Friday, February 27, 2009

A Day At The V- E- T-'s

Now that the whole sorry, sordid affair is over and Shadow is ensconced in the laundry, seeking solace under her blanket and mumbling to herself, I feel it’s safe to tell you the whole truth.

It all began yesterday afternoon when, while side-stepping one of Billy’s amorous swipes at my legs in an effort to fell me so he could tell me how much he loves me, I inadvertently tripped over Shadow. Now when I say tripped over I don’t want you imagining one little flattened Silky type covered in bruises and graze marks. My foot barely made contact with her – honest!! Shadow yipped and continued to yip for quite a few minutes after this dreadful mauling and even after Billy and I had duly examined her for cuts, bruises and even felt all over her for broken bones (well, she insisted I take X-rays and I just don’t have the necessary equipment!). In the end I put it down to a case of hypochondria, one of Shadow’s specialties, hardened my heart and left her to Billy’s tender care.

When I gave her dinner last night she was still behaving like a dog about to draw her last breath. Yelping any time I tried to touch her and generally looking very woebegone. I checked her all over and found that her tummy while, it still had it’s normal overstuffed look, was in fact quite hard to the touch. Shadow had assumed her pained martyr look for this examination and determinedly stared off into space trying to think of better times to come. I called Graeme in for a second opinion. As soon as he arrived in the laundry Shadow heaved a resigned sigh and knew that this was the end of her time as an invalid. Graeme re-checked the tummy area and pulled and pushed various Silky type limbs only to pronounce the patient well and fit in his estimation. When I directed his attention to the rock hard tummy, Graeme grunted agreement that it was indeed more like a rock than a tummy and suggested we give her a dose of oil “to shift a possible blockage”. I dished out the olive oil much to Shadow’s approval and gave Billy some too so he didn’t feel left out.

By this time Graeme was back inside and doing his best to forget about Shadow and her troubles by getting back to the accounts. When I came in from distributing olive oil, I insisted that if Shadow wasn’t any better in the morning we’d be taking her to the vet.

“I’m sick of taking that dog to the vet,” was Graeme’s immediate reply.

“What do you mean sick of taking her to the vet?” I asked, “The only time she’s been to the vet was to have those grass seeds out last year.”

“We got her desexed too!” came his quick rejoinder.

“That was nearly 12 years ago!” I said. “Well …” and that was the end of that argument.

This morning Shadow didn’t seem much improved so off to the vet’s we went. I decided to take Billy as well so that he could have a much overdue micro-chip implanted. What is it about getting ready to go to the vet’s that animals can pick up on? Shadow is usually the first one of us to get to the car whenever she thinks we might be going for a drive. She sits close to the front passenger door and gives me that “I’d really like to go for a drive today, nothing much is happening here and I just know a drive would make me feel so much better” look, which is soon replaced with the “how could you leave a little Silky type here on the side of the driveway while you go away to have fun without her?” look. Billy, while not particularly wanting to actually get in the car, is always determined to escort me to it so that he can give me a rub or two with his face to make sure I take a little bit of his drool with me to remember him by. In short, when Graeme and I head for the car we always have a full compliment of doggy escorts tagging along.

Today on the other hand, both dogs sat on the back porch and looked the other way as we headed towards the car. I returned to the back porch and personally invited them to follow me to no avail. Shadow looked at Billy and Billy looked at Shadow and a silent agreement was reached to sit firm and not be tempted. Graeme came back to see what was holding us up and joined in my invitations to the dogs to come and enjoy a ride in the car. I even promised Billy there wouldn’t be a dog show at the other end. How did they know that we were going to the vets? Did they listen at the door while I made the appointment? Was there something about the way we walked to the car that just shouted “going to the vet’s”? Whatever it was they knew. In the end I had to pick Shadow up while Graeme took Billy by the collar and we headed for the car. Half way there Billy began to back peddle and managed to pull his head out of his collar. He then ran to the ferret cage for protection. Now I ask you – how can Billy, even in a time of dire need like this, honestly think that Miette and Albus would take his side? He soon found out that chickens do come home to roost, and scorned ferrets can turn on you quick as a wink. Miette and Albus did everything but call out to Graeme “Billy’s over here! Don’t worry; we’ll keep him occupied until you get here!” They jumped up and down and cheered Graeme on as he dragged Billy car-wards.

Thankfully, once in the car and on the road no more dramas occurred. Shadow settled down at my feet and Billy resigned himself to sitting in the back of the Discovery and spreading his drool over the towel covered back seat. Of course it would have been more fun if the towels weren’t there, but every dog has to make the best of what’s given to him. On arrival at the vet’s Graeme took charge of Billy and I was left to convince Shadow that come hell or high water, she was going into that building over there. Shadow begged to differ as only Shadow can. She hunched herself into the smallest fluffy ball she could and made little yelps of protest in the hopes that some kind dog lover would rush over and save her from this fate worse than death.

