Sunday, March 30, 2008

Around the World in 90 Days, and More

I have always wanted to take a trip around the world, ever since I found out there is such a thing as an around the world airline ticket. I now have enough United miles for a free one, but not enough time off or money to use it yet.

On my most recent trip to Africa I met a man who as on a three month trip around the world, which would include London, southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Patagonia and I forget where else. He was from NJ and taught English as a second language. As he was the only other American on my safari, we hung out a lot during the trip and I was grateful for his company. He just got back home and if you want to read about his trip (since many people reading this blog are interested in travel) here's the link - I suggest starting from the beginning. http://ahepner.wordpress.com

My Africa trip to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia was for a magazine, and this past week we've been working on the final edits and the photo captions. It looks like the article will be in the June issue of my favorite magazine, Budget Travel, so check it out when it hits the stands!

I have been keeping myself very, very busy with a kitchen remodel and associated home improvements. I think the last few weeks this has been to avoid thinking about Callie's issues. I am taking her to a neurologist in Portland today and I hope we can determine what is going on. It's not a brain tumor they say, and it would be an exceedingly rare presentation of epilepsy since there are 20 minute "seizures" during which she remains conscious and alert but unable to control her movements. Also, the first one had her in the dog ER for a week and recovering three more weeks. Seems unlikely to be anything I've read about so I hope that the neurologist has a lot of experience. Luckily, Callie and I are staying with my friend and roommate from my trip to Uganda. She has a dog who does agility, Cowboy, and I know Callie and I will be comfortable there and not alone in a trying time.

The cats love the remodel, by the way. When the kitchen cabinets were empty and being removed they loved climbing in the drawers and sliding out, exploring all the spaces, opening the cabinet doors and playing peek a boo. Every day they inspect the work and see what has changed. Lizzie even tasted the paint for the laundry room (she decided yellow doesn't taste good). I get tremendous enjoyment from seeing them observe the changes - Lizzie even stands on her back feet to look at the new holes in the wall and the new wiring coming out of the wall. Oscar loves to supervise and has jumped onto the shoulders of three very surprised contractors so far. It defiantly adds a dimension to the work. I have only hired pet friendly contractors - if you don't like pets you just shouldn't come to my house.

The water in the canal out back should be in tomorrow - so we will have an experiment. I'll remove the fences that go through the canal and we will see if the goats stay in the yard - they can get out if they want to get a little wet. So far no neighbors have complained about them.

By the way, I HIGHLY recommend getting a handyman. I hired a guy off Craigslist to do something for me and he indicated a desire for more work. Since there is always work at the ranchette, he has been coming on weekends for several weeks. Were it not for him and his friend, the goats would not be securely fenced in, the chicken coop would not be predator secure, the new sink would not be installed, the canal would not be cleaned out, etc., etc., etc. It is wonderful to make a list of things each week and have it magically get done and done well. All kinds of onerous tasks are flying off the list - even fencepost replacement! If this keeps up then by fall I will have the backyard landscaped, a new deck built and a ton of other things done. Its like a little Christmas each week - make a list and viola - it gets done!! Super cool, way better than having a maid clean your house. Plus, he's a great sport - "Can you move this 150 lb stump over into that far pasture for a goat toy?" No problem.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pets in Lowe's and Home Depot...Who Knew?

I saw some dogs in Home Depot a few weeks ago and was surprised to learn they are allowed in on leash. I've not seen any dogs in there before, and I've never seen one at Lowe's. I'm in the middle of a major home improvement project and I prefer Lowe's, so I was hoping they had a policy to allow pets in as well...and they do! If they didn't, I would have switched to Home Depot, as I have to keep an eye on Callie until we know what is up with her condition. Last time I went to Lowe's without her coming in, she had a seizure in the parking lot so I vowed not to leave her int he car again longer that a few (less than 10) minutes.

The first time we went into Lowe's together Callie was THRILLED. We came across an older, slightly bow-legged rancher looking guy who looked down in surprise and said "You can't have dogs in here!" to which I replied, "Yes, you can." He sort of harrumphed and we walked on. As we were coming out of an aisle a few minutes later I noticed the old guy coming in the front door - with his old black lab dog!! I thought that was great! He went out and got his dog to join him!

