Friday, October 21, 2011

Challenges of Life with Giant Puppy

Life with giant puppy
I remember the days B.C. – before Catawba, aka "Giant Puppy."
On mornings like Monday when I found only a few crushed egg shells as ghosts of the 14 fresh eggs he ate – yes, more than a dozen! – I look back in my mind at the cute, little blonde teddy bear we adopted.
It was a May afternoon at the Catawba Valley Farmers' Market, and a little boy from New Castle came walking across the grass hugging a fluffy pup of a breed I couldn't identify. Golden doodle? Chow?
By the time the two reached me, I had locked eyes with the puppy and I was a goner.
"He's a Golden Retriever-Great Pyrenees, with maybe a little English shepherd," the young man said. And then the clincher: "Mom says if we don't find homes for them today, we'll have to take them to the SPCA."
"Well, I could do that if he doesn't fit into our family," I told myself.
Of course, I named him Catawba. And you know how it is once you name something. You're bonded, probably forever.
When we arrived home to my unsuspecting husband, Bill, I announced, "I've brought a friend for Skippy," our still-new Shihtzu-Cairn Terrier mix. My husband responded, "Is he here to stay?"
He was.
So far, the score is giant puppy 25, humans 2. In the wee hours of the morning so far, Catawba has snatched-and-chewed a library book, three of my late mother-in-law's clutch bags that were wrapped in plastic and stored (in an open shelf), a couple of magazines, the obligatory tasting of various of (my) leather sandals, my favorite half-cup measuring cup, and more.
Because I've never crate-trained a dog, I never thought how much angst that could have saved us. I also had no idea how rapidly a fluff ball would grow legs and turn into a coffee table, then a dining room table with hair, and now he's working on being a counter.
And because of his rapid height growth, Catawba can easily nose things off the counter for pre-dawn snacks. This week it was the eggs. A few weeks ago it was two sticks of butter, still in their wrappers, I had set out in a mixing bowl to soften so I could make cookies the next morning.
I am so thankful Catawba left the mixing bowl intact.
I'm sure Skippy, who can easily walk underneath his huge friend, gets some of the spoils, too. Catawba usually defers to him when it comes to chew bones, despite the size difference.
We went as far as to locate and borrow an enormous crate a month ago to confine Catawba during the night. It's still sitting empty, except for his cushion. I'm a wimp.
And once I learned to give the two dogs rawhide bones right before we go to bed, life did get more peaceful.
Sunday night I forgot the bones, and hence, the omelet without the pan. At least Catawba cleaned up after himself.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An Open Letter to My Son

(I wrote this when our first-born, Rex Bachner Hibbert, turned 30 in June 2005. Who could foresee that within 8 months I would be writing his obituary, after he was shot to death in Virginia Beach where he was a cook at an oceanside restaurant.)

Dear Rex,
Now that you’re 30 (How is that possible? I was only 4 when you were born!) I want to reflect on what you’ve added to our lives.

You made us parents. Before you, we were only a couple. When people asked if we had kids, we would answer, “Yes, we have goats.” Even though you might not recall being raised on goat’s milk, in addition to mother’s milk, you do remember our dairy goat Sassafras and the other does that shared our tiny paddock.

You taught us about fear, real bone-dissolving, gut-wrenching fear, the first time when you were 2 months old and managed to flip your “punkin seat” carrier and you onto the floor, even though I was standing only inches away at the kitchen counter next to you.

You gave me courage, too, even when I didn’t have much. When I drove on slippery, snowy roads, I had to pretend there was nothing to it. After all, you were strapped into your car seat in the back, and you expected me to keep you safe.

And you taught me patience. Sometimes in the afternoons when you were in elementary school and you were on my last nerve by doing something I had specifically told you not to do, I wanted to slap you silly – but, of course, I didn’t.