No kind dog lover being within hearing distance, I ultimately won by picking Shadow up and carrying her the short distance to the vet’s door. As soon as I entered the waiting room I stopped short. Graeme was totally surrounded by young girls!!! (The mob was soon explained - vet had more than his normal quota of assistants because he also had a number of work experience students there for the week.) Now I know that I think Graeme is pretty good stuff, but it must be admitted that young girls aren’t inclined to mob him in the streets, or even in waiting rooms for that matter. “Go get him a treat!” I heard one of the girls say to the girl on the outer edges of the huddle. My mind boggled at what this could possibly be! But everything became plain when she returned with a strip of rawhide. Even in my wildest imagination, I couldn’t see rawhide tempting Graeme to anything! Obviously the male getting all the love and attention was Billy. Somewhere in the middle of all those girls, on the end of the lead Graeme was holding, was Billy. Sure enough Billy was making new friends faster than he could make drool, so some of his admirers actually escaped without having to hose themselves down afterwards.

The wait for the vet was filled with vet nurses, receptionists, work experience girls and a few clients patting, feeding, cooing over and generally treating Billy like a superstar. At one point he was taken off to be weighed by the vet nurse. I couldn’t for the life of me think why he needed to be weighed to have a microchip implanted. Did microchips come in small, medium and large? And if they did was there any doubt about which size Billy would need? It worked out that Billy was weighed because the girls had started a sort of sweep on Billy’s weight. While no money actually changed hands there was some serious discussion about his weight before the guesses were made. Before taking him off to the scales, I was asked if I knew how much he weighed, but obviously my estimation wasn’t accurate enough for the sweep. I can now report that Billy weighs 64 ½ kilograms exactly (This story was written a few years ago and as of his last visit Billy now weighs a hefty 75 kgs).

And what was Shadow doing all this time? At first she settled in for her share of the fussing. After all when I pat Billy, my other hand is usually occupied patting Shadow. When I tell Billy he’s a gorgeous fellow, I immediately say similar things to Shadow. I have been trained to make sure that each dog gets exactly the same amount of attention. Unfortunately the vet’s girls didn’t seem to care about a little fluffy dog with dreadful medical problems. I talked to her and made a fuss of her, but it wasn’t the same as having these total strangers fawning all over her, so she retired to underneath the seat and sat there grumbling to herself about great big oafs of dogs who can’t live without being in the spotlight. Now I don’t want you all to feel too sorry for Shadow – she’s happiest when she has something to grumble about. She has become a crotchety old lady – there’s no other way of describing her, so she was quite content in her way.

Finally Ian, the vet, called our name and Billy’s legion of fans parted to allow him to enter the surgery. Billy, obviously suspecting that more treats and adoring crowds lay behind that door, was across the room in two bounds, dragging Graeme behind him while I had to haul Shadow by the lead all the way across the floor (thank goodness for shiny lino!). Billy was the first to be examined and made the most of his time with the Ian. He again tried unsuccessfully to distribute drool, apologised and tried to explain about the girls taking nearly all he had and the towel I was carrying taking care of the rest. The microchip was inserted while Billy was talking to Graeme (possibly requesting that Graeme intercede on Billy’s behalf, to make me lose the towel) and that was that. Shadow had been once again sitting under my chair, but this time there was no grumbling to be heard. Just as she seemed to know that we were going to the vet’s before we left the house, she seemed to know that she didn’t want any attention from this person in the green shirt.

Graeme lifted her onto the examination table (Billy had been dealt with on the floor – the table being just too small to hold all of him) and the vet began squeezing first this bit and then that bit of her anatomy. Billy rested his nose on the top of the table and offered to help, saying that he knew exactly where Shadow hurt. Shadow looked over the edge of the table and realised that all her dreams had come true! She was taller than Billy!! From her elevated position she curled her lip and told Billy to back off, this was her moment to be the star. Unfortunately this was also the moment Ian decided to take her temperature. Shadow’s eyes popped, she looked accusingly at me and then at Graeme. How could we allow such an indignity to be inflicted on her? It was over in a moment, but the damage had been done. Shadow refused to have anymore to do with Ian or his examination. She sat down; the better to protect that already violated part of her anatomy and gazed at the ceiling until the whole sordid incident was over. Ian pronounced that she had a sore back and that some anti-inflamatories should fix the problem.

Once more on the floor she sat down and ignored all of us. Graeme, possibly because he didn’t want to be associated with bringing pets to the vet and sullying his serious farmer reputation, decided to ask a few questions about sheep health to make the trip worthwhile. While he and Ian discussed nutrition requirements of pregnant ewes, Billy did his best to add his might to the conversation, kept his attention on the two men. Shadow just kept ignoring us all. As we were finally about to leave, Ian once more said that Shadow’s problem was a sore back and did we have any idea how that might have happened? I replied that Billy most probably trod on her – that now that she was almost blind and deaf, she’d walk under Billy’s feet and he wouldn’t see her down there until it was too late.

As if to prove my point, Billy put one of his huge front paws squarely in the middle of Shadow’s back as we left the surgery. Shadow yelped, snarled and snapped all at the same time (a tricky action, just too difficult to describe in words) and Billy jumped back into the surgery to avoid those sharp teeth. This brought a few of the female staff rushing out to make sure that Billy wasn’t in any danger, also giving them the opportunity to say one last farewell. Graeme escaped with Billy at the earliest opportunity and left me with Shadow to pay the bill. Shadow then said enough is enough and refused to budge from her comfy seat on the floor near the receptionist’s area. I knew that while the lino would allow me drag her to the door, the car park would present problems, so I picked her up and headed for the car. Once in the car Shadow curled up into an offended little ball and refused to enter into any conversations on the way home. Billy on the other hand was keen to know when we could do that again – preferably without that jab on the back of the neck next time.