Callie has a fan club at Lowe's. Several of the workers fawn on her and call her "dog therapy," and of course she soaks up their affections, presenting herself for tummy rubs and going down the receiving line of people waiting to pet her. She has been extremely well-behaved in the store. A clerk commented to me that Callie behaved better than most children in the store - I could not agree more. We got a death glare from a mean lady in the paint section, but otherwise have had a warm welcome at Lowe's.

I am using the store time to work on "turn right" and "turn left" commands, and Callie seems to be getting that concept. This is very handy when steering a cart with one hand and holding a dog leash in the other. She never puts her paws on the counter unless invited to do so (which she has been twice now). It's great fun taking her shopping and I wish more stores allowed pets in. Pet stores do, including Petco and Petsmart, and I believe Zamzows. Grocery stores of course won't, probably some health code thing. (I wish Callie could pass as a service dog!).

Being able to take Callie has made my home improvement project a lot easier and a lot less worry and I am really grateful that someone got the bright idea to allow dogs into home improvement stores. If you don't already take your dog, start! I never knew it was allowed before.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Esmae's Easter Accident

I think the pets have a deal amongst themselves that one of them needs to have emergency medical attention every holiday or holiday weekend. They must take turns being sick or injured after hours, on weekends and especially on holidays, as that seems to be when it always happens. Obviously the effect is to make us spend as much money as possible on vet bills.

This Easter Sunday Esmae was fine, I saw her at 2pm and she was acting normally. At 5pm when I went to feed her I noticed her front left leg was not in use and she was holding it up. She was severely lame on it and did not want to put any weight on it. Her limp was really, really bad; it was alarming. I saw some blood but not much, and no nail or anything in the hoof. Since foot and leg injuries in horses can be a big deal, I called Idaho Equine Hospital immediately. I didn't want to trailer her in and maker her put weight on it.

The vet came in about an hour and said he could not tell if it was an abcess or a laceration wound but agreed she was really lame. She got painkillers, antibiotics, had to have her foot soaked and bandaged once a day, and was scheduled for a re-check today. (Luckily today was the day I had the spring vaccines set to be administered).

Although I was *quite* worried Sunday when the seriousness was not known, today she is doing better and she appears to be using it much more. The vet said it is a laceration, she must have caught it on something, but that the hoof is sound and she'll probably heal by the weekend. The extra good news is I can discontinue the antibiotics, which is good, as she is NOT taking them anymore. (I tried applesauce, corn syrup, molasses, grain, apples...she was not having any of it.) She did a great job soaking her foot the first two days but tripped on the bucket yesterday and refused treatment today until I switched buckets.

Luckily my friend who usually rides Buster agreed to help with the horse doctoring. It is just *not* a one man operation. It can be done but it is a lot harder that way!

Esmae's bandaged foot and her whole self are pictured here. She is between her winter and summer coats right now. In another month she will be sleek and shiny all over.

Meanwhile, Callie got referred to a neurologist in Portland and we have an appointment Monday. That means this month's vet bills will be staggeringly high, in the thousands....but then, they are worth it. It would just be nice if once in awhile they could need a vet between 8 and 5 on a weekday!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More Neurologic Issues for Callie


Once again, Callie had a bizarre neurologic episode. This time I was running an errand and when I came back to the car she was in the driver's seat (as usual) drooling excessively, head tilted, pupils dilated, shaking, and seeming unable to control her body movements, with her right front leg sort of drawn up. I was shocked the immediate problem was how to lift her 45 pounds into the passenger seat without hurting her so I could drive. Then I had to determine how to get to Westvet. I got her moved with difficulty - she could not control her head and she was trying to help me move her but she couldn't do much. As we drove she tried to sit up and ended up falling onto her back on the floor of the car. This was HORRIBLE to witness. It was rush hour and traffic was terrible.

