When All of Life Is Magic

“We dance round in a ring and suppose. But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”             – Robert Frost

The eaves were dripping as the winter mantle sank in resignation, just a little. The weak sun was shrouded in white and the birds were celebrating with a shouting chorus. The house sparrows rolled together on the patches of bare ground, wings flickering in the amorous thrill of pseudo-spring.

Kerry 7th Gen, the Junior horse, had escaped his enclosure, twanging and snapping the wire fence, scorning its absurdity. Trudy hung back, opting out of joining him, probably happy to be rid of him for a few hours. She could hang out instead with Clifford, who was still in the barn, and visit comfortably with him over the Dutch door, for once without interruption.

Kerry was snipping the long grasses with his teeth, those cold damp strands of brown flanking the woodpile. He heard me come out the door, turning his striped face toward me. Most horses would have put their tail up to snort and trot around in excitement. Even Clifford may have been like, “Look what I did! You can’t catch meeeeeee!”


Not this one. He walked around the truck and up the driveway, straight to me, standing with his face looking in my cell phone, posing for his close-up, blowing in my pockets softly. I did have a horse cookie. Indeed. I held it out, grateful for his calm demeanor. He crunched down the cookie and then followed me back to the barn. I led him inside and gave him a scoop of grain, closing the door behind me.

“I’ll be damned!” Dad had said, when I showed him the photos of the Morgan colt who looked so much like Clifford. He would certainly love this young, beautiful, curious and naughty gelding.

The chickadees were squabbling around Dad’s feeder and I paused to talk to them. The other birds scatter at the sound of my voice, except for the red headed woodpecker, who doesn’t fear me, and the chickadees who aren’t quite tame enough to eat from my hand. As I stood there looking at them I thought of the birds up on Drummond and how long it had taken me to hand tame that first one. It took patience. But once he started coming to my hand, the others did, too.


I had warned Dad to put only millet seeds in the feeder. They came to us for sunflower seeds. I always carried them in my pockets. But after two seasons Dad gave in and began filling the feeder with sunflower seeds, and that ended the hand feeding.

I came back in the house, carrying wood for the fire. I pulled my rubber barn boots off, stepping on the heel of one, and then the other. I left the boots sitting in the entry way, and then I heard a “BLING!”

It was like a xylophone, the sound ringing from the bottom to top of the scale. I turned to look at the wind chimes from Mom and Dad’s house that now hang in my entry way. They were perfectly still, hanging undisturbed. The sound did not match, anyway. The bells on Mom’s wind chime make a light sort of tinkle. This “Bling” was like a “ta da!”, or the sound of an angel’s wings as the Hallmark Channel would portray them.


“What the heck WAS that?” I said aloud.

I looked at my cats, both asleep in their respective spots, Kitteh atop the cat tree and Mox on the couch.

I was stumped.


My other wind chime hangs in the kitchen window, a gift from my glass artist friend Gina last Christmas. I touched it and got the familiar, deep tinkle.

I know I heard the sound, so clear and bright. It was sharp enough to make me suddenly turn and look.

The secret sits in the middle, and knows.

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You Know It’s a Party When They Call the Cops

“Cast your whole votenot a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” – Thoreau

My friend, biologist Beth Duman is probably relieved that she didn’t get involved in this one.

She had orchestrated Clifford’s participation in other Christmas endeavors, like visiting Pathway School to deliver horsey good will to kids with disabilities.

Clifford Pathway.jpg

Beth also had him ringing the bell for the Salvation Army outside the Howell Walmart. (Clifford ran into the store several times. I’m not sure, but I think he was heading for the produce section.)

Cliffy and Beth Wal Mart

In 2015, Beth, being an avid dog trainer, introduced Clifford to Victoria Stillwell at the Novi Pet Expo. “I’m in love,” Victoria cooed, cuddling up to him. Clifford posed unabashedly like a fellow celebrity.

Cliffy and Victoria Stillwell 2 2014.jpg

This year, Clifford visited the Senior center in Charlotte and upstaged Santa by painting ornaments for the kids. Let’s face it — you can go sit on Santa’s lap and try to articulate your wishes, or you can go put glitter glue on sticky ornaments with a slobbering horse. What kid is gonna go with the cleaner option? Besides, you can catch Santa on the flip side. He’s everywhere.

clifford charlotte sr.jpg

That was fun. But for Christmas 2017, Clean Water Action contacted me with an opportunity for Clifford to help make a difference: He could participate in a Christmas march to Governor Snyder’s office. The idea was to deliver wrapped gifts to the reluctant governor, filled with thousands of written requests to shut down Line Five.

