Monday, September 05, 2022

Introducing Marlowe


Marlowe a week after he arrived at Spring Rock

When I began looking for a Saint Bernard pup back at the end of March I realised I had a problem.  I applied to go on a waiting list with two breeders who had advertised they had litters due soon, but neither breeder got back to me.  I imagine their waiting list was so big I didn’t stand a chance of getting one of their pups.  I contacted Ann, Aslan’s breeder, to ask if she knew of anyone who had a litter of pups due which I might contact.  Ann replied that she had a litter due in April.  She wasn’t advertising this because she had a waiting list of 35 people, but because Ann knew, I’d give one of her pups a very happy forever home she offered to put me way up the list.  I jumped at the offer.  Aslan’s beautiful personality and calm attitude to life wasn’t a fluke – Ann breeds for those qualities and I was confident that any pup bought from Ann would be a great pet.

In early April Ann contacted me to say a littler of six had been born.  There were four girls and two boys.  I was promised a boy and Ann would send progress photos so I could choose which boy I wanted.  As the weeks passed and the puppy photos just got cuter and cuter, I set my heart on the boy with the little spot in the middle of his head.  Ann told me this is called a monk’s cap in Saint Bernards.  I enlisted my youngest granddaughter, Molly’s, help in naming the pup.  We made a list of possible names and together we chose Marlowe.  I had been reading about the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe recently and thought his surname would make a great dog’s name – Molly agreed.

Marlowe is the puppy at the back with the spot on his head.
When I placed the deposit for Marlowe, I told Ann his name.  Ann started to call the pup Marlowe so he became used to the name.  All there was to do now was waiting for Marlowe to reach eight weeks old.  Ann was bringing him down to me and we were to meet at her friend’s home in Goulburn.  Finally, the day arrived and we drove to Goulburn with all sorts of puppy comforts onboard.  We met Ann at her friend’s place and I immediately made friends with a Chihuahua who also lived there.  She was on my lap and soaking up pats while Marlowe and two of his sisters slept in the back room.  Eventually it was time to put the Chihuahua down and go meet Marlowe.  He was reluctant to leave his sisters so I picked him up and carried him to the lounge room.  After some quick thank you’s and goodbyes (Marlowe was quite a weight to carry so I needed to get to the car) we took our precious bundle and a huge puppy pack, a gift from Ann to help ensure a quick settling in period for Marlowe, to the car.

The drive home was uneventful.  Marlowe travelled well and was happy to share our company on the four and a half hour trip home.  Once home we were greeted by Cleo who, upon seeing the little fluff ball gave us a “how could you?” look and walked away.  This came as a bit of a surprise.  Cleo has always loved puppies and taken them to her heart as soon as she’s had a chance to rub noses.  Not this time.  Cleo clearly felt she was now too old for puppy nonsense and resisted Marlowe’s efforts to win her over.  Thankfully, as time went on, Cleo became fond of Marlowe and was content to doze in the sun with Marlowe curled up beside her.

Like Cleo and Aslan, I’d decided to take weekly photos of Marlowe’s growth.  Unlike Aslan, Marlowe is an energetic, playful puppy (Aslan was always quiet and laid back) who doesn’t sit or stand still for selfies.  Getting Graeme, Marlowe and me in the same place once a week to pictorially record his increasing size proved difficult, and like many second or third children, there aren’t as many photos of Marlowe as there are of Cleo and Aslan as puppies.

 When the time came for Marlowe to have his booster vaccination, we drove him and Cleo to the vets’.  Cleo always enjoys a car ride and we didn’t want her seeing Marlowe off on a jaunt with her left behind.  Sharing the back of the car with Marlowe was a bit fraught for poor Cleo.  Marlowe wasn’t yet sure if he liked car rides or not and constantly demanded Cleo’s attention to reassure him this wasn’t the end of the world.  Cleo put up with Marlowe’s antics and did her best to enjoy the ride despite him.

I had to carry Marlowe into the vets’ because he wasn’t fully vaccinated yet.  Cleo and Graeme waited in the car.  I opened the door to the surgery with my little bundle of fluff in my arms and saw that there were two vet nurses, the receptionist and two clients in the waiting room.  As I walked in all five people said, “Awww,” at the same time.  Marlowe, who was glad he was out of the car and up close and personal to me barely paid attention to everyone.  I sat in a chair with Marlowe on my lap and he noticed the receptionist working away on her computer.  Marlowe became engrossed on her and wouldn’t take his eyes off her.  She must have looked up from time to time because she finally said, “Marlowe, I can’t work with you looking at me like that.”  As soon as he heard his name, Marlowe’s back end started wagging on my lap.  The receptionist came around the counter and asked if she could have a cuddle.  I handed Marlowe over, sure that it was fine with him.  Marlowe loves cuddles and doesn’t care who is giving them to him.  The receptionist then asked if she could take Marlowe out the back to show “those who weren’t lucky enough to see Marlowe when he arrived”.  I said yes and she disappeared for quite a while.  I’m sure Marlowe was holding the inaugural Marlowe Appreciation Club meeting, many of whose members were in the Aslan Appreciation Club. 

When Marlowe was returned, he and the receptionist were best friends.  He sat on my lap until it was our turn to see the vet and wagged his tail every time the receptionist looked up.  They must have bonded while out the back.

Cleo’s patience was tried sorely during Marlowe’s difficult Terrible Two’s months.  He still had his baby teeth and they both annoyed him and were very sharp.  I bought him a range of chew toys, but Marlowe’s favourite chew toy was Cleo.  Cleo ended up having to visit the vet because she’d broken out in bare, itchy patches of skin.  Clay, our vet this time, thought they were hot spots, caused my Marlowe’s teeth breaking Cleo’s skin and then bugs getting into the area.  Clay said unfortunately Marlowe was likely to chew on Cleo until his adult teeth started to come in at around the age of six months.  I was glad Cleo wasn’t proficient in English or she might have left home after that piece of news.  Of course, we stopped Marlowe chewing on Cleo whenever we saw him with her ear or paw in his mouth.  Cleo was no help at all.  She wouldn’t bark or grumble about being a large, hairy chew toy for the pup and would simply put up with it unless Marlowe caused her a significant amount of pain.  I was forever telling Cleo to tell him off, but the most Cleo did was give us an imploring look to detach the puppy please.  Marlowe is now five months old, and has mostly stopped gnawing on Cleo.  We still find him with his teeth attached to Cleo from time to time, but the frequency we find him doing so is getting fewer and fewer.

