Archive for the ‘fauna’ Category

When I first met Rhea, I was lying on indoor-outdoor carpet under a table at the Lucky Dog Retreat, trying to coax the scared little girl and her puppy sister Asa to have something—anything!—to do with me.

Thing were not going well.

Robin, the proprietor of Lucky Dog Retreat, accompanies Indianapolis’ animal control officers into what are gingerly described as ‘bad situations’ in an effort to keep some of our city’s hapless animals from being destroyed. A dark look came across Robin’s face as I asked her about Rhea’s and Asa’s origins. ‘There were too many human beings and too many dogs in that apartment’, she responded, clearly not wanting to go any deeper into her description. Rhea and Asa, alone among a tribe of dogs, were to be saved. Their fear of this big stranger lying on the floor suddenly sounded entirely reasonable, at least as far as Puppy Logic goes.

Rhea was improbable from the start, one of just two survivors out of ‘too many dogs’.

Rhea’s tough beginnings—she was clearly not treated well in her first, chaotic home—haunt her still.

My fiancée was half a country away. I described Rhea on the phone, the scared little monster with wan hope of a future. It was impossible to make Rhea sound like the Ideal Dog. Nothing about this waif’s life has ever come close to ideal. Karen was not absolutely opposed to adding a dog with a past to our collection of two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the new life we would soon share. If we went through with this, Rhea would join a sister who had been the runt of her own boiling, brown tribe back in Costa Rica and a blind and badly abused brother Ridgeback from northern Indiana. Yet Karen’s assent could not be described as enthusiastic.

I was to marry an adventurous bride amid a pack of rejected dogs.

After a few more visits to Lucky Dog, Rhea came home. Improbably. We would live to regret our decision. And then, eventually, to celebrate it. And her.




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Springtime in Indianapolis is like a resurrection.

Few cities I’ve known color their winters as gray as does our Indy. It’s one of the many things that make Indianapolis easy to underestimate.

Then comes the Spring.

The birds, on this resplendent Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, are busily nesting. Our feeders are busy, but so are the numerous bird houses scattered around our property. House finches are checking out the real estate, as are sparrows and chickadees. They move with the purpose of buyers in a sellers’ market. There are only so many bird houses to go around, you know. You snooze, you lose.

I admit, I’m a deeply sentimental man when it comes to places. An irrational nostalgia runs deep with regard to every place I’ve lived and a handful more where I’ve been.

Take Northern Wisconsin, for example.

My mother was born and raised there, my father pitched to Hank Aaron there, a whole youth worth of summer vacations made Lake Superior and the family who lived on its edges the destination of a long but never questioned drive from Pennsylvania.

When we Baers managed to gather there last Fall for the first time in many years, it was a coming home, a return to who we are, an understated migration to the stream of our origins.

I bought a bird house in Hayward. A knotty-pine Northwoods cabin of a bird house, a bit tacky if you’re from—let me pick a place—Virginia, but an icon of home if you have felt the Big Lakes’s breezes on your face.

May I detour for a moment in a technical direction?

The standard sources map out how important is the size of the hole in a bird house for the various species of backyard birds that lift our spirits and put our souls at ease in this Indianapolis space we call home. A chickadee family, you may be interested to learn, requires 1/8″ more of entrance clearance than does a wren.

My Northwoods knotty-pine bird house is made for wrens.

So it is that in these last few days a small drama has ensued just outside the windows which demarcate the human space from the delightfully kinetic animal space of our home.

A pair of chickadees has spied a log cabin that they would love to call home.

—Justin, it’s beautiful, honestly. But the doorway seems just a little small.

—Oh, Allison, I’m sure we can fit through. Look, just peer inside. OMG, it’s gorgeous in there. Can you imagine the kids?

—I know, Honey Man, I completely agree. I’m just not sure we can fit through that … um … that hole.

—Sure we can, Ally Baby, just watch. Ooh … Ouch … Oh my, this is a little tight. Here, let me peck at the edges of the hole for a while. I’m sure I can find us a sixteenth of an inch here. These things are not etched in stone, you know.

—Oh, Honey, you’re the sweetest. Knock yourself out. I’ll stand up here on the roof and watch.

—Ally, I think I can squeeze in. Ooh … ouch … HONEY, I’M IN … !!! Oh, Baby, it’s spacious in here. You wouldn’t believe it.

—But, Justin, when I’m with child? I mean, with eggs? Will I fit?

—Ally, Baby, we’ll get a gym membership. I’m sure it will work.

—OK, J-Dawgy, I really want to believe you. I’ll just sit out here on the wire for a while and peer longingly at our future home … I mean … what I hope will be our future home. You just keep pecking at that doorway. Do you think these feathers make me look fat?

This is as far as our drama has gone.

This afternoon has been a little quiet around the Old Log Cabin Bird House. Maybe a dream has died and our chickadee couple has found a little condo down the street. Or perhaps decisions have merely been postponed for another day.

Or maybe a pair of wrens is out looking …

You gotta’ move fast in a sellers’ market.



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poor blind Sammy in the rear view mirror

I did not expect to think of Sammy today.

