Thoughts from a mother, rancher's wife, and veterinarian
In 2012 the dirt roads lead us home to my husband's family farm in western ND. I spend my days as a small animal veterinarian, rancher's wife, mom to my 2 boys, and helping my husband with our menagerie of creatures!
Fall is officially here. The morning sun is slow to rise and quick to bed and there is a briskness in the air that warns of the impending winter. The alarm went off before the chickens crowed, the house still quiet and sleepy. We dressed the kiddos half asleep and started our day, ready for our date morning.
We have seemingly abandoned the idea of date nights where it seemed the exhaustion of the day meant just the idea of sitting in a restaurant stuffing our faces seemed too much to bear. We have embraced “date mornings” that start before the sunrise and end with breakfast and coffee. The morning is fresh and without the irritations and annoyances that build up thru the day otherwise.
The horses were saddled and in the trailer. The rules for the “date” were pretty simple. Take as many pictures as you want (but don’t expect to stop) but try to be quiet and don’t talk. That would be hard for me but quiet time together is better than no time together. Without the need for forced dialogue, perhaps I could just enjoy my company.
My meteorologist hubby suggested I wear a T-shirt and sweatshirt as it was “warm” this morning but the wind was bitter and fierce so I was forced to dig out an oversized jacket from the backseat. I figured it wouldn’t only provide warmth but perhaps act as cushioned airbag should I hit the ground. We headed across the National Forest Service Lands in search of deer (preferably a large mule deer buck).
The morning was almost meditative as the steps of my horse caused a rhythmic rocking and the morning sun cast a golden glow on the fall foliage. My horse huffed and puffed up and down the hillsides in protest of my lacking athleticism and weight, but in truth was more likely a reflection of his own fitness. The peak of color has passed and the hillsides are darkened with bear branches awaiting their snowy winter highlights.
We rode the ridges with no protection of the wind as it swirled and swooshed, acting as an annoying near constant shove against our bodies, determined in its efforts. The juniper stands offered a welcome relief from the wind and a comforting fall smell as my jeans brushed past.
We saw no deer aboard the horses but the young horse and I gained some much needed confidence and miles under our belts. The conversation was sparse but the memories many.
Times have sure changed since our young love “official dates”. We don’t frequent fancy restaurants and am not sure the last time we went to the movie theater or bowled together. But I value working along side my hubby and cherish our quiet moments together, no matter the time of day or location. Life is chaotic and messy most days but sometimes it just seems important to carve out a little time together.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order”. ~John Burroughs
I love sensory bins and experiences…I have Pinterest boards full of bins with beans and rice or water beads…I follow Instagram slime enthusiasts! I do what today’s modern good mother does and sensitize my kiddos!
Yet, the ultimate sensory experience though remains out our front door…in nature! A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday morning, our little family dressed and hit the dirt road before the sun rose in search of deer sightings.
The fall brings warm days but brisk nights. The moon was still in the sky and the air cool as we drove thru neighborhood. The dawn is a perfect time to spot wildlife as they are busy feeding and moving before the heat of the day and bright sun drives them to their beds.
While Hubby and the oldest headed out to scout and glass along the horizon of the Badlands, the Little One and I headed out on a nature walk.
Sharing nature with a child, allows me to see what my eyes and senses have been blinded to.
The Little One is always searching for birds in the sky or bugs on the ground. Finding the littlest of ants is cause for the biggest of celebrations. While the eyes are searching, the feet are exploring the terrain. I have seen the uneven plastic stepping stones to encourage balance offered for sale on Amazon. In the cow pasture, dried cow pies serve a similar purpose as the Little One jumped from one to the next as he balanced on top of the irregular circle of undigested fiber.
Sticks, moss, and bark stimilate the developing nervous system as we touch and feel. My favorite grass is Little Bluestem and the hill sides come alive in its vibrant red this time of year. As we walk by and rub the sage with our pant legs, our noses are filled with the pungent earthy odor.
We crawl under and over and thru branches and brush. The Little One tests his strength and balance as he finds his limits.
Being in nature truly engages all one’s senses as we listen to birds sing and the hum of the oil pumper melodically pumping up and down, up and down.
We went to a new location to scout and as we rounded the road tens of butterflies were disturbed from their feeding on golden rod. As we walked amongst them it was like being in our own private butterfly conservatory.