Marlowe loves to accompany me on my rounds to tend to the outside members of the menagerie.  As you might expect, this can sometimes be a bit fraught.  When I now clean out the fishpond pump I have to keep a careful eye on exactly where Marlowe is.  Even with my ever-vigilant checks, Marlowe has managed to fall into the fishpond twice!  The fishpond is not that big, and Marlowe managed to fill most of the available space.  What the fish think of these four hairy legs, attached to huge puppy feet, I don’t know, but I’m sure they are against such invasions.  Marlowe panicked the first time he took an unplanned dip in the pond, which made getting him out that much worse.  We both ended up soaked and Marlowe vowed to give the pond a wide birth after that.  Of course when the next time came to clean the pump Marlowe had forgotten the trauma of falling in and once again ended up in the pond.  This time it was only his front feet, but they proved almost as wet and difficult to extract as the entire puppy did.  Cleo, who also likes to accompany me on my rounds, just rolled her eyes and reminded me that this puppy was all my idea.

I gave Cleo and Marlowe a treat each in different parts of the kitchen.  Marlowe picked up his treat and placed it between Cleo's front legs.  They then both settled down to enjoying their own treats.

The galahs have declared war on Marlowe.  When I enter their aviary I do my best to exclude Marlowe, but the gate is a bit tricky to completely close from the inside.  Marlowe takes full advantage of this.  The first time he ventured into their cage he was just an interested tourist, checking out the new sights.  Hedwig and Hermes suspected he was up to no good and immediately went on the offensive, spreading their wings and screeching at the top of their voices.  Marlowe, who was surprised to see this bad tempered display tried to explain that he was just looking while I dragged him out by the collar.  Since then he’s only managed to get a foot or two into the aviary but the galahs are ready for him and voice their opinion on this ever-enlarging dog invading their home.

I allowed Marlowe to come into the chook pen with me from the first day he arrived home.  I hoped that by being familiar with the inhabitants of the chook yard Marlowe would be less inclined to dispatch any chook that managed to escape while he was out and about.  The first couple of weeks went well.  Marlowe acknowledged the chooks’ presence and was content to wander around the yard, introducing himself.  Unfortunately, he discovered a wonderful game and has now been banned from entering the yard.  Marlowe discovered that he could sneak up on an unsuspecting hen, grab her tail in his mouth and then just hold on.  As soon as the hen realised she was caught she’d start clucking madly, flapping her wings and trying to break free.  Marlowe didn’t think there was a better game in the world that this.  The hen had a very different opinion.  I went to the chook’s rescue, told Marlowe  a firm NO! and resumed my feeding and egg collecting.  Marlowe wondered if the same reaction was to be found by grabbing another hen by the tail.  Joy oh joy it was!  As I said earlier, Marlowe is now banned from entering the chook pen.  He still accompanies me to the chook yard, but has resigned himself to remaining outside and just remembering the fun of grabbing a chook’s tail.

Marlowe is now five months old.  All the above took place during the first two months after he arrived home with us.  He is now a beloved member of my menagerie.  Marlowe is a bit of a scamp and is always full of beans and mischief.  Cleo, who is an elderly lady these days, has come to love him, and they spend their days together lying in the sun or snuggled together out of the rain on their beds.  One of the vets who was a big Aslan fan, told Marlowe he had big shoes to fill.  I told her there would never be another Aslan, but also I’m sure there will never be another Marlowe – he is making his own place in the world and is confident that he will be loved by all.  I think he’s right.




Sunday, July 10, 2022

Too Many Tractor Hours

This is a rare, no members of the menagerie involved, post.  

Well, my tractor driving yesterday was an adventure and a half.  I ended up sending my kids a text message saying I'm clocking up too many tractor hours.  

Graeme recently bought himself a fertiliser spreader and has been purchasing fertiliser in the truck half a load at a time.  The our farm driveway is in a dreadful mess with all this water lying around.  The truck cannot make it through this slush without being towed by the tractor.  I'm the tractor driver.  All has gone smoothly so far and then this happened ...

To start with it was raining (Yay! because Graeme had spread the fertiliser and it needs rain to wash into the soil; Boo! because the tractor's windscreen wiper rubber has deteriorated and doesn't work), our already soggy roadway is just that much worse in the rain.  To add to my level of difficulty Graeme had left the spreader attached at the back of the tractor.  It's not a tow behind type of arrangement, but rather it sort of latches on close to the tractor and can be raised and lowered.  When raised I can't see a thing out the back, when lowered it's not much trouble at all - guess which position it had to stay in - yep, raised.

I drove out to the front gate and left Graeme to drive the truck out through the firebreaks.  He believes that way is less sloshy, but I don't like it at all.  I got through the Top Gate (after yesterday, now known as The Gate I Hate - the reason for this comes later) and my phone beeped at me.  Graeme had been trying to ring me almost since I'd left to tell me to come back because the truck couldn't make it up the slight incline almost where I'd left him.  It was only once I drove out of a black spot area on the farm that I got the message.  I found a spot to turn around and headed back.  When I saw where Graeme was, I stopped the tractor and rang him to tell him I wasn't towing him out via the firebreaks.  After trying to convince me to do it his way, and me standing firm, refusing to go out via the firebreaks, Graeme finally relented, but he wasn't happy.  Graeme had the tow cable all set up and had to undo it all so he could drive the truck to where I was waiting for him and re-setup the towing cable.  That done and the truck hooked up to the tractor, we swapped phones so I could use Graeme's noise cancelling headphones with his phone for us to communicate.  I keep telling Graeme he's deaf and he won't believe me, but when he spoke to me via the phones, the volume nearly took my head off.  A quick lesson on how to reduce the volume and we were ready to go. 

