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.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Speedy Run Fast


Speedy Run Fast looking for her rooster

Speedy Run Fast came from the only egg Emu, my Chinese Silky hen, hatched earlier this year.  Her egg mother is a Faverolle and her father is one of three candidates (either of the two Hamburg roosters or Phoenix, my recently departed rooster).  Chinese Silkies seem to spend more time being broody, whether they have eggs to sit on or not, so they usually get to be mums while the Faverolles and Sussex girls, who tend to go broody only once a season, miss out.  I’d put six eggs under Emu and checked every day that she still had six eggs to incubate.  Three eggs disappeared during the incubation period – we have bearded dragons and blue tongue lizards on the farm, both of which I believe visit the chook yard and steal eggs (it’s that or I’m feeding a lot of freeloaders in the chook yard), and l the last two eggs didn’t hatch before Emu gave them up as a bad lot and concentrated her efforts on raising her one little chicken.

As the chicken grew and grew, Emu seemed very proud of her giant daughter, and took very good care of her, despite the fact that said daughter towered over her mother.  Speedy stuck close to mum and thrived.  When my grandson Elliott visited shortly after Speedy was born, I asked him what we should call the chicken.  I told him I thought it was a girl, but I could be wrong.  Elliott decided the chicken needed to be caught so he could have a good look at it (and a cuddle) to see what name suited it.  Elliott then proceeded to chase Speedy and Emu around the yard yelling, “I just want to hold you so I can think of a good name!”  Neither Emu nor Speedy felt this was a good enough reason to allow themselves to be caught and in the end Elliott decided that as she was that fast, Speedy Run Fast was the best name for her.  He also commented that if she slowed down as she grew up we could then call her Slow.  I am happy to report that Speedy still earns her name and doesn’t need to be renamed Slow.

Lately Speedy is turning into a personality.  I ask myself if I need another personality in the chook yard.  Heavens knows I already have a number of chooks with peculiar foibles, like the Faverolle hen who sits on her bottom with her feet out in front of her, and Bunny, the ancient Easter Egger hen who is the smallest in the yard but the boss of everyone, but, whether I need another personality or not, Speedy is definitely developing quirks.  She began to show an independent spirit a few months back when I thought I’d lost her one afternoon.  I searched everywhere and thought she must have managed to get out of the chook yard somehow and how was I going to tell Elliott Speedy was gone!?  It was about this time, when I was panicking, that I heard a soft clucking noise coming from way above my head.  I looked up and found Speedy sitting about 3 metres up in the pine tree, for all the world looking like she was trying to impersonate a parrot!  I had stern words with Speedy about the dangers of being so high up when her flying skills were practically non-existent, and how much safer she’d be if she slept with her mum and Aunty George.  Speedy ignored me and continued to sleep high up in the pine tree every night.  Some days she’d come down on the wrong side of the fence, but still in the chook yard thankfully.  She’d fuss and bother, trying to get back in with the Silkies, until I’d discover her and put her back. 

When Elliott visited next, I tattled on Speedy, telling him what a naughty chook Speedy was with her dangerous sleeping quarters.  Elliott marched right up to the chook yard, found Speedy mooching around the Silkies’ yard looking for tasty worms or whatever, and proceeded to wag his finger at her and tell her she was to stop sleeping in the tree and be a good hen.  Believe it or not, Speedy has never slept in the tree since!  I tell you Elliott has super powers.  Speedy decided that if the tree branch was off limits, the lintel at the top of the gatepost to the Silkies’ yard was her new, preferred sleeping location.  I was fine with this because there was no chance of her coming down outside the chook yard and into the wilds of the farm.  I told Elliott what a great job he’d done convincing Speedy to stop sleeping in the tree.  Elliott just gave a dignified little nod as if to say, “Well what did you expect?”  Peace reigned for a few weeks. 

