Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

Apifera Farm is a registered 501 [c][3]. All images are ©Katherine Dunn.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Opie speaks

Opie on arrival to Apifera
Three years ago, Opie was born and shortly after came into our lives as a bottle baby. We were all graced by the set of events that would propell him to Apifera. He began his therapy visits soon after, and was a natural. Of course as a bottle baby, he was soft with people, but if you watch him in action when he is 'on the job', he knows his stuff, he silently weeds out the most tender in a room.

"Today I was born!" Opie said as I entered the barn.

"I know, what a good day for us," I said to him.

"But my mother died, and my brother," he said.

"Yes, that was a hard part of that day," I said.

"But I'm here now. Let's go run!"

I declined to run, but watched him skip out of the barn into the chilly day, and he stopped in the sun to chew his cud.

Opie with one his friends at a therapy visit...we miss her

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Night I Saw Father Christmas {Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get your horse}

Boone, the horse I waited for
{This article appeared in this month's Lincoln County News}

One night when I was six years old, I saw Santa, or Father Christmas as we called him. The house we lived in back then had an old dilapidated riding ring in the near back woods area and nearby high school girls would journey over on their horses to ride. I would run out to greet them, probably a pest, and sometimes they would lift me up to ride double. Every Christmas, I asked my parents for a horse, and I asked Father Christmas too.

Even though it was some fifty plus years ago, I remember it was snowing that Christmas Eve and I was looking up the chimney for any signs of a red suit.

“That chimney story is for little kids, he’ll come in the front door” my older brother said. That comforted me, chimneys seemed scary.

At bedtime, I left the door cracked open and finally saw the final living room lights go dim. We always left the tree lights on at Christmas Eve for Father Christmas and I lay in bed, waiting, for any bells or Ho Ho’s.

Soon I heard noises, but not from the roof, they were from the living room and I tip toed out to spy, the lit tree guiding my bare feet.

What I saw is etched in my mind to this day. The colored light bounced off the white socks of someone sitting in my father's chair. And he had a little black dog in his lap, just like our dog. It was Father Christmas! He was smoking my father’s pipe–I could tell because it smelled like my father’s tobacco.

I let out a Haley Mills gasp, holding my little hands over my mouth.

I heard another door in the house, and slipped back to my room and under the covers, and clutched my brown bear and didn't move. I am not even sure I was breathing, but the next thing I remember is waking up.


I ran to the tree. I looked for anything that might indicate a horse was waiting for me in the back yard. But once again, Father Christmas did not bring me a horse.

"He can't carry a horse in the sky," my brother said matter of factly. "You'll just have to wait some more."

I didn't tell anyone that morning about seeing Father Christmas. I don't know why.

I think back to that night, seeing Father Christmas in that chair. It took me some years to know it was my own Father, so firm were my magical convictions.

I wish I had asked my father at some point in my life, “Did you see me that Christmas Eve night, tip toeing out to spy on what I knew and believed was Santa?”

I imagine you were resting in the quiet of the busiest season, enjoying a moment to yourself, with your dog–our dog–snoring on your lap, as you enjoyed a smoke. And even though you never got me a horse–I had to earn that years later on my own–you gave me daily gifts that no price tag could be put on.

And you gave me that memory, you let me see Father Christmas.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Opie's Love Mobile...touching elders one hand at a time

This sweet guy had a great whit, and I told him Opie had never met an elf before.
I am still glowing in the afermath of love of Opie's first voyage out in his Love Mobile. Sometimes i get these great ideas and they almost manifest, but don't for whatever reasons-it is part of living with a creative brain and heart. But this time, we made it to a finish line and all the effort was worth it. I want to thank many of you that helped with donations to get our Love Mobile built [and of course, Martyn!].

The Mobile did great, Opie was as usual a star and love magnet, we rolled all over the complex–it is a big place and meandering but perfect for our Love Mobile with wide open hallways. The residents knew we were coming and are of all different levels of aging-some with dementia, others sharp as tacks but just unable to care for themselves, some blind, some in rehab hoping to go home. There were lots of smiles, lots of touching moments, lots of love being sent out of that little pygmy body of his.

