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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs - Care and Respect

Cats and Dogs

During the last few weeks in the Los Alamos Daily Post I have explored the Human Factor in our "verbal" relationship with the geese, ducks and chicken of the Hen House. How much can we rely on our love of animals to carry on a meaningful relationship with them?

I've stressed the importance of repeating the same verbal phrases with body language, while doing the routine chores, like "Time for sleeping," with an open palm scooping toward the nest box. It convinces the ducks Puddles and Ms. Khaki that it's too dark to go hunting worms in dense mud with the trowel, and they should head for the sleeping area, which is their nest box (until it gets too cold in winter.)

Today the Post published my blog reviewing the related history of Boots the shepherd and her best pal, Oscar the alley cat. Check the link above, if you haven't already, and take a look at the earlier suggestions. You can get all the stories by searching on "Hen House" in the Los Alamos Daily Post.

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Spring Fire--Evacuating Dogs and Birds

Safe in the hills above Santa Fe

Spring is done. One heavy rain, and now just wind and blue skies. Better stay organized for another possible evacuation.

During the Cerro Grande Fire in the year 2000, all we had to evacuate were a turtle, a plecostomas and two swordtail fish. They didn't like being evacuated, but at last I convinced them to stay in the largest salad bowl I could find--all but the male swordtail. I couldn't catch him, and time was ticking away. A huge plume of black, orange and white smoke rose overhead.

It broke my heart to leave the male swordtail behind. We spent five anxious days glued to a TV set in a friend's house in Santa Fe, while our aquatic dependents swam around in a cooler on the front porch. The second week we took off for our daughter's home in St. Louis, while a generous pet store housed turtle and company.

Many homes were lost in that fire, but an alert helicopter pilot spotted smoke opposite our canyon and saved our neighborhood. When we arrived home, we found the male swordtail hale and hearty. The female promptly delivered hundreds of offspring.

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Being Thankful For Smiles

Another bit of wisdom from Hamilton Books.
This time it's a quote from Charles Gordy in "1001 Funniest Things Ever Said": "A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks."

DeeDee, my Pointer-Heeler after-the-fire-sale rescue dog birdsitter, smiles. Yes, she does. She's got a big one. Most dogs smile, sort of, but Dee Dee's lips curve up at both ends as her jaw drops open in a joyous, unmistakable grin. It happens when I approach the dog den (my art room). It makes her irresistible. Scooter's smile is not so obvious, but its' there, with a generous wag of her tail. Of course, some dogs don't smile with anything but their tail, but check out their eyes. It's a rare dog that doesn't add at least a quick, hopeful glance to their tail wagging.

That glance is the first thing we were told to reward in dog school. it's also the first thing to look for in a puppy up for adoption, especially if you hope to train the dog for a significant job, like bird-sitting in a yard next to a canyon where coyotes dwell. Puppy shopping also involves rolling young canines over with one hand to see if they bite you, tolerate it, or look you in the eye with a quizzical expression that says, "What's next mate? Can I go home with you?" That dog is a sure bet. He or she will care what you want and how you feel, at least, and will be a good student if rewarded for trying and never punished for coming to your call.

Smiles are a good bet for us, too, sometimes the best bet we have. Happy Thanksgiving again.

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Oops! Dogs Can Taste That Stuff

Will DeeDee defend her dish if I leave it outside?

I have tasted a little dog food. It's pretty bland. But DeeDee and Scooter have always snarfed it down as if they'd never see food again. Once, when I wanted to see if they would self-limit, I kept giving them cups to woof down, until they started heaving at cup number 8. Okay--you can't self-limit. You probably survived on your own for a week or more at age 2-3 months by eating whatever--or whenever a kind person responded to your big eyes and smudgy black and white spots.
Recently, I made the mistake of forgetting to remind the housesitter what the dogs were supposed to eat. Instead she gave them a special treat food with venison in it plus their "cookies"--dessert of three oral care knobules. Now, they won't eat their normal diet fare. Only if I leave it around all day. No matter. They are 12 years old now. They have a touch of arthritis and still do a good job "watching" the birds--turkey, Lucy the goose and all. They can eat or not, as they will, but now I know. Dogs can taste, or maybe it's just smell. Whatever. They can be as finicky as cats, if they get the chance.

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Sympathy in Birds?

They crowded around the stock tank as I lifted Toffee out, a patch of feathers missing from her neck. All of them were there--Turkey; Lucy and Bobbi, the geese; DeeDee and Scooter, the dogs; the fours ducks; and the two remaining chickens. They seemed to be responding to my cries of protest. Another hawkattack, probably, and Toffee was too heavy for the predator to carry off the prey. Would she have survived if she hadn't fallen into the stock tank?

I'll never know, but I know sympathy when I get it. The dogs offered it with nudges and licks, and Lucy honked quietly as she watched me lift the old chicken from the water. Gwendolyn and Red, the young chickens, were more interested in the treat bucket that I had set down when I discovered the tragedy. Maybe sympathy goes with a slightly larger brain. Read More 

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Birds in the Sun--The Treat Bucket

It's been beautiful lately here in New Mexico. The skies are their usual deep blue, and the sun is warm. Lucy, Bobbi and the gang hang out with the dogs near the south fence, where the sun rides over the yard all day.

Yesterday Lucy goose was asleep on the back porch when I came out to give the birds their afternoon treat of Honey Dew melon rinds. I'm afraid the door rudely bumped her awake, but she followed the treat bucket down to the pen anyway. Khaki and Mr. Campbell led the way, and Kiebler and Ms. Ritz (the little quackers) followed behind Little Bear the turkey and the two hens, Gwendolyn and Americia, whom I call Red. It works, you see--the white bucket full of goodies from the kitchen. It often includes the ducks' favorite, marginally healthy iceberg lettuce, and turkey's favorite, old bread. I highly recommend it as an easy way to get domestic birds back into the pen before dusk, or whenever you, not they, choose. The problem--no wet garbage to make compost, and no lawn that needs mowing in the xeriscaped lot.

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A Memorial and A Reminder

The reminder--Chickens are very hard to defend against chicken hawks. Cooper Hawks they are called, and their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. The whole hawk isn't much bigger than a chicken, but chickens are delicious, so hawks kill them anyway, especially when the chickens are enjoying their free range, open to the sky. Read More 

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Wild Or Domestic

What does it mean to be wild, especially for a peacock? For PP (Mr. Peacock) it means leaving the pen at dusk, with its food and water and the company of assorted domestic birds, for the wilds of 14-degree nights high up in a Ponderosa or huddled under the eaves of the hen house. Anything to avoid being shut up in a dog igloo on a nice warm bed of straw. Read More 

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Dogs and Christmas

Dogs know it's that time again. When the Christmas tree lights go on and the packages appear, they are eager to be in the living room. They smell everything--the candles, the ornaments, every package--and they know which one is theirs. But this year I made a mistake. Read More 

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A Cozy Hen House

It's been cold this week. Really cold. Single digits at night. Cold enough to freeze a hen's comb--but Red, alias Americia, alias my Rhode Island Red, is still laying beautiful brown eggs every day. The reason? A thin 21 x 13 oil-filled, radiant, panel, 400 watt (low power !! heater set on a box out of the straw, boxed in securely with chicken wire, and plugged in up high where no one can peck at the electric cord. Read More 

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