Monday, April 19, 2021

An Update On Venus

Last time we met Venus she was settling in to domesticated life as a member of the Spring Rock menagerie.  She continues to enjoy the life of a domesticated cat, but the domestication is just a thin veneer I’m afraid.  I imagine there will always be a feral puss, lurking beneath the surface.

Venus is happy to while away some of her time in the house with us and chooses most nights to come inside late at night and sleep with Tristan, Ambrosia and Nefertiti in the bathroom; this is despite the fact that Nefertiti constantly puts Venus in her place by snagging whichever of the two beds she thinks Venus will prefer that night.  When Venus first moved into the house, The Gang of Three (Tristan, Ambrosia and Nefertiti) wouldn’t allow her to sleep on their very spacious, faux fur covered bed in the bathroom.  I made Venus a bed out of a purple furry throw and a pet mat so she had somewhere to sleep.  It’s much more Spartan than the plush bed The Gang of Three share because our bathroom just isn’t large enough for another fully padded bed, but it wasn’t long before Nefertiti had decided that if Venus was happy with the purple bed it must be better than her fur bed.  She soon moved in and wouldn’t let Venus on.  Nefertiti will allow Ambrosia to share the purple bed if she’s in a good mood, and divides her time between the large bed and the purple bed.  Tristan has risen above all this musical bed business, somewhat literally, and slept on the windowsill during the warmer weather – now that the nights are cooler he’s moved back to the fur bed and ignores anyone who tries to turf him off.  Venus, ever the pragmatist, sleeps on whichever bed is vacant or shares with Ambrosia if Nefertiti and Ambrosia decide to spend the night one on each bed.  Ambrosia isn’t exactly welcoming but she doesn’t actually hurl insults at Venus – Nefertiti, who looks like a sweet, gentle cat never loses an opportunity to use the worst cat language I’ve ever heard when face to face with poor Venus. 

On the nights Venus decides not to come inside, no matter how many times I call her, she ends up sleeping in the laundry with the puppies.  Cleo and Aslan are much more welcoming, if somewhat embarrassed about being good friends with a cat.  Venus particularly loves Cleo.  How this came about I’m not sure.  The first time Cleo and Venus met, Venus was still mostly feral and coming into season.  She lived on the front porch at this stage in a seething mass of annoyed hormones.  I was out there patting her and telling her of my long-term goals to have her friendly enough to become a domesticated cat and Venus was listening quietly and soaking up the pats.  Cleo came bounding around the side of the house, saw a new cat she hadn’t introduced herself to yet, and proceeded to do so.  Venus took one look at the huge nose approaching her and hauled back with her right paw, claws fully extended, and told Cleo she did not like dogs and she particularly didn’t like very large, drooly dogs as she took a swipe at Cleo’s nose.  Cleo backed down the steps as quickly as she could, backed down the path and around the side of the house, never taking her eyes off the new cat with the sharp paws.  

I thought that would be that as far as Venus and the dogs finding an amicable living arrangement, but after her visit to the vets’ Venus became a much more peace-loving cat.  We soon set off on our two-week trip to Central Australia, leaving Venus living on the front porch (complete with comfy bed and sufficient food to last a couple of months).  When we returned, Venus came to greet us and then headed off to rub herself along Cleo’s legs.  Cleo had a look of panic on her face and was definitely trying to tell us to please, please save her!  I got the idea that this wasn’t Venus’ first efforts to befriend Cleo so left her to make amends for her previous bad behaviour. 

Cleo has now settled in to a friendly relationship with Venus.  Venus was late turning up this morning.  She chose to sleep outside last night, and when she's out and about after we've gone to bed, she usually spends the night snuggled up against Cleo in the laundry.  Cleo is her dog.  This morning I went out to the back porch and called Venus, with no tortoiseshell cat appearing.  The second time I tried calling her Cleo pitched in to help.  She picked up her newest squeaky toy and, with tail wagging, went looking for Venus.  If Cleo finds Venus when I call for the cat, Cleo will bring Venus back to me - Cleo leading the way and Venus following.  Cleo didn't find Venus this morning and came back empty-handed and tail drooping, but with her squeaky toy still held firmly in her mouth.  I then turned to go inside again, beginning to worry where Venus was, when I found her, sitting on the kitchen floor on the other side of the screen door.  She was clearly wondering what puss, puss, puss I was calling.  Cleo came up to the door to say hello as well and Venus just assumed a superior air and walked away after rubbing noses with Cleo through the screen.