We were there over two hours but it was so great. I was exhausted that night, but in a good way, and I know Opie too picks up on all sorts of feelings when he goes into a scene like this. I always massage him after, and praise him. I'm so proud of him!

We left our Mobile there and will do that for the winter so we can go back frequently. We plan to put a little mail box up on it, I'm not sure if that will take off, but it is one more thing for the staff to encourage the residents to do-write Opie a note-for fun.

I also plan to bring the new pup out in it too.

It is amazing what one little goat can bring into someone's day. I know too the staff loves it-they have very demanding jobs and I hadn't thought about that, that animal visits are good for them too. My main contact there is super appreciative of what we are doing-she really gets it and believes in animal therapy for healing the heart and soul. I too believe in the power of touch-and elder people are not touched enough. They want to be touched, I do believe this, within boundaries of course. But they are creatures that had long lives and love and pain and joy just like any person of any age-just like an old cat I bring home...I try to touch in appropriate ways when I feel it is okay.

None of us want to end up in assisted living. I am not sure I'd survive it emotioanlly. I have a good attitude, but, not being able to have one animal with me, or nature...this place is one of the nicer places...but it is still a facility and many of the people there were being visited my spouses. Some have left animals behind. When I go on a visit, I focus on their faces, and hands, and Opie, and my energy is upbeat-not so sun shiny that I am not being aware of where I am, but I want to be focused on my task-to take their hearts and lift them a teeny bit, even if it is for a short time. To let them know a little goat named Opie is coming back and it is no bother for us, we just like visiting and making them a little happier than the morning they awoke.

Opie liked Earnie from his first visits and we love Earnie

The Mobile allows people in bed to pet him.

A little goat that makes someone smile, that's all

Thursday, December 05, 2019

She challenged me more than any animal I've known

The first day at Apifera
Six years ago, Marcella was born. She was born on a working sheep farm in Washington, out of working stock. Her farm owner and shepherd had a regional reputation as being knowledgeable and thorough with his Maremmas-he also travelled the region educating people about this unique breed, teaching them the unique training skills needed to work successfully with a Maremma. I am grateful we found him because I reached out to him many times in the early days.

We were in Oregon then, and we had a working flock of 30 sheep among other things. We were of course taking in needy elder/special needs animals, but we were not a non profit then. I had looked into a livestock guardian years before, but felt I wasn't ready for one. I'm glad I waited. I wasn't prepared to have a Maremma when we first moved to the farm. I had always had pets, not a working dog, and it is a different ball of wax.

Marcella was 8 weeks old when we brought her home. I got a pick of the litter, and I knew immediately she was the one, by her presence and demeanor in the litter that day. That first night, I put her in a stall in the barn, where she could see sheep and goats through her gate. The shepherd/breeder told me that if a Maremma wants to get on the other side of a gate, it will. The second morning when I arrived at the barn, she was frolicking out in the Northwest rain and mud, happy as a clam. Marcella loved rain and mud from her first days, and still does. White Dog on the other hand is not as fond of rain and mud and is rarely muddy, but Mar will come in at night covered, happy. The shepherd/breeder also told me that the next day they are always pure white again...and he was right.

I had been given mental lessons in how to work with Marcella...don't baby her, don't hold her and squeeze her because you are going to want to because she is so damn cute...don't look down to her but show her boundaries right away. She will outsmart you if she needs to or feels threatened...that is her job, I was told. Her food is hers, you will find that out. And if she needs work done on her body-toenail trimming, wounds-they do not like to be worked on, which can prove challenging for many reasons....the latter is also true. Maremmas are prone to not obey commands like a trained pet, calling a Maremma is not usually going to get them to come-that is after all a survival technique for a guard and it is bred into them for a reason.

It took me a year or so to really understand her ways, and what my reactions should be or shouldn't be. For example, I always fed her in the hay room, so she could be away from all animals. She was incredibly territorial with her food, to the point she'd take an animal to the ground if they provoked her around food. The shepherd/breeder told me to never try to work this out of her, simply give her a space to eat alone. Well, one day, I can't remember what the reason was, but she was eating, and I approached too close to grab something, and she latched onto my hand, sinking her teeth in...I was calm, but it hurt like hell, but I knew if I pulled my hand away she'd sink in deeper and rip me up. I waited, I did not speak, and I relaxed the tension in my hand to show her she had won, and she released. But then I thought that I really should correct her. This was not acceptable. I took a rake and hit her on the back, she grabbed it and fought it hard. I left her alone. I called my mentor shepherd/breeder and told him what had happened. He said that one should never hit a Maremma, because it is perceived as a challenge. He said he might have done the same though, depending on the age of the dog and situation. He told me to work on establishing a better boundary, and I did.