With the spreader up in the air and the side mirrors set for a 6 feet tall Graeme, I couldn't see the truck at all, apart from the very top of its yellow roof.  I kept reminding Graeme that I couldn't see anything but he seemed to keep forgetting this small fact.  Even my front visibility was hampered by a wet windscreen and no wipers.  We trundled along reasonably easily despite these problems until we reached the Top Gate.  The approach to this gate coming from the house towards the property's front gate is uphill and at a right angle to the roadway.  This has never been a problem for me in the cars and when driving the tractor, but with the double wheels on the back, I slow down to an almost stop and creep my way through - so far no dramas.  As we approached the gate this time, I told Graeme I wasn't great at driving through it so be prepared for me to slow down and creep through.  Guess what!  When towing a truck up a wet and soggy hill you can't drop your speed or the revs dramatically and not stall the tractor.  I chose not to stall the tractor, said a little prayer and drove through the gateway.  Immediately Graeme started yelling, "STOP!  STOP!  STOP!”  I stopped, but the designer of the joystick arrangement for changing gears for the tractor had a warped sense of humour.  You push the joy stick forward to go, flick it to the right to go up a gear, left to go down and pull it back to the middle for neutral - all good so far, but!  you also pull it back just a little bit further for reverse.  You guessed it, I pulled the joystick back too far.  After a moment of confused panic, I put the tractor in neutral and waited for Graeme to tell me what was wrong wrong – apart from my unintentional reversing adventure. 

The angle of my approach may have gotten the tractor through the gate but the truck was somehow aiming right for the gatepost.  Graeme told me to reverse the tractor back through the gate and not hit anything – I really didn’t need that last bit of advice, it’s not like I ever plan on hitting anything.  I once again reminded him that I couldn't see out the back at all and the side mirrors just showed me acres of paddocks and not the gate.  With a lot of indecipherable hand signals, much yelling from Graeme and some mumbled words from me, the tractor was finally where Graeme wanted it.  I then had a second go at driving through the gateway of the now, renamed Gate I Hate.  There were no further dramas in the towing of the truck.

As I was driving along, I heard a beeping in my ear and asked Graeme what that might be.  Graeme said someone was trying to ring him, most likely Brendan, the farmer who was having the fertiliser delivered and to where Graeme was heading with the truck now.  Graeme said that he, Graeme would hang up now and ring Brendon back.  Now it was my turn to yell.  I told Graeme under no circumstances was he to hang up.  I once again reminded him I couldn't see anything and the only way I knew nothing dire had occurred was that Graeme was calm and quiet on the other end of the phone (or calmish and quietish, but I didn’t say that to him).  Graeme decided that an hysterical wife driving a tractor took precedence over a farmer trying to find out where Graeme was and stayed on the phone. 

I towed him past all the slushy, boggy bits of roadway and stopped, waiting for Graeme to unhitch the tractor and rethinking my entire life until now and wondering how I got myself in these situations.  Graeme unhitched the truck, gave me a cheery wave and drove off to meet Brendon.  I drove back to the house, still rethinking my life.  During this whole episode, all I could think of was the monetary value of the truck, tractor and brand new spreader that were all at the mercy of my limited tractor driving skills and lack of ability to see what was going on.

Thankfully, it is still raining so Graeme isn't going to get the truck back today.  When he does, I will have the joy of doing all the above in reverse order – hopefully, with the spreader removed (if I have my way) and with a lack of rain; or at the very least a working windscreen wiper.


Monday, June 06, 2022

The Great Escape 2


Hedwig has been having adventures in the wild once again.  A few years ago, Hedwig and Hermes were on the run for about a week  When I say on the run, they didn’t run far.  Basically, they barely left the house yard in all that time.  I’d go outside to feed the chooks and look for my wayward galahs, and find them in a nearby tree or on the house or a shed roof.  Hedwig would venture closer to have a chat and tell me of her adventures, but Hermes made sure she didn’t get too close.  He’d shepherd her further up the tree or roof, in case I got ideas about grabbing them.

While Hermes is fit for life in the wild, poor Hedwig isn’t.  She sustained damage to her wing and leg when she had the encounter with a car when very young.  I nursed her back to health after the wildlife rescue service chose not to take her on.  The advice they gave me was exactly where to hit her with a blunt instrument to put her down.  I objected to this, so I was deputised to care for her.  Hermes was rescued from an encounter with a car a year later and he was able to be restored to full health.  I intended for Hermes to be set free but, when the time came, Hermes refused to leave Hedwig.

The escaped pair was eventually wrangled back into their aviary.  The stress Hedwig had endured during the week of freedom was obvious.  She had pulled out a large area of her breast feathers and was a nervous wreck for a while.  After her week of freedom, which she definitely didn't enjoy, Hedwig has decided that the caged life is the happy life for her and stays put. 

On Sunday afternoon last week, Hedwig and Hermes were having a tantrum because some sparrows had made their way into the cage and were eating their seed.  These tantrums are quite common and neither Hedwig nor Hermes deals with the sparrows themselves, despite being three times the sparrows' size.  They prefer to screech and carry on until I arrive and sort out their problem for them.  I must have been late to answer their call, because by the time I arrived to de-sparrow the aviary both galahs were in a snit.

As I entered the aviary, which is usually the signal for all sparrows to make a fast exit, sparrows flew everywhere.  Most managed to escape, but two sparrows panicked and couldn't find their way out of the wire.  I slightly opened the aviary door and escorted the two sparrows towards the opening.  Hedwig, who was still screeching and flapping her wings, ended up flying out the door.  Hedwig had no intention of leaving the aviary I'm sure; I can usually leave the door open and she will show no inclination to leave.  Once out the door she did a U-turn and landed on the aviary roof, clearly wondering how she had got there.  I think she'd got herself into a flap about the sparrows and ended up on the wrong side of the door without realising it.

I couldn't leave the cage door open for her to re-enter though because Hermes is all in favour on the wild bird life.  While he has two strong wings and two strong legs, Hedwig doesn't and wouldn't survive long in the wild if he took her away from the house yard.  As Hedwig alighted on the roof of the aviary, she proceeded to scold me for letting her escape.  I did my best to try to see exactly where she was on the aviary roof, but I’m too short to see the whole roof.  Hedwig had no intentions of coming quietly; she was in a temper and wanted everyone to know it.  As I moved around the aviary trying to locate her, Hedwig continued to scold and grumble.  Hermes moved to the perch closest to the sounds of Hedwig’s grumbling, but he couldn’t see her either and he became a bit flustered himself, offering me all sorts of advice to open the door and let him fly to Hedwig’s rescue.  I called Graeme out for back up and found the Chinese Silkies' bag of sunflower seeds to use as a bribe. 