Line Five is a 64-year-old pipe full of oil, threading — of all places — under the water through the Straits of Mackinac.

Even typing that out feels weird and ominous.

Anyway, Clifford had participated in a 2015 march for the same purpose. CWA was hoping to attract some media to the current endeavor.

CWA Clifford Rocks the State Capitol

I was happy to be invited. I can’t think of too many more crucial things to speak out about. After all, it’s only a matter of time before the thing springs a leak. The time to ask is now.

I packed up all Clifford’s Christmas gear: His Santa Claus hat. His name-inscribed purple halter. His purple blanket. His peppermint babushka by Doggone Bandannas. Some tinsel and a bunch of treats.

Clifford was more than glad to load up into ol’ Wheelzebub and go on a new adventure. The State Capitol is only a half hour drive for us. I parked along the street near the capitol building. As I pulled up, I got a call from Sean McBrearty who had organized the march, asking if I needed any help.

“Well, they can come and help decorate him if they want!”

cliffy CWA.jpg

I have to say the CWA people are great. They showed up in minutes, gathering around Clifford and helping me hang the tinsel on him. Clifford walks pretty fast, so they fell in behind him as we clip-clopped up the sidewalk toward the Capitol building. Along the way, Clifford looked around at every building as if wondering which one was hosting this event. We got to the corner and we joined a waiting crowd of clean water enthusiasts, including Santa, some elves and a giant (presumably paper machete) Bill Schuette.

There was no waiting around. We crossed the street, en masse. The protesters held up signs that read, “NO OIL UNDER THE LAKES” and “OIL AND WATER DON’T MIX”.

We reached Governor Snyder’s office and swarmed into the small pavilion on the corner, through the glass door and inside. Clifford was in the center of a wave of people, so we just went through the door as well. We gathered around the reception desk. The guy behind the desk was all smiles, until he looked over and saw Clifford, and then his mouth made a big round circle and his eyes bulged out.

line 5

Gathering in Governor Snyder’s building. The police officer is standing behind the sign on the left, ordering Clifford out of the building.

“SHUT DOWN LINE FIVE!” SHUT DOWN LINE FIVE!” the protesters shouted.

Clifford just stood there in the swarm, and he is used to being swarmed, so he doesn’t move his feet. But the room was small and the yelling was loud. His head started to rise, so I put a hand on his neck and soothed him, asking him to drop his head and stay calm and offering him a treat when he complied. He crunched it down. Just then, a state police officer stepped in front of us.

“That horse can’t be in here!”

“Oh. It’s okay. He’s a therapy horse. He visits schools and libraries. He’s not going to do anything.”

“I need him out of this building, now!”

I held up my phone. “Can I take a picture first?”


Clifford and I made a tight turn and the wave of protesters parted to allow us through the door. “Thank you Clifford!” they shouted. “Thanks Clifford!”

We walked back out of the building and waited under the roof by the door. The police officer followed. He was much more low-key outside, apparently realizing that it wasn’t going to be a fight or a problem getting Clifford out. Besides, how mad can you be at a horse in a Santa hat?

Two or more State police showed up and then I had to answer all the questions. But nobody took any information down, or asked about me. They all wanted to know about Clifford! There’s a book about him? Really? What’s it called? How old is he? What breed? Where else has he been? How did I teach him to do that? What kind of treats does he like?

“He likes peppermints!” I took one out and handed it to the officer who had evicted us. “Do you want to feed him one?”

He took the mint and unwrapped it.

“Now he knows you have that, so you will have to hold your hand out flat, like this. Make like a table with your hand, because he might hit it kind of hard, and most people get alarmed and drop the treat.”

Clifford’s soft muzzle whisked across the guy’s hand and he smiled. “Thank you! I’ve never done that!”

“That’s his jackpot treat. So now you’re his best friend.”

Shortly afterward, our group of protesters came out of Governor Snyder’s building and headed across the street to Bill Schuette’s office.

Schuette’s office is in a complex that required a flight of stairs. As we reached the bottom, the peppermint-feeding cop rolled up on a bicycle. “He’s not going up there.”