And that is the challenge I relented to. There is no reason to challenge her, she knows her job, and I had to learn to let her do it her way.

At this stage in our relationship, Marcella does not growl around her food anymore, she knows if I walk by it is to do other things and she trusts me now, and I trust her. But I'd never take her dish away, and there is no reason too. Working on her body if she has a wound, or mats in her heavy coat in spring mud season, is a 100-step process. But compared to our early years, we work it out. Recently, Marcella slipped through a slider gate in the garden where she had gotten out because a latch was not secure. She was out front near the busy road and my heart sunk when I saw her. I started yelling to her, more in a panic, as I saw her eyeing the road and she knew two dogs were over there. She looked at me, and at the road. Then I snapped out of it, went into a submissive pose [kneeled down, averted my eyes] and I said her name softly, like I do during chores. She came over with her head down, and all was well. I thought how five years ago I would not have known to do that.

A lot of this is her maturing too, and having worked daily with me for years. But I like to think we have a bond now too. I know we do. Every night, she helps me bring the ducks in and she sleeps with them. It is then, for seconds, I look in her eyes, something I do with all my dogs. I tell her it was a good day and thank her. She might not be guarding a flock of sheep, but she still has a job, watching for eagles and other intruders. She is much more outspoken here, because her area is smaller than before. When we have elder visits, I put her in a stall because she just wants to know that these people aren't there to hurt her charges. White Dog on the other hand partakes.

She is by far the smartest dog I've ever known.  Learning to speak Marcella, and let go of pet-thinking, let go of 'this is want I want' is part of working with this breed. One day out West, she was particularly active in the barnyard. I wanted her to come into the barn so I could move hay. Later that day, we realized that Wilbur had been scratched up by a predator, and we noticed blood and marks on both White Dogs. We analyzed the placement and width of the claw marks on Wilbur and surmised it had been a young bobcat-we had one in the barnyard some weeks earlier, a small one. The marks showed us that Wilbur had been on his back while being clawed once. It was probably a young cat, but the dogs did their job, and she was just making sure it wasn't around.

She is also an excellent ratter.

She always crosses her legs

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Leaves let go so must we

"Getting old isn't for sissies", my mother used to say. But, like my mother, Sophie puts one foot in front of the other and keeps going, keeps doing what her body wants to do even if it is limited.

A day go, I went to feed the goats in the front stall area, nine of them varying in health and age. Sophie is the oldest in that group and despite the condition she was born with and crippling effects of it, she is not a pushover. But a few days ago I noticed Sophie seemed a bit weaker than her normal state, and yesterday as I walked into the stall, and all the goats circle around and tried to position themselves, Sophie was unable to lift herself up.

I helped her and she seemed fine, but I knew this is a new stage of her elder years.

After my chores were down at the outer barn, I came back to find Sophie cast, outside her barn, laying in wait for me to help her. I got her up and held her and she seemed okay, but she also seemed tired.

I assumed that the slight incline of the terrain there, and the other goats rushing about and bumping into her, caused her fall. So I moved her out to the area where Opie lives with his few chickens, The Goose, and the very elder and frail Else the goat. I was pleased to see Sophie out in the sun this morning, The Goose escorting her around. The Goose and Sophie have a fragile relationship in that The Goose over care takes her sometimes, and then Sophie grabs at his feathers. If I find a clump of feathers, and then find The Goose hiding in the hay room, sullen, I know they have had a slight encounter. It is actually both funny and heartbreaking, as he looks like he really has hurt feelings, and I pick him up and tuck his head into my coat [geese love this swanning position]. No harm is ever done and when I put him down, he waddles off back to his happy Goose self, like a little child who cried over spilled milk but cheers up the instant Mom dries his tears.

