Category Archives: Stacy’s Funny Farm

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!

 

Cats? What cats?

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Cats? What cats?

Kitty Hawk and Grover

I rarely mention my cats. It’s the little prey animals I care for: hamsters and doves, parakeets and gerbils, rabbits and guinea pigs. When you have chickens, you soon discover the utility of cats. Most urban poultry experiments end abruptly due to raccoons, or over time after giving up after months of watching chicken feed disappear to expanding armies of rats. Professional exterminators can rid your home of vermin, but they roll their eyes and back away from promises to rid your chicken coop of pesky rat-devils. “Barn cats” are indispensable to a farm, even a tiny urban farm.

Smokey

My first cat was a feral stray. I lived a mile from my mailbox, and that rural home came with a feral cat. I tried to trap her and failed, and she disappeared for a couple years. When I discovered her kittens in my woodpile, I fed her until I could take the little ones to Safeway in a cardboard box for “rehoming.” I had friendly mamma cat Smokey spayed and she lived outdoors until the dog left (he protected her from bears and cougars) when she moved indoors. I brought her with me to the suburbs and she lived here until her death at about 18 years old. She was what could be called an “adoptable feral stray.” My current cats are “unadoptable feral strays.” So, what’s the difference?

Kitty Hawk, pretending not to be a thug

Kitty Hawk is an unadoptable feral stray cat. The Alley Cat Project received him from the Seattle Animal Shelter where they regularly adopt out FIV+ cats. Feral cats are not adoptable (as pets), and FIV+ adds another complication. Hawk is an FIV+ feral thug. Kitty Hawk had broken into the basement of a house and fought with the resident cat in order to steal his food. Unfortunately, the other cat ended up in a veterinary hospital and the owners had Kitty Hawk sent to “the pound.” The Alley Cat Project fostered him until I contacted them in search of a “barn kitty.” He’s been here since 2011, and he arrived on my birthday! He still bites and scratches sometimes, but mostly he waits for me at the gate and rubs against my legs as I perform chores in the aviary. I discovered recently that he is diabetic and now I am out there, morning and night, injecting him with insulin and opening can after can of the most expensive cat food available. He lets the rats meander unmolested and I know now who was the true barn kitty.

Grover, looking like a kitten. He had a kittenish voice and never learned to meow like a Big Boy.

About six months later, the Alley Cat Project contacted me regarding a second feral FIV+ tomcat. By now they recognized me as a soft touch and before I could change my mind, they had dropped off Grover. Grover had been living near/at a local high school. He was friendly with other cats but would not warm up to humans. Don’t touch the Grover! Another feral FIV+ who could not be released, he was truly unadoptable. He lived in a large introduction cage until I was sure they wouldn’t fight, and eventually, he and Kitty Hawk became best buddies. They slept in a heap and the few remaining rats left the neighborhood. Grover didn’t tame down for six long years, and then he initiated “nose-bumps” and allowed me to touch his tail. He even let me comb and snip out some horrific hair mats, and I hoped some day he would let me pet him. A month ago I crammed his reluctant but distressed self into a carrier and took him to the vet where they pronounced his dental disease* too advanced for treatment. I drove home in tears without him and Kitty Hawk and I are still getting used to Life Without Grover.

Half-Stache and Larry, when he was still hiding behind her

The Alley Cat Project had been contacting me periodically in case I needed any more cats, but until now, I had two good cats, no rats in the aviary, and everything was hunky dory. But, wait, I have seen a couple rats lately. That should have been my clue that Grover wasn’t well. I certainly didn’t expect the diabetic cat to be ratting, especially since he never was any good at his job. There were two barn kitties available, did I want them? Well, no, I don’t even like cats, but two? It took me a couple minutes to think it through, but I agreed to take their two bonded but unadoptable cats. They are in an introduction cage, just like Grover was, but this one is big enough for me to crawl into. And they were here within a week of our tragic loss, distracting Kitty Hawk, giving him a new complaint, and creating enough soiled kitty litter to fill the multiplying rat holes in the aviary.

Half-Stache trying to look nonchalant

Half-Stache is a gray & white feral FIV- (un-infected) male cat with a distinguished mustache. No, wait, half a mustache! He was surrendered to the Seattle Animal Shelter because he was under-socialized and was scared and defensive when in their care. They transferred him to the Alley Cat Project so they could find him an alternative home situation, like a barn. After six months of their exceptional care, he became an affectionate friendly guy. Whenever he escaped the “catio” and got into the house, he marked the corners of the guest room in typical naughty boy fashion. That’s about as “un-adoptable” as a cat can get. But he had bonded with the other resident of the catio.

