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

Apifera Farm is a registered 501 [c][3]. #EIN# 82-2236486

All images

©Katherine Dunn.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

He's here!

We picked up Bear today. All I can tell you is I instantly knew he is the right guy. He was glued to me the entire time there and all the way home. He's a very calm [as of today!] pup and seems to be a thinker, he positions himself out of the fray of the litter and watched from background. He likes to sit. Upon arrival, he was pretty scared, a little trebling, tail down a lot, but after a nap in the crate, and some food, he was much more relaxed and puppy like. Muddy has already showed him his tennis ball and it appears he 'gets it'. I am being careful with Muddy since he is ten and even though he's never shown aggression, he has been on his own for a few years since Huck died.

So far, the cats seem interested but not freaked out so that is good. Bear will be allowed on the couch with me [Muddy sits on the other side] and he eventually won't need the crate, but I have always crate trained and find it a good way to teach patience and boundaries. I had to reteach Martyn who understands Bear is my training student, not his. No teaching handshakes! As Bear sat and whined in his crate in the living room, Martyn asked how long we let that go on. I said, "Until he stops and then some" so he learns when he is quiet there is either a nap or a person to let him out for quiet behavior. I can't remember how long I needed the crate with Mud or the others, but I can tell he is figuring it out very fast.

And what a big day for him. I'd cry too! He left his mates [all the litter had been picked up except Bear and one other female] he left his home, he rode in a car for two hours [no accidents and slept in my lap the entire way]...think of waking up one day and everything is new-the sounds, smells, sights...

Mainly, I am just in love and hope to do him proud, and aim to work as a good leader. I was thinking that I've learned a lot about animals and training and behaviors [mine included] since living on the farm. I have trained many dogs, but I feel this will be an important partner in my work, and feel I am more equipped than ever to avoid some pitfalls. I'm excited. I think he is going to be an easy learner [but we shall see!]

I will be posting way too many pictures on Instagram. But who can get enough of him? I can't.

I cherish Bear...already.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The exact dog that is meant to be here, now, in this time, with me

Very soon, very soon...I think one of the reasons I am so excited to bring Bear home is because it will be a working partner to go forward with our work - he will be trained to go to the elder home with me. Opie will continue on his weekly mission [the residents are already pretty in love with him and his little red Love Mobile]. My plan is to begin short excursions with Bear right away...to desensitize him to wheel chairs and other things.

Losing Birdie at such a crucial time in our non profit's elder work was crushing. I think Bear somehow soothes that. Bear will be able to hop in a car and sit on a bed if needed, something I can't do with a goat or llama. The other animals will remian crucial ambassadors of love, rest assured. Opie and Bear will be the go-to love machines though.

I also think the ressidants will love watching Bear grow, and learn, and mature as their therapy dog. They will get a certain sense of ownership of him.

When I saw this video of him from a couple days ago, I really love the way he steps back, sits and looks right into the video screen. I like to think he is seeing me somehow. The fact he was the only chocolate male in the litter, the fact I was waiting anxiously for his birth and he came out first [I only wanted a chocolate male] all lead me to feel he is meant to be The Dog. At first I thought a post Christmas pup might be more difficult with winter weather, but now I realize the timing could not be better for is training. He will have to go inside the elder home since it is winter, he will be able to sit on laps and beds. if we were outside this would not happen. Also, it is like a culmination of the Christmas spirit that wrapped me this year, the first time in so many years I have truly felt the spirit. Martyn and I partook in so many nice things together this past week, and picking the puppy up will be a giant exclamation point to all of it.

I feel Bear is meant to do what he is about to with me at his side. I suppose that could be my wonderfully active imagination again, but I truly sense this pup is meant to come to me, now, and here.

This exact pup.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

When you're forgotten and invisible

So if you are walking down the street one day, and you see some old and hollowed eyes, 
please don't pass them by again, say "Hello in there, hello" [John Prine]

Martyn and I, and Opie, popped over to Cove's Edge on Monday afternoon so Opie could spin around the complex in his Love Mobile. I usually go on Thursdays but due to holiday I went on Monday-I didn't not want to go, I know how hard the holidays can be, the memories they trigger, the sadness of beautiful Christmas songs.

We had nice visit. When we arrived, we were told Opie was greatly needed today, many of the residents were angry or grumpy with each other. We all knew the holiday was bringing that up. Many of the people in these residences do have family within driving distance, some even quite close, but they never come. I've already met some who endure that lonlieness, and it is not made up, I know it to be true.