Recently, Speedy has begun to lay eggs.  Shortly after this momentous occasion, she decided that she’d outgrown the Silkies and moved herself out to the main chook yard with the big girls, where she spends her days flirting with one of the Hamburg roosters.  She has a favourite, the smaller of the two boys, and she and the rooster spend their days at the far end of the chook yard together away from the general chook population.  I've pointed out to Speedy, that from her colouring and speckles, there's a 33% chance this rooster is her father and a 33% chance he's her uncle (the other 33% chance is she's Phoenix's daughter), but Speedy doesn't care.  Speedy believes it to be true love and turns a deaf ear to all I have to say about falling in love with close relatives.  I've decided that we'll just declare her to be Phoenix's daughter and any future matings between Speedy and the Hamburg rooster (I suppose I really should name the two boys) will be OK.

Speedy and her rooster

Speedy's other quirk causes me no end of end-of-the-day exercise.  Although she is now one of the big girls and lives in the big girls' yard, Speedy continues to prefer to sleep in her usual spot on the gatepost lintel between the Silkies’ yard and the main yard, where she moved to after the dreaded sleeping in the pine tree episode.  The problem is that to get to the top of the gatepost Speedy used to flap/climb onto the top of the nesting box and then flap/climb onto the gatepost.  On the big girls' side, there is no convenient box nearby for her to use as a starting point.  No matter how many awkward attempts she has at flapping and trying to get her very rotund body off the ground, Speedy can't manage to get to the top of the gate.  Now, when I put the chooks away each night, there is an added step before I can go inside for the night.  I gather the feathery population, do my headcount - it goes something like 3 (Sussex), 2 (Faverolle hens),1 (D’Artagnan), 2 (Hamburg roosters) ,4 (drakes), 1 Bunny (the Easter Egger) and 1 (Speedy), remembering to include that extra one count for Speedy, close the main chook yard gate, round Speedy up, and place her on top of the gatepost. 

Rounding Speedy up is not an easy job, despite the fact that I've been rounding her up each day for a while now, and gently putting her on the gatepost lintel, Speedy is sure that this time I'm up to no good and any wise chook would run for her life!  Elliott got it right when he named Speedy.  Despite her tubby appearance, she is very nimble on her feet.  When she runs for her life, she puts her all into it.  The other chooks and roosters realise that there is extreme danger nearby and set up crowing and squawking in sympathy with Speedy, but thankfully that’s as far as their support goes for the chook in deadly peril.  I'm just grateful that her friend the rooster doesn't have a gallant bone in his body, and stays right where he is, out of the danger zone.  Phoenix would have come charging to Speedy's defence, talons first and questions later, at the first squawk she made.

I eventually manage to catch her and gently lift her to her preferred sleeping spot.  Speedy then quiets down, but strangely, before she settles down she does a thorough inspection of the bar, making soft, concerned clucking sounds while the inspection takes place (to make sure I haven't laid any landmines I suppose).  Once she's assured herself that she is safe, Speedy finally settles down for the night.  Once that's accomplished, I can go inside for the night and swear I won't be so helpful the next time - I always am though.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Vale Phoenix

Phoenix in his younger days

 My gorgeous rooster, Phoenix, died on Friday.  He was a very old rooster and had started slowing down dramatically over the past few weeks.  Phoenix appears to have died in his sleep peacefully after spending the night snuggled up to George (short for Georgina). Phoenix was the only rooster I’ve ever owned who came when I called him. I miss him dreadfully.

Phoenix came to live amongst the Spring Rock menagerie many years ago.  He was hand raised from an egg by my daughter in law's mother, Casey, and little sister, Ivy, and brother, Jasper.  Phoenix was always just a little bit to big for his boots.  When he was put out into Casey's back yard to live with the resident chooks and roosters, Phoenix saw his opportunity to be top dog (or top rooster I suppose it more apt).  He began lording it over the rest of the chooks and roosters and even turned on his human family, not allowing the children into the back yard to play.  Phoenix challenged everyone who tried to access his kingdom (the aforementioned back yard).  By and large, Phoenix managed to intimidate all comers, with the exception of my son Justin.  Justin had been raised with feisty roosters and knew the trick was to take no guff, firmly putting Phoenix in his place when challenged.  Ivy and Jasper tried to standing up the fluffy tyrant, but caved each time Phoenix ran in their direction.

