Friday, March 27, 2009

The Week in Review

What a mixed bag of weather this week - hail and winds so strong the boughs fell from trees, sunshine and an afternoon so warm I didn't need a jacket or even a sweater, icy temperatures so cold that the piggy's water dishes froze, and finally the obligatory Wet Coast rain.

Signs of spring are slowly emerging, as buds swell on trees and crocuses and daffodils pop up in unexpected places.

The fish are back in the creek, attracting herons to the pasture. Mallards are mating, checking out the pond next door for potential nesting spots. Bird songs fill the air as we walk the pasture. Robins are busy nesting - I counted eleven in the yard one morning.

In the pasture, they are busy gathering the alpaca fiber from the pathway, and the soft, soft fleece along the fence from the llama next door - such a luxurious lining for their nests!

Janice from Hearts on Noses delivered pig feed one day while I was at work (thanks, Janice!). She left behind some treats - dog cookies - for the pigs. One evening I sprinkled some liberally among some hay in the piggy yard. Sadie and Charley could obviously smell the cookies, because they would not leave that spot along the fence when I took them into the pasture for our evening walk.

Charley was quite determined to get those cookies!

And first thing next morning, Charley headed straight back to the same spot to see if the pigsters had left any:

The ever-changing weather and the lengthening day has produced some interesting light but few opportunities to capture sunrises or sunsets. Still, I cherish my morning and evening walks in the pasture, the dogs by my side.

I cherish the beautiful views, the smell of the damp earth and sweet hay, the quiet swoooosh of the creek now high with spring runoff. I cherish the squeals of the piggies as they awaken in the morning and the soft grunts and oinks and hums as they settle for the night. Those mornings, those nights, outdoors with my critters, are always the best part of my day. They are memory-making moments that I will forever hold in my heart. Leaving this little piece of heaven may be the hardest thing I have ever done.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gala fundraiser for Turtle Gardens Rescue!

Regular readers will be familiar with Turtle Gardens Animal Rescue, the only safe haven for unwanted dogs in the 250 km area from Prince George to Terrace. Turtle Gardens began in April 1988, and since its inception have adopted out over 4000 dogs, placing an average of 250 dogs per year.

One of the reasons I am a supporter of Turtle Gardens is because of its focus on rehabilitating stray and feral dogs to become social FAMILY companions who can adapt to city life. These are dogs that would have otherwise died a miserable death roaming the streets or been euthanized at the pounds. All of the dogs are vet checked, vaccinated, wormed, and spayed or neutered before going to their new homes.

Three generations of Labatte family members call Turtle Gardens their home, and are dedicated to sharing their lives with the dogs as they teach them doggy manners using only positive reinforcement and tons of patience. Turtle Gardens also runs education programs and low-cost spay and neuter programs in their unending efforts to stem the flow of homeless animals.

On Saturday April 4th , a Gala Dinner and Silent Auction is being held by a committed group of friends of Turtle Gardens to raise money for this worthy cause. The dinner is being held at the Tswassen Golf and Country Club (1595 - 52nd Street, Delta) beginning at 6:00 PM. Just $30 will get you a pasta dinner with live band, dancing and silent auction - not to mention a FUN time.
There are tons of donated items for the auction, including two nights for two at Sundance Guest Ranch complete with meals and horseback riding, a $1000 value. Can't afford to bid on that? Never fear - there are lots and lots of other great items to fit every budget and every taste.

For tickets (or to donate an item) please contact Wendy at



Please support this great rescue!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Herd of His Own

Some great networking among some llama/alpaca people has resulted in a fabulous home for Martin. What delights me is not only the home but also the efficiency with which this happened – I emailed one person in the interior whom I’ve never met but whom I knew to be involved with llamas and alpacas; he forwarded my email to several others. One of those people, in another community, emailed someone else in yet another part of B.C. And that person then emailed someone else...whose location I’ll reveal shortly....a woman who has taken in many rescued and neglected animals, including alpacas, and offered them sanctuary and excellent care. That person, four networks removed from the person I originally emailed, contacted me to offer Martin a home.

We had several email discussions back and forth as I pummeled her with questions, asked for her thoughts on issues, and generally became confident that she and I shared a similar philosophy of animal stewardship. We discussed the best time to geld him, to shear him, to transport him, to introduce him to other alpacas. We discussed his vaccinations, his teeth and his toes. We talked about his personality and his history. And this weekend, I drove out to her farm to meet her, to see her animals, and most of all to watch how she interacted with them. And I liked what I saw!