We arrived home and Shadow skulked off to the laundry where she is now ensconced mumbling to herself about the lack of respect shown to an aging lady who just wanted to lie down and lap up the sympathy that should right now, but wasn’t, being showered on her by her concerned family. I’m going to take her first tablet out to her in a few minutes, but something tells me that won’t meet with her idea of showering sympathy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Heat Wave

A paddock on Spring Rock in the summer

This story was written in the summer of 2007 but is still pretty much what happens here when a heat wave hits Spring Rock.

In case you haven’t heard me loudly complaining, the weather here has turned extremely hot lately! The temperature has hovered in the late 30’s and early 40’s for over two weeks now and it actually outdid itself last week reaching 45 degrees Celsius (that’s around 110 degrees Fahrenheit in real numbers). The weather forecasters are being coy about when the cooler change might be coming. We keep hearing about chances of showers, or even storms, but they are just empty promises designed to lower our morale, in much the same way that their predictions of immanent rain all through the drought rubbed in the fact that there was really no chance of any such thing.

While all around me are finding ways to keep cool, get their outside jobs done before 6 a.m. (when the weather tends to turn nasty) and lie low for the duration, I become preoccupied with finding ways to keep the menagerie somewhere under melting point while maintaining peace and my normal pet quotient. With the diverse range and incompatible natures of the creatures under my care, that proves to be a real challenge. Last summer I solved the problem simply, by bringing Hedwig (the galah) into the house in her inside cage. I coaxed Shadow (the Silky Terrier type) into the kitchen and the ferrets had the run of the house while Graeme was elsewhere. For those times Graeme couldn’t be persuaded to brave the excessive heat out in the paddocks or sheds, I invented ferret air-conditioning. Ferret air-conditioning for the uninitiated consists of a bucket of water sitting on top of their cage, with a towel end placed in the bucket and the rest of the wet towel draped over the side to catch any friendly breeze, thus cooling the air as it goes into the cage. The ferrets also have a wet towel on the floor of their cage on which they can lay their hot little tummies. This arrangement worked well with all pets agreeing to live in harmony in the name of cooling down. Well, the ferrets didn’t actually agree to the living in harmony bit, but I kept a keen eye on them while they were inside to ensure that the cats, Hedwig and Shadow didn’t become Ferret treats.

Since Billy was added to the mix, things have become a tad more difficult. Billy has very few aims in life – to spread St. Bernard drool as far and wide as possible; to keep me cornered and patting him whenever the opportunity arises and to chew on any member of the pet brigade to see if it pass the Billy test for soft and fluffy on the gums. Added to these worthy ambitions is the fact that Billy is built for the Swiss Alps where temperatures of 40 degrees are unheard of except possibly in a sauna. I’ve tried various pet combinations in the kitchen on hot days and so far they have all been fraught with feelings of guilt on my part for the poor furry objects that are banished to the sweltering backyard while the chosen few bask under the air-conditioning duct.

Each time Billy enters the kitchen, his reaction is the same. As soon as he walks through the back door he has but one thought in his huge head – find the cats! He knows they’re in here somewhere and he takes it upon himself to sniff them out and get down to the serious business of cat chivvying. It took me a while to get the message across that he was a guest in the house and must demonstrate a guest’s good manners. While our human guests rarely harbour nefarious schemes towards the cats, and are therefore given free reign of the house, rule number one for Billy is that he is not allowed off the kitchen floor. The kitchen and dining room are in fact one big room and the lounge room runs off the dining room via an archway. This provides a dog who doesn’t play by the rules access to most of the house without the inconvenience of doors to barricade his way. After many discussions on the topic, with Billy trying to convince me it was just a slip of the foot, he eventually agreed to restrict his body and drool to the kitchen floor. He still maintains the option to wander further a-field should he think no-one is looking though. He has refined his agreement to the utmost, and usually sits with his body up against the demarcation line – the silver strip that hides the edge of the carpet where it meets the kitchen vinyl. He sits so close that if he takes a deep breath his rib-cage drifts over the line.

The cats at first chose to lie low in our bedroom where the air conditioner doesn’t reach, but after a few days of Billy infesting their kitchen, helping himself to their food, drink and cool air, the cats plotted revenge. It didn’t take long for them to realise that Billy was a virtual prisoner in the kitchen and they now take great pleasure in wandering up and down under the dining table just a few feet from the kitchen/dining room border line, in full view of one very agitated St. Bernard. Last night they got really brave and actually sat as close as they dared to the silver edging, only inches from Billy’s nose. For a while there I thought Billy was going to explode. He looked like a dog who had his feet nailed to the floor! The pain on his face and the whimpering sounds tugged at my heart strings, but the cats just smirked to themselves and rubbed up against my legs, while nodding at Billy in a supercilious way.