The day finally came when the children wanted their yard back.  Phoenix had to go.  Despite his bad behaviour, Ivy and Jasper still loved Phoenix and wanted him to go to a good home.  The first name that came to mind when thinking of a good home for a badly behaved rooster was Rosemary.  I was asked if I could provide the good home and of course said yes.  Phoenix arrived in a cardboard box, with his loving family who were all eager to see where Phoenix was going to live.  Phoenix was let loose in the chook yard and immediately set about introducing himself to the ladies, without so much as a backward glance to say goodbye to those dedicated people who raised him.  Casey and the children could see Phoenix would be happy with his new harem and returned home, sad to say goodbye to Phoenix, but happy to have their back yard back.

The first time Graeme and I entered the chook yard after Phoenix's installation, Phoenix tried his domination tactics.  Graeme was the first to meet with the fluffy ball of outrage.  Phoenix came at Graeme talons first with order to leave his domain.  Graeme simply batted Phoenix away, using the flat top of his shoe to send Phoenix a short distance from his legs.  Phoenix found himself too far away from Graeme's shins to do any damage and charged back into the lists.  Once again, Graeme fended him off and Phoenix began to suspect he may have met his match.  I doubt Phoenix would have been surprised if he'd been told that Graeme was closely related to Justin, the only other human he couldn't terrify.  Then it was my turn when I came down to collect the eggs.  After one abject failure to cower the human male member of Spring Rock, Phoenix doubled his efforts to show the human female he was a force with which to be reckoned.  I used the same technique that Graeme had found so successful and Phoenix soon accepted the fact that our presence had to be tolerated in the chook yard.

One thing that Phoenix found in the chook yard that couldn’t be tolerated was Eros, our resident black rooster.  Shortly after Phoenix entered the chook yard, he decided that it would be a better world with less black roosters in it.  Phoenix decided that changes needed to be made and needed to be made now!  He immediately turned his attention to ridding the chook yard of the excess black rooster.  With this thought in mind, Phoenix immediately tried to put an end to Eros.  Eros was a rooster of peace and refused to fight back, but he usually ended up cornered somewhere with Phoenix beating the daylights out of him.  The only solution was for Graeme to build an inner yard in the chook pen and Phoenix was forced to reluctantly retire from the lists and take up residence in his new bachelor's quarters.  Eros once again reigned supreme in the chook yard and Phoenix, while not exactly enjoying living in the bachelor quarters was happy enough.  He was able to chat to the hens through the wire and even share his treats with them when I dished out the scraps each afternoon. 

Eros, our rooster of peace.

Life settled down in the chook yard, but I soon felt sorry for Phoenix living a solitary life.  I tried putting a couple of hens in with him so he had female company, but Phoenix suffered with a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome when living with hens.  Alone in his bachelor quarters, Phoenix was a gentle, affectionate rooster who enjoyed daily visits from me, where he sat on my lap and enjoyed wattle and comb rubs.  This would put him in a state of bliss and he always ran up to me with his little welcome dance before I lifted him onto my lap.  When living with even one hen, Phoenix reverted to the Mr Hyde part of his character and became aggressive towards any human who entered his yard.

Phoenix was doomed to live a solitary life, doing his best to entice the hens over to chat with him through the wire.  He pretended to find tasty treats and made little noises of encouragement to lure gullible hens over to the wire.  This worked for a while, but eventually the hens recognised a scam when they saw one and Phoenix only managed to rally the hens to his boundary when I arrived with scraps or treats.  Then he would generously share whatever bounty came his way.  Eventually I decided to let Phoenix out with the rest of the chooks each afternoon so he could socialise and forage.  At first Phoenix’s first stop was to bash up Eros, but after a few interventions by me, where Phoenix was immediately put back into the bachelor quarters, Phoenix learned to ignore Eros’ existence and focus on the hens.

Sadly, his “come and see what tasty morsel I’ve found” no longer worked with the girls, they’d been tricked once too often, so Phoenix had to find a new hen catching strategy.  He accomplished this by the simple expedient of finding a hen or two who had strayed from the flock and herding them to a remote part of the garden where they could all forage far away from any large black roosters that might exist somewhere else in the yard.  This strategy proved to be a full time job, because the hens naturally wanted to re-join the main flock, but Phoenix maintained vigilance and kept the girls he managed to corner with him for the whole afternoon.  This meant he got little else done, including romancing the girls, but Phoenix was happy.