There is so much nature all around us to enjoy. Here are some things we have cultivated amongst our kids.
1) Encourage quiet observation. In our busy world, slow those little minds and have them truly observe their surroundings. Do you see wildlife? How many rocks are on that hillside?
2) Touch it… why not! Unless it is poisonous or going to bite feel the textures of nature.
3) Don’t forget the sounds… animal calls are big in our house. Beyond “what does a cow say?” we do turkeys, moose, squirrels, etc.
4) Be careful but not too careful! Explore! Test limits but don’t fall down the ravine.
5) Fresh air is good for the body and mind! Get that heart rate up climbing hills or hiking those trails!
“The senses are a kind of reason. Taste, touch and smell, hearing and seeing, are not merely a means to sensation, enjoyable or otherwise, but they are also a means to knowledge – and are, indeed, your only actual means to knowledge.” ~St. Thomas Aquinas
I had politely suggested to my hubby that my rear windshield wiper needed to be replaced. After a number of “suggestions” I decided surely I could handle purchasing and installing a wiper. So I stopped at the local parts store and walked to the counter declaring my needs…. then they asked if I would like help with installation.
I wanted to DIY this and show my self-reliance but thoughts of the possible complications that could arise…looking like a defeated fool if I should fail at this, breaking the wiper right off the vehicle, or worse yet flipping the wiper switch while driving down the road only to watch it fly off, hit a passing car, and result in an epic interstate collision. So I said, “Sure” like of course I know how to put a simple little wiper on but why not utilize such a convenience service, hiding my fear and insecurity.
Here’s the thing… I am not a DIYer unless I have been properly educated and received the necessary instructions, certifications, etc. to declare myself “trained”!
Blame it on my decades of life in the educational system. I can remove the ovaries and uterus of a two pound living, breathing creature with ease but replacing my wiper without proper training…well that just seemed dangerous and complicated!
My hubby on the other hand is a very confident DIYer and to suggest we hire someone to roof our house or change our oil is an insult at the core of his manhood. About the only thing he admittedly refused to DIY was the birth of our kids, though he had plenty of experience as a ruminant midwife.
I remember as excited new homeowners we had decided to put up crown molding in the dining room our 1890 “corn crib” of an Iowa home. I was frantically reading the how-to books in the aisle of the Lowes determining what supplies we needed and how this project should be done “properly” while my hubby was randomly throwing supplies onto the flatbed cart.
He is definitely a “Learn by Doing” and I am a “Learn then Do”.
He even laughs at our veterinary “cook books” he calls them, with detailed pictures and guidance for surgeries and procedures. Turns out the living body is pretty complicated and while you could probably just dive right into a adrenalectomy there could be some serious complications without the correct game plan and knowledge base prior. Many hours are spent “learning and training” with mentorship prior to being set free as a full fledged veterinarian. Of course there is plenty of learn by doing but it rides on the back of a pretty solid education in physiology, anatomy, and pharmacology.
So I carefully watched the parts store woman put my wiper blade on and thought about asking for detailed how-to instructions but settled for the mental how-to. I even thought about lying to my husband, declaring “I did this all by myself!” but he knows me too well and would see right thru the lie. Now if the purchase of “How to Install a Rear Windshield Wiper in a 2010 Ford Expedition…for Dummies” book showed up on our debit card statement he might….
….going to shed, bark, run, eat, need to see the vet… and the list continues!
I have had the great pleasure of meeting many different breeds in my career (I am referencing dogs mostly as I see fewer purebred cats and most get lumped as a domestic short, medium, or long-haired cat). I have also had the pleasure of sharing my life and home with a number of different breeds. I have also seen the disastrous ending to a relationship when the breed of dog was not considered or researched.
Thinking of adding a puppy or dog….Research the Breed
There are so many breeds available to choose from. We humans have manipulated our canine companions into extremes of small or large, furry or hairless, flat faced or long-nosed, friendly or fierce. I certainly have breeds I would love to invite into my life and plenty that I will pass on. Yet all these breeds were created for someone’s purpose or desires!
I have Brody, my lovable aging Lab, whose sole motivation in life is eating! Left to his own devices he would have every one of cupboards empty and be on the canine version of my “800 Pound Life”. Labs as a breed LOVE food! Then there is Ripp, our newest very active addition. Guess what he wants to herd….the goat…the chickens…sheep…cows and he has the energy to do it 24 hours a day! Some things are just in that dog’s DNA!
