Friday, September 04, 2020

An Update On The Menagerie - Phoenix


It’s been a while since I’ve written anything so I thought, as my last post was devoted to the oldest member of the menagerie, I’d catch everyone up on the state of the nation at Spring Rock.  All inhabitants are well and happy and most of the furred or feathered varieties are as loony as ever.

Phoenix, my beautiful red rooster, is still ageing disgracefully and spending most of his time in his bachelor quarters trying to entice any hen who wanders close enough to the chicken wire barrier, in there with him.  His strategy is based on the hens’ never ending quest for tasty morsels.  Phoenix struts around his yard making little clucking sounds, picking up imaginary bits of choice food and offers to share with the girls.  He’s been trying this, what can only be called a scam, for quite a while now and the girls now ignore his offers of gourmet worms or seeds, knowing they are empty promises.  Sadly, when Phoenix has his time out in the yard with everyone, even when he genuinely finds some tasty treat, the girls just show him a cold shoulder. 

Phoenix has always been of the opinion that the world would be a better, brighter place with fewer roosters in it, himself excepted of course.  With this goal in mind Phoenix has always set about his rooster eradication plan as soon as a new boy comes to stay.  This is one of the reasons Phoenix lives in his bachelor quarters.  The other reason being that when Phoenix shares quarters with chooks 24 hours a day he becomes a most unpleasant fellow, attacking anyone who dares enter the chook yard.  While living in the bachelor quarters, and only spending a few hours a day out in the garden, Phoenix is a pussy cat.  I can pick him up, stroke his wattles and generally have a safe and friendly time with him, unlike if I tried the same thing when he’s in his Mr Hyde mode when living with the girls.  I’m lucky if I escape without bleeding shins after he’s come and me talons first.  Despite this personality flaw I love Phoenix to bits. Phoenix sees me as his girl when he doesn’t have feathery girls, but when he’s with the hens it’s all bets off and he acts as if we’ve never met before.

I know Phoenix sees me as his girl because when I enter his yard he immediately starts his picking up imaginary food routine.  He'll sometimes pick  up a stick and dance up to me and lay it at my feet inviting me to admire it (or possibly eat it - who knows what goes on in that fevered little brain).  After the invisible food or stick offering Phoenix will then do a little dance around me, quietly clucking away and showing off his beautiful plumage.  I then pick him up and sit down with Phoenix on my lap.  This is when the wattle stroking begins.  Phoenix has been known to drop off to blissful sleep during this time, but usually he just sits on my lap and enjoys the wattle massage.

When out and about in the afternoon Phoenix, faced with a bunch of hard hearted chooks who don't believe he has tasty food to offer, had to devise a new “Get A Girl Plan”.  He has perfected his plan over the weeks and now has it down pat.  I let D’Artagnan and nine of the girls out each afternoon after locking up the puppies (George and Emu, the Chinese Silky hens, refuse to leave their little safe house yard so I give them all the scraps and treats to make up for being shut ins).  Phoenix remains in his bachelor quarters until D’Artagnan has a head start away from the chook yard, otherwise Phoenix will pick a fight with the poor fellow as soon as he’s out of my reach.  D’Artagnan is a rooster of peace.  He’s twice Phoenix’s size but prefers to take the pacifists path in life if he possibly can. 

Phoenix’s plan is a simple one.  As soon as he is let out of his yard he races out to the garden, looks around for any young ladies separated from the main flock and cuts them from the herd.  Sometimes he has to content himself with just the one straggler, but on other occasions his luck is in and he might get as many as three or four of the girls to himself.  He then has to keep their interest and stop them joining up with D’Artagnan and the rest of the girls and I must admit, this keeps him rather busy, heading off any hen that tries to make a break for the other group, but he seems happy enough with his mini-harem, even if the girls are there by gentle duress.

The rest of the chook yard inhabitants lead relatively quiet, simple lives, lining up at the gate like hungry children in a canteen queue around 3.00 each afternoon.  That is when I usually lock the dogs in the laundry and open the chook yard gate.  Rounding up in the afternoons can be a bit of a trial.  Most come quietly, accepting the inevitability of returning to the safe confines of the yard.  The two Hamburg pullets like to play dumb no matter how many times they are herded towards the open gate.  They manage to veer right or left at the very last minute and head off into the garden again, clucking madly and trying to leave the impression that they thought being locked up of a night was optional, not mandatory.  I patiently round them up and try again and again, my patience admittedly wearing thin at times with threats about feather dusters being made.  I don’t fool them one bit I’m afraid.  They trade on being young and inexperienced and milk it for all it’s worth. 

I have to round Phoenix up and put him in his bachelor quarters before D'Artagnan will walk through the gate.  He knows that, should he be foolhardy enough to enter the yard before Phoenix is gaoled once again, Phoenix will go on the attack, and if there's one thing D'Artagnan wants to avoid it's getting into a rooster fight.  Phoenix tends to behave as if he believes he now owns the chook yard and sees no reason why D'Aragnan can't have the bachelor quarters (if I insist that D'Artagnan needs to remain alive).  He, Phoenix, struts around the yard, or if it's near sunset, ensconces himself in the shelter with the girls.  Once I pick Phoenix up and put him in his quarter D'Artagnan strolls into the yard and behaves like he would have walked in earlier, despite Phoenix's presence, but he had pressing business outside.

The other part of locking up the poultry of a night is the drakes Adonis, Ares, Darcy and Beaky (the last drake named by Elliott ages four).  These four boys like to settle down early in the afternoon and find what they consider to be safe hiding place.  This is usually up against a fence where any enterprising fox would have a field day later in the night (can you have a field day at night?).  They usually choose the same hiding spot a few days in a row, but then move on to another secret spot.  This means that more often than not I have to roam around my very large yard calling, "Duck, duck, duck," until I find them.  Usually it's not too difficult because the boys are incapable of no answering me.  They immediately start quacking softly to each other (I think they might be telling each other to say quiet so they aren't discovered) and I track down the source of the quacks.  I then walk them back to the chook yard and nine times out of ten they come quietly.  The tenth time usually ends up with a similar situation as with the Hamburg pullets and I have to try and try again to encourage the suddenly confused drakes through the gate.