Billy’s drool causes certain problems of its own. Wandering into the kitchen in bare feet is fraught with danger both real and aesthetic. I had the bright idea of making Billy a bib out of an old towel tied around his neck with the length of the towel draped over his front. Billy took exception to this innovation and spends a great deal of time ridding himself of the unfashionable item. When he can’t remove the towel he resorts to the sneaky ploy of getting himself tangled in it, thus making me come to his rescue. All in all the towel proved to be more work for me than just wiping the drool off the floor every now and then.

Shadow’s role during all this is to sit on the floor by the kitchen sink grumbling her mantra, “Kitchens are for shelter from storms – there is no storm – nothing good can come of this.” While Shadow will throw her little body against the back door to get into the kitchen at the first peal of thunder, the only way to get her into the house on hot days is to pick her up, ignore her grumbling about disrespect for old ladies, and plonk her on the cool floor. Shadow wants it stated for the record that she is a lot tougher than that overgrown, namby-pamby excuse for a dog and she’ll show him what her generation and breed are made of. I fully believe that Shadow would sun bake in the hottest part of our yard if only she had a pair of sunnies and a beach towel. The word “heatstroke” means nothing to her.

Meanwhile with Billy, Shadow and the cats keeping cool in various parts of the house, my thoughts turned to the ferrets doing it tough out in their cage under our old apricot tree. I spend more time outside in the heat refreshing the ferret air-conditioning than is wise for a person. After ensuring that the ferrets are keeping relatively cool, my thoughts turn to TD and TOD (That Duck and That Other Duck), Russell Crow, Feather Duster and The Girls (our two roosters and six black hens). They all live up in the back yard under an enormous pine tree and possibly the coolest part of the yard. Now I know if, in the unlikely event I was able to catch them all, there’s no way Graeme would tolerate them becoming free range house poultry so all I can do for them is ensure they have plenty of water and add them to my worry list.

Hedwig no longer likes to come inside, preferring to remain in her shade cloth draped aviary. She welcomes visits from me providing I have a scoop of her favourite seeds to offer. To provide Hedwig with relief from the heat I put ice-cubes in her water dish and spray her with water until her feathers are soaked. Hedwig enjoys these little niceties and happily lifts each wing while I spray the water over her, unconcerned about the fact that we are on tank water and I’m standing out in the heat whiles she’s enjoying her ablutions. Once she is fully damp, I leave her to dip her beak into the ice water, and once again turn my worries to the ferrets.

Today I brought the ferrets inside in their indoor cage. I placed a nice big bowl of ice water in one corner and their food dish in the other. Miette never loses an opportunity to over dramatise things. When I lifted her out of her cage this afternoon she immediately assumed the guise of a dehydrated, unloved and overheated ferret. There she lay in my hands – limp, looking like a melted ferret, appearing to gasp for every breath. This display of intense suffering might have been more effective if I hadn’t had to remove her and Albus from their quilted polar fleece sleeping bag to bring them inside. As soon as she realised that she was being taken inside, she forgot her role as the heat struck ferret and perked up amazingly.

Billy, who had braved the heat to supervise the removal of the ferrets from their cage, pushed past me as I headed for the back door. He assumed the role of welcoming committee and offered to help settle the ferrets in. Albus and Miette adopted their usual, highly successful strategy of totally ignoring Billy. I tried various manoeuvres to drop the ferrets into their cage while at the same time using my body to block Billy who was trying to get a taste of ferret.

Under the terms of the “Graeme – Ferret Treaty of 2003”, negotiated after Miette’s brush with death early last year, the ferrets must remain in their indoor cage while Graeme is inside. Despite my pleading the ferret’s case for a free run of the house, Graeme refuses to go and find outdoor jobs in 41 degree temperatures, just so that Miette and Albus can run around the house enjoying the coolness. For those of you who don’t know, no ferret can resist chewing on Graeme’s toes whenever the opportunity arises. What special quality Graeme’s toes have over the general population’s I don’t know, but I’ve never me a ferret who could walk past Graeme’s feet and resist the temptation to sample those ferret delicacies.

Both ferrets refuse to honour the treaty whenever possible, and immediately they were ensconced in their cage began testing it for weak spots with a view to a gaol break, all the while ignoring the unfolding drama of my futile attempts to de-Billy the kitchen. After various unsuccessful attempts Billy was finally put outside and began his campaign to get back inside or die trying. So, with the accompaniment of regular scratching sounds at the back door, everyone settled in to enjoying the coolness of the kitchen. It was then that Miette found a new use for her water dish.

At first I thought that Miette was indeed overheated and had decided to end it all in her water dish. She began by taking lady like sips, savouring the coolness of the ice water. Then, without warning, she plunged her head into the dish and, with her nose on the bottom settled in for what looked like a long stay! Now I don’t know what the world record for a ferret holding its breath underwater is, but I didn’t want Miette trying for the new record. I stood beside the cage tapping at the water dish and making concerned sounds while encouraging Albus to talk sense to Miette when she came up for air. With a little smile on her face and the air of one going for broke, she once again dived for the bottom of the dish causing water to flow over the rim and out onto the kitchen floor. I couldn’t convince Miette to cease her impersonation of deep sea diving ferret and I ultimately left her to it so I could focus on worrying about Billy and Shadow, banished to the laundry to keep cool while the ferrets had their turn with the air-conditioner.

One thing is for certain though … whichever member of the Small menagerie takes refuge in the kitchen during the heat wave, we’ll still need to navigate puddles on the kitchen floor.