I learned from you one of the hardest lessons a parent has to learn, how to step back and let you make your own mistakes. When you dropped most of the college-bound friends you’d had since you were 2 and took up with boys we considered underachievers, I was so worried you would quit high school and father a child or two like some of them did.

You taught me faith when you were the proverbial “angry young man” who, like most teens, valued his friends’ advice more than what your mother said.

I learned to hang on to the belief if I kept on loving you through the tough times and the lines of communication open, you would come back to me.

Even though you tried your wings as far away as California and and Massachusetts, you returned. Now there is a young woman by your side as you prepare to move to the other side of Virginia.

As you turn 30, I look at the 6-foot-3-inch young man who has ideas of what he wants to do, and I smile, my first baby. You’ve become quite a man.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Big wind was a'coming

A wind shear or burst or some kind of big wind blew through downtown Salem yesterday afternoon, knocking out plate-glass windows at Charlotte's Web Antiques Mall on Main Street, and twisting and smashing half-a-dozen or so 50-year-old trees around Salem City Hall and elsewhere.

From our newspaper office on West Main Street we could see something bad coming: a really black cloud from the east near Sugar Loaf Mountain, then total whiteness as blinding rain hit. Then it was gone.

I remember the first really bad storm I was in the middle of, during those 1990s when we remembered the year by the type of weather: Blizzard of '93, Storm of '93, Ice Storm of '94, Flood of '95...before I lost rack. Anyway, it was the first week of June and I was driving south on U.S. 29 from Madison Heights in Amherst County on my way to interview families of minor league baseball players. I had noticed a dark green, almost black, layer to the west with a white strip of sky underneath. I stopped in the local drugstore to buy black-and-white film – yes, we were still using film in 35 mm cameras in those days – and in the five minutes I was inside the storm hit. Rain and wind blew those really heavy double glass doors inward. I remember store manager Ray Puckett running over and bracing himself against them to hold them closed.

By the time I got back on the road and was crossing the Carter Glass Bridge, it looked like a giant had chewed up spinach and spit it out all over the highway. Those were shredded leaves from millions of trees in Lynchburg.

The 5-minute storm had toppled at least three of the old, tall steeples on downtown churches, blown down 75-year-old trees in a west-to-east direction, and ripped off power lines. I detoured through the cemetery because roads to the baseball stadium were blocked, talked my way around fire trucks and when I got to the stadium, found the players, families and most of the staff gone, with 6 inches of hail everywhere. The outfield fence was missing sections. I learned later one of the game announcers had been trapped in the press box during the storm. It was located on the roof of the grandstand in those days, and he couldn't get to the steps to get out until after the storm blew itself out.

We lived in an all-electric house in a semi-rural area, and had no electricity for a couple of days. Without electricity, we also had no water because we were on a well. Our children took off to stay with friends, and Bill and I drove to a writers' conference at John Tyler Community College in Petersburg. Ironically, it had been postponed in March because of the Blizzard of '93.

We could track the path of the wind for at least 50 miles as we drove along Rt. 460 because of the slain trees. There was at least $35-million in damage to buildings in downtown Lynchburg. It took a couple of those churches more than two years to get their insurance claims and rebuild the steeples. But it wasn't a tornado, according to the National Weather Service. Just a wind shear.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life with puppy

It's been 16 years since we've lived with a puppy.

Savannah was our last one. After she disappeared in a blowing snow on her final adventure Jan. 8 and we never located her, we began looking for a shaggy, small dog to adopt as a companion for our 12-year-old Lhasa Apso, Hairy Dawg, who is blind.

Skippy came home with us two weeks ago. He's a black-and-white "Goodview terrier," whose daddy was a Shih Tzu and whose mother was a Cairn terrier. Think "Toto," Dorothy's dog in "The Wizard of Oz." This pup who definitely tends toward the terrier side of his family came from Goodview in Bedford County, and he's 3 months old.