I nodded. “We’ll have to wait here then.”

Another State Police officer approached. He was wearing a big black hat that I could only compare to a Canadian Mountie, but he wasn’t too familiar with horses. He had whipped out a notepad. Finally someone was taking a report. He took down my name and address.

“Is he a therapy animal?”


“Is he licensed?”

“Yes. He is registered with our nonprofit, the Foundation for Animals in Therapy and Education, otherwise known as FATE.”

“That helps.”

He wrote it down.

I answered all the questions from the Detroit News and Michigan Radio. I was not aware, because probably I wasn’t paying enough attention, but apparently I was being broadcast on the radio. I still don’t know what I said, other than making a lot of quips, like how Clifford is an abstract artist but his work sucks. But I did manage to steer the conversation back to Line 5, which, after all, is the whole point.

“The straits of Mackinac is the artery to the Great Lakes. Just because you can’t see the other side of a body of water doesn’t mean the resource is infinite.”

When our gaggle of protesters started coming down the steps, the cops left, apparently finished with monitoring Clifford and me.

cliffy santa line 5.JPG

A lady with a big camera came up to me. She didn’t introduce herself . “You should have asked permission to go in there,” she snapped.

“Well, that would have risked the whole effort,” I said.

She stormed away.

I turned to Sean. “I sure hope I didn’t get CWA in any trouble.”

Clean Water Action Campaign organizer, Sean McBrearty, posing with Clifford and another protester near Lansing State Capitol

“No! No worries. Thanks so much for coming,” Sean said.  “We are glad to have you! Some of us are starting to call Clifford ‘Michigan’s Lil’ Sebastian’.”

“Oh, from ‘Parks and Rec’! I get it. Hopefully the results won’t be the same.”

Cheyna Roth from MPR asked me if Clifford would do any more demonstrations to shut down Line 5.

“I hope not! It’s disappointing that we are having to even revisit this matter. But we will continue to do what it takes to help shut this pipeline down.”

For more information about Line 5, visit Michigan Clean Water Action.





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For the Down Hearted: on Death, Love, God and Christmas

I try not to talk too much about my religious beliefs, not only because they are a private matter for everyone, not only because the topic is ripe for hot debate and self-righteous scolding, not only because I am not even sure what they ARE.

My idea of naming different religions and sticking to ritual is a little bit like the Native Americans view of owning land. It is there before you are born, and will remain after your bones are buried under it. How can anyone put boundaries on that?

Christmas places a lot of incidental pressure on folks. The spending expectations can be especially trying. For people like me who have suffered serious loss, the holidays are bittersweet, providing a challenge in new ways to celebrate and find gladness in moments, for the first time in a lifetime, now devoid of certain people and experiences.

dad's gift.jpg

One of my fondest Christmas memories is of a music box tree my parents gave me. It’s made of ceramic, with a winder on the bottom. It rotates slowly and tinkles out, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

The year I unwrapped this tree was 2009. I sat on the floor by Dad’s feet, collecting shreds of tinsel, bright ribbons and paper and putting them in a bag. I started singing the song. Dad sang it with me, his deep, strong timber blending with my wavering alto notes, carrying them effortlessly.

“Let your heart be light,

From now on our troubles will be out of sight…”

We sang the whole thing together.

I have suffered other losses in my life. We lost Mom on New Year’s Eve in 2010. My best friend of 23 years, Kimmy, died in 2003. I thought I might never recover from that one. I probably never have. I lost another close friend, Rita, in 2016.  We had been friends for nearly 30 years. And back in 1987 my dear friend Linda was killed. She too made a profound impact on me. My first published book, “Holding the Ladder”, is about Linda.

But I have never held anyone in my heart as firmly as I have my dad.

“Five minutes after I am gone,” he said to me once, “I will try to contact you.”

Dad and I spent many quiet moments throughout our days and evenings, deep in discussion, talking about books and ideas and animals. In the long afternoons on Drummond Island he liked to take a sip of Jack Daniels from a bottle he had hidden under the porch. One day he got pleasantly inebriated, talking about my siblings and how Mom had yelled at him for favoring me.

“But, you love all of us,” I said.

“But I love you more! I can’t help it. We just have too much in common. I told Mother, ‘Nancy and I are compatible.'”

I wanted to cover my ears; it is something no child should ever hear from a parent. While he may have never said it while sober, we all knew it was true.