When it was time to round everyone up to lock up for the night, I’d call Phoenix before the herding began.  Phoenix would come running towards me, do his little dance then wait for me to pick him up.  I needed to keep him with me because I’d found that during the chook muster, Phoenix would place himself at the gate to the chook yard and not allow Eros to enter.  Eros would arrive at the gate, see the obnoxious red fellow in residence and think of some task outside the chook yard he had yet to complete, wandering off to accomplish this very important (if imaginary) task.  With Phoenix comfortable nestled in my arms the rest of the feathery population would be easily persuaded to return to their yard.  Phoenix chivvied the slow ones from the comfort of my arms and once again, all chooks and ducks would be safely locked up for the night.  Phoenix would be returned to the bachelor quarters, and if I had time, would get his wattles and comb massaged while we chatted about our days.

 As winter approached this year, I began to worry about Phoenix being alone in the cold weather.  I tried swapping Phoenix and D’artagnan (our Faverolle rooster who came to live with us after Eros succumbed to old age), putting D’artagnan (another rooster of peace Phoenix usually bullied at every opportunity) in the bachelor quarters and Phoenix with the girls.  D’artagnan didn’t like this arrangement and nearly damaged himself trying to get back with his girls.  Phoenix, who miraculously had adjusted his attitude to excess roosters, was content to share the yard and sleeping quarters with D’artagnan, so peace reigned supreme in the chook yard during autumn and winter. 

As the days passed, I worried that Phoenix, while not objecting to D’artagnan’s existence any more, wasn’t completely happy with the new arrangement.  Having a young, virile rooster in your face in the twilight of your years couldn’t be wonderful.  I hardened my heart to the Shut Ins (George and Emu, my two Silkies who’d had more than enough of roosters and lived in a cloistered yard – yet another inclusion in the chook yard – rooster free) and installed Phoenix in there with them.  George, ever the gentle, quiet girl she is, allowed Phoenix to snuggle up to her on cold nights in the nesting box and thus Phoenix whiled away the last days of his life.  We continued our wattle and comb massaging sessions, right up until Phoenix final day.

Rounding up the hens each night is now a lonely occupation without Phoenix to help.  He brought a lot of happiness into my life as we sat together, me massaging his wattles and comb, Phoenix listening drowsily to my chatter about how beautiful he was.   Phoenix will be greatly missed for a long time to come.






Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Arrival Of The Header

The Arrival of the Header

There's not an animal in sight with this latest episode of happenings at Spring Rock.

Well!  It's been all fun and games here lately.  After the long wait for the header to get here, it arrived, wrapped in high drama.

Last year’s harvest was encumbered with many header breakdowns.  Graeme would just get back into the swing of things, harvest-wise, and something would break, crack or just plain refuse to work on the header.  It has served us well for many years, and the truth of the matter is, that the poor header is just old and well and truly entering its troublesome years.  With a good harvest behind us, the decision was made to find a newer, second hand header with all the special bits and pieces Graeme wanted.  It took some time to track down the perfect header, but once it was found and our header budget, drastically increased, Graeme agreed to buy it.  There was a long wait between the agreeing and the actual buying, all to do with the header’s present owner’s (who was trading it in on the latest model) wish to keep hold of it until he actually had his new header on his property – a very wise move that ensured he still had a header if something went wrong with the arrival of the new one arrived.

The day finally arrived and the header was available for us to buy.  Getting an invoice to pay for it from the dealers was surprisingly difficult; I suppose they were just busy trying to sell all their other trade-ins, but the invoice was finally emailed the day before the header was due to arrive here and we could now pay the invoice.  At least we thought we could.  First, on Monday the bank made paying for the header very difficult.  Poor Graeme had to make more than half a dozen calls, with each one timing out while the person on the other end went off to find the answers to Graeme’s problems.  When the bank app told Graeme that there hadn’t been any activity for a while, so it was shutting down the session, Graeme had to ring back each time, explain his problem all over again only to have that person put him on hold while he/she went to find the answer and of course, it timed out again.  Graeme, despite the obvious frustrations of this little exercise, managed to stay calm and polite to each person to whom he spoke, but I did think I saw a bit of steam coming out his ears.