My first attempt at bribery wasn't a complete success.  Hedwig sidled up to get to the seeds and munched away happily.  Her mood appeared to improve, but on reflection I realise I was lulled into a false sense of security.  When I put the hand not holding the sunflower seeds up for her to step onto, Hedwig remembered her temper tantrum and bit me.  Graeme was ready there and then to abandon Hedwig and let her live with the consequences.  I'm made of sterner stuff, but Graeme's stern voice and anti-Hedwig sentiments made Hedwig rethink her spot on the aviary roof where she was easily reached by a six foot, cross Graeme.  She flew to the house roof.  Landed awkwardly and couldn't get her footing on the roof’s slope.  She slowly slid down the corrugated iron, scrabbling for purchase she couldn’t find, and landed in the guttering.  From this rather unusual vantage point, she looked down on me with a superior air and tried to look like she’d intended to roof ski all along.

"And that's why you aren't fit for the wild world!"  I told her.  Hedwig agreed she wasn't keen on the wild world either, but she was still cross.  She flew back to the aviary roof and moved down close enough for me to catch her.  Hedwig wasn’t admitting to her mistake though.  She chattered and scolded, demanding more sunflower seed, while “accidentally” stopping within my reach.  As I took hold, Hedwig dug her beak into my hand and screeched all sorts of insults at me.  Graeme offered advice, such as to let her go, and genuinely couldn't understand why I was still holding the nasty galah who had her beak firmly sunk into my finger.  I asked Graeme (through gritted teeth) to go and stand by the cage door and open it when I finally got Hedwig to the door. 

The short trip to the aviary door was fraught.  Hedwig was not going gently into that good night despite the fact I knew she really was sorry she was on the wrong side of the aviary door.  She screeched around beak-fulls of my skin, tried to flap her wings and generally made the short trip both painful and noisy.

Hedwig was finally restored to the aviary, cursing and screeching the whole time.  My two hands were rather mangled and she'd managed to draw blood in two places.  Once she was safely inside, Hermes, who had been watching the proceedings from the aviary perch, came over to check his best friend for injuries.  Hedwig’s bad mood prevailed and poor Hermes received an earful of insults and accusations.  Hermes, who is used to dealing with Hedwig during her hormonal times, knows the better part of valour is discretion.  He beat a strategic retreat and left Hedwig to her bad temper. 

I closed the cage door and told Hedwig I too was cross.  I had two mangled, sore hands and had not enjoyed the experience one bit.  Hedwig just gave me a beady-eyed look and continued to grumble under her breath.  I told her she was in my bad books for the foreseeable future, but I might forgive her by the time my poor hands finally healed.  Hedwig just gave me a look.  I could almost hear her reply of, "Whatever”.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Update On Cleo


Cleo with her very grubby squeaky toy.  Now she's no longer emotionally attached to it it has had a wash.

Cleo has had a difficult time adjusting to the loss of Aslan, but she’s finally returning to her normal, happy self.

When we arrived home after having Aslan euthanised Cleo ran to the car to us and her best friend.  When Aslan didn’t emerge from the back of the car, Cleo was confused, but I think, expected him to show up soon.  As the days past and no Aslan appeared, Cleo began to mourn his loss.  She continually checked the back of the car, hoping Aslan would emerge; she searched the house-yard for him and became inseparably attached to her pink squeaky toy.  She cried a great deal.  Her whines only added to my sorrow and we mourned the death of our beautiful Aslan together.

Cleo didn’t want to let us out of her sight.  She spent all day inside, mostly just sleeping with her trusty squeaky toy by her side.  If she came inside without it, she wouldn’t settle until I figured out the problem and retrieved the toy for her.  Why the squeaky toy became such an emotional crutch for Cleo I don’t know; she had spent years trying to get Aslan to play tug of war with her and the toy, but Aslan would chase Cleo around the yard quite happily, but never understood the role the squeaky toy was supposed to play.  Before the loss of Aslan, Graeme or I would often have a tug of war with the toy and Cleo.  She would run and find the toy and rush back to us and the game would begin.  I think she preferred Graeme as an opponent because she was allowed to pull with all her strength – with me she had to pull gently so as not to hurt my back.  These games ceased the day Aslan didn’t return.  Graeme and I tried tugging on the squeaky toy, but Cleo would just let go and give us a pitiful look.  We stopped trying to start a game with her.

As time went on Cleo began to stop looking for Aslan, the whining stopped and eventually the squeaky toy wasn’t her constant companion.  I can’t say she was a happy puppy, but things were improving.  Cleo’s period of mourning lasted months.  I began looking for a Saint Bernard pup in the hope that Cleo would fall in love with it and be happy again.  Saint Bernard pups are rare in Australia at the moment by the looks of things.  I found one breeder with a long waiting list to whom I emailed a request to be added – two months later and I haven’t heard back from them. 

I contacted Aslan’s breeder to see if she knew of any litters for sale or due to be born.  She replied that she had a litter due in April and a waiting list of 35.  She offered to put me at the top of the list if I’d like to buy a puppy from her, as well as sizeable discount on the price of the pup.  The breeder told me that she knew a pup that came to live with me would have a loving forever home and that was important to her.  I said yes immediately, but it meant that there was going to be a twelve week wait.  The chance to get a pup bred by the same woman who bred Aslan was wonderful.  She breeds her dogs for the temperament and personality for which Aslan was famous around here.

Cleo of course, had no idea a pup was in the offing.  She continued to spend her days sleeping inside and behaving in a very subdued manner.  I showered her with love, attention and treats, and so our days passed.  The pups were born in early April and when they were two weeks old, I chose Marlowe.  Their mum had had a litter of six with two boys and four girls.  I chose Marlowe because he has a cute dot on top of his head – the breeder informed me that it’s called a Monk’s Cap.  She has kept me updated on Marlowe’s progress and developing personality.  Cleo and I still have just over two weeks to go until Marlowe arrives home, but I mention his name to her each day and tell her she’s going to love him.

Cleo has always loved puppies.  When Aslan arrived here at eight weeks old, Cleo who was one year old at the time took him to her heart immediately.  She followed him everywhere, and as I said in my last blog entry, we had to provide Aslan with political asylum in the form of a gate over the laundry doorway so he could escape Cleo’s attentions when they got to be too much.  Cleo and Aslan soon became best friends and he was as devoted to Cleo as she was to him.  One of my favourite photos of the pair is this one. 

