Daily Drama 82 Back to School

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Daily Drama 82 Back to School

Once upon a time, my days were simple. Dobby, the ducks and hens, the cats and I had a daily routine. I’d go out to the aviary, check food and water, come back in. I let Dobby decide whether or not to help. In the afternoon, I fed the cats and secured them in their section of the barn. The ducks and hens exited the aviary for their garden party in the back yard. Everyone shared some bird seed, and then Dobby and I went to the front yard. At dusk, everyone went to bed.

Dobby was the best helper, ever. And he knew it, too.

Everything, and I do mean everything, has changed. Dobby is gone. The sheep have arrived. One cat has departed and the other has diabetes. Two new ferals have arrived. One little hen has a heart murmur and lives indoors. We recently went off daylight savings time, blasting our days into darkness before cocktail hour. The Garden Party starts shortly after lunch and there’s never enough time for me to run out during the day to do an errand. There have been enough changes lately to disrupt everything and everyone, and it seems I am constantly training and reorienting the flock.

No no no, Princess! Not on the sink again!

Princess moved indoors a year ago and gets meds 3x a day. She sleeps in the bathroom and spends her days in the living room. In the late afternoon, she goes outdoors for the garden party where she gets to be a chicken for a couple hours. In summer, I give her 4:00 meds and out we go. This time of year, I toss her out the kitchen door, feed the cats, move the sheep to the front, locate Princess for her 4:00 meds, and go back out to supervise the sheep in the front yard. At dusk I can hear her hollering for me to let her into the kitchen, so I go back there to let her in the door. The Bartender hears her cackling in the kitchen and escorts her up to the bathroom. She walks all the way through the kitchen, turns right into the hall, hops up half a flight of stairs to the bedroom, all the way coaxed by The Bartender. She stops where the bathroom tile starts and wipes her beak on the carpet until he gives up and sets her onto the edge of the bathtub. A couple minutes later he goes back in, takes her down from where she has flown up to perch on the edge of the bathroom sink, and sets her back down on the edge of the bathtub, where she sleeps. Until I wake her for her midnight meds. And clean the sink. Those fancy feathered feet pick up and carry in a lot of mud.

She really is a princess. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Princess moved indoors a year ago and gets meds 3x a day. She sleeps in the bathroom and spends her days in the living room. In the late afternoon, she goes outdoors for the garden party where she gets to be a chicken for a couple hours. In summer, I give her 4:00 meds and out we go. This time of year, I toss her out the kitchen door, feed the cats, move the sheep to the front, locate Princess for her 4:00 meds, and go back out to supervise the sheep in the front yard. At dusk I can hear her hollering for me to let her into the kitchen, so I go back there to let her in the door. The Bartender hears her cackling in the kitchen and escorts her up to the bathroom. She walks all the way through the kitchen, turns right into the hall, hops up half a flight of stairs to the bedroom, all the way coaxed by The Bartender. She stops where the bathroom tile starts and wipes her beak on the carpet until he gives up and sets her onto the edge of the bathtub. A couple minutes later he goes back in, takes her down from where she has flown up to perch on the edge of the bathroom sink, and sets her back down on the edge of the bathtub, where she sleeps. Until I wake her for her midnight meds. And clean the sink. Those fancy feathered feet pick up and carry in a lot of mud.

Poor old Kitty Hawk, before he moved into the infirmary. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Princess is fairly well trained, though we still think she can make it up to the bathroom by herself. But here I am trying to write this blog and my alarm for Kitty Hawk’s evening meds just went off. He is at my mercy for his insulin, and no amount of training can make him do it himself. This training is for me. Gone are the leisurely mornings over coffee and current events, checking my email. In order to give him insulin twice a day, evenly spaced, night owl that I am, I have chosen 9:45, AM & PM, for his injections. If I drag myself out of bed early enough, I can still enjoy my coffee and be out there for the morning “stabbing.” No, Kitty Hawk is not curled up on my couch, he’s out in the barn. Jacket on, boots on, cat food, duck lettuce and treats all ready to go. My chores take from half an hour to two hours, depending upon a million variables. It’s the evening stabbing, in the dark, that’s the most fun. That’s the one I just did. Kitty Hawk is doing okay, but lately he had a setback and is locked into the infirmary. He’s so wobbly I am afraid he’ll topple into Swimming Pool #5, currently deteriorating and barely functioning as a duck pond.

So how about the new feral cats? What kind of training do cats get? In addition to my usual chores, I spend about a half hour a day with the new cats. Considered unadoptable by the Alley Cat Project, I took them on. Half-Stache had done well with his foster owner. Before that, he had a dismal but not surprising feral response to adoption and refused to leave his cage. He was shy when he came here, but he’s been very responsive, probably because I am kind of stingy with the cat treats, so he had to beg for them. For this cat, it was an excellent strategy and we are best buddies, now. His partner, a female named Larry, had never warmed up to her previous owner or her foster. She’s so pretty, I think everyone tried to make her into a house cat. She got fat and frightened. Here, she is continuously on the prowl. She climbs trees and races around like a wild thing. I think she wanted to be an outdoor feral again, and she can be that cat here. Every day she approaches closer and closer to me, and I have even been able to pet her– under her terms, only. So there is that training, which is that both cats have trained me to allow them to approach on their own terms. On my side, I have some strict rules: they must allow me to lock them up in the cat barn during the garden party. The gates are open to allow the ducks and hens to return to the barn whenever they want to, but the kitty cats are not allowed to leave the aviary. They have been quick to learn the routine and I find them napping in there, waiting for their food, every afternoon. They have been extremely cooperative.