I think I need a pair of flippers!

Monday, February 16, 2009

And The Academy Award Goes To ...

Ebony lying low so the camera won't find her.

I couldn't believe it was true. I went out to feed the ferrets the day after Miette died and found Ebony dead in the cage. Ebony hasn't been well for a while now, but I thought she was picking up. She'd finished her course of medicine and though she'd lost a lot of weight had started eating again. Two of my gorgeous ferrets in two days is just so hard to bare.

Ebony was terrified of humans when I got her. She was a rescued ferret and I imagine she wasn't treated very well by her former owner. It took me some time to get her to trust humans again, but once she did she had total trust. Ebony was my granddaughter Hannah's favourite ferret (she said all the others were too jazzy for her) because Eb would just lay in Hannah's arms and be calm and quiet.

I'm just so sad at the moment.

Here is the story I wrote a few years ago about Ebony and her mate Horton. Horton is missing Ebony this morning, but Jocie and the baby ferrets are doing their best to keep him busy.

And the Academy Award Goes To ...

I realise, apart from my initial introduction of them, I haven't told you very much about Horton and Ebony, my two not so new ferrets. So for a quick catch up on their arrival and settling in at Spring Rock so here goes –

As you might remember Ebony and Horton arrived within a week of Albus’ death. Miette was pining badly and I was worried that she was going to die of a broken heart. Ferrets are very social animals and let’s face it, Miette needs other ferrets to dominate or life just isn’t worth living. I contacted the New South Wales Ferret Welfare Society and they told me they had two very new ferrets who had just been rescued, but not yet socialised to the Ferret Society’s standards. That is, they couldn’t guarantee that they wouldn’t bite or have any other anti-social behaviours quite common among abused ferrets. There usual policy is to not allow unsocialised ferrets out into the world until they can guarantee good behaviour (a mighty big ask when you’re talking about ferrets!!!) I was desperate for ferrets to save Miette’s life and said, send them down as soon as possible!!! So they made an exception for me and Bec and Frances arrived on a mercy mission visit that weekend accompanied by two rather dazed ferrets and the rest is history.

Miette spent the first few days harassing and generally lording it over the newcomers and found a new lease on life. The two new ferrets, who quickly had name changes from Fetish and Shadow to Ebony and Horton were more than happy to accept Miette as top ferret and eventually peace reigned supreme in the ferret cage. Even though Miette is the top ferret her normal spot in the ferret pile is at the very bottom with Horton and Ebony curled up on top of her. I used to worry that she was being squashed (remember Miette is a severely undersized little shrimp of a ferret), but after watching her dispose of the two larger ferrets when she woke up and wanted to be up and doing things, I no longer worry about Miette. I imagine she enjoys being squashed by the other two or they’d never get to lie on her in the first place.

Ebony turned out to be the problem child. She is a beautiful sable ferret who came with an instinctive fear of humans - a legacy of her past life before she was rescued by the Ferret Welfare Society. Catching her required animal cunning on my part, but was helped by the fact that she had a low opinion of my IQ and thought all she needed to do was hide in the sleeping bag and I’d never figure out where she was. She’d shake and flinch whenever I picked her up and wasn’t above giving me a hard nip when the mood took her. With perseverance and plenty of bandaids I managed to convince her that not all humans were as horrible as the ones she’d recently lived with and she is now a happy, calm and very, very friendly little ferret. So much so that when it’s time for her nightly feed, she requires a cuddle before she gets stuck into her tucker. She and Tristan, my young ginger cat, have formed a combative friendship and spend hours happily ambushing each other in and around my fabric in my sewing room.

Horton is another kettle of ferret altogether. He combines a wicked ferrety sense of humour with almost manic energy. He loves nothing better than to challenge me to ferret duels and laughs at me when he wins. He always wins. He wins because he plays by ferret rules and that means no matter what the outcome the ferret wins. Horton’s other favourite past time is to think up clever ways to attract my attention when I’m outside. To get me to come to the ferret cage and pass the time of day with them seems to be Horton’s main aim in life.

With all the hot weather lately the ferrets found a new game that required team work. Their water container is a small automatic chook waterer. This is a plastic dome with a small dish that acts as a reservoir for their water at the bottom. When their container was empty the ferrets used to lie it on its side and roll it to the front of the cage so I could see they needed more water. Then, with the arrival of Horton and Ebony a new game was invented. This involved all three ferrets working together to tip the full container over so they could roll it to the front of the cage and get me to fill it again. For a while this was happening a few times a day. I tried appealing to their better nature and explained about droughts and the need to be water conscious with no success what so ever. I should have realized this before I wasted my breath. Ferrets don’t have a better nature. After much trial and error with ways of thwarting the ferrets' evil game, I came up with a system that prevents the ferrets moving the water container at all. I've tied it by the handle to the top of the cage and put pegs through the knot as an added precaution – you can never over engineer a ferret thwarting device! The outcome of this is that I have to keep a keen eye on the water level in the container. Ferrets drink a lot of water and on hot days all three ferrets like to lie with their chins in the reservoir which seems to use a lot of water somehow.