Siblings claim that Dad was not a man of his word; that he was an irresponsible parent and did not take care of matters as he should. This is not the person I knew. Dad’s problem was that he trusted too much. He thought a handshake would carry an agreement.

Dad hasn’t appeared to me. But what, in the timeline of infinity, does ‘five minutes’ mean?

There is no question that the love lives on. I carry him in my heart.

Today, I realized that this is the closest to God that any earthly person can be. If there is a God, he comes with a knowing deep within you. It happens no matter what anyone tells you about him: The certainty of right and wrong. The glimmer of humanity in small gestures. The search for kindness. The pursuit of all things that are good and right, truthful and fair.

No matter what any person says, the love is real.

You carry him in your heart.

Happy Christmas to all!



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Don’t Poke the Bear

The first child born on Drummond Island to the Bailey family, Alda Anne grew up in the 1880’s with a pack of brothers in the lumber camps. Drummond then was covered in trees; massive columns so tall they obscured the sun. As the old giant cedars fell to the saw blades, the deer arrived, drawn to the new tender growth now creeping up from the warm earth.

But long before the deer showed up, the bears were already deeply instilled there, rooting through the generations of fallen limbs and trunks for bugs and grubs, tearing apart the bones of the old forest and sending it back into the mossy ground.

By the time she was 17 years old, Alda was hunting with her father, bringing home game to feed the family. That year, she shot her first black bear. From that point on, Alda Bailey became one of the most avid bear hunters in the history of Drummond Island. She eventually married Louis Cloudman, but scorned the typical duties of a housewife. Leaving Louis to bake pies and sweep the kitchen, Alda would stuff a frying pan, a blanket and other supplies into a backpack and disappear into the woods.  In those days she was likely the only female hunting and fishing guide in the state of Michigan.

Alda lived to be 97 years old and over her long career, she killed more than 80 bears. Enshrined forever in island lore, Alda is commemorated as something of a folk hero similar to Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, with her Annie Oakley appearance and deadeye marksmanship. One of these stories involves a local character, Herman Adams, who lived not far from Alda’s homestead with Louis.

Adams lived in a shack with chickens and other animals, growing tomatoes by his fence and spitting tobacco down his shirt front. One autumn, he trapped a bear, and decided he wanted to bring it home alive. He enlisted Alda’s help in the endeavor.

In what amounts to a pretty horrible story of animal cruelty, the two pioneers walked this bear out of the woods by getting a rope around his neck, which Adams used as one would put a leash on a dog. Alda handled the trap line, still attached to the bear’s hind foot. Together, they walked this bear between them. Alda thought it would be pretty funny to put some slack in the chain and let the bear catch up to Adams. It wasn’t long before Adams realized the bear was nipping at his heels, and was taking longer strides and eventually practically running to stay ahead.

“By the Judas, Aldie get a hold of that rope; he almost got a nip of me, that time!”

My dad, Alda’s nephew, loved telling that story and he swore that it was true.

In all my years spent in the woods on Drummond, in all times of day and night, I have seen black bears only a handful of times. But their signs are everywhere, from the shredded bark of a dying tree to the round, clawed imprint in fresh mud. I know the bears are watching as I walk the trails with my dogs or ride my horses. We give each other a wide berth, and this is why it is safe to walk in the woods on Drummond Island.

My ancestors lived their whole lives in bear country. Bears were a source of meat, fur, and grease for tallow. They were not targets to shoot for sport, and certainly not pets. Black bears are shy and mild-mannered, except when cornered, or hungry, or protecting cubs. An angry black bear delivers a sledgehammer wallop and can kill you as quick as a walk in front of a Mack truck.

The pioneers knew this. The idea of people feeding bears, petting them, or posing for selfies would have had folks like Alda Bailey rolling their eyes or even bent over in gales of laughter.

After all, the bears were here first. By the Judas, show some respect.


Alda Bailey, photo courtesy of Lynn Cloudman Van Alstine

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Life With The Gropers

Harvey Weinstein is a pig. And he is not alone. As long as I am getting loud about the things that matter, and pissing people off, I might as well jump on the bandwagon.

All women get groped, assaulted, insulted, abused and put down by men. This is a fact of life when you are a woman in America. So many of us just take it in stride. But these emerging facts about Weinstein are making me take a harder look at my own past, because I’ve had similar incidents.