We weren't looking for a puppy. Even though we had looked into adopting adult dogs at just about every shelter, checked with rescue groups, adoption websites and Craigslist postings within a 100-mile radius, almost all of them available in January and early February were big, were hounds or had a healthy "re-homing fee."

Skippy – whose original name was Billy – was the last of four puppies and his human mama, Delores, just wanted a good home for him. We set off with Hairy in the car one Sunday afternoon for a meet-and-sniff. (The dogs did the sniffing, not us.)

My husband wanted to name the pup Skippy after his first dog, a Spitz mix. Billy-Skippy doesn't seem to mind the change. He was ecstatic to have a friend to lie next to on the dog pillow in the back of the car, to sleep with in the crate for the first two nights, and to roll all over in general.

Skippy didn't know about leashes, walking on lead, housebreaking or stairs. But he didn't whimper when we put him to bed, as his original mama told us to do, "every night at 9 when I give him a hug and kiss him on the nose."

That worked the first night, once I put Hairy in with him, and might have after that if Hairy, who isn't used to being crated, hadn't decided enough was enough. Hairy started barking in the wee hours of the morning and wouldn't stop voicing his discontent over being confined with a youngun who thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

OK, so I'm a wimp. After that, we turned the two of them loose in the kitchen with a puppy gate confining them, and plenty of puppy pee pads, food, water and toys.

Hairy didn't think much of that, either. He's used to sleeping on carpet next to our bed.

His domain upstairs was puppy proof for a brief while. But Skippy, who's definitely not an alpha dog and isn't used to being alone, started barking in the middle of the night in the kitchen.

He solved that himself. Over the weekend Skippy – who was raised in a single-story mobile home – taught himself to climb stairs and scamper down again. No more crates, no more puppy gates. Still plenty of pee pads, but it's a lot easier to open the upstairs door and let the dogs outside in the fenced yard in the dark instead of trying to walk the pair of them in the middle of the night. The full moon was gorgeous, though.

Our devilishly clever plan is working. Skippy plays with Hairy's toys, lies close to him on the dog bed, and gives him somebody to follow up the stairs and out the door. The three cats have adjusted much easier than I expected, and tolerate the newcomer.

Hairy is moving around better. Maybe it's having a youngster in the house. Maybe it's the glucosamine sulfate-chondroitin I grind up and put in his food.

I think Savannah would approve of Skippy. She would be licking him.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An old dog's last adventure

How many times will I look out the front door to see if she's back? Or walk along the road calling her name and whistling?

On Saturday, our old shaggy dog Savannah went off on her last adventure. It was still dark out and snowing lightly when I let our gray-and-white Shitzu mix who had lived with us for 16 years out the front door for a few minutes on our private road. She spent her life in a fenced yard but occasionally I gave her a special treat of going by herself to our mailbox to check out the neighbors before trotting back up our driveway, with her plumed tail wagging, and a happy grin.

When she didn't come right back and the snow was coming down thick, I began calling her. She's deaf so it didn't really do any good, but I didn't know anything else to do. I followed her paw prints to the end of our walk. Then they disappeared. Just disappeared.

Throughout the day Bill and I searched surrounding woods, and called neighbors. He walked a mile down Lawyer Drive onto Wildwood and back again, looking underneath anything where she might have taken shelter.

We figure she probably just went off to die, on her own terms. These last few months I've taken to checking in the mornings to see if she was still breathing. Sixteen is old for a dog. We knew it.

She had slowed down a lot in the last year, I realized, from looking at this picture I took of her and next-door dog Mars in the snow in February 2010. When I called his mistress, Gayle, about Savannah she told me the black Chow mix had died Dec. 30 while they were all together in South Carolina. It's appropriate two mailbox buddies passed on about the same time.

Last week I noticed Savannah lying very close to Hairy Dawg, our blind 12-plus-year-old Lhasa Apso. I thought maybe she knew he was fading. Instead, she might have been telling him goodbye.