Yet so many times I have seen a family fall in love with an adorable puppy or a sweet faced rescue with no idea of its genetic history. Just like us people there is a bell-shaped curve and there will be extremes on either end (ie the lazy Collie). Yet, I have seen the case where the family adds a Border Collie to the family, yet works from the home 12 hours a day and can’t understand why the dog has developed anxiety and hyperactivity. That adorable little terrier was bred to work. Many are tenacious active little creatures that need time, attention, and exercise.
We are all drawn to certain breeds for our own reasons… a childhood memory, positive experiences in the past, a certain purpose in our life. But there are definitely some less desirable reasons to want a certain breed. I have made the mistake of buying a pair of shoes based on their adorable appearance and coordination to my outfit, only to find them to be the most uncomfortable shoes in the world, deeming me completely unsound and pained. Those shoes, as adorable as they may have been, quickly got tossed to the back of the closet, forgotten and discarded. And so when we make a decision about adding a puppy based on appearance, only to find they “don’t fit”, what happens to that living creature when it gets tossed aside?
What one loves the next may hate! I love Newfoundlands, their goofy immaturity, super furry faces that I can bury my hands into, and slobber…glorious slimy, stick-to-the-ceiling slobber. But they are not for everyone I know. So don’t get a Newfoundland if you only want to spend $50 a year at the vet and are a neat freak that hates pet hair and slime.
So as a vet here are my recommendations when researching a breed:
What is your lifestyle today and in the future? Your pet may live 10-15 years so if you plan to move to a townhouse in 5 years when you retire that may effect your choices.
Do you want a family dog? If you don’t have kids now consider if you might. Many breeds are great with kids, but some may need extra socialization and experience to be OK with kiddos.
Hair…so many dogs are picked based on hair. I have even had people tell me there distinctly X breed couldn’t possible be because they were promised a low maintenance, non-shedding breed. Every dog sheds unless they are hairless (that is an option). You may or may not want to base your preference on how much you like hair (but don’t be fooled thinking you won’t have any hair in your life) and how much you want to deal with hair…grooming it, cleaning it…brushing it!
Looks matter but remember it is just like dating…looks aren’t everything! Ya, some dogs look awesome…Belgian Mallinois… Cane Corso…Great Dane…but they certainly aren’t a breed for every lifestyle.
Little is cute but little can bring problems…teacup and designer are often beyond adorable but being so small can bring its own health challenges.
Designer breeds….this could be a blog post on its own. I meet so many great mixed breed dogs but realize they aren’t a breed so there can be inconsistencies between even litter mates let alone all the various -poos and -oodles. My own mixed breed sometimes seems confused if she should be this breed or that breed. Mixed breeds are great but they may still have tendencies based on their parental breeds.
I love dogs because we have so much variety and choice…how human of us to design creatures to fit our own needs and whims. But with that ability brings a responsibility to breed healthy, emotional and physiologically fit individuals. As owners of these dogs it is our responsibility to be responsible in meeting their unique needs and concerns. As a veterinarian, I ask that if you choose a certain breed please educate yourself regarding the possible health concerns that may arise in your pet’s life.
So what are your favorite breeds? I have so many I adore that I may not have enough years in my life to have them all but I get to enjoy them in my work so that is second best.
My Little Cowboy adores his pony, Beauty. She is the perfect pony for the novice rider, with a few decades of life experience, a kind heart, and calm demeanor. Not to say she wasn’t a spunky naughty little pony in her younger years, but her first Little Cowgirl got that all straightened out.
If you get aboard a horse there will likely be a time when you will exit unwillingly. I can remember my worst fall (though certainly the least dramatic and most unexpected), subsequent visit to the ER, and healing of a broken wrist.
I was walking ahead as we rode to the old corrals. Down the hill the Little Cowboy and his pony went, when Beauty spied some forbidden green (she is a laminitic pony after all) and her head went down. As her head went down, the saddle went up and forward, and the Little Cowboy summersaulted forward and to the ground.
It wasn’t his first fall and won’t be his last. But it got me thinking about that fall. He hit the ground, assessed his wounds…or lack there of. He determined himself not injured and got back on. In fact, I think his little chest puffed up a bit each time he shared the story of his cowboy adventure.