When I went shopping yesterday I did a quick check of the ferrets' water supply and was pleasantly surprised to see that they still had as much water as they did. When we came home I brought them inside and gave them their usual dish of water (which they always spill over their cage) and some snacks to be going on with for the day. I didn't put them outside until this morning because I couldn't negotiate the steps last night with my back ache. I put them out at 6 am when I'm not really functioning on all cylinders and returned to the house.

Later in the morning, after it was already heating up, I thought it might be a good idea to wash the ferret towels used in the cage for them to hide in and play in, seeing that Graeme was making anti-ferret noises yesterday and complaining about their smell. As I was hanging out the towels, Horton, who was up the back of the cage near the water container, saw me. He opened his mouth as if gasping his last breath, staggered to the front of the cage, while I stood rooted to the spot near the clothes line.

“Horton!!” I yelled but he gave no indication that he could hear me. He attempted to climb the front of the cage near their door, slid down the wall and lay there in a crumpled heap with his mouth wide open and not moving a muscle - the picture of a ferret dying of thirst!!!! I went into full scale panic (a normal mode for me) and rushed over to see if he was still breathing, calling his name and trying to get a reaction as I hobbled to the cage (I don't do rushing very well :) ).

As soon as I reached the front of the cage, Horton jumped up, ran to the water container and turned around and looked me in the eye. “Going to do something about this deplorable state of affairs?” he asked. Ferrets can be very formal when on their dignity. The water container was empty!! It works out that was Horton's subtle way of letting me know they needed water. Now I know ferrets are intelligent. I've seen so many instances of them being smarty pants before, but I ask you ... Would you believe that story if you didn't know what a truthful person I was? No? I understand perfectly. I still have trouble believing it and I saw it all first hand!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Miette looking for a tasty spot to nip.

To all her fans, I just wanted to let you know that my gorgeous Miette has died last night She started to fail when the heat really hit us a few days ago. For the first few days of the heatwave our air cooler wasn't working properly and while I had her in a cage under a fan, she still had trouble dealing with the heat. Then one by one her little organs started to fail. Her liver gave out two days ago and she slowly turned orange. Her brave little heart was still fighting the good fight but Miette needed to sleep most of the time.

I kept her on my lap on an icepack wrapped in a towel at the hottest part of the day, even after the air cooler was fixed. She seemed to enjoy our time together and would crawl up onto my chest to get closer to me and we'd have a chat and a cuddle. I debated taking her to the vet over and over again, but she didn't seem to be suffering and the only ferret I've ever had to have put down suffered dreadfully when the vet couldn't find a vein in her tiny little legs. It seemed kinder to just let Miette fade away peacefully - which she did. I found her curled up as if asleep this morning.

Miette had a difficult start to her life. She was a rescued ferret who had been maltreated and just about starved by her first owner. Her determination and fighting spirit pulled her through that time and Miette's fighting spirit continued until her last breath. In her later years Miette mellowed considerably and while still ruling the rest of the ferrets with an iron paw, showed the gentler side to her nature more and more. She became totally lovable. I am so sad. I loved the little terror of the ferret world so much. I'm going to miss her dreadfully.

For those of you who haven't read all my Life At Spring Rock stories and don't know who Miette is, I've included the story of when Miette first came to stay here with us.

The Coming of Miette & Albus

I thought I'd tell you all a bit about how I find names for my pets. Miette and Albus are good examples of my methods so I'll tell you about them. Miette and Albus were both rescued ferrets obtained from the NSW Ferret Welfare Society. Miette, my little sable coloured female ferret, was starved during her growing years as she is the tiniest ferret I've ever seen. Albus on the other hand is an albino male and a giant among ferrets. When they arrived here as a Christmas present from my kids, they cringed at their names Umina (Albus) and Twinkle (Miette). If ever there was a less Twinkle like animal it was Miette.

Bec arranged to pick up the ferrets prior to Christmas, from one of the Welfare Society's volunteers who had a house full of rescued ferrets. When the “ferret lady” opened the door to Bec the floor seemed to be full of ferrets all running in mad panic. Behind the hoard of frenzied ferrets was one little ferret skittering along after them. The volunteer smiled at Bec, pointed to the little ferret and said, "That's one of your ferrets."

Just as Bec was beginning to think, "What a little cutie," the "little cutie" managed to catch one of the larger ferrets, wrestle him to the ground, grab him by the neck with her teeth and start to scream as if she was being murdered. The rest of the panicked ferrets were no-where to be seen - obviously hiding somewhere coward and shaking waiting for their turn. The volunteer separated the two ferrets with some difficulty, kept a tight hold on the little one who had immediately assumed the face of an innocent ferret, and looked around for the second ferret assigned to Bec. I imagine Bec was starting to wonder what my life was going to be like with this little critter laying into any other ferret in the place, but Bec knows I'm made of stern stuff and didn't flinch in her resolve to give me two ferrets for Christmas. By this time the volunteer had located an extremely large white ferret and scooped him up from his resting place (from what I know now about Albus I assume he was napping somewhere totally oblivious to the general ferret terror) where he greeted Bec with a huge ferrety yawn.