Half-Stache, playing “Hide the Treat” with me. He wants everyone to know that he likes chicken flavored “Temptations.”

Larry is a gorgeous but not particularly intellectual FIV+ female. The FIV+ males infect each other by fighting, but the females can become infected by mating. There are probably some “Larry-ettes” out there, somewhere. Public shelters generally euthanize FIV+ cats if they are also feral. The Alley Cat Project adopted her out to a nice big home with other cats and an enthusiastic caregiver. One year later, she still would not allow her owner to touch her, so the Alley Cat Project took her back. After six months of exceptional care, she was as untouchable as ever, and dumb to boot. And fat, as I discovered later. So pretty but dumb Larry and playful Half-Stache left their cozy catio and came to the Funny Farm, leaving the Alley Catio available to other feral cats with a better chance of becoming adoptable.

Larry, “master of the blank stare” as the Alley Cat Project described her

There are many cat adoption agencies out there, but most of them deal with rehoming house cats, kittens, or other “adoptable” cats. The Alley Cat Project works with ferals: trapping, neutering, and releasing them to their colonies. They rehome kittens when possible, and work with the cats who seem to have indoor pet potential. They have a few manageable cats suitable as “barn kitties.” And then there are the Conundrum Cats: sick and/or feral cats with bad habits or no apparent desire for human companionship. My first cat, Smokey is an example of a feral with indoor pet potential, though it was eight years before she would step indoors. The next four: Kitty Hawk, Grover, Half-Stache, and Larry, are Conundrum Cats. That’s what makes this a sanctuary, and not a Crazy Cat Lady situation. I don’t even like cats: they eat all the little critters I really like. (Exception for feral rats, though some of you might remember hearing about Mortimer, the old blind rat that no cat or exterminator was able to kill. I felt so sorry for him I used to feed him.)

When Larry finally emerged, I discovered that she is fat.

Dimwit Larry and gamer Half-Stache have been here a month, and you will hear about them from time to time. FIV+ and FIV- cats can be combined if they don’t fight, as it is passed only through deep bite wounds, so I will be watching closely to see that everybody gets along. It’s a struggle to undo the prejudice against FIV. Many people have FIV+ pets who live long, healthy, normal lives. Kitty Hawk’s diabetes is stabilized, with insulin and diet, and hopefully he won’t revert to his former thug-like persona and instead decide to accept the newcomers as he did Grover. His food and supplies are expensive, and so I’ll remind you about my gift shop and I have “donate” buttons all over the place. I also take donated items like insulin needles and high protein/no carbohydrate food (ask me first!). And finally, keep the Alley Cat Project in mind if you want to help out desperate cats in Seattle. You might want to poke around to see if there are any similar groups in your area.

I discovered this Larry and Half-Stache mashup tonight when I went out to give Kitty Hawk his insulin.

*FIV+ cats often succumb to dental disease, I later learned. It can be treated, but ferals like Grover are extremely difficult to handle.

Daily Drama 81 – Everybody Jumps

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Daily Drama 81 – Everybody Jumps

The neighbor’s tree started it. A rotten alder next door leapt across the fence in an attempt to reach my house. It crushed my pigeon loft, a former chicken coop donated by a fellow who dropped off his two elderly hens, Angel and Coffee Bean. The pigeons had moved in, nested, and hatched a baby before I had a chance to remove the egg during a catastrophic snowstorm. They were now loose and Phoenix gleefully greeted me at the gate when I entered the aviary that morning. The tree had rested on the top of a fence post, sparing the fence structure and panels. It touched the dove cage without marking it and reached the roof of my house, sparing the barn beneath by suspending itself neatly between the fence post and roof. Only one rebellious branch poked through the barn roof. It could have been worse, but the strategic placement of the suicidal tree meant that the bulk of the insurance check went toward tree removal. The insurance check that I received within a week of the catastrophe. Thank you. (Most insurance companies do not cover farm buildings. Does yours?)