She was not an alpha dog. Youngest daughter Haley picked her out from a litter a former boyfriend's family had. Mama was a Shitzu, Daddy was a traveling man. My guess was a speckled bird dog. Savannah always did have her nose to the ground while walking on a leash. She put up with a lot. Haley dyed her lavender one time. I put a sweater on her in October and took her and Hairy to the Blessing of the Animals at St. Paul's Episcopal.

She was the one dog I brought with me when I moved to Salem 11 years ago. Bill and the other dog stayed behind in Madison Heights to go through the accumulated "stuff" of 26 years, three children and leftovers from two sets of their grandparents.

Our yard wasn't fenced then, and Savannah didn't do well alone by herself during the day. She leaped puppy gates closing her in the kitchen – the only room not carpeted – and another time nosed the kennel down the stairs until it and she was standing on her nose. So we adopted Hairy Dawg to replace Putney, our Lhasa who didn't wake up from a grand mal seizure when we were in the throes of moving.

Hairy led Savannah out and in the doors, and gave her somebody to lick and play fight. I wasn't sure how he'd do without her, but he's managing.

Two years ago on Mother's Day morning, Savannah brought me a present when I let her out the back door into the yard in the dark. It was a half-grown baby possum she dropped at my feet. It was, of course, playing possum. I picked it up by the tail. One eye blinked open, so I took it outside and freed it across the fence.

This week just after Bill and I watched the last-minute field goal by Auburn (Go, War Eagle!) to win the national championship over Oregon early Tuesday morning, a possum I've dubbed Cracker climbed onto the glass-topped table on the front deck and gobbled down the rest of the homemade cookie crumbs left for the birds. Savannah's rescue, maybe?

I'll always see her come running down the walk after one of her short adventures. This was her final adventure – one she chose.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Vans

It all started with a simple plan: borrow a van to get my pet portrait paintings and 6-foot display screens to and from Olde Salem Days on Saturday.

I should preface this with the explanation that two weeks ago my trusty 2000 Durango blew a gasket. “Blowing a gasket” was one of my Daddy’s favorite expressions. When I was growing up I didn’t know what it really meant, except that somebody was mad. In this case, the gasket is deep in deep in the Durango’s bowels, the timing cover gasket.

After taking powderpuff auto mechanics when I had a slant-6 1965 Dodge Dart, I know a fair amount about what’s where inside engines, but a timing cover gasket that causes the car to leak like a sieve and blow clouds of steam is a new one on me. I figured it was the water pump, or a stuck thermostat or something related, once I could tell it wasn’t the radiator or the hoses.

At any rate, the Durango is sidelined until I can get it fixed.

One of the main reasons I picked out a Durango was for the 6-foot-carrying space for fall craft shows, and here I was days away from my first one of the season.

I arranged to borrow a van that was beat-up but ran. My sweet husband spent a couple of hours on Friday packing the wire screens, wooden screens, boxes of my Animal Art by Meg paintings and framed ones into the van while I was at work. I was feeling so positive about the whole thing, being packed hours before Saturday morning. Hah!

At 5:30 Friday evening, I went out to start the van to drive to Salem that evening to take a photograph. Nothing. It was deader than a doornail (where did that expression come from, anyway?)

Bill had already left to teach a master’s level class in marketing at National College, and wouldn’t be home until about 10 p.m.

I started calling neighbors, and got no answer at the first three. The fourth didn’t have jumper cables. We did. Ted Lineberry generously came over to jump the old van. It wouldn’t even turn over.

He decided it was something other than the battery. I wasn’t so sure, but bummed a ride with him back to Salem and borrowed a second van.

So far, so good, even though it meant the prospect of unloading and reloading everything in the dark of night. Bill was willing, but not the happiest of campers, especially when we couldn’t get the rear door of the second van open. It opened for me two hours earlier, I promise.

So he jumped the older van with the newer one, and left it running for awhile. It started, and all was well with the world.