People (read: Men) often mistake your enthusiasm over a project for enthusiasm for THEM. Or, maybe they don’t. Let’s just say there was a certain movie horse trainer that I was writing a book with. This project evolved into some exciting times wherein I hobnobbed with some famous people and got to meet some beautiful horses.

The subject of my adoration turned into an octopus during a private meeting when we were supposed to be going over notes. Uhm, can you say “animal behavior”?

When I wouldn’t put out, that project crashed and burned.

Same thing with another story I worked on. I endured continuous sexual harassment, advances, flirtations, etc, whatever you want to call it. It got so bad that when I traveled to the PNW to meet the big bird and see the whole thing first hand, I brought my sister in law along as chaperone. I refused to meet the guy alone even for dinner (“no sister in law” he had said, “just you and me”).

Uhm, no.

THAT book crashed and burned too, despite huge amounts of time and money invested on my part.

Beyond these career-wrecking episodes that began with my failure to answer to the Almighty Penis, my experiences with White Male Entitlement extend to all kinds of other people and situations, including but not limited to RELATIVES.

The weirdest part about these relationships is the implicit code of silence. It’s her word against his, so the woman says nothing. It’s like acknowledging our lower place in the Great Caste System.

Watch for the self-righteous reaction that comes from these enlightened accusations as the woman ages and suddenly finds her power, finally growing angry enough to speak out about incidents that happened five, ten, twenty years ago.

Or even just two years ago.

Or, yesterday.

Watch the testosterone take off and the hysteria that rushes through the narcissistic male population, blaming the women, calling them crazy, calling them liars, asking if it’s true, why did they wait so long?

I hope the uprising against Weinstein, Cosby, others, indicates a shift in the social position of women, who despite every effort and proverbial inch of progress, still are treated as a little bit Less.

Yeah, we have the right to be this mad.

If this is what it takes, then let this fall into the same category of abusive parents who are afraid of being called out by their own kids, of that one phone call to the school, or Social Services.

Fear is a powerful motivator.

Kudos to you, sisters, finally standing en masse, for all those moments when you are cornered against the wall, felt up, groped as if your own body doesn’t belong to you, while your heart slams in your ears and you measure the distance to the door, glancing around the room for a heavy object, something to grasp and wield, as your hopes and dreams crash into the abyss.




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Miss Moxie Moonflower, the Birdseed Kitten

The Long Journey from Lawn to Lap
I saw her by the barn, nosing around my horse Clifford’s rubber feed pan. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was eating the leftover grain that had dropped into the grass. She was a tiny thing with patches of white and grey and tan. I called to her and she shot off into the cornfield. Safe within the pillars of corn stems, she cried a loud, raspy mew, answering my pleas of “kitty, kitty.” But her ragged cries grew fainter, telling me she was moving away from me, deeper into the field. Her call was so plaintive, I sensed she wanted to approach, but was just too scared.
I didn’t think I would ever see her again. But the next day, I looked out the bathroom window and she was padding around on the lawn under the bird feeder, eating seeds and bits of suet. I took a handful of my cat’s dry food and went outside, walking softly, hoping she would not run from me. But she did, dodging under the porch.
I tossed the kibble into the grass under the bird feeder and went back to watch from inside. Moments later she came back out, climbing up on the edge of my flower garden, looking around carefully. She went to the edge of the little goldfish pond and drank deeply, part of her head concealed by the leaf of a water lily. Then she turned and returned to scavenging under the bird feeder. When she found the kibble, my heart broke a little. She attacked it with the savage desperation of a starving animal.
I put more food in a small steel bowl and walked outside, rattling it invitingly and calling to her. She made a half-hearted attempt to run away, but cornered herself between the deck and dog fence. She turned back and allowed me to approach her. As I put the bowl down, she dove in.
She seemed happy to be caught, and she ate everything I fed her. But she was too wasted to bounce back. She weighed under 2 lbs. – about half the normal body weight for an 8-9 week old kitten. She spent 2 days at MSU, fighting for her life.
Luckily, through the efforts of a devoted veterinarian and staff, and a social media community who cared enough to donate the hundreds of dollars to help her, Moxie survived.
It took a month of nursing care to bring her back to normal weight for her age. Her story will go on to promote the adoption of homeless kittens and cats; encouraging the inclusion of two or more cats to live in a home together, and to incite cat owners to keep their feline friends safe indoors. But Moxie will also stand as an example of how a community can band together to save a life, and how when things seem at their worst, to never give up, because there is good in the world, and someone cares.
Moxie is a new ambassador for the Foundation for Animals in Therapy and Education (FATE), a 501c3 nonprofit.
On Wednesday Sept 28, Moxie earned her FATE wings at only 11 weeks of age, when she served as ambassador at a senior center in Highland, Michigan. Along with her buddy, Este the Chihuahua, our board member Judy Long and her puppy Reba, Moxie engaged in meet and greet with some hundred or so people for 3 hours. While we handed out brochures and talked about the transformation of rescue animals to therapy animals, Moxie, played with her feather toys and consumed two jars of chicken baby food. She finally grew tired and fell asleep using Este as her pillow.
Thanks, Moxie, for being the very best poster child. In finding your way to us, you may have sealed your FATE.
As we get rolling with our programs, we are in dire need of sponsors. Moxie’s bill at MSU was well over $1500 and is still not paid off. But there will be other expenses too. Gas, food, and support as we launch new and ambitious programs to match homeless pets with people who need them.
Fate Logo
Ways To Help:
Check us out in the Paypal Giving Fund
Contact Us or Paypal: FATEAnimals@gmail.com
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When You Listen To A Horse