Cleo and Aslan

My cousin visited a while back and brought her new puppy, Max with her.  Max had just left him mum and was a bit uncertain about things until he met Cleo.  She immediately took him under her wing and mothered him for the duration of his visit.  Poor Aslan, who was an adult by this time, had to take a back seat for Cleo’s attention while Max was around.  I’m sure Cleo remembered giving birth to Max by the time he’d been in her company for a day.  She followed him everywhere, checked he was clean in all the delicate places and slept with him at night.  Max was perfectly happy with this situation – he might be missing his mum, but he’d found another, much larger mum to love him.

The breakthrough with Cleo happened a couple of weeks ago when my son Josh and his four daughters visited for a weekend.  Cleo followed us around as we practised archery, watching from the safety of behind the gate (all four girls and their mum enjoy archer and have been teaching me the proper techniques), inspected the garden or fed the chooks.  It was after we’d fed the chooks that I finally saw a happy Cleo again.  Molly, my twelve year old granddaughter, had just left the chook yard when Cleo came bounding over, performed that little bow dogs make when they want to play, and challenged Molly to a race around the house.  Molly joined the game and I almost cried.  It was the first time Cleo had wanted to play with anyone since losing Aslan.  The game continued for a few laps of the house and both Molly and Cleo returned with smiles on their faces.  I just wish I’d had my phone with me.

Since then Cleo has begun playing with us again.  Her tail is wagging once more.  She only occasionally checks the back of the car to see if Aslan has returned.  When he doesn’t appear, she goes back to whatever she was doing.  I’m sure the day we arrive home with Marlowe Cleo will be ready to make a new best friend and will shower him with love and attention.  Marlowe has no idea what’s in store for him.

Marlowe aged three weeks.

Thursday, March 17, 2022



Last Wednesday my beautiful Aslan was euthanized.  I was totally unprepared for this; I thought I was taking him to the vets’ for antibiotics for an infection on his front leg.  The vet diagnosed bone cancer in Aslan’s front leg.  With his wonky hips and elbows, coupled with his huge size, amputation was not an option.  The only thing I could do for my gorgeous boy was end his suffering.

Aslan has always been a very stoic dog and determining if he was in pain proved very difficult.  As a pup, he slightly favoured one leg.  It was almost so slight I could have ignored it, but felt the vet should check it out.  X-rays showed that Aslan had dreadful hips and elbows, with his hipbones barely in the sockets.  I was given daily medication for him and he began to walk more normally and enjoy playing chasing with Cleo.

The vets’ was one of Aslan’s favourite places to be.  He was always sure of an enthusiastic welcome by the staff, and often, other clients.  The first time Aslan visited the vet was for his booster injections and a general health check.  Rose, the vet who examined him, was instantly won over by the pup’s very laid-back approach to life.  By the end of the visit, she had informed Aslan that he was her new, favourite patient.  Aslan took this as his due and they remained firm friends to the end. 

Rose always took time to stop and say hello to Aslan even when he wasn’t the patient.  We took Cleo to the vets’ once and Aslan came along for the ride and to keep Cleo company.  When Rose saw us in the waiting room, waiting to pay our bill, she asked how Cleo was, then asked where Aslan was.  I told her he was in the car with Graeme, waiting for Cleo to come back.  Rose said, “I’ll just go out and tell Aslan Cleo will be fine,” and with that she headed for the car where, Graeme reported rather bemusedly, that Rose did indeed tell Aslan all was well with Cleo before she and Aslan caught up as old friends do.  I was so glad Rose wasn’t on duty the last time Aslan visited the vets’.

Aslan came into our lives when he was ten weeks old.  I’d purchased him from a breeder in Queensland via messages, photos and phone conversations.  Cleo was an only dog at the time and she has always been a very nervous, anxious personality.  We hoped a young friend would make her feel more secure.  The breeder, a lovely lady, preferred to hand deliver Aslan, rather than sending him down by air pet carriers.  I was relieved to hear this because I too would worry about the pup being distressed on the journey.  So Ann, the breeder, drove down from Queensland and met us at her friend’s house in Goulburn. 

My first site of Aslan was Ann coming out to meet us with this little fluff ball following behind.  For me it was love at first sight.  Whenever Ann moved off somewhere she would say, “Follow the feet,” and Aslan would be right there behind her. 

Aslan settled in beautifully at Spring Rock.  Cleo took him to her heart the moment he arrived.  After a good sniff from head to tail, Cleo decided this fluffy little scrap was hers, and Aslan who last saw his mother a few days ago, was happy to be adopted.  They were inseparable after that.  Wherever Aslan was Cleo was right behind making sure her pup didn’t get into any trouble.

At first things were a bit fraught with Graeme  Every morning Graeme would go outside, ready to start his farming day and every morning, one of his shoes would be absent.  I think it must have been Aslan, because it didn’t happen before he arrived.  Graeme would voice his displeasure to the dogs and demand his shoe.  I invariably came out to join the search, after reminding Graeme that, a) the dogs didn’t speak English and had no idea of what he was cross about and, b) they had most likely taken off with the shoe long before he came out, so were not likely to link his anger with their deed.  Eventually the shoe would be found – it was rarely in the same place twice, making the hunt for the shoe a challenge.  Thankfully, this game ended eventually and Graeme’s shoes remained safe from light-fingered dogs after that.


Aslan and Cleo shortly after he arrived at Spring Rock

Aslan’s quiet, laid-back attitude to life never left him.  He was always a calming influence with Cleo who was just about the exact opposite.  When the unexpected happened, Cleo would react immediately, usually barking at the new visitor or mob of kangaroos or echidna that turned up close to Cleo’s home.  Aslan would wander out to see what the fuss was about, realise it wasn’t worth the effort of getting excited about (I never discovered anything Aslan thought was worth getting excited about), and stand near Cleo as moral support.  Aslan excelled at moral support.  Aslan’s huge presence usually quietened Cleo and she was able to relax, unless it was Edna the Echidna visiting.  In Cleo’s mind, Edna need constant barks to remind her that this was Cleo’s home, not hers.  Aslan took his usual live and let live approach to Edna’s visits, but remained behind Cleo in case she needed back up.