It is hard to see your loved one in a home no matter how good the quality. Cove's Edge is part of a group of facilities here, one is for independendant living [they came to the farm this summer], one is for people who can live alone but need help so have their own apartment, and Cove's Edge is for rehab, hospice and full time care, I guess you might say it is often the end of the line. I have been to places that are truly depressing the minute you walk in the door but Cove's Edge is not like that. The staff are very good too, and they do a really good job creating a life within the halls of the place, even though most are wheelchair bound or bed bound.

No matter what positive spin one puts on it, it is hard. A body gets old but the mind is still there. Or a mind goes and the body is strong. Mates of fifty years die, dogs must be left behind, grandchildren feel funny visiting Gamma in a bed...

In some ways, it is easier for me. These are not my family. I do not have any dynamics or conflicting relationship issues with these people. My role is to bring a smile, a goat on wheels, and soon a puppy. And we will be doing that consistently, on a set weekday so the elders know it is part of their lives.

Martyn and I almost didn't go yesterday because I had not heard back from my contact-this is very, very busy and stressful time there and she handles it with humor and grace, but at the last minute she wrote and asked if could still come. And we hopped in the truck with Opie and arrived. I am so glad we went. We were needed, not just for the residents but the staff. We had some beautiful visits, we always do. There is never a visit that doesn't bring something to them, or me, or Opie. Opie was spot on and very focused.

One of the most touching cases we have there is a woman in her fifties who had issues that have left her immobile, speechless and wheelchair and bed bound. And she loves animals. We have visited with her with the pony and llama and now Opie. She is excited to meet Bear. I am bound not to disclose certain things due to privacy laws [like names, of course] but I have to say when I heard she has family that never comes, it is so sad. I don't know the reasons, it is their business. But no matter what, she is a young woman in a hurt body, and I know it is a depressing situation for her. I walk out of there and wonder how long the effect of an Opie visit might help. Does it matter if it is a minute or a day? Perhaps the more times we visit she will understand– I keep my word–I will be back, weekly.

When we were ready to go after an hour and a half, we wheeled out to the door, and many residents were told Opie was leaving so they got wheeled over to the entry-it took us awhile to get out of there-so sweet!

Last night, Martyn and I decided this has been our best Christamas...because it is balanced. We have done some fun things we never do [out to lunch, buying food at a local farm, stocking stuffer gifts, special cheeses] and we have had fun on the farm. But we have also done two therapy visits togehter with Opie. We have each other, and we have shared ourselves, and our goat, with people who need love.

I'm grateful. We've had so many cards this year too! I think people are really starting to get what we are doing. And people have sent bells, a baby blanket for Bear so he can sit on people's laps...it's all heart warming.

This is a volitile time for our country, and planet. I suppose their are 30% of the population that think things are fine, but many of us don't. There is more fear mongering coming from the top down than I've ever witnessed in my life which began in 1958. I bet many of the people we visit with at the home are on the opposite spectrum of us politically and socially....but we have many things in common–we need love, and care, we can all be broken and we can all be empathetic to those that are broken [or should be, some are not capable of empathy].

But to be invisible while still inhabiting your body...to watch staff and others rush by your bedroom door as you lay in wait for the next dinner bell...televisions on all over...no animals to hold, no ability to simply get up, turn off a tv, and grab a book you want to read...we need to notice our elders.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Happening now! The First Celebration of Bells!

This week, out of the blue, I got a package from a long time reader and follower. When I began unwrapping it, my mouth dropped open and I was so excited.

She had sent me all sorts of bells, from her many travels all over the world. There were bells from a trip to Thailand many years ago, bells from so many different trips. What she didn't know is I was planning on taking out my other bells I had for the ponies and letting all the Apiferians wear them over a period of days in a Celebration of Bells. It felt like a beautiful way to ring in the season and new year.

I feel like each jingle you hear is from one of the many Misfits or Apiferians we have loved and cared for over the past 16 years.

What I loved is that she had held onto these bells and knew somehow that it was time to let them out into the world for another person to enjoy.

It felt like such a genuine gesture. A gesture that shows she truly understands my spirit, and intent. This woman has purchased a lot of art from me, and always takes time to share how much my art has meant to her over the years, she will take a picture of the pieces throughout her home and it is very fulfilling to see how my art has touched her in such a way over the years. She told me this again, in her note, and that these bells just somehow needed to be with me.

So today, I let the donkeys do a mini parade. They did exactly what I said-I told them to feel the bells and go in a line like fancy Clysedales might in a parade.

I especially love the sound of the Thailand bells, they are older and the leather is very old but the bell sound is deeper than a commercial brass bell.

I think I am officially into bells.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Is this my best work to date?

Yesterday Opie and I ventured over to Cove's Edge to take the Love Mobile for a spin around the complex. This was our second voyage and it was received as happily as the first. I am getting to know faces and some names and people are getting to know Opie and talk about him. Now when they see the Love Mobile they know what is coming. I am also so happy it allows us to visit those that are bed ridden.