The volunteer then told Bec that the short, violent one was named Twinkle and the large, placid one was Umina and both were now her's. She must have seen some look of doubt on Bec's face because she explained that they always like to pair ferrets up when they go to new homes so they have a friend and that Twinkle was very difficult to pair up - what with her firm resolve to dominate or exterminate every ferret she met. She always used the same modus operandi - chase the targeted ferret, wrestle to the ground, bite back of neck and scream the building down! The doomed ferret then assumed a totally subjugated position, promised to call Twinkle Boss from now on and with a small gasping ferret equivalent of "Uncle" would squirm free or be freed by a human.

In the interest of preventing confusion I will now refer to Twinkle by her new name, Miette and Umina as Albus. Miette's wicked little plan for world domination was thwarted by Albus. Did he fight back? Use his superior size and strength to turn the tables on the little warlike ferret? Run faster than her??? Nope. Albus simply didn't run so was the first to be caught. As Miette's teeth sank into his neck (she looked rather like a flea holding on for dear life), Albus would give one of his signature yawns, roll over and go to sleep. It was the rolling over that was the real killer. Miette would then find herself pinned underneath this oblivious ferret with no other ferret inclined to come to her aid - funny about that. So she decided that Albus was OK despite his name and they became firm friends. She still terrorised all other ferrets, but Albus had immunity.

The volunteer also promised that Miette came with a money back guarantee not to bite. She'd been put through anti-biting counselling and was considered cured. Yeah right. She is the nippiest little ferret I've ever met. Totally incurable and I've cured quite a few ferrets of biting. In her defence though she doesn't bite to hurt, she just can't resist nipping.

I've wandered from the subject of pets' names haven't I? Sorry I'll get back on the subject now. When they were handed over at Christmas the first thing I decided to do after welcoming them to the menagerie was re-name them. I still had Theodore the ancient ferret. He was the reason I wanted these two (to keep him company in his old age) and I didn't want him sniggering at their names. After a lot of deliberation and wading through on line baby name sites I found Albus meaning white man - perfect for Umina. Then I found the perfect name for Twinkle - Miette - it meant small sweet thing. I was hoping the new name would take effect and she'd turn into a small sweet thing, after all she already had the small part down pat. So Albus and Miette they became.

For those of you who have started to worry about how Theodore coped with this little warlike ferret in the winter of his life ... there was a problem for the first few days. Miette had to sleep in separate quarters because she bullied poor old Theodore mercilessly. Albus was just pleased to have the attention taken off him and caught up on some much needed sleep (making twenty three and a half hours a day in all). I had the ferrets in the house on supervised visits and spent quite a bit of time removing Miette from Theodore's throat. Theodore's old mate, Isabella, was a pretty little grey ferret of peace who loved the world and never uttered a ferrety squeak in anger. He was therefore totally unprepared for this little bundle of spite and teeth. After a couple of days of being rescued Theodore took matters into his own paws. On this fateful day Miette moved in for the kill, Theodore refused to run this time - fine by Miette, all the easier to grab his neck and make his life hell. As she opened her mouth ready to munch some Theodore he did a neat little twist, grabbed Miette by the throat, lifted her off her feet and shook her like a furry little rag doll.

This time Miette's shrill scream was in earnest! I think she thought she was done for and realised it wouldn't be ferret heaven she was heading for either. I sat on the lounge not knowing what to do for the best. Should I intervene and let Miette think she should go back to her evil ways because I wouldn't let any harm come to her or should I sit still and hope Theodore didn't in fact kill her? While I was still debating the matter and Albus had slunk off under the lounge to keep out of the firing line, Theodore dropped her and wandered slowly over to me for a chat, without a look back at her. Theodore climbed up on my lap (a very clever strategy here, Miette couldn't exact revenge immediately). Miette sat on the floor and thought for a while and realised a new day had dawned and she would never again be Boss Ferret. When Theodore finally climbed down onto the floor again she crept up to him and kissed him on his nose. He told her wasn't one to hold a grudge and kissed her nose in return. The three of them became best friends and were inseparable until Theodore's death a few year's later.

Now did you notice the actual bit about pets' names in all that? You didn't!? Maybe you'd better go back and read it again because I promise you it's in there.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Bush Fire Reports can be found here

There's no funny story today. We are all grieving for those Australians who have lost loved ones and all they own. The Victorian fire death toll stands at 108 with more expected to be found. The fires have destroyed entire towns.

We are about 3 hours drive from the closest fires and yet our property is thick with smoke. I feel so sorry for those living in the middle of this horror.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Shadow's Secret Bank Account

I don’t know why, but Shadow appears to be hoarding money. I don’t know if she is saving up to run away, put out a contract on Billy or buy her own marrow bones, but the fact is that every time I refold her bedding lately I find money stowed in there. To tell the truth it’s only five cent and ten cent pieces at the moment, but then you don’t expect an elderly Silky Terrier to understand the true value of money do you? Shadow most probably thinks she can lead a comfortable, independent and Billy-free life on one dollar!

Each time I lift her bedding and a small tinkling sound indicates that yet another silver coin has hit the tiles, Shadow ambles over to sniff it and attempts to discretely nose it back from where it came. I have tried questioning her about this suspicious increase in her wealth, but all I get is a blank look and a “What money?” gaze around the laundry from the fluffy one. The thing I want to know is – where is she getting it? To my knowledge she doesn’t have an off farm job and we certainly don’t pay her for spending her days lying around the yard or defending her bedding against Billy’s attempts to move into the laundry. I suppose it’s possible that she charges Guinevere, our human-hating cat, to share her bedding (Guinevere would die of embarrassment if she knew I was telling you she snuggles up to Shadow every night), but if that’s the case, then where does Guinevere get the money?