It will come as no surprise that Clifford is smart. He can paint pictures, play fetch, signs his own book, and has the good sense to go into schools and libraries and basically anywhere and keep his wits about him.

What goes beyond training is the communication that happens when you have spent so many days and months and years with one horse. This is where it behooves one to stay alert, because horses often have something to tell us.

Which brings me to today. We are in a habit of Clifford going out on his line in the morning and then again in the evening. Clifford has never been a fatty, but as he ages it’s taking extra groceries to keep weight on him. On his tie-out, he gets to eat lawn grass (yay) and have a big meal unencumbered by a greedy, bossy, alpha great-nephew.

cliffy tie out 2.jpg

Every morning he waits for me to come and get him. If I get to dawdling around pulling weeds or feeding pond fish, he will nicker a reminder. I go into the barn and hold out his halter. He sticks his head in it, usually giving me a playful little side-nip in the meantime. I open the gate and he goes out. The other two horses, if they have come in with him, know enough to not charge the gate.

Clifford runs out into the yard and starts grazing but keeps a watchful eye on me. I head into the garage and get a scoop of grain. I walk it out to wherever his rope is located. There’s a rubber pan there where I dump the grain. He usually figures out where the pan is, gallops over and is waiting to eat by the time I get there. I dump the grain and hook him up while he is eating.

When the day gets too hot, he lets me know he is ready to come in. If I’m outside he calls to me. If I’m inside, he stands on his line staring at the house.

Cliffy tie out.jpg

The same thing happens in the evening. Usually, when he goes back in, his nephew, Kerry Seventh Gen, the Junior Horse, is pushing and bossing him around. Even if he is out in the pasture and sees us coming, he will come running. He has learned to step back and wait while I let Clifford in through the gate. I hand out treats to the three of them before saying good night. Junior has had to learn that he is last in line. It has taken months of conditioning to learn that if he pins ears or pushes another horse away, he will get no treat. He has to stand quietly while I go from Clifford to Trudy and back again, handing out treats. If he is good, he will finally earn one.

Today, when I put Clifford back in, he stood waiting at the open gate for his apple wafers. I typically take off his halter, open the gate wide, and he stands there waiting. I give him his wafers and then he goes inside. He usually goes directly to the water tank which is right by the barn door.

Today, the other horses were far out in the field and didn’t come in when Clifford did. As usual, he waited for his treat, munched it, walked through and went for a drink. As I was swinging the gate shut, he swung his head around and hustled back inside, nickering to me urgently.

“I’m out of treats!” I laughed. “You want some more? I’ll get some.”

Then I noticed what was going on. The other horses were WAY out in the field; unaware that we were even in the barnyard. Clifford thought it was a good chance for him to get an extra meal. And, he was right.

I walked quietly into the garage, got a half scoop of senior feed and dumped it into Jr’s bucket, which is the one bucket the other two wouldn’t see from where they were grazing.

Clifford happily plunged into his second dinner.