It took 20 minutes to get to Westvet. I called and they were waiting with her file, but annoyingly the techs who took her were poorly informed about her. I thought I would deck one who asked if she had been there before. By the time we got there she had calmed to the point she was not panting 100% of the time and she could crawl around on the floor to have her head nearest me. I lifted her out and the shaking had diminished and the drooling was over too.

These are not "seizures" in that she remains conscious and aware, knows what is happening, responds to me and is scared. I can't tell how much of the shaking is fear and how much is something else, but I know the 45 degree angle head tilt is not fear. At this point neurotoxin seems unlikley. When it first happened in October that was the vet's #1 theory, a sub-lethal dose of some unidentified neurotoxin, which could be a mold or anything - but none of the other pets were sick. Epilepsy also doesn't fit, and the MRI ruled out a brain tumor. The theory last time, three weeks ago, was that there is inflammation pushing on the brain stem. A spinal tap (CFS tap) was dry twice and the vet recommended doing it again if she had another episode.

So, she has a CFS tap scheduled for Monday morning. I think at this point I want to take her to a neurologist, the nearest one being Portland or Univ of Washington. As I have a friend in Portland I can likely stay with I think I will try to head that way later this week, after the CFS tap and a little recovery time. It's VERY frustrating not to know what is happening or why. This time there was vomiting afterwards.

This is an old photo of Callie and Ophelia. I've had Callie with me nearly constantly since the first episode and I was leaving her only briefly tot run errands, etc. with her in the car with me but not the stores. Now of course I kick myself for even that. They said to try and videotape the next one if it happens again, so I have to try tot remember to have the camera with me and to have the presence of mind to use it in a crisis.

NOTHING seems consistent with her symptoms. Not a vascular accident, not vestibular disease, not epilepsy. Callie is about 5 and a half and should have many more years to go. She seems fine now, but she's always tired after an event like this. It's incredibly hard to watch her go through these things and not be able to ask her what she is feeling, or make it stop.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Urban Chicken


I know it's been awhile, but the mini-farm, work and a kitchen remodel have kept me busy. I found a very cute site called My Pet Chicken which is aimed at the "Urban Chikeneer" so to speak. They sell chickens in groups as small as three as opposed to the normal required 25. Also, they have a variety of breeds and they have "urban" environments to make having two chickens super easy for non-farm raised people. I particularly get a kick out of the Eglu which comes complete with chickens (and pictured above), check it out! They have lots of interesting accessories. And, I think I've identified Sarah as a Dominique breed and Samantha as a Barred Rock; I am 90% sure at this point.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Environmentally Responsible Wedding Rings

Gold mining is a nasty thing. Often modern gold mining involves open pit mines, which destroy all life above the area being mined. Or, they use a cyanide leaching process and for each small amount of gold tons of waste is left behind. Entire eco-systems have been destroyed by gold mining, for examples see this article. You can also check out the No Dirty Gold website for a lot of interesting information. With a little quick research you can find many other examples from many sources. Here's a little bit of additional information about gold mining you can use as a starting point. Diamond mining is not very good for the world either, in terms of labor costs or the environment.

So if you want to wear or buy gold or diamonds, what can you do? As I am getting married, want a wedding band, and don't want to contribute to gold mining, I looked into various options. My favorite choice is to buy from an antique shop or a pawn shop, as buying an existing ring does no further damage to the environment. While it can be time consuming to find a ring you like this way, as you have to find one your size, the internet makes it easier. By far the best site I found (and the one where we ended up getting both rings from) is The Marlene Harris Collection. It's easy to search there, they have a great selection, and if you tell them what you are looking for they will keep an eye out as new inventory comes in. Their service is good, and you can buy a ring and return it if you don't like it, so you can "try them on" by mail.

There are alot of other options out there too. Here are the ones I was able to find:

Brilliant Earth
Sumiche Jewelry Co.
Jewelry by Da'oud
Decades Vintage Jewelry
Green Karat
Leber Jeweler Inc.
Antique Jewelry Exchange
Antique Jewelry Mall

And of course, there's always Ebay, and your local pawn shops. You can also see the Green Guide to Jewelry for additional info.