For myself, hitting the ground,while of course it scares me to death, really isn’t the worst part. Call me the opposite of an adrenaline junky, but for me the scariest moment is that time when all control is lost and there is that uncertainty. Will I break every bone, die, or simply bruise my ego? Skiing, horse back riding, roller blading…all the same… it is that fear of the moments of falling…not the fall itself.
In thinking on life, there are many times I have fallen, failed, or my idea hit the dirt. Many times there was relief when I had reached the “bottom”. My confidence may have been shaken, but the end was present. The best I could do was brush off and ride on to the next adventure.
But what about that failing and falling…when you grab for the saddle horn of stability only to find none. The more I try to control this thing called life, the more I realize I have very little control….and so the saying goes…
“Just Enjoy the Ride”
I have just hoped for more blue sky, green grass trail rides.
That feeling of fear of that unknown landing and lack of control is often present for me. I suppose it my style to be cautious and reserved but sometimes you have to take risks for big rewards. So we all keep “getting back in the saddle and when the ride gets rough and the fall is coming, what’s a gal to do but hope for a soft cushioned landing and to want to reach out for stability or a pick-up man. So if the fall is coming, what if I take a deep breath and don’t fight the lack of control but embrace this bump in the plan. What if I reach for friends, family, or my religion to provide stability, to steady me thru the rough parts. I suppose that is the blessing, that none of us ride truly alone.
What builds resiliency for falls off ponies and falls in life? Here are some that I see:
Confidence… the ability to get back on ready for the adventure. As the Little Cowboy said “I fell but it didn’t hurt so I am not afraid!”.
Competency…the more we practice and become proficient the less fear. Get back in that saddle.
Comfort… when he fell the Little Cowboy turned to me to wipe his tears and brush the dust off his back. Do we have a support system we can turn to?
It was a little fall for the Little Cowboy, but a big reminder of my own fears. It was a little pause to resaddle and regroup, but also a pause for reflection.
How about you? How do you deal with the falls in life? Is there fear or thrill?
Prepare for a photo overshare! The little wild one turned 2 and we celebrated with a mud run…it was fantastic! Some vowed to stay clean but the temptation of mud was too strong. I was left with a 1″ layer of mud on the bottom of my tub, but priceless memories!
Homemade ice cream and pizza were on the menu! Thanks to everyone that came and joined the fun. As it turns out many of us grew up in female dominated families but now we are over-run with boys…wild, loud, fun-loving boys!!! Being a boy mom definitely has its perks and mud runs are one of them.
The obstacles included a rope swing over a pool, pallet climb, tires, spider web…and of course the mud part of the course. I think some of them made a dozen laps around!
The Wild One was a hose spraying maniac. He even got a little glint in his eyes and the entire spectator section also got a little water hose spray down!
So. Many. Photos!
So. Many. Photos!
“At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparkling.” – Shanti
Even though you prepare for the worst outcome, can you really ever be prepared. I feel like I jinxed it or cursed her recovery by sharing enthusiasm in her progress. Abby was doing so well and just like that nature reminds us we have no control, no cure. She started seizuring last night and the difficult decision to let her go was made this morning.
“Miss me but let me go, for this is the journey we all must take and each must go alone. It’s all part of the Master’s Plan, a step on the road to home.”
Goodbye sweet little dog….
“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.”
How blessed we are to share our lives with these creatures that don’t speak our words yet can so powerfully bond with us, forever capturing a piece of our hearts.
I heard the cries and screaming vocalization in the background with my own mother’s voice on the phone saying
“Abby’s in real pain. I can’t even touch her without her biting. What should I do?”
There is always a desperation in the call for help but when it is your own mother you can hear the unspoken words, the anguish in seeing her beloved little dog so painful she would bite in opposition to handling.
Abby is a senior Dachshund and had fallen from the couch earlier that week and had been a bit sore. I recommended some pain meds and rest. With a Dachshund it is always their back until proven otherwise. I had years before stood on the other side of the exam table with their other Dachshund, Harley, when he had back pain secondary to intervertebral disc disease, and progressive paralysis. There comes a point in this disease when it progresses fast enough or far enough that surgery or a humane goodbye become the two options.
