Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Old Molly

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're all keeping cool in this awful heat.

I've put off writing this particular blog because I'm not entirely sure what I want to say. Back in December of '07, I wrote a blog about critter trust, and I mentioned Old Molly the Belgian draft horse as an example of how an animal that's been neglected by its' owner can learn to have faith in its' new, better owner. This was certainly the case with Molly.

She had been confiscated, along with two other Belgians, from a man who neither fed nor watered those horses, but simply left them out in a field to survive on grass. My friend Nancy, who runs The Healing Barn, had been called in to foster them while the local Humane Society did battle with the horses' owner. Nancy maintained custody for the last nine years, ever since the judge found in favor of the Humane Society.

While one of the Belgians died shortly after being moved to The Healing Barn, a second lived another six-odd years, until his heart gave out due to old age. Molly plodded on without them, having taken a wild mustang under her wing for company. Molly and Baby the mustang were virtually inseperable. They were stalled next door to each other, and frequently touched noses over the top of the stall wall as a gesture of comfort and security. The times when Baby was out of Molly's line of sight, Molly would whinny anxiously, and you knew she was asking, "Where are you?"

For as long as I knew Molly, she was skin and bones. Imagine my surprise when I saw an old photo of her in which she looked fit and healthy! As with many animals, though, Molly's advanced years brought with them a rather extreme weight loss, and it's all but impossible to get an aged animal to gain weight. For the last three-odd years, I wondered how a horse that thin could survive the cold Northwest Ohio winters, but much to everyone's surprise, survive she did.

There were a number of times, during the past year, when Nancy worried about Molly's failing health. With every incident, she was certain that Molly wouldn't pull through, and yet somehow, Molly always did. Privately, I began to grow skeptical about Nancy's concern - precisely because Molly always seemed to bounce back. I'd show up on Saturday morning, and Nancy would tell me that Molly had gone down in her stall earlier in the week. Things would be touch-and-go for a day or two, but Molly always got up again. Until last week.

It's funny how your mind reacts to the news of someone's passing. When I walked into the barn last Saturday, scanned the bulletin board for announcements and found "Goodbye, Molly" written in Nancy's scrawled hand, my mind struggled to process it. "But I just groomed her last week," I thought frantically, "She was fine!" Intellectually, I understood - Old Molly was ancient, after all, and had had a hard life - but in my heart, it just didn't make any sense. Death never does.

I'm glad now for the time I gave Molly then. She seemed to enjoy being groomed, and would stand patiently in one place for the duration. Eyes half closed, lower lip jutting out, she was the picture of relaxed contentment. I'd talk to her quietly, remarking on how much of her woolly winter coat I was combing out - enough to make a couple of ponies! "Pretty old lady," I'd tell her. Every now and then, I'd pull a treat out of my ever-present fanny pack and give it to her. Molly never turned down a snack.

While I'm sure that Nancy will tell anyone who asks that Molly's in a better place now (and that may well be true), I can't help thinking about what a large presence that quiet, skinny Belgian took with her when she left. Other horses will come and go at The Healing Barn, but there will always, I think, be a void where Molly used to be. She was a singular lesson in the healing power of love, a horse who came to the barn frightened and neglected, but learned to trust again in spite of what had gone before. That's a testament not only to the work that Nancy, Allen, and Corri do at the barn, but a testament to Old Molly's faith in humanity, too. I hope we all served her well.

That's all for now, folks. Thanks for spending some time here! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters.

Monday, June 2, 2008

At The Pond

Hi Folks!

I'm glad you're here. Thanks for joining me again.

As you know from previous posts, I'm in charge of population control at McKinnon's Pond here in Whoville. It's my job to keep the Domestic ducks from having offspring, and the reason for that is because Domestic ducks lay a hell of a lot of eggs. One nest I found this spring had seventeen eggs in it! That's just from one duck! If you multiply that by the number of female Rouens on the pond, you'd get around one hundred new ducklings every single summer.