Last night I was sitting by the fire reviewing my day - Martyn came with me which was nice too-and I had a flash thought go through my head: I think this is the best work I've done so far. I feel like my elder work with animals is so rewarding and important-and so me-but adding in my work with sharing animals with the elder people on a consistent basis is important work. I feel like I'm just beginning to touch on things that I've been preparing for for years.

There are so many stories within those walls. I like talking to the people. This visit I met a sweet woman who recently retired and has Parkinson's now. She had been a nurse and caregiver her entire life, and told me how she had cared for a gentlemen who had Parkinson's, long before she had it. She took extra care for him, and he knew it, and in his ending days he told her how her care had meant more than any other and how much it meant to him. And now here she was, being cared for the same cruel disease. My Uncle had it, and it is cruel.

But Opie also provides us with a way to share stories about animals, which leads the elders to talk about dogs they had or goats they raised. We also met a blind woman, who became blind from cancer treatments, and she smiled and smiled when we rolled Opie up so she could feel him.

I try to empathize what this would be like-to be sitting in a residence without animals, remembering my donkeys, horse, goats, and more...perhaps even my husband...would I survive that? We all would like to live out our days at home, like my mother did, mobile, free to drive, cook, and do things we are used to doing. But it doesn't always come in script form like that. While I don't dwell on it, in this work one is confronted every day with the fact that life is fragile and often unfair, and often daunting. There is a song that I heard recently-I forgot by whom, it goes–"Sooner or later one of us is going to have to live without the other." Many of these people have lost mates, or their mate lives in their home and they visit - sometimes daily. I hope I don't have to do this, or Martyn.

I don't dwell on this, but I definitely am aware that each day is a gift. I have so many freedoms. I have carved out a life, it took years to get here, but I carved it out for myself and I am intensely living it every day.

I'm not afraid of death. But I am afraid - if I dwell on it-to be kept alive in a building no matter how nice, without my animals, or my ability to make my decisions on the simplest of things like, "Think I'll get up and make a scrambled egg."

I hope Nature will grant me that wish, to live my life out with Nature around me. I have thought about this, NAture might be saying,

"Well, okay, we grant you that wish, but it might mean you will die sooner than you had in mind from a disease or accident." I guess...that would be okay.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"She's not coming through the door, Belle," I told her

"She's not coming through the door, Belle," I told her.
Update: The next night, Belle died. I knew she was in active dying when I did feedings. Normal responses were gone and she was half there. She was peaceful. I knew when I said good night that would be the end and I bid her a safe journey. I have conflicted emotions on her final month. I think her experience going into the shelter was really hard on her. It is not my place to keep these elders alive for ever, it is to make them comfortable when they are alive, and give them permission to go if they need to and provide a comfortable place to spend their remaining days, weeks or sometimes years. On her arrival, she was so weak and frail. Maybe in her former life, she had not felt she had permission to leave. Maybe she knew on arriving here, she had that, and stuck around a few days to get settled.

We have taken on two more elder cats-both over 18-in the last few weeks. My shelter contact calls me when really old ones come in to see if we can take them. Both of these old girls were sent to the shelter after their owners went into hospice, and into a home. I do not get the back stories on why a decision had to be made to send an old animal that lived for ever with a person, into a shelter...but when families are dealing and coping with placing their parents into homes, it is stressful and I think most do their best. I am grateful I can take these old creatures on. My goal is to help them feel safe and cared for, so that should they pass on quickly, they die with that feeling of security, away from the loud sounds of the shelter.

The first to arrive of these two was Tommy, and she is very thin and very sweet. She was clearly a bit depressed on arrival and hardly left her sitting spot. At the shelter they said she was really sad, not eating, turning away from handlers, etc. But I give the newcomers, if they allow it and need it, extra attention, and it took about a week for Tommy to perk up. Now when I arrive she is at the door with the others, happy for her breakfast. She returns to different perches to clean her feet, bathe in the sun...and nap.

Probably less than a week or two later I got a call about Belle. Her owner was going into a home that didn't allow cats. Belle is probably the smallest and skinniest, weakest cat I've taken on over the years. She is just a little bone and her hind end is weak from age. She also comes with 24 toes, 6 on each foot instead of the usual 18 toes. I told her that her toes weigh more than her little peanut body.

As is often the case with new arrivals, she came down with a cold. Tommy did too but worked through it fast. Belle needs to have her nose cleaned three times a day and I also clean up her legs since she sleeps and drools on them when her nose is plugged. I was so happy this morning when I looked into the suite that she was sitting up, waiting. I've been holding her, talking to her, just sitting with her nearby to help her transition.

