Monday, November 09, 2009
Huck reporting for duty
Of all the animals at Apifera, there is one that spends almost every minute of the waking day with me, but he is the one that probably gets the least attention on the blog. It's Huck, known in some circles as the chocolate lab named after a pie and friend to the pug with one eye.
When I take 2 steps to the left, Huck takes 1.5 steps. If I move 1 step back to the right, Huck doesn't budge. This allows him to be as close to me as possible without falling over.
Huck sleeps on the couch - yes, the couch- and in the early dawn when he senses the proper amount of daylight is present, he starts yawning. Not little girly yawns, but big manly yawns that an old farmer makes lying in bed, stretching. If he does come to the bedroom, he sits at the threshold, yawning. He's much to polite to come in without an invitation. "Come on in, Huck," and he bounds in and sits yawning at the bedside.
I unabashedly love Huck. His chocolate ears are like velvet, irresistible to my lips. I usually kiss Huck's ears in the morning long before I kiss Martyn.
Each animal has a purpose here on the farm, be it a job of pasture maintenance, laying eggs, or providing a strong back to haul something. Just as we two footers need a sense of purpose to remain healthy, so do these animals. I'm not sure what job the old goats have, or the one eye pug, but seniors can do what they want. For awhile Huck was lacking a job, but he now as two important tasks. When Stella and Iris break out of the fencing, which is pretty much daily as you all know, we say, "Come on Huck, goat duty!" and he rushes to the door. He escourts the goats back to their proper pasture, and returns to the house with a beaming expression. This summer I trained Huck to recognize the sound of raccoons or skunks eating at the cat food bowl on the front porch. Both have distinctive sounds from the cats. Every time I heard a coon or a skunk at the cat food, I'd just say, "Who is it Huck?" and within days he understood it as "Me Huck, must scare off critters." Now he runs to the door on his own when he hears skunks or raccoons.
I've been wanting to get back into pet therapy visits, like I did with the One Eyed Pug back in Minneapolis. My real goal is hospice work with a dog, and I 'm not sure if Huck will be right for that, but he might be great with group visits, or 'reading to kids' programs. He's trained pretty well, but he's led a sheltered life on the farm, so I've been taking him out to public stores to get him acclimated to new surroundings.
This weekend I took him to Lowe's. Lots of sounds, crashing boxes, electric doors, carts on wheels that were a good test for us. He did really well, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I really saw something in his eyes that made me swell up. It was like he was saying, "Yes, I can do this! I want to meet people, I want this job so much." It was a turning point for both of us. He was so happy to be there with me, doing something, anything, with me and for me. He obeyed and sat on command, and except for a bit of pulling, was a gentleman. He also got lots of admiration which was good for him, since the donkeys get all the attention at farm days. As people of all ages asked to pet him, I beamed every time someone said, "He's the most beautiful color." On occasion, he looked up at me as if to say, "It's going quite well, don't you think?" Perhaps the biggest accomplishment for him was he didn't have gas. Huck's admiration for kitty poop, preferably rolled in mud with a dusting of dried leaves, provides him with ample silent gaseous explosions. If you see me in a cold winter downpour, driving with all the windows open, you can be sure that Huck is in the car with me.
The dream I had long ago of one day living on a farm with a barnyard full of animals has come true. But I forgot how much I love working with dogs too. Huck and I will venture into some kind of pet therapy visits and I will of course keep you posted. And, I can't keep the secret any more - we are bringing home a little Huck, a puppy born this weekend from the same sire. The breeder told us it might be one of her last litters, and well, I took that as encouragement from the pet therapy guides above to get one. I'd been contemplating it anyway, knowing I wanted a hospice dog. The breeder has placed many of her dogs into service work, including hospice, so stay tuned. While I advocate bringing senior dogs into your homes, I felt I already have my senior dog who is 12 and has his own heart/eye issues. I decided I deserved a pup, and am really excited to work with him, and continue to work with Huck. And I think Huck deserves this too. Billy can't play with him anymore. It's sad to watch Huck's brown eyes sag when he attempts to get a game going with his senior friend.
Taking Huck and the new pup out for visits will bring stories and inspirations. It will be an honorable way to spend some time with my dogs.