Repairs kept us hopping. Connor had the tree carefully lifted off the farm buildings and house within a day or so of the disaster. Remik was out here the day I called him and repaired the roof the following day. The Bartender helped me construct a level foundation of concrete pavers for the new chicken coop I am using for a pigeon loft. Meanwhile, in order to discourage the rats living below the dove cage, I spread 17 bags of ready-mix concrete to make a new floor. Icky vermin had discovered that the wire sub-floor was rusted and disintegrating, providing easy access to the scattered seed the doves thoughtfully provided throughout the cage. I have a new handy source of cat poop to drop into the rat holes, and now I see the poor scavenger scurrying hither and yon, possibly homeless. (If I have cat poop, where are the cats and why aren’t they doing their job? Keep reading . . . )

Most of us have seen how goats jump up onto everything, so that’s one reason why I got sheep, instead. I didn’t want goats on the roof of my house. Sheep, as I have discovered, are jumpy, too. I started “target training” by having Charlie and Hamish “turn around.” They immediately caught on and Charlie continued to twirl long after the saltines were gone. A couple days later, I decided to try a new trick, but I was in the front yard and had no “target” handy. Training in the back yard had been so successful that I decided to throw caution to the wind and try it without the target. I asked them to stand up on their hind legs, holding the saltine aloft. They dutifully stood up, one after the other, and then the enthusiasm grew and suddenly they were jumping up for the cracker, and then jumping up on me, and then jumping up on each other, snapping at my hand and then the package of saltines tucked under my arm! The beauty of the target, you see, is that the focus is on the target, and not the hand holding the saltine. We won’t be doing tricks without the target, ever again. Hah! A couple days later, a repairmen was out to the house (a recurring theme around here) and, of course, he wanted to see the sheep. I decided to see if they would do a trick and reached for the saltine package. Before I could grab the target, they were jumping all over the place, all over me, as the repairman slowly backed toward the kitchen door, feeling behind him for the doorknob. He let himself in the door, vaguely mumbling something about how they are certainly well trained when I finally snatched up the target and re-programmed them to turn circles. Next, I’ll try something easy, like getting them onto a scale so I can weigh them.

Shetland Tree-Sheep

Princess, my beautifully behaved House-Hen (she has a heart murmur and receives meds 3x daily) has started jumping, too. She sleeps in the bathroom, but no longer in the bathtub: she jumps up to the edge and perches where she can more easily keep tabs on us during the evening. Earlier this year, we moved her to a day pen in the living room where she is nearer the kitchen flock, though she has never admitted that she is a mere bird. I am not efficient enough for her, so if I am delayed, she will choose a new bedroom for the night. Atop a curtain rod, on the capybara rabbit barrier wall, maybe the kitchen sink. The pet-sitter once found her in the fireplace. Once she is in the bathroom for the night, she generally stays put. Princess hardly ever jumps onto my shoulder when I am brushing my teeth, for instance.

She’s still sick, but stabilized, so I let her out with the other hens for Garden Party in the afternoon. Charlie the sheep quickly discovered that she would shriek and pop into the air if he put his face down at her level and took half a step forward. I had a stern talk with Charlie and he doesn’t tease her any more, though she’s still wary of him. It will be a while before they are sharing birdseed out of the same dish.

Do guinea pigs jump? Of course they do, it’s called “popcorning.” It’s like a miniature Doofus Dance. That’s not really jumping, though, is it? I’m talking about capital J-Jumping, like when one guinea pig catapults herself over a barrier into the other guinea pig cage. Sigh, it’s contagious. I have been working with Daniel Danielle since February, in hopes of moving her in with lonely Squirrel. She was too exuberant for mellow Squirrel, though, and she didn’t really get along with Brutus and Cookie Monster, either. But Danielle was was outgrowing her smaller separate cage. I finally gave up and divided the Dude Ranch into three adjacent pens: Brutus and Cookie Monster kept their section, Squirrel donated a portion of his oversized space to Danielle. My volunteer and I continued to give them floor time in neutral territory, and Cookie Monster’s “Date Nights” with Squirrel became more frequent, and we finally moved Cookie Monster in with Squirrel. I got out my slide rule, calculated the sizes of the spaces, and made adjustments to meet the minimum recommended standards. One big C&C cage divided with more wire grids. It allows them to communicate and eat together without controversy. One day last week, I went in to deliver snacks and discovered Danielle in with Squirrel and Cookie Monster. They were all milling about without concern, but I pulled her out and replaced her to her section and distributed the snacks. In the morning, she was back in with Squirrel and Cookie Monster, snack uneaten. She had jumped back over before I was down the hall. I removed the divider and Squirrel and Cookie Monster quickly investigated their new enlarged territory. I’ll recalculate the areas and fine-tune the divider between Brutus and the Three Musketeers to give Brutus a scosche more space and snug that divider up. Nobody trusts Brutus with other guinea pigs, though she is a sweetheart with people

Dobby lurks.