I took my friend Else with me, a woman who grew up in farm country and who does homechecks for rescues, to help ensure that my assessment of the potential home was objective and not driven by the sense of “OMG I need to find a place for him!!!” I wanted to consider the caregiver, the animals in her care, the facilities, the commitment.......the whole kit and caboodle. That’s what a homecheck is all about – the fit between the animal needing care and the person/place offering it.

I liked Judy at first handshake – a friendly, down-to-earth sorta person with a welcoming smile and an obvious love of animals. I liked the setup – eight acres of rolling hills and tall trees, a pond, a barn and several shelters, small pens and larger pens, and lots of open pasture.

And I loved the animals. My heart melted when three-legged Jasper, a German Shepherd adopted from a rescue group some years ago, nuzzled my neck with his nose. It melted some more as three more rescue dogs emerged from various rooms to greet me, as well as a couple of rescued cats.

Then we headed outdoors, to meet the rest of Judy's multi-species family. I met the sheep – one rescued, and another obtained to keep the first one company. I met the goats, again including rescues. I met the four ducks who keep the bugs down and who astounded me with their beautiful varied colours (were they Muskovies? I can’t recall the breed!), and I heard the turkeys and saw the pleasure on Judy’s face when her friend brought her a just-laid turkey egg, the first, still warm to the touch. I met the two llamas, one of whom insisted on standing up on the fence railing to get a better look.

As we approached the pasture, Judy called for "the boys" - Martin's future alpaca family. And very quickly, their topknots appeared over the hill – first one, then another, then another, then a few more – all different colours, all obviously happy and healthy and fond of their caregiver. They range in age from 18 months to 13 years, and several are rescues. All but the youngest are gelded, and he will be done when he reaches 2 years of age. Judy introduced each one by name and told me about each personality. We talked about Martin and about alpacas in general. And I looked at the herd and knew, in my heart, this was the right home for my boy. My friend Else agreed wholeheartedly – we could not wish for a better place for him.

And so, on May 9th, almost six weeks after Martin gets the big snip (enough time for the testosterone to begin its decline), Judy and her friend Winnie will come to pick him up. He will travel home in style – in the back of her comfortable passenger van. He will spend a week in the paddock next to his new alpaca family, where he can see and hear and smell them over the fence. Then they will all be sheared, including Martin, and as they each come out of the shearing paddock, they will be released into the big field. Alpacas do not recognize each other after they’ve been sheared – their look of astonishment as they look at each other is quite comical - so shearing time is the ideal time to add a new member to their family. With other alpacas for company, and green grass to munch, and trees for shade and structures for warmth, that is where he shall live his life.

And just where is Martin’s new home to be, you ask? Less than half an hour from my new home on Vancouver Island. And yes, I have a standing invitation to visit him any time.

I love happily-ever-after endings.

The universe is unfolding as it should.


Writtened By Oliver

This weekend our mama took Belle an me on an adventure. We wazn’t too sure about this, cuz she left our sisters behind an she loaded the car wiv stuff like books an’ furniture – not stuff ya need fer a walk on the dike!

But we loves car rides, so we said OKAY!

I gotta tell ya, Princess Belle is a bit of a ……well……um……a bit of a PRINCESS. My mama put her in the car on one side of the back seat (which was made all safe so we couldn’t fall off!), and then put me in the other side. Well, the Princess didn’t wanna share!!! She snapped at me – now you tell me, waz that nice of her???? That girl has sheltitude! Me, I’m just a nice easygoing guy.

Mama finally had to solve the problem by putting our rainjackets between the two of us so Belle would quit pickin on me. I stayed on my side and she stayed on her side. But she still made faces at me:

We went on a big boat. I remember the big boat – the last time I was on one was when I first came to my Mama Jean. When I saw the boat this time, I was wondering what was up!

Our mama explained that we is all going to move in a couple of months. And Belle and I are speshul ‘cuz Mama’s showing us the house before she shows our sisters Charley and Sadie. We likes it – it is SPRING there! We saw all these flowers in the front of our new house:

Belle decided she liked the back yard – she trotted right over to the grass and lay down. She wasn’t even interested in coming indoors!