Until the next morning. At 6:45 a.m. when I climbed in and shut the driver’s door, it bounced back. The locking mechanism was frozen. Olde Salem Days starts whether or not you’re there to set up. Bill handed over a bungee cord, and I strapped the door closed by hooking it to the seat belt connector. I wouldn’t have tried this except that the trip was a little over 2 miles each way, and on back streets.

The old van performed just fine, except for the door. I left a note on the keys and was glad to return it to its home.

Editor’s note: My Durango is fixed, back and I am soooooooo happy to have wheels that work again. I can’t say enough good things about Rick Yopp and his Riverside Auto in Salem. Less than 24 hours after the Durango was towed to his shop, he had her fixed. – Meg

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Raccoons in the chicken yard!

There must be an invisible sign flashing over our house this summer. It reads, "Eat here!" The sign is visible only to the wild things who live in the woods: squirrels, field mice, bear and the latest, raccoons.

I wish I still thought raccoons were cute little furry critters with smiling mouths and black masks. The masks should tip you off. They're bandits, and will eat just about anything at your house they consider theirs.

Naive, trusting person that I am, at first I believed it was a possum gnawing at a corner of the extra sack of chicken laying mash we stored on the back deck after a trip to the local Big Spring Mill in Elliston. It's worth the nine-mile trip to buy two 25-pound sacks of feed there than to buy one at the local hardware store. Only one fit into the can, hence the open storage.

Somewhere along the way I figured out the culprit must be a raccoon instead of a possum. Then came the day I found an unopened sack dragged across the back yard and part-way up the hill. It still hadn't dawned on me there was an entire passel of raccoons conspiring to get that sack of feed up the hill and over the fence into the woods.

We've had six Araucana laying hens for three years and only now are we getting raccoons inside our yard. I declared war a week ago after hearing chickens screaming at 5:30 a.m. and found a mama and a half-grown raccoon head to tail, frantically trying to find a way out of the chicken coop that is a totally enclosed cube of chicken wire.

We couldn't find where they got in and they couldn't seem to remember how to get out. After rousting my sleeping husband out of bed, Bill and I finally had to open the coop door and beat on the outside wire covering to chase them out. (Of course, in between times I had gone into the coop and taken pictures of the two. Once a journalist, always a journalist.)

Bill had thwarted the varmints for more than a week by wiring a shutter horizontally along the chicken wire at ground level. Before that, one or more raccoons had been pulling up a 3-inch half-circle and going in to raid the feeder.

We've had some interesting conversations with farmers, local wildlife experts and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries since then. For instance, we found out if raccoons are not shot in the trap, which is what most chicken and geese owners I've talked with do, coons usually come back if they're not relocated more than 10 miles away.

But it's illegal in Virginia to transport raccoons unless you have proper licenses. Catch 22.
In researching raccoons and their rights in Virginia, I learned:

• There is a continuous open season to trap raccoon and several other furbearers within the incorporated limits in Roanoke County, or, according to DGIF's website, of any city or town in the Commonwealth, and in other specific counties. A very helpful young woman named Stephanie in the DGIF office out of Bedford confirmed that for me.

• Trapping laws are different than hunting laws. Depending on where they live, property owners might still have to get a kill license from the state even if they are hiring a wildlife control service.

• A person 65 or older does not need a license to trap on private property in that person's county.

Wildlife people and Barbara Leach, an Extension Service horticulture technician who frequently writes columns in our paper about gardening and garden pests, passed along some good advice:
"One of the biggest attractants is inadvertantly feeding raccoons. Leaving out dog or cat food – even bird food – or having fish ponds, streams and frogs."

Speaking of food, I also found out some of the old guys in the Roanoke Valley are partial to baiting live traps with cans of sardines to attract raccoons. The mama of our laying-mash litter is probably too smart to fall for that. For now, it's a standoff. We're keeping the extra chicken feed inside the house. Let's just hope the mama and her little ones don't manage to get a copy of our house key.