Poor Blind Sammy, our rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback with his sick eyes surgically removed, left us before this year’s Spring sun had found its way to warming his long wheaten body. We were an ocean away. The stricken dogsitter’s voice reported through the phone that Sammy had gone out to lie down in his favorite place along the fence and fallen asleep. Inexplicably, he never awoke.

Tender friends had seen to his cremation before we could get home. (more…)

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Rosie didn’t wait long to make her impact on our family. As we drove down the mountainside from the Costa Rican farm where we had picked up our second puppy, Rosie urped up the better part of a whole chicken in the back of my Toyota Landcruiser. We stopped in the plaza of the first town, two giggly boys and I pushing the enormous cargo of regurgitated fowl out the door and into the street as we struggled to keep trembling little Rosie wrapped in her brand new comfort blanket.

It was the first of many family moments at which Rosie was front and center. (more…)

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My two Rhodesian Ridgebacks and one Labrador Retriever are no pushovers.

Even other varieties of highly regarded Canidae food have left them looking up at me over lightly rearranged bowls of food with that ‘Why have you turned against us again?’ look. (more…)

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Our two Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not particularly determined chewers. Yet every once in a while, always while no humans are home, the Spirit of Chewing visits our abode. Havoc ensues.

After trying all manner of cheaper alternatives, we settled upon the Orvis TouchChew Dog’s Nest bed, one oval the other rectangular.

Problem solved. Rosie and Sammy love their new beds—although their embroidered names have not proved to them persuasively which dog belongs in which bed.

Better yet, the Chew Spirits have fled, frustrated—nay, vanquished!—from the neighborhood.

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Chipmunks are the garbage fish of suburban backyards. They are the bottom-feeding carp to, say, the smallmouth bass that is the inventive squirrel or the rainbow trout whose role is filled by the Northern Cardinal. A fallen Blue Jay may merit a sigh as we carry his defunct body tenderly to the garbage can. But nobody mourns a fallen chipmunk.

This common rodent expires unmourned while creating only slightly greater cosmic ripples than a squashed mosquito.

Until today. On this cool, blue-skied Spring afternoon in Indianapolis, crippled Sammy chased chipmunks as they darted among the logs of our wood-pile. Actually, he didn’t so much chase them in space and time as he intended to chase them with all his canine soul.

Rosie, his older Rhodesian Ridgeback sister, started the ball rolling, bending her muscular agility to the never-successful task of tracking the little rodents with her customary acrobatics. Sammy, barely up from the edges of the grave that threatened to devour him just days ago, lurched over on his three functioning legs to the scene of the unfolding drama.

Blindness and a 75%-rate of working limbs was not to deter this stalwart lad from making his futile stab at rodent mayhem. In some rough-and-ready choreography with Ridgeback sister Rosie, the Samsters stumbled this way and that, hinting at aggressive exertions in the direction of chipmunk prey even if his mind was much more the actor than his now-crippled body.

This boy has spirit. Custodians of the ground squirrel population of the American Midwest need not fret. Sammy will not soon be despoiling chipmunk families.

But, boy, would he like to! And that, for today, is enough.

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Two experienced veterinarians in a room at our beloved Michigan Road Animal Hospital expressed astonishment at the dog Johnny and I brought in to see them this evening. Dr. Fletcher, looked twice toward the heavens, in gratitude. ‘Es casi milagrosa‘—’it’s almost miraculous’—she says to me. Language, loss, and renewed hope each bond people.

Dr K, who saw Sammy last Friday in his extremity, rises to the occasion. Sammy’s left front leg is useless but he has learned to lurch around without its help. Regaining his canine emotional balance, he even made some pathetic but joy-worthy attempts to snap at his sister Rosie as she ran laps around him this afternoon.

The boy is fighting back.

He’s going to make it.

Sammy is not out of the woods. Yet he is proving before our watching eyes what loving care and a dog’s refusal to give in can do against calamity’s claims.

Sammy wants to play. Good grief, he wants to play.

He cannot, of course. His legs will not carry him to it. Yet he wants to play. Something tells me he will have his way.

There is joy in Mudville this evening. The fat lady is swallowing hard, trembling with stage fright, suddenly, undeniably unsure of her task.

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I could tell by the trembly edge in my wife’s voice over the phone that the news was bad. Catching me early on the last day of a business trip, she reported that Sammy’s wanderlust had finally got him into deep trouble.

His nocturnal adventures in our back yard had morphed into a determined and ultimately successful effort to squeeze through the gap in our neighbor’s half-fallen fence and being the unchaperoned wanderings in the neighborhood that would prove his undoing. When Sammy didn’t appear for his breakfast at 6:30, Linda had awakened Lucas in a bid to outnumber the sickening possibilities a blind dog might encounter on his own in the night. (more…)

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Eight months have now stumbled past since Sammy came to be a provisional part of our family, then a probable member of our family, and finally a non-adjectivized fixture on the leather couch in the ‘Red Room’, where family and friends occasionally assemble themselves among the recumbent canines to watch football games and re-runs of 24.

The Samsters has become a remarkably self-confident creature. He is possessed of that well-honed indifference to norms that characterizes self-assured creatures on both sides of the human-nonhuman perforation that helps reassure those of us who read blogs and, for that matter, read anything that we still cling to our position at the top of the biological heap. (more…)

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