We struggled with Venus’ weight for months.  When I say we, I of course mean I have struggled – Venus is quite happy to be a very rotund cat.  Venus found free food too tempting to pass up, wherever it was and to whomever it belongs.  She’d sit at the bowl of cat food and just keep eating until I removed her and closed the door to stop her returning to the bowl.  She ate the dog food when she was outside, along with a variety of wildlife, despite the bell on her collar.  By the end of winter, Venus’ weight had ballooned up to alarming proportions.  

I can’t keep Venus inside as I do the other cats because Venus simply refuses to use the litter tray.  She’ll go to the toilet behind a chair or some other very private spot if I don’t let her out in time.  Her preference is the garden, but if she’s desperate, Venus will make her own arrangements inside.  Needless to say, this makes Graeme and me super aware of when Venus asks to go outside. 

Thankfully, when summer arrived, Venus put herself on a weight reduction diet.  I really wish I knew her secret!  She has gone from a grossly overweight feline to a very svelte young lady in the matter of a few months.  When one of our cats lost weight when I was a child, my Nana always said that the cat was eating lizards.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do hope Venus isn’t catching poor defenceless lizards in her quest for a better figure.  I have noticed as we move into autumn, that Venus is now beginning to put on a bit of weight again.  I have a dreadful feeling we’ll have a very fat winter cat and a trim and terrific summer cat as the years go on.

As I wrote earlier, Venus’ domestication is just a thin veneer.  When there is just Graeme and me at home, Venus’ behaviour is very much like the other three cats’ behaviour.  She’s a bit more standoffish than Tristan, Ambrosia and Nefertiti, but she’s happy to lie on her back with maximum tummy exposed to the air cooler or heater depending on the weather.  She occasionally honours me by settling in on my lap and going to sleep, but mostly she prefers to have her personal space respected.  Venus is always happy to receive a pat or scratch behind the ear from me though, and she adores Graeme – choosing to sit on his chair as soon as he vacates it and looking very offended when he puts her on the floor on his return.  Her feral nature comes to the fore whenever we have visitors.  If she is inside when they arrive, she shoots out the back door as soon as she can, looking terrified.  She then doesn’t reappear until she thinks the strangers are gone.  If she has miscalculated, and the visitors are still present Venus will keep a very low profile under the dining table or demand to be put outside again.  I’ve tried to explain that no-one will hurt her, but Venus just isn’t comfortable with anyone but Graeme and me.

On the one occasion she visited the vet, to be spayed, I had to stress and restress that, although Venus looked the picture of a gentle, calm cat, she was still basically a feral cat for anyone she doesn’t know.  Venus sat in her carrier looking very chilled out and insisting it was all a lie.  When I picked her up after her surgery, the vet nurse told me that Venus had remained a quiet, calm cat until they did something she didn’t like, like getting her out of the carrier or anything else they needed to do.  Then Venus showed her feral side with a vengeance and she soon lost all the friends she’d made by looking calm and beautiful in her carrier.  Thankfully, no mortal injuries were dealt, but Venus left everyone who came in contact with her in no doubt that she didn’t like them, didn’t like their surgery, and didn’t like humanity in general.

Venus continues to refuse to use the litter box, despite being a house cat for eighteen months now.  Because she has to be put outside when she indicates she wants out, she now blackmails us.  Her favourite way of telling us is to jump up amongst my very delicate ceramic owl collection and wander back and forth causing the owls to make little clinking sounds.  She is promptly told to, “Get down!” and does so begrudgingly, but is confident that either Graeme or I will now open the back door for her.  With her tail in the air, and a triumphant look on her face, Venus regally escorts us to the back door and leaves the house. 

One problem we have is that Venus is one of those cats that firmly believe that the other side of the door is the best place to be.  She no sooner goes out than she’s back at the door asking to come inside.  Once in it’s not long before she wants out again.  Her personal record was the day she came inside, did a U turn and went outside again before I’d even had a chance to close the door.  I feel that I spend my days as an unpaid doorman, opening and closing it multiple times a day just to allow one rather spoiled, ex-feral cat to come and go as she chooses.  Venus is happy to believe that this is just how it should be.