I saw the bottle of euthanasia out of the corner of my eye while we discussed the options. My father hadn’t handled it well and was reliving goodbyes from years ago and was essentially distant from any reasonable discussion and my mother held the weight of the decision on her shoulders. While Harley’s body was failing him his brain was very much intact and aware of his distraught owners. They had elected to drive all night for imaging and surgery. Harley walked again but now how has neurologic deficits and was never 100% normal again. Now it was Abby, their other Dachshund. They had been down this heartbreaking and difficult road before.
“I knew the discussion would come…wait and see, referral for imaging and surgery…or euthanasia.”
It was decided that we could try what we could here but the option of referral and surgery just wouldn’t be available. Abby had been on a variety of pain medications including a Fentanyl patch but nothing was touching her pain. She was even sedated for radiographs and bit me as I was trying to touch her. The happy little dog at your feet just waiting for a crumb to drop had transformed into a screaming painful feral creature.
We breed these lovable little dogs for their long backs but with that comes the risk of instability of the discs between the vertebrae. They can bulge and burst, pushing on the spine or nerves, causing unbearable pain or even complete paralysis.
I started a morphine/lidocaine/ketamine continuous rate infusion and intermittently just sedated her to facilitate her pain. I brought her home and kept her by my bed in a tote. The Kiddo peeked into the tote and with concerned eyes asked if she would need to go to puppy heaven. My heart ached.
It had been two days and I couldn’t touch her without the screaming and biting and she had progressed with motor loss on her left hind. The bulging vertebral disc was pushing on spinal nerves and her spinal cord, causing pain and loss of function. First it is conscious proprioception…knowing where your feet are…then paralysis…then superficial pain…and then at the end there is no pain sensation left at all.
We made the decision to pick up the “supplies” that would be needed to end it all…the strong sedation and thick blue syrup that would stop all her earthly pain, but open up a pain for those that knew and loved her.
“With our animal companions, I have seen the struggle to know “when”. Do we allow a day’s worth of suffering so they may enjoy a lifetime without? Do we allow no suffering at all?”
It is emotionally tasking to watch pain in an animal knowing they can’t communicate if it is all too much or they are willing to keep going. I had stopped her MLK drip, continuing her other pain meds, with the decision that if she couldn’t maintain comfort without it, it was unfair to continue.
I continued her therapy exercises, hoping and praying those little neural pathways would be stimulated, that the unstable disc would stop its pathway to paralysis. I stimulated her toes, did bicycle motions, stretches, massages, even took a electric toothbrush to her toes to stimulate her nervous system.
With clients there are lots of words and discussion, the knowing when, the hows, the questions. With my own family I found it harder to find the words. When someone has know you your entire life, they can read your face, your ticks, your eyes, and hear the words unsaid. So much of the discussion wasn’t a discussion at all but a knowing. I wanted to make the right decision for Abby.
The bag of “supplies” lie on my vehicle’s floor board and as we drove home my mind spun, dreading the moment, trying to push the details out of my mind. I felt frustrated that it had come to this. Should I have ended the pain sooner? Should I hold on for a miracle?
I peeked into the tote and Abby was bright, alert, more upbeat than I had seen her. The test would be could I pick her up without the screaming. I could and she even wanted to eat something. Could 5 hours have brought a miracle, a turning point? I knew the drugs would affect her and cause her to be dysphoric but I hadn’t expected her pain to be controlled without them.
I texted an update and said let’s give her more time. Thru the weekend she was able to start moving, placing her left hind leg that previously was worthless. I did her sessions at least 3 times a day…stretching, massaging, stimulating, hoping. A new day came and her appetite improved, her attitude improved, her function improved. Had the suffering she endured been worth it to get to this point?
We added acupuncture and continued laser treatments and she went home with my parents yesterday. Is she out of the clear…I don’t know. Will she ever be 100% normal…I don’t know. She has chronic changes that will probably always be a risk…and lead to a relapse. But at least we have hope, though prepared for what may be.
“How do we define the end? We all share so much earthly emotional and physical suffering that we want none of it for our animal companions.”
Was her suffering selfish? Maybe. Was her suffering worth it if she can recover to enjoy another day? I look back and say yes now.