Hamish & Charlie (Photo by Briana Bell)

So guess who have not been cooperative? Charlie & Hamish, the ridiculous sheep. When I open the gate for Garden Party, the geese, ducks, and hens are supposed to come out into the yard, as they have been doing for almost twenty years. But the sheep are, well, intimidating, and they stand by the door. Nobody comes out. The sheep are not allowed to go in, so of course, in they go! I have some little fence panels* I arrange like chutes to keep out the sheep, but then the ducks can’t come out. So the sheep go in, then the ducks come out. Next, I race to close the barn door, because the sheep like to eat the chicken food. Dobby liked it, too, but his big schnozzola couldn’t really fit in the bin. The delicate narrow sheep noses fit perfectly. And they can eat enough chicken food in about five minutes to make them sick. Or so I have heard, but I don’t want to find out whether it’s four minutes or six.

Jump up and touch your nose, Hamish! (Photo by Briana Bell)

So the sheep are locked out of the barn, but gallivanting about in the aviary. The ducks are in the garden waiting for their birdseed and cracked corn that I have been giving them for almost twenty years. The wild mallards are patiently waiting on the roof of the house. The squirrels and crows are gathering for peanuts. The birdseed and peanuts are stored in galvanized garbage cans on the deck. I ever-so-quietly lift the lid off the can– gallopy gallopy and the sheep run out of the aviary and clatter across the deck and I suddenly have one set of ram horns under each armpit. Mind you, the birdseed and cracked corn can make them sick, too, but I can dole out a safe ration, and anyway this is for the geese, ducks, and chickens, right? I am still working on this, but I think they are training me to escort the sheep all the way to the front yard before I dole out the garden party treats. That means convincing the sheep to follow me through a gate, into the chute, through another gate, and then out another gate (this one stays open) and into the front yard. At which point I have to run back and close the middle gate. then I can open the chute so the ducks can go through. Now I can give the ducks their treats. As I lift the lid off the galvanized garbage can, I hear Baa (Charlie makes the classic sheep sound) and Aaaargh (Hamish sounds like an old man falling backwards off the top of a ladder). They heard the lid and came back from the front yard already, and are waiting for me at the closed gate. We’re still deciding who is training whom on this activity.

Charlie loves visitors. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Target training for the sheep is literally crackers, as in Saltines. They both touch their nose to the target on command, and after the training session they continue to touch their nose to it, “just in case.” Charlie does a very nice “turn around” while Hamish prefers the classic “jump up.” I’d like to weigh them, but getting them to operate independently is problematic. Using the target I can get anywhere from zero to eight feet on the scale, which is perfectly useless. I guess I need to work on “taking turns” first. I’m also working on halter training. They love to stick their mouth through the halter opening to eat crackers and are getting used to the feel of it on their head. Will I eventually be able to take them for walks? Runs, maybe. Sheep like to run and they are speedy!

Hamish thinks he is in charge, but Charlie is more patient and wins out in the end. (Photo by Briana Bell)

So, we’ve made it to the front yard, the sheep have done a few tricks and are settling down to eat the shrubbery (There’s a rumor going around that they eat grass, but so far, no.) I decide to sit down for a few minutes, close my eyes, relax. Quack quack quack! That’s my alarm going off. Time to give Princess her 4pm meds. She’s in the back yard and we are in the front. That means sneaking past the sheep and getting through that gate without them noticing. Even if I sneak in, they are always waiting for me when I head back out. And Princess? Takes her meds like a champ. She’s all trained.

Squirrel is getting a lot of attention these days. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Some events are easy and bedtime is one. Unlike human kids, animals seem to know when bedtime is, and are eager to settle in for the night. How refreshing! But I’m not through yet. Squirrel the guinea pig has toenail fungus, and needs a foot soak. I know, sounds crazy, doesn’t it, but it’s similar to ours. Soak the foot once a day for a month or two, and it might go away. He’s also losing weight for no apparent reason, so he gets a ration of oats, and he’s enthusiastic enough about the oats to sit still for the soaking while he munches away. He still likes to step on the dish and spill the soak solution, so we have a bit more training to do.

So here’s the nutshell version of the training schedule:

  • Morning cat stab
  • New cat orientation
  • New cat feeding and naptime lockup
  • Garden party shifts and treats
  • Sheep target training
  • Princess meds
  • Bedtime for outdoor birds
  • Princess bedtime
  • Squirrel foot soak
  • Evening cat stab

Hey, I’m looking for volunteers! Anyone want to come do the evening cat insulin injection? Pretty please?

*Lately I have observed Charlie calculating the height of the little fence panels and analyzing the length of the runway and landing strip on both sides. I don’t let him rest his chin there any more.

Photo Credits: Many of these photos were taken by my board member, Briana. Thank you!

 

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