No, it’s just too difficult to fathom. Maybe Shadow has been befriended by the tooth fairy? … I think I’d better just accept that she has an independent income and stop trying to figure it out before I start coming up with really silly possibilities.

Looking at the facts, it is most likely that she is saving up to pay someone to deal with Billy. True, she does have him firmly under her paw and is able to reduce him to supplicating puppy status just by a mere look and a growl, but when you are around fifteen years old, have cataracts and getting hard of hearing, it’s worth a dollar or two to hire someone else to growl at Billy when he treads on you. Speaking of which - Billy has been treading on Shadow more and more lately. It’s a result of Shadow getting slower as she gets older and Billy getting more boisterous each time he inhales. He expends a lot of energy trying to convince Shadow to play doggy games with him. She has no intentions of playing doggy games. She is an old lady working hard at being dignified (an extremely difficult thing to achieve when your tummy almost scrapes the floor and you are constantly covered in St. Bernard drool) and has no intentions of assuming the role of Billy’s fluffy toy, as had proved the case in all her previous, if reluctant, games with Billy.

Over the months Billy and Shadow have developed an unusual relationship. At first Shadow tried to pretend he wasn’t there. No matter what happened, with the exception of the short period when Billy spent a lot of time gently chewing on Shadow’s head, Shadow remained calm and aloof, refusing to acknowledge Billy’s antics. If the antics got too close, Shadow turned her nose skyward and walked off with the air a someone who has remembered a previous engagement elsewhere. At this time Billy was rather pre-occupied with keeping out of Apollo’s way, but once Apollo was no longer, Billy was able to turn his attention to his own social needs. He looked around for someone to provide him with fun and frolic and, finding me determined to spend at least part of each day inside rather than being knocked over and drooled on, he turned to Shadow for doggy companionship.

Try as she might, it became increasingly difficult to ignore him. Wherever she went around the house yard, there he was dogging her every step (dreadful pun I know). From time to time Billy followed so closely that he overtook her, resulting in Shadow trying to make her way out between his front legs from under his belly. On most of these occasions Billy ended up treading on her. This wouldn’t have been too bad except that when Shadow yelped with indignation, Billy immediately stopped in his tracks and looked around for whatever was harming his friend Shadow, thus effectively pinning her to the ground by one over-sized paw. In the end Shadow could see that there was nothing for it but to reluctantly accept Billy’s presence in her life, but she refused to enjoy it. These days she no longer simply yelps when stood on - she adds a sharp nip or two to the offending foot, effectively causing Billy to jump with surprise and giving her the vital few seconds to scurry out from underneath.

She found that despite its drawbacks, recognising Billy does have its rewards. Every night at dinnertime Shadow forgets her dignified old lady facade and gulps her own dinner down with undignified speed. She then bustles out of the laundry as fast as her short little legs can carry her, and heads straight for Billy’s dish. Here she plants herself between Billy’s front legs and digs in. Billy, who likes to savour every bite with a far away look on his face, finds that when he returns his attention to the bowl it now contains a little shaggy head shovelling up his food as fast as it can. Now I maintain that Billy contributes to this state of affairs by letting Shadow win. He just stands there with a bemused look on his face, as if to say, “Last time I looked there wasn’t a little shaggy head in there,” and waits for me to come and de-Shadow his bowl. I have had to resort to locking Shadow up with her own dinner and releasing her only after Billy has finally finished his share of the food.

The other gripe that Shadow may be trying to address with her saving plan is to buy her own marrow bones. Every week I buy three or four of the largest marrow bones our butcher can provide, along with a bag of small bones. Every second day I give Billy half a marrow bone and Shadow a few of the smaller bones. Billy again savours every bite of his bone and makes it last most of the day. He tucks in with gusto, gnawing on the bone, licking the marrow up with loud slurppy sounds and generally leaving Shadow to feel that she is missing out on something wonderful. When he’s finished with it there’s not much left and what is there is not a pretty sight. Shadow, on the other hand, sits and stares mournfully at my meagre offering of bones for her, and bides her time. No matter how hard she tries her small bones don’t seem to yield the same amount of satisfaction that Billy obviously gets from his huge bone. At the first opportunity she races over to Billy’s spot and tries to drag his bone into her laundry. Problem one is that the bone is bigger than Shadow. Problem two is that she tries to defend her own paltry supply of bones from Billy’s plundering while stealing his. It’s almost impossible for an aging Silky Terrier type to be in two places at once, but Shadow usually manages to gain possession of all the bones. But as I said earlier, by the time Billy is finished with his bone it’s not fit for doggy consumption.
Shadow holds out hope that one day, when I walk out the back door carrying those huge, delicious bones that one of them will be for her - before Billy has mauled it past recognition. In the meantime she will continue to save her pennies on the off chance that she meets a butcher somewhere around the back yard with huge, juicy marrowbones for sale. And if Billy thinks she is going to share - isn’t he in for a surprise,