Eventually I get all inhabitants of the chook pen into the yard and if things are going well I do a head count that goes something like this, “Three, three, two, one, one, one, four,” and I’m happy (three Faverolle hens, three Sussex hens, two Hamburg pullets, one Bunny (Easter Egger hen), one D’Artagnan, one Phoenix and four drakes.  Graeme is inclined to shake his head at my unusual counting method, but it works for me.

Sunday, June 07, 2020


Tristan turned 17 at the end of last year.  He has grown into a very sedate, dignified old gentleman and these days, spends his time sleeping on a little bed I’ve made for him on the lounge. He occasionally generously shares this bed with Ambrosia or Nefertiti, but I believe he prefers to while his days away snoozing by himself.   The younger generation can be far too energetic for him – washing their paws or sometimes his face while all he wants to do is catch up on hard earned sleep.

                                                                 Tristan aged 8 weeks.

Tristan came to live with us in January 2003.  During one of our craft days here I’d mentioned to my friends that I hadn’t owned a ginger cat since I was a child and I’d really like to own another one someday.  Aileen, my friend and neighbour, remembered that comment and soon after asked me if I really did want a ginger cat.  My answer was a quick yes.  Aileen then told me her daughter’s cat had had an illicit liaison (my words, not Aileen’s) with a feral tom cat and the result, as it inevitably is, was a batch of kittens.  Among the kitten population was a ginger tom and he was mine if I wanted him.    

After he was weaned Aileen brought him to the next craft day and I became the proud owner of the second ginger cat in my life.  My first ginger cat came into my life when I was a child.  We named him Meggsy, after a comic strip of the time called Ginger Meggs.  Meggsy grew up to be a huge cat who we all adored.  I had high hopes that this little scrap, who fitted comfortably in my hand at the moment, would do likewise.  I named him Tristan to keep the Arthurian theme going with my cats - Guinevere and Lancelot were still in residence at the time.  Their opinion of this little ginger scrap was decidedly negative.  They felt that the house operated well on a two cat basis and saw no need to over populate the house with an excess redhead.

I’d like to say that their attitude towards Tristan changed as time went on, but although they tolerated his presence, they were never friendly towards him.  If Guinevere or Lancelot was in a bad mood poor Tristan was likely to be swatted around the head as a welcome if he tried to lie down beside them.  Tristan grew to be twice Guinevere’s size, but she still remained the boss.  Tristan made sure he kept out of swatting range and Guinevere commanded the best spots on the lounge room floor.  I’d made a cat pillow big enough for three to put in front of the heater with the idea that they could all snuggle up and keep warm.  In the end I had to make a single size pillow for Tristan because he wasn’t allowed on the larger pillow.  There were times when even this didn’t work, as you can see in the photo, when one or other of the two older cats wouldn’t even let Tristan lie on that pillow.

Guinevere (left) and Lancelot keeping Tristan in his place.

Tristan didn’t care about the two older cats really.  As soon as he joined the family he found the person he loved the most and spent all his time as a kitten trying to convince Graeme that he should pick Tristan up and shower him with pats.  Graeme couldn’t sit down anywhere without a cute little ginger kitten sitting on his lap and looking up at him with adoring eyes.  Tristan won Graeme over in a very short space of time, but he really had an unfair advantage with all that cuteness working in his favour.  While Graeme is not an animal person I know he still has a soft spot for Tristan.  I hear him talking to our ginger fellow from time to time and Graeme always has a pat for the old boy these days.

For a while it looked like Tristan was going to be the only sane animal in the Spring Rock menagerie but it didn’t take long for the general lunacy among the four legged population to rub off on him.  He’d often spend quite a bit of time channelling Meerkats for no particular reason.  At first I wondered what he was looking at, all stretched up like that on the floor, but our windows were too high for him to be trying to look out of them, and there really wasn’t anything else in the room interesting enough to explain Tristan’s strange sitting position.  As with all my pets’ loony behaviour, I just let him be – if it made him happy to sit like that then so be it.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Meerkat pose.  Age and old bones makes sitting up like that very difficult I imagine.

          Tristan doing the Meerkat thing.

Another of Tristan’s youthful eccentricities was his habit as a young cat to sulk with his face turned towards the wall.  If I scolded him for some wrong doing, or Lancelot or Guinevere has been particularly severe in their name calling, Tristan would walk over to the wall near the lounge room doorway, turn to face the wall and then sit there staring at it for quite a while.  After Lancelot and Guinevere died Tristan stopped this peculiar habit.  I like to think that this was because he was now the senior cat and felt he had to set a good example for the kittens, Ambrosia and Guinevere.

When these two kittens arrived at Spring Rock Tristan was six years old – a similar age to what Guinevere and Lancelot had been when Tristan arrived on the scene.  I worried that history would repeat itself and Tristan would shun the new arrivals, but thankfully he gave each kitten a sniff and a lick on the face and promised to be their friend for life.  He has never gone back on his word.  Like all siblings, there might be the odd argument or even a heated battle, but once it blows over they are friends again.  He didn’t welcome Venus with the same live and let live policy I’m afraid.  Of course this might have had something to do with the fact that the first time he met Venus she was still basically feral and in season.  To say she was grumpy was putting it mildly!  She was against the existence of almost every living creature on Earth and was more than happy to prove it.  When she muscled her way into the house one day Tristan met her at the door and offered a friendly nose rub, despite Ambrosia and Guinevere, mumbling obscenities in the background.  Venus lulled Tristan into a false sense of security by returning the nose bump and looking the picture of innocence.  Then, when Tristan turned his back on her, she jumped him, landing on his back with her teeth firmly planted in his neck.  After that memorable first meeting Tristan preferred to give Venus a wide berth if she came into the house. 

Once Venus became a domesticated cat she found the three residents could hold a grudge for a very long time.  They remained unforgiving of her bad behaviour during her hormonal state.  Ambrosia and Guinevere said it with teeth, claws and bad language, while Tristan settled for just a low growl and leaving the room if he found Venus in residence.  Tristan was the first to unbend and tolerate Venus’ presence, but none of the three cats have ever unbent enough to extend a friendly paw to Venus.  We live in a state of armed truce here now.