Now that the days are getting cooler, Venus is taking full advantage of her domestication and spending more time inside.  She is happy to nab Tristan’s heated bed before our elderly gentleman can get there first.  Venus settles down with her back to the room and does her best it ignore Tristan’s affronted look.  While Tristan is usually happy to share his bed with Ambrosia or Nefertiti, Venus is built on a much larger scale and takes up the entire bed.  The fact that she stretches out to her full length to expose as much of her as she can to the warmth, doesn’t help at all.  I intervene and put Venus on a quilt or the furry bed at the top of their scratching post and with a resigned sigh, Venus settles down to the second best spot in the lounge room.  Tristan makes a show of hurt feelings and not wanting to sleep on the bed now, but the warmth soon calls to his old bones and he settles happily on the bed to sleep the day away.

The cool nights are also working on the bond between the Gang of Three and Venus.  Snuggling up to the larger cat at night is much more comfortable than letting Venus have the whole fur bed to herself.  Venus is more than happy to mend fences and welcome any of the Gang of Three who wants to snuggle and conserve warmth. 




Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Sad Tale Of The Abscess

Warning - this post is not for the faint hearted or those delicate tummies.  Blood, gore and general medical talk are contained herein.

Cleo has been creating fun and hijinks lately.  Last Sunday, when Rebecca made a lightning fast visit to pick up one son and drop off another to help us with harvest she had to run the usual gamut of members of the menagerie greeting her.  Cleo bounded up with her usual joie de vie to say hello and Bec greeted her in her normal manner.  Bec is a neck scruffer of dogs so she was first to discover the lump.  I pat my puppies on the head or scratch them behind the ears, I rarely express my love by scruffing under their chins, and that's my excuse for not noticing the lump, along with the acres of excess skin Saint Bernards keep under their jaws.  

Bec came into the house, said hello to us all then asked if I was aware that Cleo had a massive lump under her jaw.  I immediately went outside to check and, to say the size of the lump under Cleo's jaw was huge, barely covers the description.  I couldn't get two hands around it.  It was also obvious that it had grown to these massive proportions in a matter of a few days.  I'd bathed the puppies two weeks ago and if there'd been the slightest hint of a lump, I would have noticed it.  The puppies have been enjoying inside time under the air cooler ducts and wear a bib for the occasion - a bib I personally put around their necks, so again I would have noticed a lump.  This didn't stop me imagining the worst and worrying it was a tumour.  

Monday morning I rang our vets and was told they were booked out all week, but I could have an emergency appointment if I could bring Cleo in an leave her for the day to be seen as soon as someone had the time.  I was concerned that Cleo would need to be euthanized and didn't want that to happen without me being with her so I made an appointment for the next week.  On Wednesday, Cleo upped the ante.  The lump proved to be the biggest abscess I've ever seen and began to ooze disgusting stuff.  Cleo had chosen for some reason to sleep out on the concrete driveway on Tuesday night and when the abscess burst, it created a huge mess all over the concrete.  The entire area looked like a crime scene with blood and gore from one side of the driveway to the other – the only thing missing was the police tape.  Despite this horrible sight, Cleo's abscess was still an impressive sight.  I rang the vets' and told them the non-urgent lump had developed into an urgent one and may I bring her in this morning to be seen when they had time please?  The receptionist told me to bring her in by 8.45am, which was only just doable considering the distance we live from the vets' surgery.  

Graeme is still harvesting, and as I've mentioned before, I am unable to drive any more due to a back injury.  Luckily (from Cleo's and my perspective, definitely not from Graeme's) the header and broken down on the weekend and needed repairing (we'd driven three and half hours on Monday to get the part needed) and we'd had rain which meant the wheat couldn't be harvested until it dried out considerably which meant that Graeme was happy to drive Cleo to the vets'.  Graeme prepared the car for a canine passenger.  This involves putting a protective covering over the cargo area of the car to protect the car’s interior from drool.  Graeme has never learned to shut the puppies up while he's doing this and as soon as they see the cover go in, they try their hardest to get into the back of the car.  Neither are athletic so all attempts fail, but their attempts always annoy Graeme who is worried they'll scratch the paintwork in their abortive attempts to get into the car, ready for their car ride.  Thankfully, Cleo wasn't in the mood even to attempt to get in the car and Aslan was soon dispatched to the laundry.  Cleo then needed to be lifted bodily into the back by first placing her front feet on the tailgate and then Graeme hefting her backend up to join the front paws.  

Once at the vets’ I was lucky to for Cleo to be seen straight away and surgery was recommended.  I left Cleo with the vet and went home to wait for the phone call to come pick her up.  Later in the afternoon Graeme suggested, we take Aslan with us to pick up Cleo because Aslan was sad that he'd missed out in the morning and he'd missed Cleo all day.  Venus, the ex-feral cat, also missed Cleo while she was away, but taking her with us wasn't suggested.  Once Cleo was ready to come home, we loaded an unusually enthusiastic Aslan into the car.  I told Venus, the ex-feral cat, her dog would be coming home soon and left her looking wistfully at the last dog in the yard to leave her.