You know we have no control of death, or much else. And you know my rule is to not ask any creature to 'not die on me', {note: I have failed at this on occasion} but I have to say I don't want her to die, not yet. But someday she will. They all will. You take the old ones on and you know this. You take the young ones on too and know this but it isn't presented to you on arrival. But you still have to talk yourself down sometimes, reminding yourself what you already know, that there are signs she is transitioning. And even though it might not be this week, or this month, I don't get to pick the date when I say, "Okay, I am prepared now, take her if you must."

Nature is not interested in us being ready for anything. Nature is Nature and allows herself to just be. She doesn't judge us but she doesn't listen to our needs, she is just Nature, there to teach us that leaves let go, and fall, and die, and feed worms and dirt.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

An insult to my work , my heart and my animals

Rather than saying 'adopt don't shop" I prefer to say, 'Help a creature or human in need". I think it is great to adopt animals out of shelters or rescues-I think my track record shows that. But I am not someone who will judge another human being for finding a good breeder to buy the dog of their choosing-for whatever reasons. A few weeks ago someone unsubsribed from my newsletter and cancelled her monthly $20 donation she had paid since last year, writing a note to tell me she would not be supporting our organization further because I am buying a dog from a breeder. She went on to say, quote, "There are many purebred Labrador puppies in rescue/shelter situations that need you. Breeders are useless and greedy." I thanked her for her past support, and also thanked her for taking her energy elsewhere. I wonder if this person and others like her decline going to baby showers if the person didn't adopt, but insted bred their child.

I have had wonderful creatures in my life, some from shelters, rescues and many from breeders. While I would never support a puppy mill or large scale breeder, I value the breeders I've known in my life, since childhood we have always had dogs, both purebred, some mutts. To me they are creatures. I never point out, "Oh this is my rescue dog. Or this is my rescue horse." If that is how you want to introduce your animal, fine, but I don't see the need-they are creatures.

When I got this note, my first reaction was...surprise. First of all, it is not based on facts. To lump all breeders as 'evil' well, I state that is unfair , ignorant and untrue. I can tell you after 15+ years of taking in neglected and needy animals, that the humans on the other end come in all shapes and sizes. And I can also tell you that I have come into contact with good breeders and some not so good...BUT I have come into contact with many judgemental people in the 'rescue' world. There are people doing good work for animals in all sectors.

My reaction was also to want to explain to this person why I thought she was misguided about breeders. It happened four weeks ago. But I chose to walk away. Then I found myself second guessing about posting pictures of Bear, our new pup that will be here in four weeks. I continued to post pictures though, and I will continue to do that. I am not going to hide behind fear of the social Puppy Police-those people out there that spread their judgements as they sit in front of a screen. And if any of you out there feel the need to go, by all means do.

I should say, when you are giving money, no matter how small or big the amount, you have the right to change your mind if that organization doesn’t lie up to what you thought it should. Our mission here is clear-to help elder/needy animals and to share them with elder people. I can assure everyone that the elder people who lay their hands on my animals aren’t wondering if I adopted them or bought them from a breeder. Bear the pup is a dog I am purchasing, from my funds, not the non profits, but he will be part of our therapy work.

Ironically, I saw her note on the day I buried Papi, one of umpteen elder cats that have been brought out of shelters. I wondered how many graves this woman has dug in her life. Is the grave I dug two years ago for Huck, our beloved lab, any less graced and blessed by Earth because he was from a breeder? Of course not.

What an insult to my work, my heart, and all my animals.

Bear turns 4 weeks old

It's hard not to clutch the screen and smoosh his face. Bear turns 4 weeks old and that's half way to Apifera. I'm grateful the breeder send these update pics to all of us. This week should get fun, as the pups will begin to move around a lot at this stage.

I wake up realizing how life will change for us in-house Apiferians, but in a good way. It's been 10 years since I raised a pup. But I'm up for the newness and wonder of it all, and to socializing him when he is ready. This will be my dog, that is the plan. Although let's not forget I bring cats home from the shelter and they fall in love with Martyn. But I will be the one training him, taking him out, etc.

It is just pure fun to have his photos from these early days in the litter. I love you Bear, we are going to have a lot of fun, and good work with the elders too.