As a young, energetic cat Tristan used to like to roam over the farm, often staying away for a night or two, or on a couple of memorable occasions, for a week or two!  He spent this time going down rabbit holes and generally making himself a nuisance with the rabbits in the area.  We knew this because he would return home with his ears covered in rabbit fleas.  His ears would be black with them.  Rabbit fleas seem to behave more like ticks than fleas, for which I am truly grateful.  They’d burrow in to Tristan’s ears and stay put until Graeme and I had a long flea removing session with Tristan.  I knew Tristan fully expected us to do something about the annoying fleas, because as soon as he came home he’d sit on my lap and stare at Graeme until the tweezers appeared and we got to work.  Once the job was done, Tristan would thank us and then go find somewhere for a peaceful, flea free nap.

As he got older Tristan’s forays outside have become fewer and fewer.   These days he might stand at the front door and ask to go out every now and then but it doesn’t take much for him to change his mind.  I’ll open the door and wait while Tristan looks out, whiskers bristling forward while he debates the issue or going or staying.  Unless the weather outside is perfect Tristan will back up and tell me he’s changed his mind.  He always has a look of regret on his face, remembering the days of his youth when nothing would prevent his spirit of adventure calling him outside.  When he does go out these days he rarely wanders off the front veranda and only stays out for a few minutes.  We all slow down when we get older and Tristan is no exception.

Tristan is now showing signs of arthritis and I’m waiting for the Covid-19 virus to abate so I can take him to the vets’ to see what can be done for him.  In the meantime I bought a grooming glove so I can groom the parts of his body he can’t reach (down near base of the tail and along his spine mostly). Thus Tristan’s beautiful ginger coat is maintained.  I’ve recently bought him a pet heat pad, on which he can spend his days napping in warm comfort.  I’ve placed it on the lounge on top of a couple of folded quilts with a faux fur throw over it for added comfort.  It’s Tristan’s new favourite spot.  He is happy to share it with Nefertiti, who also likes her creature comforts, but on the occasions when she gets a bit uppity and tries to hog the whole thing, Tristan has proved he isn’t too old to defend is territory and with a quick nip and growl, sends Nefertiti about her business.

My old ginger gentleman enjoying his heated pad.

Tristan likes to keep his coat glossy with an egg a day.  He wanders out to the kitchen when he hears me making lunch and will simply sit and look at me until I remember my responsibilities.  His daily egg has to be “mushed”.  Tristan has never been a fan of egg white so I began whisking his egg to encourage him to eat the whole thing and not just the yolk.  Tristan liked this idea so much he now refuses to eat his egg until I has mushed it for him.  He once waited half an hour, sitting beside his bowl, waiting for me to return and prepare his egg the way he liked it.  I’d broken the egg into his bowl and then been distracted by a phone call.  I’d wandered away to do other things, forgetting about the poor cat who could see his egg but not eat it in its unprepared state.  Eventually it all got too much for Tristan and he came and found me, escorted me back to the bowl and gave me a significant look to remind me of my duties.  I apologised (of course), whisked the egg and presented it to Tristan who nodded regally at me before tucking in.  

I’m sure he was thinking that good servants were hard to find these days.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Great Escape

I've owned ferrets for over twenty years now.  I've tried to explain to people how this came about, but few understand.  In 1997 I became the proud owner of Isabella and Theodore, two ferrets that my elder son, Josh, had bought as pets after we bought Spring Rock.  Josh and his sister, Bec, stayed in the Camden area, sharing a rental house.  My younger son, Justin, and I stayed in that rental house for a month at the end of 1996 to finish the school year after Graeme moved to the farm.  Justin and I moved down to Spring Rock just before Christmas.   When Josh brought Isabella home I ended up being the person to socialise the baby ferret.  I was chosen because I'd had lots of experience socialising children, both my own and students, and as my kids said, "How much harder could it be to socialise a little fluff ball?"  Well, all I can say is that your average child doesn't have razor sharp teeth and the determination to get their own way by using them! 

Isabella came to school each day in a spacious box filled with toys, food and litter tray.  She quickly discovered that an infants' class was preferable to sitting in a box all day.  She'd escape every chance she'd get, sneak out into the class room, sniff the children's ankles (which was a highlight of the day for most of them) and then come and sit on my feet before going back to sleep.  My students were never more well behaved that when Isabella invaded their class room.  They knew if they made a noise or did anything to excite her I'd put her back in the box.

After I moved to Spring Rock I had a ferret free year apart from the few months when Isabella and Theodore visited for Theodore's socialisation lessons.  Once he was mellowed out and learned not to bite people the ferrets went home to live with Bec and Josh.  They had a few adventures while there.  Theodore proved to be very adept at finding ways out of his cage.  He'd then go exploring and often visited the next door neighbour, where he'd open their sliding door, enter the house and make straight for their carpet where he'd roll on his back and give himself a carpet massage while the owner of the house rang Bec to come and get her ferret.  On one memorable occasion Theodore managed to get himself into trouble.  Instead of making for the neighbour's carpet he explored his own backyard, managing to fall down an old well, despite the fact that it had a cover on it before Theodore encountered it.  

When Bec got home and found only one resident in the ferret cage, and after checking with the neighbour in case Theodore was visiting, she mounted a search and noticed the cover over the well was slightly askew.  She found the missing ferret treading water in the bottom of a very deep well.  Bec and Josh then formed a human chain so they could reach the very damp and very sorry ferret.  Theodore thanked them very much with damp ferret kisses and was dried off and returned to his cage.  You'd think that would teach him a lesson and he'd quit escaping and learn to lead an exemplary life in his spacious cage.  Not our Theodore.  He continued to visit the neighbour's carpet, just making sure he gave the well a wide berth.

On one expedition Theodore went missing for two weeks.  Despite daily searches and asking every neighbour in the street, Theodore remained missing in action.  At one stage a stranger knocked on their door holding a ferret up for inspection.  He worked at a near-by factory and this little ferret had wandered in one day.  He’d heard Bec and Josh were looking for a lost ferret so brought him around for inspection.  Sadly, it wasn't Theodore so the fellow took the ferret away to try and find its owner.  Bec and Josh gave up ever seeing Theodore again after two weeks of fruitless searching.  Then one day the phone rang.  Their neighbour was on the other end and simply said, "He's back."  That was all that was needed for Bec and Josh to rush around and retrieve a much thinner Theodore.  More efforts were made to escape proof the cage and Theodore didn't escape again - whether due to the new anti-escape measure the kids took, or because he was finally over his desire to explore, we never knew.