But last night she did something that was so sweet, bittersweet, although as I'll explain–did I project my own story onto her in this incidence? She came over to the door while I was doing cleanup, and she sat in front of the door, quietly, and just watched it, and waited. Like she was waiting for that door to open. I stopped my chores and took the photo, then I sat on the floor and eventually –within a few minutes–she gave up on the door and wandered over to me. I held her and I said,

"She's not coming through the door, Belle." I assured her that I would come through the door though, and she already knows this.

Perhaps she heard the goats, perhaps she was an outdoor cat, perhaps she was just wondering things. It's easy to project onto our animals. I know she feels safe here. I know she responds to me, and is feeling safe. She is exploring higher perches too which is good to see her moving around. I hold her a lot. I can't imagine she will live that much longer she is so thin and frail, but no matter how long, she is in a calm setting, with warmth and comrades, food and sun, a wood out back to back light her inside life.

Tommy on the top and Belle on the bottom

Belle and her 24 toes

Sunday, December 15, 2019

To all you anonymous elves

I sometimes get donations through the mail from anonymous sources. People have all sorts of reasons for wanting to stay anonymous and I completely understand. It just makes it impossible to say a direct thank you.

I know that they probably would say, "Our thanks is seeing the smiles of the elder people petting a llama or goat...or seeing an old pony running in jingle bells."

There is much to be disturbed by in any life, in any era of history, but in these times I especially am gratified that people-and even strangers- are paying attention to a little farm floating off the coast of Maine, just trying to make elder people smile with a goat in a Love Mobile and bring some comfort to old and needy animals. So to those who send anonymous gifts out of retirement funds or other sources, thank you, it is so appreciated and wisely used.

The animals probably know who you are.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

New project

I am going to start doing portraits of every Apiferian. I am not sure what it will turn into-a chap book, cards, prints, or...nothing. But I need to have a 'thing' or I get stuck. I am also getting the White Dog memoir ready for print/pre sales in January into spring. So stay tuned. I think I might start with the elder cat suite.

This was just a silly little piece for old Sophie, who by the way was having some trouble getting up, but seems to be stronger now, with lapses. Once she is up, she is zooming around like usual.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Birdie reaches out today....from...everywhere

Birdie's been on my mind. It was a year ago when we were giving her physical therapy twice a day, trying so hard to help her. We did that through mid March. This film was taken the night before she died. I documented everything on Instagram, and I even keep it all on my phone so I can go back and look at it sometimes. I don't do that as much now. But when I do , now that is has been a year since she got sick, what I see now is an animal that was fighting the fight-with me, and maybe for me- but there was a moment in the photos where-now-I could see her change. Her hair even looked duller and grayer. Even in this film posted here, when I posted that back then, I didn't think it was the end. I could still see a smile there, a tired smile, but a smile. When I look today, I see how tired she was. The next night, she was clearly...pushing away a bit, in her demeanor. I am not even sure anymore, if I did right by her, fighting so hard to save her. I do know she was trying. I'm a bit sad that maybe I should have given my usual speech, "It's okay to let go"...but it wasn't ok because selfishly I wanted her to stay, and she did, as long as she could.

Today, I got a package from a kind follower. It had a gift for Bear, who arrives in a couple weeks, which I will let him open. And a package for me. My mother was rolling her eyes in heaven because I am notorious for opening gifts when they arrive, not waiting. When I read the woman's sweet note I had to open it. The woman had been following Apifera awhile and was very fond of Birdie and was so sad when she died. But sometime near Birdie's death, her mother grew ill, and she was caring for her, which was a challenge both emotionally and physically-any caretaker can tell you the toll it takes no matter the love surrounding it. She said that in the hardest days, when she felt like she was in a fog, she would repeat to herself, "Birdie On, just Birdie On!"

This just made me rip open the package, I knew what it would be-a soft fluffy white llama doll. Now you don't have to all go out and send me llama dolls, but I have to say, the fact I've been thinking of her so much lately, and hearing this woman's story...I go back to my belief I've expressed many times...we are all connected-in actions and breath. It's not about not making mistakes, it's about understanding your words and actions have repercussions, and we get to choose how we'd like our repercussions to be felt-as positive, kind, sincere, authentic...or hurtful, harsh,domineering and judgmental.

As Lou Reed said so well, "Spittin' in the wind comes back at you twice as hard."

Birdie never spit, and together, I think we formed a union and partnership that helped me shine my strengths, showing the world what I wanted to be and could be if I just had a llama with me.

I think she was part of that doll that arrived today, reminding me, it's okay, she's where she needed to go, and I'm here where I need to stay for now. I truly hope we meet again.

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.