Grover, in better days. But wait! Who is that lurker? Behind the chair!

My mother always said “You always worry about the wrong thing.” My cat, Grover, passed away a week ago. Not the diabetic cat, Kitty Hawk, but the other one, his good buddy. I had no idea anything was wrong, but then I had him 6 years before he would let me touch his tail, though he finally did a “nose bump” with me most mornings, lately. Apparently, FIV+ ferals often succumb to dental disease, and so went poor Grover. No wonder there was increased rat activity this past couple of months. I jumped right into it, though, and got Kitty Hawk two new feral buddies from the Seattle Alley Cat Project. Larry is a dumb but pretty feral FIV+ female, so skittish she may never tame down, so another Grover-style kitty. Half-Stache has a white spot on half his upper “lip” and he’s feral, but not FIV+. He’s not adoptable due to his distinctly outdoor-only toilet habits. So Kitty Hawk has two new charming kitty friends, caged for introduction purposes. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Daily Drama 78 – The Princess in the Bathtub

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Daily Drama 78 – The Princess in the Bathtub

When I was house hunting and saw the giant Jacuzzi bathtub here, my first thought was “I can have turtles!” In fact, the tub is so big that filling it empties the water heater and the water temperature drops two or three degrees every minute the jets are on. No heater. So the kids had half a dozen friends in there a few times that first summer, but you know the rest.

Not a turtle

Princess flakes out in the bathtub.

My Mille Fleur banty hen has been living there since last October. While I was out of town, The Bartender found her hunkered down in the aviary, looking forlorn. The vet diagnosed her with a heart murmur and prescribed two medications. The heart medicine was originally prescribed for twice a day. We have since increased it to three times daily because she slept all day on twice a day. On three times a day she is walking around and even goes outdoors for a bit in the afternoon. The other medication is for her congestion (and pitiful wheezing), twice a day.

Princess makes a mess. Or two.

I used to pen her near my computer, but she creates quite a minefield.

Princess Blur came in as a young hen named Fleur almost three years ago. Her sister had passed and she was despondent in an annoyingly vocal demonstration of grief. She came here so she would have a flock and maybe not be so sad. It turns out she is just a crazy loud hen with many vocalizations I have yet to catch on video. She’s smart and sassy and has never considered laying an egg. It was about a year ago that she became ill and now she lives indoors and I thought you might be interested in what it’s like to have a hen indoors. Besides messy.

The living room pen

She spends most of her day penned in the living room.

I had surgery a while ago and that means I am in and out of the bathroom at odd hours. When she first moved indoors, Princess used to roost nicely on a dowel I placed across the top of the bathtub. Since my surgery, she has migrated to the edge of the bathtub where she can see The Bartender reading in his chair. She stays there during the night, like a prissy little vulture, waiting for an invalid to scuttle in there to be startled by her unexpected looming presence. Fool that I am, and so as not to disturb the sleeping mini-buzzard, I quietly greet her as I enter, prompting her to stretch, stand and prance along the edge until I escape. One night, half asleep in the bedroom, I heard the tiny thud that meant she had jumped down to the floor. The Bartender found her in the morning, at the doorway threshold, not quite beyond the tile floor, but cautiously short of the bedroom carpet.

Sam and the Princess

This is how you hold a miniature hen.

The early-rising Bartender gives her the morning meds. It’s easy: simply hold the tiny meds out to her on the palm of your hand and she’ll peck them off, one at a time, and Bob’s Your Uncle. Unless she isn’t in the mood and turns her head away. Or she rapidly picks one and sends the other flying (Which one did she take? What am I looking for?) or sometimes she aims between the pills and sends both flying. You have to find them because you don’t want her to find them later, eat them, and overdose.