I hadn't realised that Cleo was the social glue that held the backyard menagerie together until she was gone for the day.  Aslan sulked in the laundry and didn't want to talk to anyone.  Venus moped around and tried to befriend Aslan instead, but as I said, Aslan was sulking and ignored any pussycat overtures of friendship.  We took Aslan with us to pick Cleo up and he was over the moon when he saw her wobbling her way towards the car (she was still dopey from the anaesthetic).  When she was lifted into the back of the car (with lots of interested patients' owners looking on and laughing), Aslan tried to welcome Cleo back to the fold.  Cleo wasn't interested and just wanted to go back to sleep so Aslan, ever the pragmatist, settled down to sleep next to her.

Once we arrived home and got Cleo out of the car (no easy feat with a drowsy puppy wobbling everywhere) Aslan again tried to welcome Cleo home.  Cleo just tried to weave her way to the water dish, but Venus had rushed over to greet her as well.  There were a few harrowing moments when cat and puppy's legs looked about to tangle, but Cleo managed to keep her precarious balance while Venus decided the welcome home could wait a few seconds.  Once Cleo was drinking from the water container Venus went to town with her welcome.  She rubbed against all Cleo's legs, one after the other, stood under Cleo's jaw so she could reach part of Cleo's face to rub against in welcome (not the best idea with the drainage tube doing its job) and finally, Venus followed Cleo to the laundry.  This looked something like a triumphal march because, with Cleo leading the way, Venus following close behind and Aslan bringing up the rear, a parade scene was definitely brought to mind, even if the leader of the parade looked decidedly tipsy.

The vet had told me to take the tube out on Monday.  Cleo and Aslan had other ideas about that and Friday morning Cleo greeted me at the back door sans drainage tube.  I had a closer look and she had the tiniest bit still in place held down by the stitches.  I think she got Aslan to chew the tube off on Thursday night, although neither was admitting to anything.  By now, Graeme was once again harvesting so he was less than impressed with the possibility of another trip to Wagga.  When I rang to tell him the bad news he grumpily said it would just have to wait and hung up.  Why he was cross with me I don't know - I think it was guilt by association.

Thankfully, our son-in-law Grant is here to drive the truck for us.  He told me he wasn't needed until 10.30 so, after another call to the vet, who was again booked out for the day, I locked up Aslan - he wasn't invited this time - helped Grant load the Puppy-Who-Was-In-Disgrace into the car and off we headed for Wagga.  When I rang I was told there could be quite a wait and neither Grant nor I were thrilled about that because Graeme would have the truck ready to go at 10.30 and grandson Ethan, who had come down to help with harvest as well, isn't old enough to drive the truck.  I'm sure he would have been thrilled to be given the chance, but ... just no.

Thankfully, our vets are all country people who understand about harvest frenzy and the vet saw Cleo as soon as we arrived.  There was a moment when I had to laugh when we arrived at the vets'.  The new Covid-19 system is to ring the receptionist when you arrive and someone will come out and tend to your pet.  I dutifully rang and told the receptionist I had Cleo in the car-park ready to see the vet.  The receptionist told me to just carry Cleo in and she'd let a vet know.  This was obviously a new receptionist who hasn't met my puppies before.  I thanked her, but silently declined carrying Cleo in.  The vet met me almost at the door, whisked Cleo into the back room, with Cleo wagging her tail furiously because she was making a new friend.  The vet and Cleo returned after a few minutes when the vet removed the tube and stitches.  I was told all should be well now so we thankfully headed home.  

Once home again, Cleo had to endure the same over the top welcoming committee from Wednesday's joyful reunion, but she was bright and happy this time so she joined in the celebration of being back home, only showing mild embarrassment when Venus rubbed up against her and generally told the world that Cleo was her best friend. 

There's nothing I can say to Cleo to make her feel ashamed of her bad behaviour in getting rid of the tube.  In Cleo's mind, it was all win win.  She'd had two more car rides and made a new friend at the vets'.  In Cleo’s opinion, causing all that trouble at home and the extra trip to Wagga at a very inconvenient time was worth it.  It’s a good thing I love her.

Thursday, November 19, 2020


This is the only photo I have of Penny.  My mother and sister Robyn are standing behind her.