 Aslan’s trips to the vets’ were one of his favourite ways to spend a few hours.  It started with a ride in the car which he always loved and then being met by his adoring fans, both old and new, and then finished with a ride home in the car.  How could it get better than that?  The ride was preceded with getting Aslan in the car, which was not one of Graeme’s favourite things.  When Aslan was a pup, this wasn’t much of an issue.  Graeme would usually pick Aslan up, put him in the car and then stand back as Cleo made her attempts to join Aslan.  They usually travelled everywhere together, even when only one of them was visiting the vet.  Assisting Cleo into the car wasn’t a big problem because Cleo eagerly helped with the process.  When Aslan grew too large to lift we tried the Put Half The Dog In The The Other Half approach.  Aslan would stand with his front legs on the tail gate and wait for Graeme to lift his back end in as well.  He always turned his head to supervise Graeme’s efforts, but offered no help at all, despite being keen to get in the car.  Getting Aslan into the car was clearly Graeme’s job and Aslan would not mess with the order of things.  Once in the car, both puppies settled down to enjoy themselves. 

Aslan receiving his vaccination certificate and making life long friends with Rose.

If it turned out to be a vet visit, so much the better.  As I mentioned earlier, when Aslan was six months old, we discovered he had bad hips and elbows.  We were also told Aslan’s knees were perfect, which wasn’t much consolation.  Aslan was put on anti-inflammatory/pain killer tablets that relieved his hip and elbow pain and let him lead a normal Saint Bernard mostly inactive life.  These tablets required six monthly blood and urine test to check his body was coping with the medication.  Aslan was all for six monthly visits to his fan club.  The only fly in the ointment was the scales in the vets’ waiting room.  Aslan suspected them of nefarious purposes and did his best to avoid standing on them, despite everyone’s effort to entice him onto the rubber pad.  Mostly the vet would decide to estimate Aslan’s weight rather than lift him onto the scales, but on one rare occasion Aslan was on the scales long enough to record a weight of 78 kilos.  This weight was recorded and used as a guideline for most of the rest of his life. 

Vet visits were always a social outing for Aslan and Cleo.  Aslan’s big fluffy appearance, coupled with his quiet personality, attracted people like moths to a flame.  It wasn’t unusual for me to be stopped multiple times on my trip from the car to the vets’ door by people who just wanted to meet Aslan.  On one memorable occasion, a queue actually formed while the first person patted and admired Aslan.  Once inside Aslan was greeted as a long lost friend by the staff.  The receptionist or vet nurse in the waiting room would then go out back to tell everyone Aslan was here.  Clients in the waiting room often came up to talk to him and Aslan took all this as his due.  He accepted compliments and pats with the air of a celebrity meeting with his fans.

Actually, come to think of it, there was a second fly in Aslan’s ointment with vet visits.  Aslan was scared of little dogs.  Anything Kelpie size or larger was fine.  If their owner brought them over to say hello to Aslan he would wag his tail slowly, and bump noses happily.  If the dog was smaller, especially the small, white, fluffy variety that seems to abound at our vets’ practice, Aslan would get a look of panic on his face and try to hide behind my legs.  It was difficult to convince small dog owners that my huge boy was scared of their little dog.  They’d look at their dog and then look at Aslan, trying his hardest to attain invisibility, and then look at me as if I was mad.  Eventually it would be proved that Aslan was not comfortable meeting their small dog and the owner would usually pat Aslan and tell him he was a funny boy or similar.

With that unhappy event behind him, Aslan would then be taken out the back by a vet or vet nurse for his tests.  I’d hear all the welcoming hellos and cries of delight that accompanied Aslan’s arrival out the back and then wait for his triumphant return.  The person returning Aslan always had good things to say about his bravery when facing the needle and his personality in general.  Aslan would nod in agreement with it all.

At home Aslan would join in games with Cleo, if she insisted, endure baths – not his favourite activity – and generally brighten everyone’s day.  There were a few exceptions though, the most memorable was the time I fell and hit my head on the concrete septic tank top.  The retractable hose knocked my feet from under me and I came down hard on the tank.  I called Graeme for help, but he was down in the shed and couldn’t hear me.  Cleo and Aslan, on the other hand, could.  Cleo came bounding around the house to see what help she could give and Aslan followed at a much more sedate pace.  I couldn’t see Aslan very well, because I had a face full of Cleo, but Aslan too was determined to be of help.  While Cleo kept me distracted, Aslan turned chiropractor, put his great big paw straight down on my neck, and proceeded to walk over the top of me, putting his not inconsiderable weight behind that paw.  I feel very lucky he didn't snap my neck - as soon as I felt the paw on my neck alarm bells rang in my already ringing head.  I managed to grab his leg as he walked over me to reduce his weight, but a lot of Aslan's weight (and there was a lot of Aslan's weight) managed to get through anyway.  After Aslan’s impromptu neck adjustment, he sat close next to me and proceeded to share his drool.  I eventually managed to get myself up despite all the help Cleo was giving me and Aslan was pleased that he’d done his mite and everything was right with our world again.

I could go on and on about the joy I had sharing my life with this wonderful, gentle giant.  He was always unflappable, kind hearted and loving.  Aslan brightened every day of my life while he was in it.  He also brightened the day of those who met him, firstly when they were impressed by his size and later when his lovely personality shone through.

Seven years was far too short a life for this amazing puppy.  I miss him every day.  Cleo is not coping well.  She keeps looking for her best friend and whining when he doesn’t show up.  She carries her squeaky toy with her everywhere, whether as a comfort, or in case Aslan turns up and would like to play, I’m not sure but she never lets it out of her sight.  Cleo and I mourn our loss together. 

Thank you for sharing your beautiful, but far too short, life with us Aslan.  We miss you.


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

It Must Be The Heat

The weather here is beginning to heat up with temperatures in the high 30's (Celsius for those overseas readers).  The Spring Rock menagerie always seems to go a bit loony as the days warm up.  This year has been no exception.

Venus cannot settle.  She is always on the wrong side of the door, no matter how many times she goes in or out the back door.  As her personal doorman, I just wish she'd make up her mind.  When she's outside, she is tending to stick close to Cleo.  Venus is absolutely besotted with Cleo, and Cleo finds it very embarrassing.  Recently, Venus has taken to bringing little love tokens to her favourite Saint Bernard.  The first one was a dead mouse, which Venus proudly brought up the porch steps and deposited between Cleo's front paws with a very smug expression on her face.  Venus has noticed that despite Cleo’s enormous size, she’s not much of a hunter and clearly needs Venus’ offering of tasty morsels.  I had the privilege of witnessing this gift being delivered.  Venus stood in front of Cleo and waited for the thank you she so obviously deserved.  Cleo, just looked at the mouse, then turned her head to look at me with a what-am-supposed-to-do-with-this look on her face.  I had no advice for her though.