How tiny are these pills? The 3x a day med is a tiny pale yellow tablet, about 5mm or maybe 1/4″, but then split into quarters. It looks a lot like a small fragment of cracked corn, just like the ones that litter her bathtub floor. The other one is a chewable med, for small dogs. It’s a crumbly chubby oblong chew that tends to shatter when I split it into eighths. The fragment is pale brown like a tiny angular piece of chicken poop. I’m grateful that the pharmacy can now obtain this smaller tablet: it was hellish to split the big ones into sixteenths. Anyway, the eighths are tiny and blend into the debris littering the fleece lining her bathtub floor.

Pill or poop?

Where is that darned pill?

Princess used to be so lethargic that I didn’t feel bad about letting her nap in the bathtub all morning. Once I changed her to 3x day from 2x day, she started standing around, expectantly catching my eye, singing her crazy hen songs all day. Then my post-surgery routine landed me in the living room most of the day, so now Princess has a day pen out there. She’s closer to my motley indoor kitchen flock, she can see the bird feeders outside the window, and she can chortle, squawk, and whirr at us as we walk through “her” living room, scattering feathers.

I made her a Mickey Mouse chicken diaper from a pattern I found online. She’s too little for the fancy ones I can order from them. (I should probably try pigeon diapers, instead.) Well, she hated the diaper, and when she discovered the purple plastic elephant button fasteners, she had that diaper off faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Back to the drawing board. Or back to the ex-pen.

Princess Pedestal

The weather is nice, the deck is repaired, and Princess gets to go outdoors.

For her afternoon pill, I have to lean over, folding my wretched hips and stretching to offer her the tiny yellow fragment. Then she dances and squeals, deciding whether or not to take it. My back starts to ache, my hips protest, and still she contemplates this life changing decision. I wander away to feed the cats and let the outdoor flock out for their afternoon garden party. When I return, she snatches up the pill and lets me carry her to the yard.

Garden Party Time

Princess disappears in the long grass under the apple tree. (Free rotten deck railing available. You haul.)

I don’t know why I bother. She ignores the other hens unless they peck at her, and the ducks and geese don’t exist. The squirrels are annoying and the small wild birds steal “her” food. She has her very own dustbath, though, and there are lots of bugs this summer. By 7pm, with more than two hours of daylight left, Princess is begging to come indoors. I plunk her into the bathtub, she hops up to the roost, and sashays to the side of the tub where she can spy on me as I negotiate the stairs. She’s waiting for her midnight meds.

Hot stuff

Princess basks in the sun.

She stands and greets me every time I enter the bathroom, pass the door, or talk to The Bartender within earshot. Finally, I split her final meds and sit on the edge of the tub with her. Once more, she gobbles both meds, or maybe she sulks and then gobbles, or maybe she blitzes both and sends them flying. I can hear one hit the wall. The other seems to disappear or maybe she launched it into orbit because I never heard it hit the ground. Incredibly, I have almost always found the little rascals, and she does take it when I do. But now it’s time to brush my teeth.

Get off the sink!

The bathtub is to the left, and she likes to roost on the edge these days. Unless she jumps up to the forbidden sink.

Princess Fruitcake has decided that tooth brushing is loads of fun. I once had a budgie who would fly down the hall, make an abrupt turn, and land on my elbow while I was brushing. Pesky even learned to make the sh-sh-sh sound and bob up and down. It was very distracting, but cute. Having a chicken jump onto your elbow or shoulder while you are brushing is not. So, even though she is the center of the universe all day long, while I am brushing my teeth, I turn my back and aggressively ignore her. She prances and coos plaintively. Tonight she fell off the edge of the tub and inexplicably became tangled in my pants leg. I deposited her into the tub where she dramatically dropped onto her side and looked at me with indignation. I reached down and reset her into a more appropriate upright position and she proceeded to strut and cackle as I walked out the door.

Princess Blur

Three years ago, and she hasn’t aged at all.

She was on the edge of the bathtub when I peeked in at bedtime. It would be a good night to sleep through with no nocturnal pit stops. I let The Bartender deal with her in the morning. I was outdoors at the time, but he tells me she was crowing like a rooster. For Pete’s sake, is that why she hasn’t laid any eggs?

 

Hip Hip, Hooray?

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Hip Hip, Hooray?

I don’t like to read about other people’s medical issues, so I decided not to write about mine unless it was funny. There’s nothing funny about hip replacement surgery, though, and the next person who pipes up with “Well, I heard it was easier than a knee replacement!” is going to be sorry.