Penny was the first dog I owned.  I received her for my fifth birthday, but she was really a family pet.  We were very lucky the owner told my father a small fib about Penny's ancestors, if they'd know the truth they never would have bought Penny.  The owner said Penny would grow into a medium sized dog because she was a German Shepherd/Border Collie cross.  With this assurance my parents paid for Penny and brought her home.  Needless to say my sister Beth and I were thrilled to have this little pup join our family.  We already owned a rabbit and cat, but in our house there was always room for another pet.  

It soon became evident that there was very little, if any Border Collie in Penny.  She started to grow and she put all her effort into it, soon becoming a very large dog indeed, in fact Penny grew into the largest dog on our street, which was quite an accomplishment.  It turned out that Penny was an Airedale/German Shepherd cross and my family began to believe she was the product of the largest specimens of these two breeds.

Penny soon grew into a beautiful, devoted friend and looked on my sisters and me as her pups.  She played with us, ate whatever we tried to feed her - sometimes with a very long suffering look because we'd feed her grass or fruit or lettuce and other non-dog type food.  Penny grew up with a rabbit (Whisky) and a cat (Tibby) who were both adults when Penny arrived as a naive little pup.  The older two pets traded on Penny's naivety and convinced her that dogs, no matter how large they grew, were at the bottom of the pet pecking order and that was where they stayed.  I remember lots of games with my three pets where Penny always took care not to hurt any of us, despite her superior size and weight over all of us.  To watch this large dog, frolic around a small rabbit and cat and gently bowl them over with her nose and then run as fast as she could before the victim righted itself was one of my lasting memories of Penny.  Seeing her curled up asleep, snuggled up to a black and white rabbit and a tabby cat didn't seem strange to me - that was just normal behaviour for my three pets.

Penny was the best dog - she looked on my sisters and me as her responsibility, to keep safe no matter who the aggressor was and at times to gently correct our bad behaviour. She wouldn't let any harm come to all her charges. She actually put herself between me and my father on one memorable occasion, when I was little and Dad was after me for something I'd done wrong. She came running when she heard Dad roaring at me. Penny stood in front of me and stared him down, raising her hackles on her back slightly to show she meant business, but she didn't growl or make any threats. She just stood there and wouldn't let him get past her to reach me. Dad decided the dog was supposed to protect us so he walked away, not at all happy about it, but I gave Penny an extra tight hug for coming to my rescue. I still get tears in my when I remember her standing between us, defending me.

Penny was always available when I was sad. Many times when I was feeling hard done by, or was upset about a genuine grievance, I'd sit with my arms around Penny, telling her my woes and often crying into her fur. Penny sat beside me for as long as I needed, gently wagging her tail to cheer me up, and would occasionally lick my hand or wherever she could reach in a show of solidarity with me. As I grew up, Penny became the repository for all my teenage angst, listening quietly and wagging her tail to show me it would all be better soon. Penny would fret if I cried, be it while telling her my troubles, or if she heard me crying somewhere else. If she wasn't with me when I started to cry, she very quickly made sure she was by my side to offer comfort. Sometimes in her effort to comfort me I'd end up knocked over and lying on the ground while Penny stood over me with a very concerned look on her face. I'd haul myself up, using Penny as support, and do my best to stop crying because it was upsetting her so much. Once I was no longer weepy, Penny would stay by my side for a long time, wherever I went, just to be sure I was OK.

One day, we were quite young, my sister and I were sent to the corner shop to buy a few groceries. I suppose I would have been about six years old at the time. Back then parents thought nothing of sending a six year old and a four year old off to cross a couple of quiet avenue streets and buy whatever was needed. We usually took Penny with us, but on this occasion we didn't for some reason. On the way we encountered a group of boisterous teenagers who were sitting on a fence chatting and laughing. When we approached them they stood along the width of the path and verge and linked arms, stopping us from passing them - they were just having fun, but they seemed so big and scary to me. My sister and I ran home as fast as we could and told Nana. Nana simply told us to take Penny with us and we'd be fine. I knew if Penny was there I could be a lot braver and we headed off with Penny walking beside us while Nana stood at the gate and watched and as we approached the teenagers again. They were back sitting on a fence but when they saw us approach they moved to the path again and linked arms to stop us from passing. Penny moved from beside us to in front of us, raised her hackles, dropped her head and stalked towards them. I remember the sound of her nails clicking on the concrete as she approached the now quiet teenagers. That's all it took - one very large, protective dog daring them to start something. The teenagers opened up like a gate and we kept walking to the shops. The teenagers walked down to where Nana was still watching and told her they were just having fun Nana told them the dog had meant business so it was wise of them to let us past.