In 1998 Bec and Josh moved to separate rental homes and pets were not allowed.  Thus I became a ferret owner.  Isabella and Theodore settled in well and apart from one very dramatic day, life was good, although Graeme is not and never has been a ferret type person.  We worked around this minor problem so humans and ferrets could live relatively harmoniously together.  The dramatic day?  Well, it ended in me giving CPR to a little, lifeless ferret.  

I had Theodore and Isabella out playing in the lounge room and it became time to put them away.  I found Theodore quickly and popped him in his cage but couldn't find Isabella anywhere.  I ended up tipping up lounge chairs and moving furniture around in an effort to find where she must have been sleeping (she always came when she was called).  Somehow when I moved one of the lounge chairs Isabella manage to get herself stuck under it.  She gave a loud shriek and then nothing.  I quickly retrieved her only to find that she wasn't breathing and I couldn't feel a heartbeat.  I gave her mouth to mouth and massaged her chest in an effort to get her heart going again and after a few frantic minutes, that felt like hours, Isabella coughed and put her head up to look at me with accusing eyes.  I apologised profusely, kept her with me for quite a while to make sure she was going to survive and finally put her in the cage with Theodore.  After that we tried not to have any more dramas, and by and large managed it.

Occasionally Theodore would find a way out of the cage.  His first port of call was always the back door where he scratched until I answered his call.  Theodore would then give me a little ferret smile and run around my legs and into the house.  I am very thankful that he always came to tell me he was out of the cage.  We have a lot more predators who would enjoy a little ferret for a snack than where he last lived.

Now for the reason that over twenty years later I am still a ferret owner (apart from the fact that I love ferrets).  When Theodore and Isabella became old ferrets and Isabella died, Theodore pined for his friend.  He stopped eating, curled up in a little ball of misery and decided that life without Isabella wasn't worth living.  I rang Bec who made an emergency trip to the Ferret Welfare Society of NSW and bought two young ferrets whom I named Albus and Miette.  When Theodore, and much later Albus, died of old age Miette reacted just as Theodore had and Bec once again arrived days later with Horton and Ebony to reanimate Miette's interest in life.  And so it has gone over the years with each survivor of a pair being provided with young ferrets to provide company and an interest in life again.

My latest two ferrets, Freya and Charis are very young at the moment, - Freya is about three years old and Charis is four months old.  They are now the best of friends and work together to solve problems, stash stolen items and generally behave just as ferrets should.  Recently they have set us a challenge.  They have learned to open the doors on their inside cage.  We thought at first that the door hadn't been closed properly, but after their third escape it became apparent that they were able to open the door no matter how securely we closed it.  Graeme put clothes pegs on the tops of the doors to stop the ferrets being able to push up the latch.  I don't know if you know how smart ferrets are, but all I can say is it's a good thing they don't have opposable thumbs or they'd be the master race on Earth!  It wasn't long before they figured out that if Graeme put the pegs there then the pegs were obviously the reason they could no longer get the door open.  The solution?  Get rid of the pegs first and then open the cage door as before.  They work as a well trained team to manoeuvre things, and their little feet are very dexterous in removing pegs or lifting cage door bars.  Graeme next put a piece of wood through the door handles.  This worked for a very short while and then they learned to tip it up, causing it to slide towards the floor and release one door for opening.  

Graeme then put the wood though the handles and put the pegs on so they were facing away from the ferrets (less for them to get hold of) through the door and holding the wood in place.  They have now learned to remove the pegs and the piece of wood Graeme used to bar their cage door.  So far we have caught them each time before they've got the door open but I know another escape is imminent.  The good thing about their escapes from their inside cage is they always come to find me to let me know they have escaped.  I woke up very early one morning a while back, to find something was climbing up my side of the bed.  I thought a cat had managed to get out of the bathroom so put my hand over the side of the bed to give it a pat (I was still mostly asleep) only to have a little face lick my hand and give it a gentle nip.  That woke me up and Freya was returned to her cage.  Yesterday, when she escaped, she came into the lounge room to look for me, only to find my son in law Grant first.  Grant and Graeme share the same opinion of ferrets, so she got a very cool welcome before Bec scooped her up and returned her to her cage.  Each time the ferrets escaped after that I found them on their way to the bedroom.  Maybe they thought I was back in there?  Anyway, Graeme is up to the challenge and is planning to turn the ferret cage into a maximum security version from which no ferret will ever escape.  The ferrets say, "Bring it on!"

Graeme versus ferrets - this will be a clash of the Titans!

Freya checking out the door latch.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Charis Comes To Spring Rock

A few weeks ago Spring Rock welcomed a new baby ferret.  The need to add to the ferret population came about because Eris, sister of Freya, died suddenly and tragically  a couple of weeks ago.  Freya and I mourned her sister's death but, as is the case of many ferrets I've owned who have lost a companion ferret, Freya became so sad she lost interest in eating, playing and causing ferret mayhem around the house.  Eris died just two days before Graeme and I were due to go away for a few days and I spent the last day before our break carrying around a sad little ferret and worrying about her being by herself while we were gone.  I conscripted Justin, Savannah and Elliott into visiting half way through our trip and keeping Freya company.  I also gave Freya a soft toy to keep her company.  I was nearly brought to tears, but also relieved, when Freya tried to drag the purple toy cat into her sleeping bag where she and Eris always slept together.

 Elliott Visiting Freya while we were away.

As soon as we were home I started searching for a new friend for Freya.  I have sourced all my ferrets in the past from the Ferret Welfare Society of NSW or another ferret rescue organisation, but there are no rescue organisations within easy travelling distance from my home and, as none of my children living near a rescue place were visiting in the near future,  I turned to the internet to help me this time.  I found a person selling 12 week old baby ferrets who lived down on the Albury/Wodonga border.  There was one little girl and two boys left.  I thought a girl might settle in faster with Freya who had lived with her sister all her life.  Arrangements were made and we drove the two hours to pick up the little girl (we country dwellers consider two hours to be within reasonable travelling distance).

Charis, not yet sure she was going to like Freya (whose tail can be seen on the right), or anyone else for that matter.