Once that was finally sorted and the payment for the header was made all we had to do, was sit back and wait for the header to arrive on Tuesday.  Well, that didn’t go according to plan either.  Tuesday arrived bright and shiny, with blue skies and dry roadways (the importance of which will become clear later on).  The salesman rang to say the truck was having difficulties (unspecified) and hadn’t arrived at the dealership as yet.  This was around lunchtime and there wasn’t enough time left in the day for the truck to drive the long trek to get the header here during daylight, so they were rescheduling for Wednesday. 

Wednesday’s weather forecast was for rain, followed by more rain.  Our 2km roadway from farm’s our front gate to our machinery shed is not a pretty sight after a bit of rain after a lot of rain it’s even worse.  Navigating the sloshy bits and the deep puddle bits is not for the faint hearted.  The day started with 40mm of rain (which our crops greatly appreciated) and rain just kept on coming all morning, only varying between showering and pouring down.  The header left on its long trek at 9.30am and we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.  Graeme advised the salesman not to bring the truck on to our lane, but to offload the header on the main road (tar) and drive it along the lane (dirt) and then on through our gate and ultimately to the machinery shed where a nice, new spot was waiting for the header to settle down until harvest. 

The salesman, who arrived with the header to teach Graeme how to use all the high tech stuff, and truck driver took this good advice and all looked hopeful for a successful delivery of one header.  That’s when the fun and high jinks began.  The salesman drove the header along the lane and, with a false sense of security, continued through the gateway and on to our farm roadway.  Having never before seen what Spring Rock laughingly calls a roadway, the salesman seems to have lost all confidence and decided not to follow the soggy tyre ruts but to straddle them and choose the ground less waterlogged – big mistake.  The higher parts of the roadway did not have a firm base, made from decades of cars and machinery compacting to ground, underneath.  The header slipped sideways and into the newly erected boundary fence. 

Graeme, who had driven our four-wheel drive out to meet the salesman (well really he drove out to greet the header, but we’ll say he went to meet the salesman), managed to bog our car a short distance along our roadway from the stuck header.  I wasn’t present for the discussions that took place with two stuck vehicles (can you call a header a vehicle?), but the upshot was that the salesman opted to forgo the header tutorial for another day, walk back up the lane to meet the truck there and drive back to his dealership, leaving Graeme with the stuck aforementioned vehicles to sort out.  The salesman did say he’d wait a few days to bring the header comb down here.  He had intended to bring it Thursday, but he wasn’t going to brave our roadway again until it had a chance to dry out a bit.

Graeme walked back to the house, collected me and the tractor and we drove out to free the car from its ignoble position, stuck deep in the mud.  I busied myself taking photos of the stuck header and the bogged four-wheel drive to share with Ethan, our farmer type grandchild.  With the tractor doing all the heavy work, and me behind the wheel just steering the car as the tractor pulled it out, the car was soon out of the bog and trying to look like the whole embarrassing incident never happened.  Graeme decided to drive the car back to the house (for which I was truly grateful), finish his interrupted lunch and have a well-earned cup of tea before tackling the header issue.

To remove the header, Graeme had to dismantle our new boundary fence and drive the header out through the opening, then put the fence back together.  The header wasn’t bogged, it just didn’t seem to want to do anything but snuggle up to the fence, no matter how many attempts were made to steer it in the other direction.  One silver lining to this whole dark cloud incident is that our neighbours decided to plant the paddock on the other side of this fence to crops this year.  He’s run stock in that paddock for a number of years now and if Graeme had to drop the fence with sheep or horses in there, the unsticking the header process could have been a lot more fraught.  Thankfully, the header behaved once Graeme was in the driver’s seat and it was a simple matter of driving it out of the problem area and onto the roadway.  All Graeme had to do then was put the fence back together, drive the header down to the machinery shed, get me to drive him back for the bike and then back again for the tractor and we could put this whole distasteful episode behind us.

The header is now ensconced in the machinery shed.  Hopefully it has now got all its bad behaviour out of its system and will now become a model member of the Spring Rock community who no longer wants to get up close and personal to fences.