That amount of ducks on one pond is unsustainable, of course. They'd run out of food fairly quickly, and since they can't fly away, they'd be stuck at the pond, starving to death. Which is one of several scenarious I'm trying to avoid. Another involves the City of Whoville deciding to get rid of the problem (the ducks) altogether. As I've said before, there seems to be an unspoken understanding at some level of local government that as long as the number of ducks is manageable (and the person doing the managing isn't doing it on company time), then they'll be allowed to stay on the pond.

This spring, I decided to replace the duck eggs with chicken eggs because last year, when I removed the eggs and left nothing in their place, the ducks would abandon that nest and build another one in a different (and harder to find) location. I was thinking that if I fooled the girls into staying put, it would make my job a lot easier. You'd think it would be easy to think like a duck and find every nest on the first try, but you'd be wrong! Humans tend to over-think things anyway, and I was no exception: I kept looking in places that I thought would be good (under a shrub, say, away from local traffic), and kept coming up empty.

As it turns out, ducks don't seem to put that much thought into nest location. Indeed, several ducks chose sites that were far too close to danger for my liking: right next to an apartment building, for instance - entirely without cover and out in the open. That was Pretty Lady's chosen spot, and she laid twelve eggs. Even though they've been replaced with chicken eggs, she's still there, faithfully sitting on them, having no idea that they'll never hatch. Every time I feed the ducks, I walk around to the back side of that building, shoo Lady off her nest, and pour out a pile of food. She always gobbles it up like she hasn't eaten in days.

Another of the ducks - Freckle Duck, a hybrid Rouen who's mostly white with creamy spots, chose a clump of tall grass and saplings at water's edge for her second nest attempt. The first nest was disturbed - probably by neighborhood children - so she abandoned it fairly early in the season. Because her white feathers stand out like a sore thumb against all that green grass, she's ridiculously easy to spot.

Freckle's poor choice of location concerns me because children have an unfortunate tendency to tease the ducks, often throwing stones at them, or poking them with sticks. I sure would love it if every single parent on the planet spent time teaching their children about kindness to animals. Just think of how many less cruelty cases there would be if parents did that! Every day that I make my rounds at the pond, I worry about whether Freckle will still be o.k. She's just too out-in-the-open for my liking.

In any case, Freckle Duck is currently sitting on nine chicken eggs. She had laid twelve (which seems to be the average number of eggs laid per duck), but I ran out of chicken eggs at nine, and I'm pretty sure she can't count! Indeed, none of the ducks seem to notice that their eggs have been replaced with something noticeably smaller, and a different shade of white, too boot. Thank goodness for that!

Even though I've replaced all the duck eggs with chicken eggs, I still check the nests after every feed because the ducks have a tendency to keep adding more eggs to the batch. I collect all the duck eggs in a bag, then toss them one by one out into the pond. It seems a more appropriate and respectful resting place than the trash barrels the City provides.

At some point, as spring wanders into summer, Officer Jeff will drive by the pond and express his satisfaction that there are no new ducks to contend with. Don't get me wrong - Jeff likes the ducks just about as much as I do; he simply wants to avoid any unpleasant outcomes such as culling. Because if someone decides the flock needs culling, the job will inevitably fall to Animal Control Officer Jeff. And killing ducks is the last thing he wants to do.

For now, everything is going pretty much according to plan. I'm keeping tabs on five nests, and I'm watching to see where Ethel-Ethel decides to set up shop next. Some City worker with a weed whacker and too much time on his hands disturbed her first nest (which annoyed me no end: she'd laid nine eggs and had just started sitting on them). Hopefully, her next nest will be as easy to find as the first. The fact that she's not the brightest bulb in the pack definitely works in my favor!

Regardless of what happened to her first nest, though, Ethel remains cheerful and friendly, and always eager to approach me and my big bag of corn! It's an almost daily occurance to see her racing toward me through the grass, quacking boyfriend in tow. It's a sight that never fails to charm and amuse me.

So that's what's happening at the pond. I'll be sure to keep you updated as the summer goes on, because it seems inevitable that some sneaky duck will hatch a few ducklings in spite of me. It happened last year, and it's why the pond is now blessed with Baby Fuzz, who laid twelve eggs this spring, and Peepers, who will undoubtedly find himself a girlfriend next year.

That's all for now, Folks. Thanks so much for stopping by! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!