The baby ferret proved to be a very pretty little thing, if also possessed of an attitude.  Beck, the young woman selling her, brought the baby ferret to an agreed meeting spot in a wooden ferret carrier, used to transport working ferrets to farms.  She opened the carrier and a little brown head popped up with a very cross expression on her face.  Beck then went to pick up the little ball of fluff who had other ideas about leaving the carrier.  A quick and quiet tussle ensued and the fluff ball remained right where she was.  Beck asked her if she was coming out or not - not the best tactic I thought because obviously the answer was, "Or not!"   After a few more attempts Beck had hold of the feisty little thing and gingerly handed her over to me.  I said hello and told her she was a cute little thing.  This failed to impress the little ferret who simply yawned in my face.  I placed her in our much roomier carrier which contained one of Freya's blankets (in the hope that on the journey home the little ferret would become used to the new ferret scent) and we drove home.  On the way home I named the baby Charis, from the Greek Pantheon.  The goddess Charis was one of the Charities or Graces.  She was goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility so I hoped she'd grow into her name eventually, except for the fertility part.  

was not impressed with leaving her brothers.  When she arrived home she was spoiling for a fight.  She tried taking her bad mood out on me by biting me, but I've had ferrets for over 20 years now and was prepared for her tantrum.  She failed to connect to skin with each attempt to sink her teeth in; while I gently stroked her back and told her all would be well soon.  She threatened me with her tiny, but somehow still impressive, baby ferret teeth and generally let me know she wasn't going to be my friend ever!  After failing to draw blood or start a big fight with me Charis turned her bad mood on Freya who is three years old and well versed in the ways of ferrets in bad moods too (her sister Eris was a biter until I showed her the errors of her ways), and simply kept out of the marauding little ferrets way.   With Freya either deftly dodging her teeth or managing to sink hers into Charis all Charis could do was retire to the sleeping bag and refuse to socialise.  Freya and I heaved a sigh of relief and went about our business, although I did spot Freya wandering over and sniffing the sleeping bag from time to time.

The next few days were fraught with tension.  The two ferrets drew their battle lines and both embarked on a war of domination.  There were lots of skirmishes, which I let go their length in the hope they'd fight it out and find peace together, and a few all out wars, which I broke up.  The two little furry people slept in different parts of the cage and all looked hopeless for someone who hadn't gone through all this many times before.  I wasn't worried that they'd eventually call peace and build firm friendship; I just hated the sorting out top ferret part of the social interaction.  Freya was already sad and to have this little ball of fury keep nipping at her and behaving in a generally unfriendly manner broke my heart.  After about five or six interminable days Freya and Charis laid down the hatchet and sharp teeth and became the best of friends.  As proof that all the fighting is now behind them they sleep in a ferret pile in one of the hammocks and enjoy simultaneous cuddles with me.

Charis required a fair bit of socialisation with humans though.  Her first few encounters with being picked up and patted ended in me heading for the Band-aid drawer to bandage yet another finger.  She refused to use the litter tray (which required a lot of disinfectant and scrubbing during this, best forgotten about, period of her adjustment to life at Spring Rock) and made a huge mess of the cage and family room floor by insisting on spreading all the dry food out of the cage and over the floor.  In short, Charis decided to get even with her abductors by making as much mess as she possibly could, and for one little ferret she could make a lot of mess!  I spent a great deal of time each day sweeping up the kitty litter and/or dry food.  The tray under the ferret cage quickly filled with litter and food as well as ferret droppings, making it hard to recycle the uneaten dry food.  Charis just sneered at us when taken to task for her behaviour or turned her back on me and returned to scratching out the litter or food.  But, as I've said, I have owned ferrets for over 20 years now and I've met with all sorts of difficult little furry people.  Some of their traits were rather cute, others frustrating and a few downright painful, but after a lot of gentle training and a lot of patience, every ferret I've owned has become, if not a model citizen, then at least a basically nice ferret. 

One of the habits I was unable to fix included Isabella's (my first ferret's) attraction to my cotton reels, thimbles and other sewing notions.  I often thought Isabella had a sewing project of her own in mind and was stockpiling for the day she found time to begin.  Isabella stored all her stolen stash behind a very large bookcase in the lounge room.  She stowed the thread, thimbles, fabric etc at the very end of the bookcase where neither long arms nor dowel could reach them.  I am now the proud owner of far too many thimbles because, before we moved the bookcase and I retrieved all my sewing notions, all I could do was go out and buy new thimbles when my stockpile, no matter how carefully guarded, was depleted by one determined little ferret.  There was one time Isabella tried to pull a thimble off my finger to add to her stash, but I'm proud to say I won that tug of war.  

But, I digress - back to the socialisation of Charis.  Persistence on my part has resulted in a cute little ferret who now uses the litter tray and leaves the dry food in its container.  She allows me to pick her up and pat her, giving me gentle little ferret nips that means she considers me part of her family, but I wouldn't trust her with my grandchildren just yet, the way I do Freya.  We'll get there though.   Freya is a happy ferret once again and is even starting to play with Charis.  I think she still misses her sister because she won't go in the ferret tunnel at all (one of hers and Eris' favourite games), despite Charis trying to coax her in.  I find that very sad and hope that one day soon Freya challenges Charis to a tunnel war, where both ferrets enter the tunnel at different ends and see who can push the other ferret out backwards.  

Freya better hurry up though, Charis won't stay a baby ferret forever and Freya's best chance of winning the tunnel war will be while Charis is small.

                                             Freya and Charis, friends at last.

Friday, January 10, 2020


This story is about Ben, a beautiful German Shepherd who came into my life over thirty years ago.  Ben was a failed guard dog.  He’d undergone some rather suspect training to guard a reclamation yard at night and hadn’t shown that steely personality needed to strike fear into the hearts of would be thieves. 

As I mentioned Ben’s training was highly suspect.  He arrived at my mother’s house as a very nervous, anxious to please, but not sure of his welcome two year old dog.  Before that he’d failed to make the grade as a guard dog and then been passed on to my father, who found Ben to be far too much of a woos for his tastes.  Ben was then passed on to my mother.  My mother had a dreadful record with training animals, they tended to walk all over her (sometimes literally) and a dog as big as Ben, who’d found he liked this new relaxed way of living and took shameful advantage of it, ultimately became too much for my mother and sisters to handle.  I was asked if I could find a good home for him.