This isn’t the first time I was disheartened, preparing for the worst, wondering if we humans were selfishly keeping a patient alive for our own purposes, only to be amazed at the recovery that can be made. I have literally had the euthanasia solution in hand walking to the exam room when the owner cried out the door “He tried to walk!!!” The paralyzed HBC (hit by car) dog had pulled himself to his unsteady feet after no improvement while hospitalized and there were simply no more financial resources to continue the effort. He made that first step and didn’t look back making a near full recovery. As a new vet it was a powerful lesson about making that decision for our pets which we do from a place of love and concern for their suffering, but sometimes they decide it just isn’t time and want to keep fighting. I am forever amazed at the healing and recovery possible.
“As a veterinarian, the struggle comes with trying to predict that recovery, only having the info available at that moment, with no magic ball to guide decisions.”
*Update on Abby. She had some regressions with her rehab and became a somewhat difficult patient. She has since been staying with me to continue her exercises and monitor her recovery. She is still periodically weak in the back end and mis-steps occasional. While she may never be 100%, we are hopefully she will recover to enjoy more quality time, with her pain controlled. Her spirit is definitely back.
I didn’t physically grow up on a farm or ranch but I wasn’t too far removed from the life. We are still very rural where small talk centers on the weather and cattle or wheat prices. So now I am a rancher’s wife and the world I thought I knew is the world I am learning.
Haying season is in full swing and it very much a goldilocks situation of too much…too little…and always hoping for just right. This year the July air is dry and hot, with record-setting heat in the triple digits this last week. The evening thunderstorms roll in bringing noise and lightening but no rain will let loose from the darkened clouds. We are in a drought.
The grass in the hay fields that was once green and lush, set to grow and be harvested for cattle feed when the winter snow fell, is brown and dormant. Crops that were meant to be harvested have just failed and instead are being hayed and salvaged for cattle feed. The pastures that were meant to last the season are dry and barren and producers are creatively scrambling to find feed and grass for the cattle. Many cattle been taken down the road to the sale barn with producers hoping to make due with a smaller herd forced by this new reality. The dry and crisp grass remaining on the prairies have served as kindle to area fires.
The work still needs done… even though the grass is 1/2 to a 1/3 of the what a normal year brings it still needs to be cut, raked, and baled. The equipment still costs what it costs, the fuel to run it no less, and the breakdowns no less infrequent. My husband sleeps in the tractor waiting for the heat of the day to subside and the nightly dew to come and condition the hay. While the yield is low, there is still a need to produce the best that can be made. Too dry and the hay shatters, too wet and it molds.
I get frustrated with his long hours, inconsistencies, and no guarantee of a paycheck let alone a break even. Though hard work has its place, some days it seems you are just about as guaranteed to become bankrupt as you are to become rich at this gig. Sometimes it just comes down to the goldilocks situation…just enough demand for the product produced ensuring a strong market… good weather….no major breakdowns or expenses…and a blessing from above.
In a world we try to control, farmers and ranchers are the ultimate believers…believers in a merciful God that provides, in neighbors to help, and that their hard work will be enough. I see my husband’s heart and soul poured into a career with no guarantee, no median annual salary, no paid vacation days all with the belief that his hard work will be enough to “make it”.
When training dogs they call it “jackpotting”. The idea of giving a large amount of a reward when the desired response is done…but not every time. There has to be anticipation for that jackpot. The theory is much the same for gamblers. They sit and wait for that one “hit” of the machine. Maybe farmers and ranchers are the same. I sit and worry, ponder a future I can’t predict while the older generation talks of the good years and the not-so-great years. They all talk of the great year…the market high, when there was “just enough” of all the resources they needed. That one great year carries them thru the not so great. They ride out the bad in the hopes of averages…that when it is all said and done and the book cover closes that they will be ahead.
I know it is just part of the cycle…these farmers and ranchers are very in tune to cycles…hopeful and optimistic for the ups and patient and tolerant of the downs. I have a lot to learn from this group of folks…to look at seasons and cycles and take it as a whole not a day. These ranchers gather, arms crossed and leaning around the back of a pickup box to shoot the breeze and discuss how to make it all work when the world seems against success. Yet there is a perpettual optimism. As humans, we all want control…to make our own decisions…be in control of our own destiny…yet here is this group of farmers and ranchers so OK to accept their fate, their hand dealt.
We can’t control the weather. I can’t make those ominious clouds that come and go finally let go of any moisture. But I can live and learn, take pride in the work my family has choosen to do. I can’t speak for my husband but I know he isn’t motivated by a paycheck or pride, but with the quiet purpose of a life well lived, enjoying and sharing a legacy, with reverence for the land and its history.