Personally, I hate diamonds and will never own one. I was looking for a simple yet unique and classy gold band, and luckily after a few months of looking I found a great one. It's a civil war era ring, and the men's ring we ended up getting is from the same era and also totally unique. I highly recommend "going green" when it comes to jewelry.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oscar Mans the Chicken Coop

Oscar and Callie are both fascinated with the chickens but Oscar is small enough to lay on top of the coop. He seems to spend a good deal of time staring down at the chickens as they cluck up at him. Despite the observation, Sarah laid yet another egg.

It was a busy day. Annie got spayed and promptly ripped her incision open and had to be taken back in - then kept calm (yeah, right!). This meant errands to get her toys and time spend shuffling her around to make sure she didn't get the stitches wet with the rain, etc. She also met with a family to see about adoption. They say they want her so we'll see if they do the paperwork; if so Annie will leave tomorrow.

The horses and goats got their hooves trimmed today, which was a first for Billy and Lola I think. They were scared but I was able to calm and hold them down okay.

I think it would be wonderful to have a farm or ranch and have life revolve around animal care instead of having it be the thing I enjoy doing when not working.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Well, ummmm, there's two more

Edwin and Arthur are so cute and so much fun, I couldn't resist taking in Lola and Billy too. Lola and Billy are about two and are brother and sister Pygmy goats. I thought they'd be smaller than the Nigerian Dwarf goats, but they aren't. In fact, Billy (black) is really chunky and doesn't even fit through the goat house door. (Yes, the brand new goat house will have to be modified). They are fatter and rounder but about the same height as Arthur and Edwin. They have curved horns instead of straight, another difference between the breeds.

They are all learning to get along, playing king of the mountain and playing some head butt games. So far they all seem very happy. Lola (cream colored) was shy at first but now she is feeling pretty comfortable. Every evening I give them all a tummy massage which they seem to love. I also brushed Billy as he has a woolly undercoat coming out. He seemed to really, really like that.

Buster is fine with the goats. Esmae is temperamental. She chases them off her food and sometimes asks them to move away. Goats seem to speak horse language well. I am introducing the dogs to the goats only across the fence, trying to make sure they know they are NOT supposed to chase, herd or bark madly at them. So far that is actually going well. I think the goats can tell the dogs to get lost, but if they run the dogs will probably chase them so I am trying not to let that happen.

Callie did great at agility class today. It was really, really, really fun to run with her again. She sailed over jumps and did great. She also made a few errors and lost focus once, but we haven't done it in a long while so I think overall she deserves an A-. Simon didn't do as well, so I have to take time to practice with him. It isn't fair to expect him to do well without doing homework; Callie can get away with it.

It's been so much fun mini-ranching this weekend, working on fences and having a HERD to take care of, gathering Sarah's eggs, hanging out with all the animals, I really hate the thought of going back to work. I look forward to the day we can leave the city behind and have a real ranch, including pigs and sheep and cows and ducks and anything else that needs a home. :)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Edwin & Arthur Settle In


Edwin (cream colored) appears to be feeling well now. Both goats are settling in well. The fences and gates are being reinforced as the goats can get through a SMALL space. For now they are in their pen most of the day and in the evening I let them out to run around. They are fun to watch. They run really fast and head butt each other and run around the horses. I am looking forward to being able to let them out all day and just tuck them in at night. I'm sure they will like it better that way too. The LOVE their house, and they seem happy to see me every time I visit.
This week has been busy at the "ranchette." We had contractors fixing irrigation pipe all week and also men working on the fences. Annie the puppy keeps things humming too.

Getting the goats and chickens settled in has also been interesting. I washed the chicken feeder and waterer, replaced the white heat lamp with a red one so the chickens sleep better, and got a heated water bowl for them so the water doesn't have to sit near the lamp at night. I am also going to put a roosting stick in the coop for them. A chicken tractor is being built that will let them move around the pastures.

After this week I'll try and move beyond the domestic animals and back to bigger issues. But it's nice to focus on the home front for awhile.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Callie's MRI Results


Callie had an MRI after her last strange neurological episode. A dog MRI is not cheap, but I was hoping for some answers about whether she had a brain tumor or not. I didn't want to miss a chance to treat a brain tumor that was treatable. And, if we got to rule one out, at least we got more information.