I felt dreadfully sorry for Ben, but with Aasta, my Old English Sheepdog and Buffy, the Whippet, I couldn’t talk Graeme into adopting a German Shepherd whom Graeme had seen on his worst behaviour.  I knew Ben responded to obedience training – he behaved well for my father after all, but finding him a home where he’d quickly learn that he was loved, but had to behave himself was a bit daunting.  Until I looked over the fence towards my neighbours.  They had had German Shepherds in the past, and preferred that breed to any other.  Sonja was a very matter of fact person and Bert, standing and 6’ 4” (this was pre-metric days but converts to 1.9 metres for those modern readers), tended to command everyone’s respect.  I made the offer and Sonja was quick to say yes.

Graeme and I picked Ben up from my mother’s home and embarked on the hour’s drive to our place.  Ben sat up in the back of the station wagon and enjoyed the sights while I lectured him on the behaviour expected in his new life.  Ben listened with half an ear, but I got the feeling that he was enjoying the ride, while plotting more misdeeds when he got back home.  Things took a scary turn for Ben when we moved out of the suburbs and into the rural area close to our five acre home at The Oaks near Camden.  There was Ben, admiring the scenery and wondering where all the houses had gone when he spotted some huge creatures with horns just a few yards from where he was sitting in the car.  Thankfully they disappeared quickly, so he tried to forget all about them but more and more of these worrying looking monsters kept appearing.  I could almost hear Ben thinking, “Where are these people taking me?  I know my behaviour has slipped a bit lately, but surely they aren’t going to feed me to these monsters!”  Ben slowly, so as not to draw attention to himself, sank down until he was below the level of the window.  Things improved greatly after that.  He couldn’t see the horned monsters and he was pretty sure they couldn’t see him.

We arrived home and I took Ben to meet his new family.  Ben behaved politely (I think the cows had duly chastened him for a while), gave himself a tour of Sonja’s five acres, came inside and noted the most comfortable places for a big dog to rest, quickly found out that big dogs rested on the floor in this house, not anywhere they pleased as in his old home.  With a philosophical air Ben walked in the circle so many dogs require before settling down and found a comfortable spot of the fluffy mat. 

When I said goodbye to Ben, he was inclined to follow me, likely in the hope that I would return him to his home where he reigned supreme.  I explained to him that he belonged to Sonja, and with quick presence of mind, Sonja offered him some food in the kitchen while I made my escape.  Thus a love affair began to blossom.  Ben quickly learned what was and was not acceptable behaviour and Sonja fell in love with this gorgeous boy who was always a bit of a scamp.  If Ben did backslide and misbehave in some way, he was scolded straight away.  Ben would then retire to the bathroom, sit in the corner and refuse to look at or talk to anyone until he got over his sulks.  Occasionally when I visited there’d be no sign of a large German Shepherd and Sonja would simply point towards the bathroom door, standing ajar, with the sight of Ben, face to the wall, ignoring us all.   Ben would come out and socialise eventually, letting Sonja know she was forgiven, but it has to be said that Ben’s behaviour quickly improved and he did his best to be a good boy for his new family.

Ben loved following Bert around the five acres, chatting with my two dogs through the fence, studiously ignoring the goats (another horned breed he previously had no idea existed and if it was up to him just wouldn’t exist) and generally enjoyed his new life, despite the enforced rules about things like stealing food, getting up on furniture and pulling on leads when out walking (Bert and Sonja proved to be opposed to all these previous past times of Ben’s).

Ben seemed to remember his guard dog training very sketchily and never showed any tendency to reprise those lessons until one day when Sonja was very ill.  Sonja was experiencing a great deal of pain and felt very off on this day.  I was out shopping so she couldn’t call on me for help.  Because Sonja was in such pain and felt so ill she rang our local doctor and described her symptoms rather than trying to drive into the town.  Marvin, the doctor, said he had a room full of patients but would come out and see her as soon as he was free.  Tragically Sonja knew there was little use calling the ambulance in the days before GPS.  During a medical emergency a few years before this it had taken over an hour for the ambulance to find her house, so as Sonja’s condition worsened and there was no sign of Marvin, Sonja rang Bert at work.  Bert came straight home, saw that Sonja was really in a bad way and put her in the car and took her to hospital – just in time as it turned out, Sonja had an ectopic pregnancy and her fallopian tube had burst.  She was taken to surgery and Bert settled in to a very worrying wait.  Sonja, who obviously had bigger problems on her mind, hadn’t mentioned that Marvin intended coming out to see her, so Bert was completely unaware Marvin needed to be told where Sonja was.

Meanwhile, back at the farm … 

Marvin finished his surgery hours and headed out to check on Sonja.  He knocked on the door but there was no answer.  Sonja’s car was parked near the house so he was sure she hadn’t gone anywhere.  When he knocked again and there was no answer he tried the door.  It was unlocked so he went inside to check that Sonja wasn’t lying unconscious somewhere.  Ben greeted him at the door, and despite never having met Marvin before, greeted him like an old friend, wagged his tail furiously and welcomed Marvin to his home.  Ben, remembering the duties that fall to all good hosts, followed Marvin as he conducted a room to room search.  Ben wagged his tail some more and behaved as if Marvin was a long lost friend.  Marvin was allowed, even encouraged, to check out each room and Ben even helped by nudging open some doors himself.  All this lulled Marvin into what turned out to be a false sense of security.

Having established that Sonja wasn’t home and there was no more he could do, Marvin headed for the back door.  Suddenly, without warning, Ben channelled his old guard dog training days.  He stood between Marvin and the door and with a display that would have made his horrible trainers proud, showed his very impressive set of teeth and emitted a low growl.  Ben was clearly saying, “You want to look around the house – that’s fine, I’ll show you all you want to see.  Oh, you want to leave?  I don’ think so!”  Marvin, not surprisingly took a few steps back and Ben immediately became the happy host once again.  Each and every attempt to leave however was met with the same show of teeth and low growl from Ben.

Marvin finally had the brilliant idea to see if Sonja had been admitted to hospital.  He was put through to Bert (these were pre-mobile phone days so communications were a bit more complicated).  Marvin described his plight to Bert and Bert advised Marvin to make himself a cup of coffee, sit down and relax until Bert could get home and set him free.

