Monday, June 17, 2013

The Story of Benjamin


Benjamin, at age nine, at 108 pounds of muscle.

    In November of 2006, my beloved Susan, a golden retriever and cocker spaniel mix, passed away after a long fourteen year lifespan.   She was a beautiful girl and was very good with kids.  She was selected by our son Matthew when he was a very small boy, and Susan was six weeks or so.  She successfully fought breast cancer at age seven.  (Yes, dogs have mastectomies too.)   She was a lovely girl who looked just like a  scaled down golden retriever.  She was protective of the kids, and if she thought someone was a danger to me, her diminutive size did not prevent her letting the person know she would defend me.  I will miss her all of my remaining life.
            After Susan's passing, I instinctively knew that this would mark the beginning of a trail of losses, and in fact, it did portend a trail of losses.  I decided that although no animal ever really can replace another, that as a tribute to Susan, I would provide a home to an animal in need, similar to her breed if possible. In our area, absolutely no golden/cocker mixes needed homes, although I did find a woman who was deliberately breeding them, and charging a fortune for them.  On Petfinder, I eventually found a large male golden retriever who was in a pound in a city about two hours from here.  I headed up there to find that pet adoption was not at all a simple matter.  First, although he had been advertised, I needed to wait two weeks to allow his original owners to return to claim him.  It turned out that he was a frequent flyer there.  His owners lived in a small home with a small yard and this large male golden was forever being turned in to the pound by others, as he liked to wander. There was still the possibility that his owners would come to get him in the next couple of weeks.  So I visited him a couple of times, and waited for the day he would be deemed free for adoption.   Secondly, there was another problem.  He was a pedigreed dog who was non-neutered and the laws of that locality prohibited me from taking him unless he could be neutered and microchipped there, before I took him home.   Finally, we arranged for him to be neutered  there.  Lastly, the Perfinder ad had generated a buzz and no less than eleven people wanted this particular dog, despite the fairly high adoption fee.  I was told that they would release him to the person who was there earliest that morning.  They advised me to drive in that evening, and remain there all night in order to be the first.  Normally, I would have let the dog go to someone who lived nearer, but I knew that this dog needed large spaces, and that the suburbanites who lived close by probably couldn't keep him happy or contained.  The afternoon before he was available, I drove in, told them I was there, and that I was prepared to wait all night. I provided them with a letter stating the time I had arrived at the pound, as they had requested.  I got something to eat,  used the pound's bathroom, and sat in my car listening to the radio.   Despite all the bright lights outside the pound, I fell asleep in the reclining seat of my car, at about 10 pm.   I awoke with a start at around 2am.  A man with a van had driven up beside me, and had scotch taped an envelope to their door.   He must be there for another dog, as I am.  Finally, despite the late hour, he spoke with me through my car window.  I wouldn't open the car window very wide and was ready to drive off, if necessary.  It was 2 am and I did not know this man.  Unfortunately, he too was there hoping to get the large male golden retriever, and was not pleased to hear that I had been there since 4:30 pm.  He was a military man and was kind and charming.  We spoke for several hours, about our kids, our spouses, and dogs and under different circumstances, I think our families would have become friends. He tried really hard to convince me that he would take good care of this dog, but alas, he had a  suburban home, with a smaller yard, and I really believed that this big wandering dog belonged on our fifty plus acres, or another farm perhaps even larger.  Also, Daniel really believed that this dog belonged with us, and I didn't want to let him down either.  Eventually, as the sun rose that morning, the man left.  He gave me his e-mail so I could let him know how the dog worked out   (I also think he wanted to get the dog should I take him home and then change my mind.)  By the time the pound reopened, I was desperate to use their bathroom, and they waited even another hour before processing the adoption.  I still had to return to get him in  several days afterward because he needed to be neutered and microchipped.   I picked him up late one afternoon as he was still groggy from anesthesia and drove the two hours back to the farm.
            We called our big behemoth of a dog Benjamin.    He stayed in the laundry room recovering from his neutering for a few days, and then he would be gradually introduced to our other dogs, alpacas, ducks and chickens.  Benjamin was already more than a year old, but he was a giant puppy.  He mouthed everything, an earmark of a dog who was likely separated from his mother before the six week mark.  He chewed everything, and did not seem to be the sharpest tool in the shed.  Daniel adored him.  He was a big lolloping dog, the type of dog who really could lick you to death.  If he jumped up on you, he really could knock you down.   The first thing he did at home, was to extract all of his own stitches.   This necessitated a trip to the highly pricey Veterinary Critical Care Center, which I swear, should have a wing named for our family, or for at least our animals.   They restapled the area, and placed him on an antibiotic.
              I made the right decision to remain in the car all night.  Benjamin loved this farm, our family and especially Daniel.  He has never once attacked a chicken or duck.   He sometimes sneaks away and gets wet and dirty at a nearby farms large pond, but usually he stays very close to us. He has never walked well on a leash.  You don't walk Benjamin. He drags you or you practically fly while he runs.  Eventually I found that a leash was the wrong thing to be using.  He does better with an alpaca lead rope with a knot on the end.   The wandering pup really did find his final home that first day.. I don't think Benjamin understood when Daniel passed.   The other dogs seemed to, but I think Benjamin has always expected him to be back.   Until then, Benjamin is content to play with three huge linked rubber rings that we will throw and he will return to us.  Benjamin remains a gentle and occasionally childlike giant.
               This has been a wetter Spring than normal, and usually when Benjamin gets wet, I don't worry much.  This year, I noticed that Benjamin was spending more time underneath a run-in my husband build for him. (Yes, just like the kind that horses have in fields, and it's a bit like a manger)     Benjamin has a place in the kennel but seldom uses it, preferring instead a life outside.   He also looked sad this week.   On Saturday, my husband and I got a chance to really take a look at him and we were shocked.   Ben is now about eight years old, and usually his fur stays nice and clean with a minimum of bathing and brushing even during molting.   This time, there was matted hair, and when we cut away the matted hair, the remaining wet hair had maggots.   We got out the dog shears we bought new and have never needed to use, only to find that they didn't work !   We decided to cut back his fur and give him a good bath.   This means that without all this hair, Benjamin will have to remain inside, because sunburn could be a problem.   It took two long sessions, but we trimmed back all the hair, cleaned the hot spots, and placed antibiotic powder on the more irritated regions.  He couldn't remain in his section in the kennel because the biting flies, which are terrible this year with all the rain, were still after him there.  He is currently lying on a sponge mattress in our garage, with a fan nearby, and a radio on.  I plan to take him to the vet today to rule out any medical problems which made him vulnerable to the insect attack in the first place.  He could have an infection of some kind, or be newly diabetic which could contribute to such an issue.