The MRI didn't show anything physically wrong with her brain. However, there was an odd thing in that a CSF tap (like a dog spinal tap) came up dry twice. Not having fluid meant we couldn't do more testing to try to learn more. However, since the brain scan was normal the recommendation is that at this time we don't do another CSF tap, but wait to see if there is any further issue. If so, do it then, to try and learn what is happening when it's happening.

The leading theory now (having ruled out epilepsy, a brain tumor, and most likely a neurotoxin) is that there is an inflammatory problem which causes brain stem or brain issues. The source is unknown and the most common explanations, meningitis, encephalitis, rocky mountain fever, are all seasonal issues not at play in winter. It's odd that she had two very different episodes a few months apart, different in symptoms and severity but common in that she has neurologic impairment each time. A medical mystery.

I feel that the vets at Westvet have given her good care and that they have made reasonable recommendations. I don't regret the MRI and I'm relieved there isn't a brain tumor. While it's frustrating not to have answers, at least we have Callie and she seems normal. She is very tired but she's been through an ordeal so I'm not overly concerned about that.

She has a big shaved patch on her head, pictured above. She also has a shaved leg again from the IV. Her friends at the office (she loves going to work with me) were kind enough to send her the lovely and cute flower arrangement. It has a leash wrapped around it and two dog chews on sticks amidst the flowers. That was really nice of them, and it was also fun to see the flower delivery guy ask for Callie and present the flowers in confusion and surprise.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Alot of Pet Updates

Annie has been here almost a week. It seems like months since I've gotten so little sleep and spent so much time fending off puppy teeth. She's at her cutest when resting, like in this photo in a box in her crate (she likes the cave effect). There is no question she is very smart and I hope she finds a home that can handle her because she's a handful!! My productivity revolves around her nap schedule.

Unfortunately, Callie had another weird neurological episode on Saturday and she was drooling, glassy eyed, not using one leg, and shaking, with her head at a weird tilt. She also got some scrapes on her head, I think from trying to go under the new goat fence. So once again she got raced to the ER and had to get admitted for the night. She is scheduled for an MRI and a spinal tap tomorrow to see if we can find out if there is a brain tumor or anything else visable going on in her amazingly intelligent doggie brain. Naturally this is more than a little worrisome, and I'm trying not to think about it. The tests may tell us nothing, but at least we can rule a few things out if that's the case.

Sarah and Samantha appear to be settling in and enjoying having a lot of space in the coop they shared with three or four other chickens until a few days ago. They got some fresh spinach, some corn grain, chicken pellets, oyster shells and fresh water. Yesterday they gave me two eggs. Although I know eggs come from chickens, this seemed like a small miracle. One minute the eggs are not there, and then they are. So we had fresh eggs for dinner last night. It's been a really long time since I've eaten an egg. I have to say, these were better than store bought. The shells were much harder and the taste was deeper somehow.

Edwin seems to be feeling better. He and Arthur love tummy massages. Last night I tried to get Edwin to take some probios, which I read might help, but he was not interested. Arthur had some. I left some in the pen and it was gone this morning, so hopefully Edwin gave in and ate up. I also gave them baking soda and spinach and a teeny bit of corn grain. They are pretty cute; I like them. Today I tried to let them out into the pasture to run around, but Edwin got through a space so small I realized I have to reinforce the fences more than I thought before they can roam! They eat next to no hay compared to the horses. Clearly they are very bonded and get upset if separated even by a fence.

Oscar's stomach rash is getting better, so although I still don't know the cause, the steroid cream did the trick somehow.

Elsie the foster cat got adopted from her showcase at Petsmart and supposedly found a good permanent home of her own. I hope so; she is a sweet cat.

The horses are curious about the goats and were laying next to them across the fence yesterday. Edwin was loose with them for a few minutes this morning and jumped up as though to head butt Buster. Buster just looked at him.