When Bert arrived home, Marvin made a quick exit.  Ben was perfectly willing to let him go now that Bert was here and could check Marvin out to make sure he hadn’t lifted the family silver.  Bert, after a word or two to Ben about the correct way to treat unexpected visitors, returned to the hospital and Sonja made a complete recovery.  The story of Ben taking Marvin prisoner soon percolated through The Oaks and many had a good laugh at the poor doctor’s expense.  Ben remained unrepentant, but was never again called on to play host when Bert and Sonja weren’t home.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Summer With The Menagerie

How are you all faring in this heat - well those of you who live in Australia that is?  It's predicted to top 45 degrees Celsius here today (that's 113 degrees Fahrenheit for those who haven't converted to metric).  We've had more than a week of very hot days here and caring for the residents of Spring Rock is very time consuming I can tell you.  I spend most hot days catering to the various needs of the menagerie, trying to keep them as comfortable as possible.  

I have draped 90% shade cloth over the aviary for Hedwig and Hermes.  They are also kept cool with a honey bucket filled with frozen water, once the ice melts I swap it out for another bucket  (these mini buckets take up a good deal of room in the freezer).  At first Hedwig objected to me putting the little bucket up where she and Hermes perch and threatened to knock it onto the cage floor, just to show me she wasn't in favour of anything new in her aviary.  She made her objections felt rather loudly until she moved in to throw the bucket off her feed bin where she was sitting.  It didn't take long for her to realise just how good it felt to cuddle up to a bucket of ice.  I could see her debating which course to follow - continue to object because this was something new in the aviary and Hedwig is decidedly anti new things, or accept the ice bucket and enjoy the coolness.  She now makes room for the buckets when I change them over.

Hedwig and Hermes enjoying munching on a stalk of mint in the shade provided by the shadecloth.

Brown snakes are also a consideration in summer on Spring Rock - not that I provide relief from the heat for them of course.  Graeme has found them drinking water out of our fish pond, up in the chook yard and, much more commonly, in the aviary.  All but two of our dams are dry and most of the dams in the district are also dry so finding water at snake level is getting to be a challenge for the snakes in the area.  The water is in a trough on the ground in the aviary because we have Snowball and Cinders, two silky roosters, in residence there as well as the galahs.  There are also a few mouse holes leading into the aviary - despite our efforts to get rid of them - which also attract the snakes who don't mind finding a snack as well as a drink when they visit.  Thankfully the visiting snakes have never shown any interest in the roosters, who assume the characteristics of fluffy statues while the snake moves around the aviary floor.  Galahs have a special "There's A Snake!!  There's A Snake!!" warning screech they use for no other purpose, so we always know when one visits.  Graeme puts on his heavy duty gum boots, grabs our snake deterrer and goes into battle.  So far this year we've had five snakes visit the aviary, two visit the fish pond and one up near the chook yard. It keeps me on my toes when I'm out and about tending to hot members of the outside animal population.

I've always admired the self sufficiency or my four gold fish.  They go about their days requiring very little attention and keeping the pond mosquito wriggler free, but in this heat the fish pond needs constant topping up with precious tank water.  We placed the pond in the shade of a Kurrajong tree and added a spreading waterlily plant but, unless the snakes are drinking an awful lot of water, evaporation is still causing the pond water level to dip dramatically on a daily basis.  The four resident fish look a bit panicked if I don't keep the water topped up and the pump spaying oxygenated water back into the pond each day.

Venus, now a fully integrated member of the menagerie, needs to be brought inside over and over again.   She's one of those cats that believe the other side of a closed door is the best place to be, so I keep having to check that she's inside and if she's not I call her in to enjoy the air cooler.  The other three cats are self caring and find the coolest spot that isn't in the kitchen, which is usually inhabited by the puppies.  As the cats all feel these cooler spots around the house are on the floor somewhere I have to be careful not to step on a recumbent cat as I go about my daily chores.

 Venus lying so there is maximum tummy exposure to the cool air coming out of our air cooler duct.

 Nefertiti thinking, "It's far too hot.  Mum needs to turn down the sun."

Tristan, who has become an old, dignified man, lying within range of the cool air but not too close to Venus.

Another favourite spot for Venus is on my computer desk batting at my hand as I move the mouse around when using the computer - slows me down a bit, I can tell you.

The chooks and drakes have the best spot on the farm on hot days, but I need to keep the water up to them and try to convince them all that under the big pine tree is cooler than out and about in the yard.  If I let them out they'd all go and scratch around and most likely give themselves heat stroke.  So I listen to their complaints but keep the gate firmly shut.

The puppies of course are inside - sporting their new bibs and lying on the kitchen floor under an air cooler duct.  Aslan, in an effort to gain maximum coolness lies on the tiles with his tongue lolling out soaking up the cool.  Cleo is usually found in a very unladylike pose on her back with all four legs splayed wide allowing maximum tummy exposure to the cool air.  Both puppies manage to take up most of the kitchen floor and navigating between the refrigerator and kitchen sink is always fraught with danger.  Asking one or other of them to move out of the way is often counterproductive.  Cleo will roll over when asked, but she keeps her legs out straight and often manages to collect my legs on the way.  If I'm not near the kitchen counter or close enough to some other well grounded object I'm likely to be felled like a tree that's just met a chainsaw.  If I land on Cleo things get even more fraught.  As I've mentioned before, Cleo believes her head should always be at a lower level than mine so if I fall to the floor she is galvanised into action to get her head under mine.  This is somewhat counterproductive to my getting up off the floor.  

Aslan and Cleo enjoying the air cooler duct directly above Cleo's head.

Aslan is inclined to wander over at times like this and, in typical Saint Bernard fashion, offer to help.  These offers are accompanied by long strings of drool as he puts his face up close to mine to see if there is anything he can do in this situation.  There isn't, but he always asks.

The ferrets haven't been outside in weeks.  It's either a case of too hot or too much smoke from the various catastrophic bushfires raging through the east coast of Australia - or both.  The ferrets have their four tiered palace in the family room, filled with hammocks, tunnels, lots of water and food and towelling sleeping bags these days so inside in the cage isn't as bad as it sounds.  They also get to socialise with the puppies and with me when I'm in the kitchen so life is interesting enough for them.   

Freya and Eris in their ferret palace.

