November 09, 2011

A common problem when you live in the country

I remember when I was a kid and we had this cute little white Maltese dog named "Snowball" - yeah, it was original.  Anyway, Snowball and the mailman had a real hate relationship.  The dog was your typical little barky ankle-biter and the mailman was in the wrong profession.  He was terrified of anything on four legs no matter what size.  So one day when he passed our little dog out on its line and Snowball started barking, the mailman sprayed Snowball with mace.

Some time later, my little brother was walking the dog down the street and when Snowball sighted the mailman a little ways up the block, he yanked the leash from my brother's hand, raced up the block, and bit the mailman.  (I would have bitten him too if he'd sprayed me with mace.)  So the arms of the law determined that our little dog had to go.  I'm sure it broke my dad's heart to take this beloved family pet away from three crying children, but he placated us by saying "Snowball is going to live in the country.  He'll be okay."

Now that I actually live in the country, I've come to understand what happened all those almost 40 or so years ago.

Since moving out to the lovely countryside, we've had to put down a kitten that had maggots feeding on it.  The poor thing was far too young to be away from momma kitty and was starving to death.  Our vet showed true compassion in taking it from its misery.  I agreed to bury it on our property and he only ended up charging me half the usual price for the service.

Another time we sheltered a dog in our garden shed for a couple of weeks.  She was very skittish and had obviously had a litter of puppies within the past few months.  It was in December and I put out the pillow we still had from our own dog who had passed away the previous year.  From an upstairs side window I observed "Lucky" as we'd taken to calling her actually huddling into the big pillow and resting.  She would scare off each morning as my husband left for work, but I'd use the moment to put out a dish of water and food for her.  I'd hoped to get her comfortable enough to adopt us, but one day just before Christmas, she left and never came back.

We've also experienced our share of full-grown cats coming around.  Last spring we had a friendly orange tabby hanging around.  He'd come to the deck door and although he never came inside, he would eat from my hand, and even let me pick him up.

Our most recent visitor is a most unusual one.  A couple of nights ago my husband encountered a rabbit in the driveway.  He was surprised that it didn't take off when it saw him, but carefully backed away from the rabbit and left it be.  Well, Bugs Bunny was narrowly rescued from being ripped apart by our dog and the dog belonging to my husband's best friend the next day.  The dogs - remarkably - listened when the two men shouted at them to stop.  My husband's friend scooped up Bugs and they've got him set up in the dog crate in the shop.  We're not keeping a rabbit, so Bugs needs a home.

I'm not against adopting drive-by strays.  When my son was six months old he and I went to visit my folks for Thanksgiving since my husband had to work that weekend.  As we sat in their backyard (they also lived in the country), with me having the little guy sitting on my knee, this pretty grey cat jumped into my lap and started nuzzling me, then settled down and curled up between my stomach and my son's back.

My dad told me that the cat was a stray and had been hanging around for months, living off birds and mice.  So after talking with my husband about the cat, it was decided she could come home with the little guy and me.  We lured her into the garage with a can of salmon and in the morning we taped her into a box with some air holes and put her into my car for the long trip home.  She's still with us seven years later.

I can't remember when I made the connection, but we'd been living in our current spot a few years when I asked my dad about the times our pets had "gone to live in the country".  He reluctantly admitted that he'd done just the same thing...driving to the countryside, picking a spot near water and/or water supply like a stream or pond, let the pet out and then left them behind.  I like to think that Snowball got lucky and found a family that took him in, keeping him as a loving pet for years.  The alternatives - coyotes, starvation, even cars - are too horrible to contemplate.

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