So, it seems like there is a lot going on at the moment. In the big picture, I'll tear myself away from the pet kids to tune into election results tonight which should be really interesting! In the immediate future though I just like hanging out with the animals, all 12 of them.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Meet Sarah & Samantha

Sarah and Samantha (a bit camera shy) also joined the family this week. They are black and white hens. I'm not sure of the breed, I was aiming for Barred Rock but the lady I got them from wasn't sure what they were, and neither am I. In any event, they are about two and were obtained as Easter chicks for some kids who - no surprise - stopped taking care of them. They are supposed to be two years old.

The dad of the family built a nice chicken coop, small enough for just a few chickens but big enough for 5 or 6. I bought the coop as I didn't want to deal with building one, it was a good size, well-designed, and the one on my property isn't in a convenient location and is big enough for 50 plus chickens.

Sarah and Samantha were with some red hens, but I wanted to start with only two and see how it goes, being new to chicken care. Plus, we hardly ever eat eggs, so I don't want a bunch to deal with. I can use them for baking without guilt if I know the chickens are happy and well cared for.

I am designing some "chicken tractors" at the moment which will enable me to move the chickens around the pastures in a portable cage/coop that is lightweight, so that they can eat bugs, fertilize, have fresh grass to experience, and not get chased by dogs or eaten by the local fox. Also, all the fences around the perimeter of the property are being lined with chicken wire or other wire to keep stray dogs out and chickens (and goats) in. I've been meaning to do that for a couple of years as once in awhile stray dogs get in with the horses, which I hate. So, I can finally cross that huge chore off the to-do list (which seems never-ending).

So far they haven't laid any eggs, but I expect with winter they produce less and also the stress of moving. Callie is super fixated on them so I already had to reinforce the chicken wire, cover the door with a board so she doesn't pop the wire out (which is mounted on the inside of the doorframe for some reason) and I added a little tin on the roof to cover the feed pail so it doesn't get wet if it rains. The coop came with a feeder and a waterer and a heat lamp, and I added a small box of straw so they have something to nest in if they want to. I also put ranch panel down so that hopefully foxes and coyotes and raccoons don't dig under the coop.

As an aside, I was thinking that when I'm in Africa people always ask me how many goats, cows and chickens I have. When I say "none" they always feel really sad for me and express how it must be hard to be so poor. Since animals are like wealth to them, they can't understand how someone too poor to have a single chicken could come around the world to visit their country. I tell them I have horses but they usually don't know what horses are, and they are not valued in the countries I've been to. The dogs and cats mean nothing to them as they are not "productive" or "wealth" animals. Next trip I'll be able to say I have 2 chickens and 2 goats and I won't be pitied as being dirt poor anymore. I have always found this to be an interesting aspect of talking to local people in Africa. It will be interesting to see what they think of the photos I bring. So far when they have seen a picture of a cow unlike theirs (another breed) they seem to disbelieve it is really a cow. I wonder how black and white chickens will go over. Nigerian goats are sure to be recognized as they are everywhere in Africa.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Meet Edwin & Arthur

Nigerian Dwarf goats are supposed to make good pets and get along well with other animals. Hopefully that's true because Edwin (cream colored) and Arthur (black) have joined the family. They are eight month old twins, raised by a family in Nampa which took very good care of them. However, Edwin apparently wasn't feeling well this morning. He arrived this afternoon and appears a bit bloated, so I am worried about that and sort of getting a crash course in goat care as best I can via the Internet.

These goats are both wethers (neutered males). This week we had a special house made for them that is 6' at the front and 4' at the back. It has a built in bench to climb on, ventilation, windows, mineral block, salt lick and hay feeder. It's lined with straw and the front is hinged for easy cleaning. I designed it after reading some plans and suggestions online. The goats also have a pen with a gate they can use and the horses can't. The pen is lined with a "curb" of old fence posts to keep the dogs from trying to go under (after one did try).

I've not had goats before so we'll see how the experiment goes. The theory is that they will weed the pastures, as the horses don't and the weeds get tout of control. Buster was very curious about the goats. Esmae seemed uninterested. I'll give them some time to get acquainted before letting the horses and goats mingle without a separating fence.

Hopefully Edwin will make a speedy recovery; I'm a bit worried.