Thankfully I don't have to make cooling down provisions for Edna The Echidna who has visited my garden four times that we know of.  Cleo objects strongly and barks her head off until I go outside and lock her and Aslan up so the poor little spiky creature doesn't get a migraine.  I have been wondering why she keeps coming back to my yard - it couldn't be just to destroy another area of my garden surely?  Two days ago I discovered that she's building a burrow along our house yard back fence.  Graeme has fortified it against the puppies, but that won't stop Cleo barking if she notices Edna is at home.  I can see many disturbed nights while Edna is in residence.  She has chosen a spot right near where large black ants gather around the Kurrajong tree collecting sap so she's well provided with food.  Hopefully she will raise lots of little puggles in her burrow.  I now count her as part of the menagerie, despite Graeme's objections. 

Edna's new home along my garden's back fence.  It's a work in progress at the moment but she's working away diligently and is should be finished soon.

So, that's how I spend my summer days.  Most of the menagerie seem to hold me responsible for whatever type of weather we are having.  None of them like the heat and as it's my fault it's so hot, it is obviously up to me to see to each and every pet's needs cooling down wise.  No wonder I feel exhausted at the end of a summer's day.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

She's Back!

This is the echidna's first visit.  She's in the top right of the photo.  That's a wire garden ornament in the bottom left.

Our echidna put in a late night appearance last night. This is her third visit to my garden, but there are no new photos of her because she chose to visit around 9.30 and I didn't have my phone with me.  

Cleo, who usually has a quick word or two to say to visiting kangaroos, was barking non-stop for quite a while so I went out to investigate and found her and Aslan looking very intently at something in the very top corner of our backyard.  Aslan looked a little embarrassed to be caught out harassing a little defenseless (if you didn't count the spikes - and both he and Cleo counted the spikes) creature.  The poor little echidna, who most likely had a major headache after having Cleo's booming bark go off in her ear for a good solid ten minutes, had dug herself into the very corner of our back yard.  She had a large rock on one side of the huge hole she'd dug, the corrugated iron fence on another and Cleo barking at her on the third side of the triangle.  Aslan was acting as back up behind Cleo.  He wasn't barking or trying to get close to the pointy end of the echidna (which makes me think he has a good deal more intelligence than Cleo who was trying to find a way around those spikes), but he was there for moral support.  Why the echidna keeps coming back I don't know.  Maybe she keeps hoping I'll see the light and get rid of the puppies so she can make her home in our back yard.  

I did suggest to Graeme that as the echidna could be considered a regular visitor now we should name her and adopt her as a new member of the menagerie, but not surprisingly, Graeme disagreed rather strongly.  

Graeme got the spade and dug out the rock so the echidna could leave via the small gap that made between the two fences.  I called the puppies to follow me with the intention of locking them up in the laundry for the night.  Aslan came along quietly doing his usual follow from the front causing me to almost trip over him when he stopped from time to time to check I was still with him.  It took a lot of encouragement and finally threats to get Cleo to come with me.  She kept veering off in the direction of the echidna every time I took my eyes off her. When caught heading the wrong way to the back door, Cleo tried to explain it was dark and she'd lost her way, but I was having none of that.  I finally got both puppies onto the back porch and then Aslan into the laundry, but Cleo said she wasn't going any further.  She thought if she looked innocent enough I'd believe that she intended to stay put and wouldn't dream of going back to harass our spiky visitor.  Sadly for Cleo I'm not that gullible.  I showered Aslan with liver flake treats (their favourite treat in  the entire world) and told him he was a good boy while he sat on his bed in the laundry enjoying every morsel of liver treat offered to him.  I called Cleo multiple times and even showed her the bucket of treats, waving it right under her nose, but Cleo was struck with selective deafness.  She knew she couldn't make a break for the back corner of the yard while I was outside, but she also knew if she put one foot in the laundry I'd close the door and that would be the end of her defending the garden against marauding echidnas.

Our echidna's second visit.  I'm grateful that she didn't dig herself into one of my gardens this time and only dug up a bit of dirt near the back fence.

Cleo and I have an understanding that if she comes when I call her into the laundry she gets liver treats if they are being handed out to Aslan, but if I have to haul her into the laundry no liver treats will be forthcoming.  It's been a while since the liver treats haven't worked.  Cleo just can't seem to resist them.  She did resist them this time though.  It seems the lure of a night barking at the spiny side of an echidna far outweighed the delicious taste of liver treats. In the end I dragged Cleo into the laundry, making uncomplimentary comments on over grown dogs who can't obey a simple command.  Aslan was given a last liver treat just to rub it in with Cleo that she was missing out, and the laundry door was shut for the night.

While this tussle of wills between Cleo and me was taking place Graeme was still outside making arrangements for the echidna's departure.  He tried lifting it up with the shovel but she had dug in well and truly, so all he could do was leave her there.   Echidnas have an amazing ability to hold onto the ground underneath them when predators (or well meaning farmers in Graeme's case) try to move them.  It's like they are cemented in.  Graeme wanted to take her down to the Possum Paddock which is about a kilometre from our house.  Just as an aside, the Possum Paddock is named that because when Graeme and Justin were cutting wood for our fuel stove, when we first moved here, Graeme cut a branch into fuel stove fire box lengths, only to find a few bits of fur on the chain saw after the last cut.  He looked into to hollow branch to find two possums squashed up in there avoiding the blades.  Graeme picked up that bit of branch and wedged it into a tree so the very-lucky-not-to-be-cut-by-the-blades possums could recover from their trauma. Now, back to the echidna - I wasn't in favour of her being moved to the Possum Paddock because I was worried she might have a den of puggles (baby echidnas) somewhere near the house and it would be too far for an echidna's little stumpy legs to walk back in a short time. 

This morning the echidna was gone.  She's left a deep hole in the back corner of my garden, but for once no plants suffered from her visit.  After Graeme checked to see if she was gone he let the puppies out and Cleo made a beeline for the back corner.  She was very disappointed that her semi-regular sparring partner wasn't there to be barked at so she returned to the house deflated but hopeful there would be more opportunities in the future to finally defeat the pointy little creature.  

Graeme filled in the hole and I now await the next visit from the newest member of the Spring Rock menagerie (I'm counting her as part of the gang even if Graeme isn't).

 This photo was taken after the echidna's first visit when I carried her over to a paddock behind our shearing shed.  She seemed to enjoy the ride, not struggling, but lifting her head from time to time to admire the elevated view.