Mama sez I’m not to show the picture of the shed in the back yard, ‘cuz The Piggy Lady might get ideas……

But guess what??? There’s already a piggy at our new house! Auntie Else says he is our guard pig, looking after the place ‘til we move in.

He thinks he might like the shed. That's okay wiv us, 'cuz the back yard’s not big enough for all The Piggy Lady’s piggies!

Auntie Else came over to meet us, and then we all went for a ride in the car again, and then for a walk on a trail. Later, mama took us for a walk around our new neighbourhood too. Belle and I don’t think much of walks when we hasta keep mama on a leash so she don’t get lost. We like our pasture better. But mama sez we’ll get used to it. Right now, mama sez we “dawdle”. I think that means we drag behind and then we park our butts on the sidewalk and won’t move. Mama was getting a wee bit frustrated wiv us sometimes I think. Maybe she shud bring homemade liver brownies to bribe us with! Does Belle look happy here?

Then we got to have a sleepover. We each found a bed – I got the travel crate and Belle took the basket and Mama made a bed for herselfs on the floor. At least, that’s where we each were at 10:00 PM.

But at 1:00 AM, Mama woke up and – hehehehehheh – found me snuggled on her bed beside her. I like it when mama’s bed is down on the floor!

The next day we went for another, walk.... around town and then got back in the car for the trip home. Princess Belle fell fast asleep so I put my head on her side of the seat! Heheheheheheh! I am such a big tease!

So now we are home again, at our old house. Charley kept sniffin me to find out where I’d been.

Mama sez maybe next trip she will take all four of us. I dunno – mama’s funny floor bed isn’t very big and Sadie and Charley are pretty big dogs. Mama might hafta sleep in my travel crate instead.

Mama sez I hasta get off the computer now because she haz anuver story to tell.

Love, Oliver. XXOOXOX

Friday, March 20, 2009

What? No new entry all week????

Oops, sorry.......Rain isn't the best setting for taking pictures of happy critters, and the last month of the semester isn't the best time for creative writing. I marked 72 essays this week, and just calculated that in the next five weeks I have 142 more essays to mark, 3 exams to make up, 30 hours of lecture to present, and 108 final exams to grade. UGH. Part of me wants time to FLY so the semester will be over and I can begin packing in earnest, and part of me is in panic mode thinking of all the paid-work stuff I still have to do.

I'm off on another quick trip to the island this weekend. This time I'm taking the two little dogs with me as I start to get them familiar with their soon-to-be new home. I will get to sleep in my new house for the first time, albeit on a foamy on the floor! It will be interesting to see Belle's and Oliver's reaction to having me sleep at ground-level. They already have some dog beds over there, but I wonder if I will have two little shelties snuggling up to me at night?

Once again, Ellen will be piggy, alpaca, cat, and big dog sitting for me. I am so deeply indebted to her I cannot possibly repay her for all she has done. Oh.....I know! I'll leave all the critters to her in my will. They are, after all, PRICELESS!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Snouties Up!

Ellen brought strawberries for the pigs on Friday, which led to this photo of eager piggies awaiting their treat. The one character who is not focused on the treat is Whisper, the piggy who was the first to bond with me. He's probably keeping an eye on me to see if I have anything even more yummalicious than strawberries - let's just say he's a weeeeeee bit spoiled! Or maybe he's just a [Foster] Mama's boy - he even hangs around getting underfoot when I'm cleaning the stall. He's my little velcro buddy!
(You can click on the image to better see their adorable - and adoring - little faces! Then use the back browser to return to the blog)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Whippet Boyz

Cisco, March 2009

The other day, when a friend and I were discussing our favourite breeds of dogs, my thoughts turned to my friend Ellen's dogs, Kinley and Cisco, whom I affectionately call "The Whippet Boyz."

I have always been attracted to fairly large chunky short-haired dogs like labs and pittis – perhaps because I am rather chunky and short-haired myself. That is not to say that I don’t love all four of my very hairy crew, none of which are particularly chunky. I suppose I could say all four chose me, as was the case with previous non-chunky, long haired dogs I have adopted. I came by them in an unplanned, serendipitous way, mostly through rescue. The only two dogs who have fit my stereotype of those I am attracted to – Emma and Caleb – were with me for less than a year. (Hmmmm......there must be a message in that, somewhere).