Penny big vice was chasing cars. We did our best to keep her in the backyard, away from temptation but our house was built on brick piers and Penny often found a way under the house and out to the front yard. We lived on a blind corner and I dreaded the day Penny and a car met head on. Thankfully this never happened and Penny remained triumphant, warning all strange cars away from her territory. Even though chasing cars was one of Penny's favourite pastimes, she wouldn't let us girls anywhere near the road. When walking with us to the shop or a friend's place Penny became a very strict guardian. She always walked on the grass verge beside the path, closest to the road. Penny never chased cars when she was with us and always looked straight ahead, resisting temptation while on babysitting duty. We tried many times to walk between Penny and the road, but Penny remained firm - the cement path was the place for children and on the cement path we would stay or Penny would take action to make sure we did. Occasionally we'd wander slightly off the path closer to the road only to be met with a large, furry hip that would give a little swish in our direction and the next thing we knew we were shunted back on the path. Despite our many efforts to tease her by moving off the path Penny never relented, even when we were teenagers and Penny was an old dog. Thankfully, Penny gave up chasing cars when she became elderly and preferred to while away the hours snoozing in the sun or in front of our heater in cooler weather.

When Penny was in her prime we discovered that she had another bad habit. One afternoon a man knocked on our door and asked Nana if she could lock "that big dog" up in the morning and evening when he was riding by on his bicycle to and from work. He told Nana that each day, as he rode by and slowed down for the corner outside our house, Penny would be lying in wait for him. As he slowed down, Penny would dart out onto the road and grab his back wheel with her teeth. He would then go sailing over the handle bars, and as this man told Nana, Penny would then laugh at him. That was all she did - once he got back on his bike she let him go. We thought it unbelievable that Penny would have the jaw strength to accomplish such a feat, but this man assured Nana that Penny certainly did. Thankfully she somehow never managed to puncture his tyre. He didn't hold any ill will against our dog, in fact I think he admired her strength and sense of humour, but he was sick of being catapulted off his bicycle. Penny was duly tied up morning and night and the poor cyclist as left in peace.

About the only enemy Penny ever made was the coalman. Back when I was young, we had a coal fire in the winter and had regular deliveries of coal brought to our backyard, by the coalman. On one of his earlier visits he'd encountered Penny who was tied up but barking at him, because she had an innate disapproval of strangers on her territory. He heaved the coal sack around and hit Penny on the head with it. Nana came rushing out and gave him a piece of her mind, and when my Nana gave you a piece of her mind you knew you were in deep trouble. He put the coal sack where it belonged and left. From then on whenever he delivered coal, Penny, who obviously felt Nana had dealt with the coalman far too leniently, strained at the end of her chain, barking and making threats the coalman knew she would carry out if that chain was just a bit lighter. The coalman was silly enough to complain to Nana, who was firmly on Penny's side, about Penny's behaviour and Nan simply told him he'd brought it on himself and he now had to live with it.

Despite these incidents I've mentioned where Penny raised her hackles or in the case of the coalman, made genuine threats, Penny was a gentle, loving dog. She only showed her meaner side when in defence of her children (or hit with a sack of coal). Penny was often found at the bottom of a pile of children when friends came over to play and she enjoyed every minute of our games. As more children were born in our family (I have three sisters), Penny would sniff the new arrival all over, sigh a deep sigh and add another to her list of responsibilities.

Penny lived to a very old age. I'd married and left home when she was in her later years. I missed her every day I didn't see her, but she always made a big fuss of me when I visited my family. Penny would bustle up to the front door as soon as she heard my voice on the other side, walk up to me with her tail wagging and a big grin on her face. She had cataracts by then, so she mostly went on sound and smell but she never missed a chance to greet me and remember old times.

Every child should grow up with a pet like Penny. She offered unconditional love, boundless patience with little girls and their friends, a warm heart and a strong shoulder to lean on when needed. I was privileged to share have her in my life and her role in my growing years was responsible for my development of my love for animals that exists today.

Friday, September 04, 2020

An Update On The Menagerie - Phoenix


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 07, 2020


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

                                                                 Tristan aged 8 weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

          Tristan doing the Meerkat thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My old ginger gentleman enjoying his heated pad.

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Great Escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freya checking out the door latch.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Charis Comes To Spring Rock

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

 Elliott Visiting Freya while we were away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                             Freya and Charis, friends at last.