Yes, he is a big boy !

                               We're running Benjamin to the vet this morning.  I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE:   Benjamin isn't diabetic and doesn't have an obvious infection.  He does, however, have a significant and new allergy at age eight which has made a large section of his back red and raw.  He was sedated and completely shaved, and then the vet and her team scrubbed him with an antibacterial solution.  (I think it was Chlorhexidine)  They shaved him to the point of being pink and very bald !   Then, three hours later he came home with corticosteroids by mouth, a large dose of antibiotics for a number of days, an antihistamine, and he's also taking a probiotic to avoid diarrhea with the antibiotic in the event that it kills off his normal gut flora.   Sweet Benjamin isn't in his kennel, but he is lying on a soft blanket on the concrete floor of the garage, until he is feeling better.  Then it's time for major spoiling !

Monday, June 3, 2013

When Cicadas Attack !

These are photographs my daughter took and has appropriately watermarked.

  I remember seventeen years ago, this time of year very well.  Daniel had been born in May, and we were adapting to being a family of six.  These were glorious days and he was a very happy baby. I believe I heard about cicadas who were emerging in the national forest that year, but I didn't personally see or hear, even one that year.  It's funny how living in the suburbs can shield us somewhat from some of the cycles of life around us.  This year, seventeen years later, we are here on the farm, surrounded by forests, and Daniel has been to Earth and returned to God, and one of the things he successfully avoided while he was here, are the cicadas.  On this farm it will be impossible to miss them.
               Cicadas in this region are the seventeen year variety.  We first noticed them this year at our daughter's house.  She is also in a forested region.  She has taken some interesting pictures of them.  Cicadas emerge from the ground every seventeen years to a cacophony of noise which sounds like buzzing and clicking.  The noise is a drone at first, and then it becomes so loud in late evening that it is impossible to talk to anyone outside.  One of our sons said it sounds like the backdrop to a horror film just before the insects descend on the human beings.  About ten days later, the cicada noises could be heard at the farm, and if you gazed into the thick dark green areas of the forest, you can see some of them flitting around.  We noticed that the sound gets louder and louder until eventually the cicadas dig holes in the dirt, deposit their eggs and then die leaving sizable insect exoskeletons everywhere.  This process is occurring now at our daughter's home, and I would imagine, we are some days behind.

She has swarms of these she calls, "Swarmageddon"

                This morning, I was mucking the horse stalls, and in the heat, my hair was tied up into a Gibson-girl styled bun on the top of my head. All at once,  there was a loud buzzing and movement on my neck. I instinctively shrieked thinking that anything from a tree frog to a hornet was on my neck !   The horses heard my shriek from their grazing area and whinnied loudly.  "I'm okay", I told them.   Just a big cicada. I knocked it off my neck, and it flew out of the stall and away.  Later, another one flew over to me to investigate what I was doing as I emptied a giant wheelbarrow from the stables to a composted horse manure pile on the edge of a forest.  A number of them seemed to be swarming.  In general I like to know about the cycles of nature. However, this is one creature I will be happy to have gone.  God certainly was wise in not having these particular creatures emerging more often than seventeen years !


This is Julia Bentley of "Canadian Please" fame, performing "Love Will Lead You Back" acapella