My son, Sam, came to stay for a month, and was put in charge of the indoor animals: the guinea pigs, a couple cage birds, the Dojo and some guppies. Of course, The Bartender got stuck with the geese, ducks, hens, pigeons, doves, rain and muck. He also got the Chicken in the Bathtub, and her thrice daily meds. Everybody has more respect for Guinea Pig Cage Cleaning Night now.

The Bartender prunes the grapevines while I point, shout, and enjoy the sweet scent of the apple blossoms.

Pre-surgery instructions meant no pain meds, no alcohol, and I wasn’t allowed to do anything that could result in an infection, such as pruning my roses. The Bartender pruned while I verbally described the branch and node to be cut. Without alcohol. A month later we would prune the grapes, with me standing on solid ground 15′ away, shouting instructions. I still can’t venture out to see what he did, but I do miss puttering around the garden. Being stuck indoors for 6 weeks, I now know that I am no candidate for an assisted living apartment. I will die in this house, surrounded by this landscaped oasis, and an assortment of poultry or worse.

At the hospital.

Nineteen icky staples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t want to hear about the blood thinners, the appliances, the nightmares, or any details of the surgery. But there have been some funny moments. Trying to help with dinner preparation one night, I fell asleep while chopping mushrooms. Not cool when you are on blood thinners. So I was banned from knives until I was off the rat poison. All the cooking was up to the men, and that included the Guinea Pig snacks, a mountain of chopped vegetables each night. Sam baked up a storm so there were always fresh cinnamon rolls and scones with the tea he brought me. My daughter Becky spent a weekend cooking up exotic eggplant dishes that provided a week of lunches.

Seriously?

Sleep deprivation is the name of the game, and I am allowed to “sleep” only on one side. Somehow I manage to toss and turn all night in that singular position and I think that’s why my hair is broken. I look like Rod Stewart until I brush it out into a Phyllis Diller each morning. I’m afraid I am going to have to chop it all off, something I haven’t done since the 70’s. I looked like Little Orphan Annie until it grew out. I have been growing it out ever since. Asking for thoughts and prayers.

Lovely lilacs

It hasn’t been all bad. The lilacs and rhodies bloomed, indoors and out. After the blood thinners ended, I could finally spend cocktail hour out on the deck with Princess and Fat Bonnie. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and the grass is growing. Take a last look at that raunchy deck. It’s currently under renovation so that I don’t accidentally step through a hole.

And so The Bartender is currently my Chauffeur, because I can’t drive, even while I can’t drink. We go out for Physical Therapy and blood draws (to verify to what extent the Coumadin is killing me). We even went to the dentist yesterday. Excuse me, not my dentist, my periodontist. That was a shock. My charming dentist, who once closed his office and brought everyone over to meet Dobby, would not have called that a “deep cleaning.” He would have called it a major excavation, and had I known, I would have waited another week, but it is done now, and we can start counting the weeks until Step Two, which will be discounted a cool $2k by my insurance because I subjected myself to Step One. (Let’s all push for universal health care, but don’t stop hollering until we get dental care, too, okay?)

https://www.gofundme.com/gidget-the-capybara039s-dental-surgery-fund

Gidget the Capybara

And, speaking of dental work, I started a Go Fund Me for a capybara friend of mine. Little Gidget had to have her incisors removed, at a shocking cost to her owner. Capybaras are amazing animals, and Gidget is adapting nicely to grazing without her incisors. The health issues these guys can develop are unending, and veterinarians are so hard to find. The ROUS Foundation is doing what we can, but it’s hard to keep up!

In other news, a baby squirrel has prematurely left his nest. Archie (just a coincidence) is about 3/4 size, and fits neatly inside the squirrel proof cages on my bird feeders. I generally don’t see babies until they are nearly full grown. You can’t even tell they are babies until you watch them drunkenly negotiate the fence-tops, and there’s not much hurtling from treetop to treetop. Because I can only see wildlife from the windows, I have been rigging up feeders outside the bigger windows. The hummingbirds love their new swings!

Did you lose a parakeet?

Big Boy and his dirty little feet.

I also picked up a new stray, this time a parakeet from a park about 3 miles west of here. He was perched on a railroad pedestrian overpass. I’d love to find his owner, but he’s welcome to stay here, dirty feet and all. His feet look like someone took footprints in an attempt to ID him. For now, I am calling him Big Boy, in honor of the recently restored Union Pacific steam engine.

I am finally selling Dobby’s swimming pool. It has been in storage long enough. Check it out here, and tell all your friends!