Conversely, I have always been almost repulsed by the ultra-skinny breeds like greyhounds and whippets – anorexic dogs whose ribs are exposed and who look like someone forgot to feed them for the past month. Or maybe, like my reaction to ultra-skinny people who without speaking seem to question my food choices, I just feared I would be judged and rejected by them.

But, of course, dogs don’t care if we are appetizer-sized or super-sized. They may fear the person who is angry or cruel, they may protect the person who takes care of their needs, but they don’t judge a human for their size.

When Ellen adopted Kinley, I thought “What the heck does she see in him?” Yet despite his skinny little body and youthful exuberance (or perhaps because of it) he has grown on me.

Kinley in snow

But it wasn’t until she adopted 11 year old Cisco that I felt my heart turn to mush for the breed I never thought I’d like.


And then Patience Renzulli, a self-described servant to her own eight whippets, has made me laugh and cry with her stories on her blog and has made her crew so real to me that I feel I would know them if we ever met. And through her stories, I have come to appreciate the many skills and qualities of the breed. Check out this story of Sam-I-Am, attending a women’s shelter as a therapy dog.

I really doubt I will ever adopt a whippet, though, because I just know I would be driven to fatten them up until they looked more like rotund labs with pointy noses. And that probably wouldn’t be the least bit healthy for them. Oh course, if I adopted one like Kinley, who clearly reads food labels carefully for their nutritional values, I might actually lose some weight myself:

Kinley reading the ingredient list

In writing this piece, I actually came to the realization that whippets no longer look anorexic to me. Instead, I see only their shy sweet gaze, their smooth aerodynamic form, their long legs all folded into themselves, their caring hearts. They are beautiful dogs, inside and out. Kinley and Cisco, thanks for being part of my life.

Cisco napping



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Odd Couple

I was going to call this post "The Most Magical Moment of the Year", but as we are only into the third month, that might be a bit precipitous. But it is certainly the most magical moment so far this month!

Just as I was leaving for work this morning, I glanced over at the pasture to where Martin was sitting, alpaca version ( legs folded neatly under him, long neck stretched upward) in the sunshine in the middle of the path. I am used to seeing him there - he likes to stare at the house, watching my comings and goings in case I should venture into his pen with some treats.

But this time, I did a double take - there, beside his cream and tawny head, was a second head - the two heads nuzzling noses and sniffing the air, bodies side by side, necks rubbing necks.

Eyes watering from the bitterly cold wind, I momentarily thought someone had dumped a cria (a baby alpaca) on my property. Wiping my glasses and my eyes, I realized Martin was cocooning with a friend of a different species - the canine species.

Yes, there in the pasture, Martin and a feral canine were having a tete-a-tete, with no sounds of alarm, no signs of stress, no indicators that this was anything but a friendly little greeting.

I'm not really sure who Martin's companion was, whether coyote or wolf or feral dog/hybrid. I don't think it was Brazen Coyote, unless his coat has drastically changed colour in the past couple of weeks. Brazen has distinctive reddish tinges on his legs and tail and multiple shades reminiscent of autumn leaves on his torso, whereas this canine was mostly white belly and legs and chin, with grey back, tail and head. With very long legs, he (or she?) looked larger than a coyote, yet not as large as the wolf who visited this winter, and lacked the distinctive face mask of the feral malamute cross who roams this area.

My friend Nancy was here, and I signalled to her to come see, wanting not only to share the magic moment but also to have someone to witness that the snuggling was not a figment of my imagination. I tried to move in for a photo, but our movements attracted their attention, and Martin's mystery guest moved off with the sinewy cat-like fluidity of a coyote rather than the more dog-like lope of the wolf.

Obviously the canine was no stranger to our pasture, or Martin would not have been so calm. He sounds the alarm and rises to his feet any time a strange dog is in or near the pasture unless I am right by the dog's side. Only with the coyotes is Martin so at ease.

Two fuzzy faces of two natural foes- checking each other out with nary a sign of animosity.

Magic. Pure magic.

Nature's antidote to stress

View from campus

I have always had a love affair with the ocean – growing up in a coastal town, spending many happy days at the beach first with family and later with peers, walking the railway tracks (gulp – did we really do such a dangerous thing?) from White Rock to Crescent Beach and back again as we chatted about romance and school and parents and friends.