Dead mice gifts to dogs I can cope with (even if Cleo can't), but Venus' next offering was for me and I had to have words with her about it.  When Venus catches something and brings it to the back porch, meowing that special meow cats have when they think they have been particularly clever, I always go and check in case whatever the victim is, it may be something that can be saved.  This time it was still alive, but it was a baby brown snake!  I was barefoot and without any means of scooping it up and removing it without danger to my person.  Venus was sitting next to it, away from the head end, and making sure it didn't escape.  Thankfully, Graeme was outside and was able to safely deal with the "gift".  Venus was disgusted that we didn't appreciate her present and has returned to showering love on the ever-reluctant Cleo.

Hedwig and Hermes have their own snake problems in summer.  The brown snakes find their cage irresistible - either because of their water trough, or to investigate mouse holes.  Hedwig and Hermes screech their, “IT'S-A-SNAKE!” screech and either Graeme or I go out to send the snake on its way.  The last snake to visit was made of sterner stuff than most.  I donned my gumboots, grabbed the snake deterrer and answered the galahs’ call for help.  I found a very large brown snake actually hunting the poor terrified birds.  It was climbing up the sloping branch the galahs use as a perch and road to the aviary floor, and the cage we keep in the aviary for bird transport emergencies, and attempting to reach the galahs who were flapping around inside the aviary in mad panic – they’d never actively been hunted by a snake before.  I banged the outside of the aviary with our snake deterrer (a large metal pole with a flattish end), but that just turned the snake’s attention to me rather than the tasty galahs.  He flattened his neck to threaten me, doing his best cobra impersonation, but I too am made of stern stuff and I continued to bang the outside of the cage.  Eventually the loud noise and vibrations gave the snake a headache and he left the aviary and hopefully vowed never to return.

There’s also been an interesting development in the chook yard.  George, who has just ended her longest ever broody session, has decided that she must have had two very large chickens hatch when she wasn’t looking.  George took to the nesting box about two months ago and sat firm well after the eggs I put under her should have hatched.  I checked her progress every day and George grumped that I was disturbing a very delicate process.  About two weeks after the eggs should have hatched, I removed them and gave George a short lecture on knowing when to give up.  George ignored my advice and continued to sit on her now empty nest for a few more days.  When she finally emerged, she found two very large chickens scratching around the chook yard.  To George it was obvious what had happened - two of her eggs had hatched while she wasn’t looking and the result was before her eyes, scratching around the yard in the care of Emu, our other Silky hen (who just happened to be the hen who actually hatched out those two chickens).

George is very proud of how quickly her chickens grew, but she’s treating them like newly hatched, baby chickens.  She is finding tasty treats for them and calls them over to eat them, she won’t let Cookie and Monster (the two chickens in question) out of her sight and fusses over them non-stop, clucking away in that special cluck mother hens use when talking to their chickens.  Cookie and Monster are a Faverolle, Hamburg cross, which means they will grow into quite large hens.  They are already taller than George, but she knows they are just overgrown babies and need her careful guidance to grow big and healthy.

George with her two World Record sized newly hatched chickens with Opportunity (the rooster)

Emu is fine with this.  I think she feels she has put enough effort into raising Cookie and Monster and is now entitled to a rest.  She has handed over full chicken raising responsibility to George, and is once again living the single, carefree life, without so much as a backward glance towards her chickens.

I’m not sure what Cookie and Monster think, but they aren’t knocking back the offer of tasty treats from the slightly deranged Silky with the over the top, fluffy fringe.  I think the two chickens are getting close to the age where mother hens send them out into the world on their own.  Cookie and Monster don't seem to need to know where Emu is any more and seem content (or resigned) to being stalked by George, but then they are being nagged into submission by the deranged Silky, so maybe they are just trying to keep a low profile so George doesn't put them in time out.

Emu enjoying the single life again.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

The Vet Visit En-masse.

We took the puppies and Tristan to the vets' today.  Graeme is still reeling from the bill.  Late last week I noticed an ugly growth on Cleo's side.  It was nestled under her winter coat and I wasn't sure how long she'd had it, so felt the best course of action was a visit to the vet.  Aslan was overdue for his blood and urine tests.  He is supposed to be tested every twelve months, but with Covid making life difficult for everyone, I've let this slip for a while.  Aslan is the picture of health, so I wasn't worried.  Tristan, who is 19 next month, has recently been having seizures.  They have been spaced out over months, and he recovers reasonably quickly after an episode, but I worry.  Therefore, an appointment was made for all three members of the menagerie to visit the vet.  

The morning began with me following Aslan around the garden with a honey bucket in hand ready to catch his first dribbles of urine.  I thought it best to arrive at the vets’ with the sample, rather than have them try to get one once we arrived.  I knew from experience that while Aslan is all for socialising with all his fans at the vets’ he is rather shy when it comes to producing samples.  The last time we tried, a vet nurse and I walked Aslan all over the grounds, the vet nurse pointing out favourite toilet spots for other dogs to Aslan while I tried to get him thinking about flowing streams and waterfalls.  Aslan did not co-operate and I had to acquire a sample and bring it back to the vets’ at a later date. 

Aslan was not impressed to be accompanied on his early morning toilet break and kept stopping, looking at me as I dived for his nether regions with the little bucket, thinking better of it and moving to a new spot in my very large garden.  Each time he would give me a look that clearly said, "Can I have a little privacy here please?"   Eventually we manage to sync the sample collecting process with an actual sample production and I returned to the house triumphant, little bucket carried ahead of me like a trophy - it doesn't take a lot to make me happy.

The next hurdle to get over was getting the puppies into the car.  Tristan was remarkably easy to pop into the cat carrier.  I relied on stealth and a dozing cat's slower reflexes and picked Tristan up and popped him through the very large top opening of the carrier and job done.  The puppies were another matter.  While both are always eager to get into the car, neither possess the required athletic ability to actually jump up and in.  Cleo's system is to put her chin on the tail gate and give Graeme a sidelong look with a clear "A little help here would be appreciated." message attached.  It's a relatively simple matter for Graeme to then put Cleo's front paws on the tailgate (why she never thinks of this herself I don't know - the chin on the tailgate method so obviously doesn't work) and then lift her back end.  Aslan, who feels that even resting his chin on the tailgate is too much help for Graeme, stands away from the tailgate and looks at Graeme hopefully.  After many aborted attempts and a lot of harsh words about tubs of lard and how useless they are, Graeme calls for my help.  Aslan, realising the big guns have arrived, puts his front paws on the tailgate as soon as I pat it invitingly and then it’s no small matter of Graeme lifting the rest of Aslan’s bulk into the back of the car. 

