going to be the right size and temperament, and I would TOTALLY trust her background.

But it would be a risky, risky proposition for Heidi, because of the time frame and the lack of guarantees. I can say this: Heidi, if you want to keep Harvey and start her, I support you completely. I can aim toward eventual horse ownership (and I would LOVE to have Harvey), but I can’t guarantee it.

I miss horses. I miss them a lot. I was chatting with a lifelong friend the other day, and she was shocked that I hadn’t ridden in years and had retired my remaining horse two hours away. When I lamented these facts, she said, “Of course. That’s the Mel that’s supposed to be.”

And that I think is the crux. (My throat is tight as I write this.) There are three things that have defined me since childhood: writing, dogs, and horses. Without any one of those, I’m not complete, nor am I the person I am supposed to be.

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Animal Communication workshop, day 2

Sunday was day 2 of the workshop. This day was tougher for me than day 1, but St. Francis came through again. Thank you, St. Francis!

The first half of the session was spent working with three dogs who were there at the workshop. Aries is a black Lab mix who belongs to the woman who hosted the workshop, Aspen is a golden retriever, and Murphy is a beagle. They were all sweet, delightful dogs.

We did several exercises before we tried direct communication. One was an exercise of awareness. I have trouble extending my awareness to other energies around me. I just don’t feel anything. I had trouble with that exercise, but it turned out that the impressions I got were spot on.

The next exercise was an exercise in imagination. I was excited about this one, because THIS I do well. My imagination is extremely well developed! We were supposed to imagine greeting each dog, imagine them greeting us, and imagine what each likes to do. I loved that exercise, and I felt completely plugged into the dogs, because I’d already met them and gotten a feel for their personalities.

It turned out that I was again pretty much spot on with what I imagined. This made me wonder if maybe all the “imaginary” conversations I have with my beasties on a routine basis is more real communication than I thought.

I went into this workshop expecting animal communication to feel external — to feel like I was hearing or seeing something that very clearly didn’t come from myself. Instead, what I learned is that it feels more like you’re making something up. Only what you make up ends up being correct! The secret is practicing so that your accuracy goes up and TRUSTING that you’re not actually making this up.

That’s tough. The exercise with my partner on day 1 really helped with the trust, because it didn’t feel “external,” but the precise accuracy was immediately confirmed.

After our mid-session break, we worked with photos of animals provided by the workshop participants. I brought pictures of my three dogs, and Guin and Blue, the horses. (Blue isn’t technically mine anymore, but Heidi gave me permission.)

There were two rounds, so each person spoke with two animals. Mary provided a list of 13 questions. After each session, we went around the room and gave the answers we had gotten, and the animals owner told us what we got right and wrong.

In general, concrete facts like color of the food dish was difficult. At the same time, many people were able to provide really detailed descriptions of houses (inside and out). Mary also cautioned that sometimes people would think something was wrong, but then later would realize that it was right after all. We had an example of that with Aspen, the golden retriever. One person asked if she had a red toy — said the red toy was her favorite. Aspen’s owner said she didn’t have a red toy. Later in the workshop, Aspen’s owner casually mentioned that she gave Aspen a stuffed Kong anytime she left. Bingo! The favorite red toy.

The animals I spoke with were Ying Mo, an African Grey parrot, and Whisper, a black cat. I am fairly unfamiliar with both birds and cats. I think, though, that’s a good thing, because I had fewer preconceived notions about them.

I didn’t do well with Ying Mo. I did better with Whisper. The highlight with WHisper was that I saw her crunching bugs. It didn’t really fit any of the questions, so I noted it, but didn’t report it. Whisper’s owner said that her big thing right now was encouraging Whisper to eat all the bugs she found in the house. I showed her the notation I’d made.

That was cool.

The person who read Blue did a phenomenal job. His report back gave several people goose bumps, which I’ve learned is a common sign that a reading is accurate. (This is true both with animal communication and Tarot. Probably with any intuitive reading.) He said that Blue had a message for me: “Thank you for making it possible for me to live the life of my dreams.”

You’re welcome, Blue man.

There were solid things in every reading. Some people had a success rate of probably 80-90%. Those readings were AMAZING. I’m not that good, LOL.

Mary reminded us to focus on what we got right. As she said yesterday, this is like learning a foreign language. After one workshop we’ve just learned a few words. It will take time and practice to become conversational — much less fluent.

Next step for me? Practice. I’m going to try to set aside some time each evening for meditation and practice. I have many animal friends who have shared pics of their pets and who will give me feedback. My goal is to ask just a few questions at a time, and work with the same animals in many different sessions. Hopefully my accuracy will improve over time.

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