But I’m a fickle lover, and simultaneously I’ve had a love affair with the mountains since childhood – watching Mt. Baker from my childhood bedroom window, then hiking and camping and backpacking in the mountains any chance I got.

When I taught in the southern, treed part of the Northwest Territories, I remember chatting with some Inuit students from the high Arctic, who so very much missed the wide open landscapes of their home. They felt trapped by the tall trees everywhere, and when I commented on their beauty, I distinctly remember one young man wailing in frustration, “But you can’t see the LAND!”

It has only been in my adult life that I have come to appreciate those sentiments as I fell in love with the flat lands of the Canadian prairies, golden grains bending in unison, the chorus line of nature taking its bow. I fell in love, too, with the hot sage-covered hills and multitude of hidden lakes in the Okanagan region of B.C., and with the hot, dry, desert-like interior of Washington State around Ephrata and Moses Lake where I once spent many a day while my now-ex flew gliders cross-country.

And now I recognize that I am just besotted by nature – I love the outdoors, the diversity of landscapes in this beautiful country, the seasonal changes, the unique experience each region, each season, brings to my life.

Yesterday it was my old friend, Mt. Baker, that called to me as it so often does. Arriving late at university, I’d had to park on the other side of campus from my usual place. Walking back across campus at the end of the day, I was thankful I had my camera in my bag. Though not as impressive as it sometimes is when sunset casts a rose-and-golden glow across its snowy coat, Mt. Baker was still a breath-taking, awe-inspiring sight.

Who needs trips to the spa or little round pills when nature provides such an amazing antidote to the stresses of the workaday world?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Magic Moments and Everyday Adventures

Magic moments mixed with everyday adventures - that is the stuff of life with the critters. A ruckus in the neighbour's chicken pen sent me flying to the pasture fence, expecting to see a coyote in with the hens. Instead, I startled a large beautiful hawk, who took off with chicken feathers in his talons but no dinner.

A glance across the road to spot a lovely bald eagle perched at the very tip of a tree - too far to catch with the camera, but close enough to admire his beauty.

A flicker industriously pulling grubs from the dirt by the well - she flies away, displaying her gorgeous orange tail underfeathers and speckled breast.

A coyote, wrong colouring to be Brazen coyote and far more reserved, wanders through the pasture right past Marten, who lies on the path watching the world go by, completely unperturbed by the coyote's presence.

Green shoots of new growth poking up along the edge of the stream. The stream is clogged with winter grasses - I must clear it a bit for the pan-sized fish that will soon be trying to make their way through.

A silver morning, as a light dusting of snow covers everything, while the clouds change from grey to rose and finally drift away leaving a clear blue sky.

Piggies by the gate, watching as I unload hay and feed, hoping that somewhere in the back of the truck are some special treats for them. They are right - I bagged a bunch of too-soft tomatoes and some other yummies from my produce place.

Not all the piggies came out - Papa Scotch and youngster Rickey were busy napping. They have become a bonded pair - Rickey sleeps right next to Scotch or between Scotch and Soda, and is the only piggy to get to eat from his Papa's tray.

A fun time in the pasture with the dogs - Charley and Sadie tearing around after each other, rolling and playing bitey face in the crisp spring weather. Their recall is improving rapidly - a quick whistle and a wave of the treat bag as Sadie and Charley tore off after a coyote in the field this morning, and they both instantly turned about and raced back towards me. What a thrill to see my work with them pay off under those conditions - they got a jackpot of dried liver treats for their quick response.

Sadie turns out to be VERY treat motivated. I was trying to get a photo of all four dogs with noses raised, waiting for treats. I stood on the bench at the top of the hill to get a better angle when - whooops - Sadie showed me she is also a champion highjumper where treats are concerned. So first I got this shot:

And then this shot:

And by then, all the dogs had realized what was going on and wanted to make sure they didn't miss out on the action:

One of the challenges of working on Sadie's recall is that she doesn't leave my side if she knows there are treats in my pocket:

I call this one "Snobby Dogs" - just look at those noses in the air!

Oliver usually has such a serious face, but today I caught him laughing:

Frosty noses:

And a few more doggy shots - they look so nice after a trip to the groomers on Friday:

I'm happy for the return of daylight savings time - less rush to get the barn guys to bed, more time for evening walks and sunset watching. Now if only spring would arrive full force!