I have no way to explain this other than to say Clifford was telling me it was a good opportunity for an extra feed. It told me he understood the whole problem with Junior and the reason he has to be fed separately. More importantly, it told me that he understood how to ask, and knew I would probably listen.

Clifford eating 7 bucket 2.jpg


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Take the Knee for Down Syndrome

I wish I could say the whole guardianship issues with my sister Amanda have been resolved thanks to the hearing in May 2017. Actually, we did make some progress. During that hearing, the judge confirmed the original order for guardianship over Amanda, who has Down syndrome. The order specifically stated that Amanda was to be allowed contact with family members through phone and internet. The judge effectively smashed a nearly year-long period of silence wherein the guardian prevented all contact between Amanda and me.

Since that time, thanks to the hearing, I call Amanda just about every week.

Unfortunately, Amanda is now living in Censorship Hell.

Imagine having someone hanging over your every word: Correcting you, stopping you, interrupting you, timing your conversation, even hitting you when you say the wrong things. You’d end up with a pretty serious case of PTSD.

Yesterday was her birthday. She turned 47 years old.


I have so many great birthday memories with Amanda. All those years, all that pizza. I wanted to call her up and talk about what happened when Mom first brought her home from the hospital, and my first glimpse of her, red-faced and dark-eyed, when I was eight years old. I wanted to talk about her first birthday when she put her face in the cake, burying her pink cheeks and gold ringlets in all that white frosting.


I knew she would appreciate other birthday stories like our tradition of yelling out our ages from the hill overlooking the bridge to Canada. Or the time we drove down the back road to Mom and Dad’s house, following a skunk that galloped right up their driveway. I stopped the car and said, “You get out first.”

We had a host of birthday memories to go over. But this day, her tone was serious.

“I’ve got some bad news for you,” she said.

“What is it?”

“One of our friends passed away.”

“Oh no! Who was it?”


Larry was a dear, nature-loving, kindhearted man who had formerly worked with the guardian in Arizona. I had met him in person and we used to hang out a bit. We hooked up on Facebook and he had been very supportive in my fight for Amanda’s rights.

“Oh no! What happened? Was he ill?”

In the middle of her reply, she was cut short by a voice in the background. “Our conversation is being interrupted,” she said. “I’m not supposed to talk about it.”

“What?! Why? Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “I’m fine. Just…”

Her voice had changed to one of hesitancy. There was no explanation for why Larry’s death was a taboo subject, but at least it was better than the week prior when she was whacked with a paper towel tube, hard enough that she yelled, “Ouch!” That happened when she was trying to tell me about a visit to the eye doctor. Apparently she is forbidden to give me medical updates.

This is where the guardianship jumps from emotional into the realm of physical abuse.

And this is only the part I know about.

Amanda has a disability. She can’t drive a car or do math. But she is still a bright, quick witted, warm-hearted, spirited individual, an optimist at heart, who is dearly lovable. She deserves every bit of respect that any other person is entitled to. But currently she is deprived of even the most basic of human rights.


In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

It’s tragic that Amanda has no family members besides myself who are willing to “take the knee,” and even in some small way, make their disapproval known.

But, you can.

I want you to be aware that no one is safe from this type of predation. No one. You could be in an accident today and fall into the same type of trap. Protect yourself, and others, by helping to change guardianship legislation.


Click this link for more information about how to Stop Guardian Abuse. 


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Rip Overcomes Her Hydro-Phobia

I used to think it was pretty funny to say my dog has hydrophobia. It is, actually, the technical name for Rabies.

Rip has a fear of deep water, but she has been vaccinated against rabies.

However, I recently found out that one of the symptoms of rabies is fear of water…. Hence the name.

Go figure.

Lately, Rip has been surprising me. I think it’s due to peer pressure, and keeping up with the other dogs, but yesterday she actually swam out and fetched the ball, for the first time ever!

I even caught the moment on video.


Then after her first attempt, she had to try it again for real. She had been fetching little sticks, just paddling a few strokes, but this was her first attempt to go farther out and get the ball.

Who knew this a dog could learn to swim at age 12!


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A Dog Who Minds; Or, Mind of the Dog

I give my dogs a lot of credit for the evolution of Jasper. A dog who comes when called is a joy to own and is the priority in early training. All my dogs drop what they are doing, no matter what it is, and come on the double when I call them. This is a feature that allows them a lot of freedom, as I can let them roam off leash in safe areas and know they will come back.