“I was a perfect parent until I had kids” starts many a story in my life. I laughed at the thought of baby harnesses and leashes. What type of parent needs a leash to control their kid when my Labrador can walk on a heel and has a pretty solid recall. Well apparently this parent needs one!
The little one is a runner. To be fair I raise my kids like a raise my cows….free range! The joys of farm life are the freedom to run and explore while still understanding the dangers of animals with hooves, teeth, or beaks and of the risks of large equipment with poor visibility going thru the yard, that balance of promoting exploration while wanting to swarm over them as the anxious helicopter parent.
I admitted the problem after our family vacation. There are about 10 ways to die for every mile in Yellowstone National Park so we had some serious talks on safety. That being said the 1 year old was determined to see just how serious we were. Every board walk required he be tightly held for fear he bolt off into certain horror. Every hike he found the “edge” of the trial and if there wasn’t an edge he tried to climb the rock walls. I turned to Amazon for options for safety harness or hand cuffs to force him be by my side…if they can deliver to middle of nowhere ND maybe I could set up a delivery for Old Faithful!
We all survived the trip (even after the little one took off after a rabbit in the camp ground like a frenzied wild hound dog!). But we had a problem.
We had successfully taught the concept of “range” and “recall” to our dogs so how hard can this be right. He is an intelligent, communicative toddler…but with a clear mind of his own desires and ambitions! We worked on emergency stops and recalls as a “game”. Turns out cheese cubes make a nice reward treat for young dogs and kids in training (Mother of the Year I know). We discussed consequences and safety as much as you can to a 1 year old.
Then the other day the little adventurer slipped between two corral panels just 4 inches wide, luckily into an empty corral. I found a cow halter and fashioned a leash…yup I did it! I leashed my child for his own safety! This is a problem.
A few evenings ago we were enjoying one of those free range evenings when I thought I would test the little one. Maybe he was just testing me so I hid behind a tree while he wandered ahead. He turned his little blond head and uttered a “Mama?” realizing I wasn’t following behind. Then newly aware of his freedom, he promptly found a new gear and headed off with dust rising from his little cowboy boots to the chicken coop. How can something with such little legs be so dang fast?
Just like we taught the new puppy to enjoy a “collar grab” in the event we need to quickly restrain him maybe we should do the same for the little one and fit him with a baby restraint handle. The final test came when we headed into town.
Town brings its own unique safety dangers…namely cars! The rules are clear…no roads, stay on grass. No bolting and stay with an adult. So of course the little one bolted. I stayed back to see if he was testing and this only resulted in my having a undeniable handicap in our race to freedom. My shoe-less feet hit the steaming hot payment and I envisioned those zen persons walking on hot coals to prove their inner peace and here I was running on hot asphalt to prove my worth or dis-worth as it was as a mother!
I envisioned the road being lined with fresh lined baking sheets and I mind over matter chased “The Bolter”. Then I hit the dry crisp brush and weeds…my feet were screaming at me so I called for help, like there may have been a shoed super hero nearby that would swoop in to collect my unruly toddler. My mind quickly surveyed for danger… a child-hating dog could soon emerge from a home, the black bird flying over was probably a hawk ready to swoop in and carry him off, and of course for CARS! Dangerous speeding cars!
I had failed as a mother as he ran faster and faster while I was perishing on our own version of parental “Survivor”. He was making a large circle and I was rounding the corner. I parked bike caught his attention and I used this distraction to gain some ground, screaming “Stop” and “No”. In hind sight when my dogs had taken off I had most luck running the opposite direction screaming “Who wants a treat?!” so apparently my mind didn’t translate that into a parental version. Then came the broken glass part of this feet on fire motherhood walk. Why had I not had shoes on?! One must always be prepared for emergencies like a run away.
I finally swooped him up and gathered him in my arms only to have him protest, squirming and fussing. I didn’t know wether to have flames of fiery rise from my head or tears of joy that it ended with no harm. We limped back to the house and I nursed my wounded soles, pulling slivers and scraping the pieces of tar and gravel from my heels.
I had read in our dog training books no off-leash activity until your dog is solidly recalling and can be safely and reliably trusted. So back to “training” we go. My children need to be self-aware of the dangers in their world and learn to take appropriate risks. They may just be doing it with their baby harnesses securely fastened and their long-lines in tow!