Neither of the two vets who regularly deal with Aslan and his wonky joints was working yesterday, but our vet practice is blessed with many lovely, knowledgeable vets so I wasn't concerned.  With Covid rules in place, we arrived at the vets' car park and I rang the office to say we were here.  The receptionist asked what car we were in and I told her.  Graeme said I should just have mentioned the two big dogs whose heads were now sticking out from the back window.  While we waited, two young girls came over and asked if they could pat the dogs.  Cleo was already trying to introduce herself to these two new, potential friends before they even reached the car, and of course I said they were welcome to pat the puppies.  After following my instructions to let the puppies smell the back of their hands first (the universal way of a dog getting to know you), both girls dived right in and were soon as covered in Saint Bernard hair and drool as Graeme and I were - it's spring and they are shedding like there'll never be another winter.  The two new puppy fans stayed with us for quite a while, patting the puppies and asking questions.   

Two vets duly arrived to deal with our mass booking and while Clay concentrated on Aslan, Jen turned her attentions to Cleo.  Tristan made small, complaining noises from his cat carrier on the back seat and was promised attention as soon as the puppies were finished.  

 While Cleo was being treated in the car park, Clay took Aslan inside to take the blood sample and considering the time he was gone, allow all Aslan’s veterinary staff fan club to greet him and have a chat with the big fluffy fellow.  Clay also took the opportunity to weigh Aslan.  This takes great skill.  Aslan has never been in favour of revealing his true weight and usually approaches the scales in such a manner as to give whoever holds his lead a false sense of security, and then veers off at the last minute.  Last time he was weighed I tricked him into it, walking on the scales myself and quickly hopping off as Aslan followed.  He weighed in at 75kgs last time, and John, Aslan’s personal vet, said that that was an appropriate weight for such a large dog.  I’m afraid John would have been shocked at the tally yesterday, and doubt he would have risen to Aslan’s defence this time. 

When Clay returned with Aslan, he asked me if I had any idea how much he weighed.  I replied that no, I didn’t, but I was sure it would be an embarrassing number.  Clay nodded solemnly and told me Aslan broke the vet practice's record for fatness - he weighs 104kg!  Clay told me they have never had a dog reach triple figures before.  Apart from his tubbiness, Aslan is doing well.  The blood and urine tests were all clear, so he can keep taking his medication for his wonky joints.  Short, slow walks are now going to feature heavily in Aslan’s future.  We will be going on these short, slow walks until Aslan manages to shift a lot of that extra weight.  I am working on the premise that he should weigh around 75kg, so he is basically 30kg overweight.  He doesn't get much exercise because his hips and elbows are problematic, but Aslan does enjoy a walk when I take him.  I've been leaving him home because I can't walk as far as I want to with Aslan along, he just can't manage long walks, so from now on the walks will be for Aslan's benefit, not mine.  Cleo will just have to suck it up and accept her long walks around the farm are over for a while.

Cleo’s consultation revealed she has five hotspots on her neck and chest; most of them were hidden by her winter coat.  She also has a yeast infection in her ears, so antibiotics for the hot spots and drops for the ears.  The growth, which was the original reason we took this lot to the vets', is most likely just a cyst, an ugly red/black cyst, but not a problem.  When Cleo goes back for another ear swab to check the infection has cleared up Jen will check the growth again next week, to make sure it’s not growing.

Finally, it was Tristan’s turn.  Jen moved around to the side of the car, after asking all sorts of questions related to an elderly gentleman cat.  She was pleased with most of the answers I gave and worried that the seizures might be related to kidney or liver problems.  Tristan was taken into the surgery for blood and urine tests and a general physical.  I warned Jen that Tristan now feels that old age comes with privileges, one of which is he is entitled to be irascible, growling and sometimes even swiping at a well meaning victim.  Tristan gave Jan his most angelic look, implying it was all hurtful lies aimed at a defenceless old man.   Jen thanked me and told me she always liked to be warned beforehand. 

Tristan, determined to get even for being stuffed into a cat carrier and driven miles away from home, behaved like a perfect gentleman.  He won Jan over in a very short space of time and a friendship was born.  He even had blood tests without complaining (at home he growls if you so much as look like you are going to move him off his comfy heat pad), but because his bladder was tiny when Jen palpated it, she decided not to try and get a sample.  Jen gave him a thorough checking over and told me he was in remarkably good health for such an elderly cat.  Jen attributed this to my taking excellent care of him.  Tristan insists it’s all down to the, active, adventurous life he led in his younger day, which toughened him up, and his daily mushed egg in his later years which is the highlight of his sedentary day these days. 

I was given a very interesting little pack of pseudo kitty litter and told if, when the blood tests come back, they weren't good, I will need to lock Tristan in a room for a while with the litter box filled with this litter.  It is non-absorbent and I will be able to fill a pipette with Tristan’s urine, for quick delivery to the vets’.  I’m hoping the blood tests all come back with good news, for more than one reason.  I feel I have had far too much to do with my pets urine output over the last few days and would be happy not to have to revisit sample collections for a while.  Tristan now is also on some wonder medication for arthritis.  Jen says it is amazing stuff and really makes a difference to old joints.  She said it isn't available for humans yet sadly, although elderly owners of elderly pets have asked hopefully if it is safe for human consumption.  As I said earlier, Jen complimented me on getting Tristan to one month off 19 years old and still purring, and in such good condition.  Really I haven't done much - apart from getting him a heated pad for winter and preparing that mushed egg for him each day, it's all Tristan's doing.  I do call out the ages of very old cats when I come across one on the internet, and encourage Tristan to aim for that age - maybe it helps.  

So, all pets are now confirmed to be either in good health, or are being treated for whatever aliment yesterday’s marathon vet visit revealed.  I just hope Graeme survives the vet bill. 

Tristan enjoying his heat pad.