I inherited Jasper when he was three years old. He was my boyfriend’s only dog, a big rescued greasy blob of black mostly Labrador with a stubby tail; probably at least ten lbs overweight, gasping for air under his rolls of blubber and grinning, sniffing and licking my feet, jumping up to scratch my skin with his raspy pads.

He suffered from chronic ear infections, itched his skin constantly, had a bad body odor, and other indications that growled of food allergies. I took him off the corn-based kibble and changed him to a lamb and rice diet. The recovery was miraculous. He almost immediately became more comfortable in his skin, and his ear infections cleared up.

He still stood guard over his food bowl like a fiend, attacking with noisy, slobbering vigor any dog who passed within three feet of it. My pack, accustomed to a relatively peaceful coexistence, were taken aback by this. He didn’t understand that nobody wanted to steal his food, or fight with him.

He lived on a cable tied to a tree, and was ushered into the house where he would climb on the furniture and blow silent, massively pungent wads of sulpheric gas into the room, the stench so foul that you would either have to leave, or usher him right back outside.

He was enormously uncivilized, but his biggest problem was that he would hit the road. No amount of screaming would bring him back. If he got loose, he was gone.

Being mostly Labrador ensured that he would be generous with his home and space, and no danger to my little chihuahua types. Since I had a pack, my boyfriend made a big enclosed fenced yard. So now Jasper ran and played with my two herding dogs, carrying a big collapsing rubber ball around in his mouth most days.

The excess weight came off and he grew strong. I was determined to teach him how to come when called. I would walk him out in the back field with my bag of treats, calling him to me and giving him random snacks. It would work for about ten minutes. Then, his nose would go in the air and he would gallop off. He would return home an hour later, covered in mud or smelling of garbage.

All my training tricks flunked. I refused to use a shock collar or punish him in connection with the behavior. As much as he loved chicken jerky, he loved his freedom more. I could understand that. He had to be walked on a leash. Some days, I admit to not wanting to deal with him and I would leave him behind the fence watching sadly while the pack moved and played around the yard or I taught the horses tricks. This in itself, I am sure, was instilling a notion in his lemon brain.


Not long after meeting him, I discovered that he loves to swim, so I would take him north to Drummond Island every summer. He would still run off, dodging through the woods to be gone for an hour, running deer or black bears. But he was safer in the woods than on a highway in the Lower P.  The joy in his experience was evident. He was part of the family here; not a misfit. On Drummond, he is just another loose dog at camp.

Each dog has their special needs. Ms. Rip, my 12 year old Aussie, is sensitive and is afraid of deep water. Terrible Til the border collie has to keep moving, every day.  The chihuahuas have to be kept safe due to their size.

This is my fourth year of living with Jasper as part of the pack. He is seven years old now and there has been a shift in his behavior. Because of all the time I have spent playing with him, feeding him, talking to him, and treating him just like one of the group, he now behaves more like one of the group. He sits in line with the others, waiting his turn while the treats are doled out. He runs with the other two and jumps into the back of the van. He is a perfect example of how a dog who is happier will make the decision to behave better, in a congenial effort to get along. I haven’t done anything special to fix his running away problem; he just fixed it himself as a result of a more interesting life and good treatment.

There have been other indications too, that Jasper is getting smarter as he interacts more. I take him swimming several times a week in summer. I use two chuck-it toys and two balls, one for him and one for Til. As far as I’m concerned, the balls are interchangeable. But Jasper has decided that his ball is HIS BALL. While I lob them both, if I take Til’s from him and throw it, Jasper will wait until I pick up his ball, and then dive in when I pitch it.

It has been funny watching the two of them work things out between them. Jasper will often try to retrieve both balls, swimming in circles until he gives up and leaves one. Til just hovers to scoop up whatever one he leaves.

Yesterday, even though Til already had a ball, he waited, far out in the water, to make sure Jasper found the second one before they both swam back. Til helps take care of the others.

Jasper is a terrific example of how a dog’s brain kicks in to be a better pet, a result of good treatment and nice language, and the standard established by his well-mannered pack mates. Rules are rules. People who live with dogs understand they respond well to respectful treatment, and will return it in kind. There is no way to teach this detail to someone who wants to train their dog, other than to explain that kindness speaks volumes, and dogs are much more sophisticated than we think.

Now, if he would just decide to stop farting…

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