The Cruelest Month

Lest you think our life here on the farm is idyllic…..

T. S. Eliot declared April the cruelest month.  I disagree wholeheartedly.  March is the cruelest.  March is the month that is just too much for me.

In March, it is no longer winter, but certainly not yet spring.  It is a depressing chasm in between the frozen and the living.  There are just enough true spring moments to excite and panic the gardener with the promise of what is coming and the knowledge of the immense amount of work to be done.  Small Wonder Farm becomes a soggy debris field.  The blanket of white retreats and the melt and the rain turn the farm to mush.  Sometimes, it is the kind of mud that wants to keep your boot, and at other times it is a crusted, frozen moonscape of churned earth and composting plant matter.  The charms of winter are gone–no more pristine white blankets, no more crisp cold starry nights where you can hear your boot crunch in the snow, and no more feeling of time to spare.  The best of winter is in the long weekend feel of it when I can dig in to all the projects I can never get to in the height of growing season, make slowly simmered stews and cuddle Lily under a quilt.  In March, we have no more hoar-frost encrusted trees or any green vistas to rest our eyes on. The barn becomes a mucky, smelly disaster to be avoided if at all possible.

There are other reasons I dread March.  Taxes.  The slowest restaurant month.  Cabin fever at an all time high.  55 one day, 22 the next. During the cold, cold of winter we become sloppy–leaving softener salt on the porch, the generator there too in case we will need it.  Everything melts and I feel like we live in a junkyard.

I especially hate this March.  My Pepita is getting ready to leave us.  She has been going downhill for weeks now and we are within days of calling an end to it now.  I should not say we, it is I who will make the decision, I who will call the vet, and I who will hold her for the last time.  In my experience, men do not have the stomach for such things.  I really wanted her to have a last snooze under a warm sun.  She loves to sleep that way on her back–belly up to the warming rays, but I know that is not going to happen.  So,  I am spending as much of my weekend as I can holding her, thanking her, massaging her spent body, feeding her steak and carrots,. and letting her sleep on my lap.  I feel the heavy weight of knowing she spent 10 of her years devoted to me in every way.  I don’t feel worthy of that right now.  One of the greatest small wonders of this farm and this family is a homely little mutt named pumpkin seed who devoted herself to us with uncommon ferocity.

A MUCH younger Paco and Pepita. Circa 2002



Pepita Update

Here is a picture from 2006 of 2-year-old Lillian and a much rounder Pepita. In front, is our Forrest, who we lost in 2008.  As you can see, Lillian is immune to Pepita’s generally grumpy demeanor. In the picture, Pepita is clearly just tolerating Lillian’s friendly advances.

Pepita and I visited the vet yesterday to check her blood glucose and for any signs of infection.  Her sugar was 80.  Perfect!!  No signs of infection either.   At least for now, we have found the right combination of diet and insulin to keep her feeling good.  She can still be a bit wobbly and I can tell she has some days where she does not feel great, but overall she seems happy and healthy.  She will be at increased risk for just about everything now.  Diabetes for dogs is just like humans.  She now has a weakened immune system and we are working on keeping it working as well as possible.  She takes two whole food supplements targeting her immune system and a very careful diet.

She and we have adjusted to our new lives and we are cohabitating well.

Aging Gracefully?

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When the cold weather hit this December, it was clear that our 13-year-old Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix was feeling all of her years. I came to the conclusion that she was losing her hearing since I often had to go into the barn to get her instead of her being automatically at my side when I stepped out the door.  Her eyes are milky.  She had lost her brightness and pep. At first, we thought this slowing down was an inevitable side effect of being an octogenarian.  She had clearly lost a little weight (she was rotund before) and seemed to be really feeling the cold.  We bought her a jacket and brought her into the back porch when temps went low.  Things seemed to be getting steadily worse.   I called our vet and made her an appointment.  The vet was out-of-town and we had to wait about 4 days.  With her newly received jacket, it was not clear to us just how much weight she was losing–and how quickly.  She has always been a dog with the shakes, but now she was like a jack hammer.  It was after removing her jacket at the vet’s office that I understood how sick she was.  She was skeletal with a big bloated belly.  She was clearly thirsty at the office and drank 3 bowls of water.  With three dogs drinking at the farm, we had no idea just how thirsty she was.

The vet said she suspected diabetes or tumors and we waited for blood tests.  With all the water, she produced a huge urine sample for them and her blood sugar and ketones were sky-high.   Her blood sugar was in the 800’s.  She had a bladder infection, pneumonia, and raging diabetes.  The vet and I decided that she should be hospitalized for a few days to see if she could be stabilized.  We have a wonderful vet that I can recommend highly.  Her name is Cathy Alinovi and she owns Hoofstock Vet in Pine Village, IN.   She is a farm vet that also sees small animals.   In 2 days, Pepita was ready to come home.  She came home exactly one week before Christmas.  She was clearly much better, but still had a long way to go.  She arrived with 3 whole food supplements, an antibiotic, a container of syringes, a bottle of insulin, and a strict diet regimen.  She was to receive 2 insulin shots per day along with a 2/3 cup serving of a home-cooked meal.  Her dietary prescription:  either 50 % meat/50% fruits and veggies or 30% beans/30%meat/30%fruits and veggies.    I have been doing the beans/meat/produce.  Pepita’s special diet is the 4th set of dietary restrictions to hit this household and one of my greatest fears if something happens to me, is that I don’t think anyone else can keep track of all the complicated scenarios of who can eat what around here.

She is improving daily, but she will never be the rough and ready girl she was.  After 2 weeks home, we went back to Dr. Alinovi for a check-up.  Her blood sugar was still in the 500’s.  She doubled her insulin and we go back again next week.  She is still slow, but gaining ground.  Her back legs are wobbly and sometimes when she gets up from sleeping she has a bit of trouble getting them to go where she needs them, but that is getting steadily better too. Her water intake and therefore output is under control. With the increased insulin, I noticed a great increase in her pep.  She will now run across the yard!

We have had a few instances where she has gotten a hold of food that she cannot eat.  Once it was a biscuit the cat kindly knocked onto the floor for her and another time some Jello from the trash bag.  Each time, her reaction was trembling, increased thirst, and clear discomfort.  When she feels especially bad she will follow me from room to room and look pathetic at me.  She’s asking for help.

She loves us, especially me, with a ferocity that can only come from a dog who had a very bad start in life and was given a great home in her darkest hour.  We took Pepita in sometime in 2001.  She had been dumped in the country.  She was thin as a rail and had very clearly given birth recently.  None of her pups were to be found and I imagine none of them survived.  She was terrified of people.   I don’t know exactly what happened to her and don’t want to.  For a long time, she was afraid of men with facial hair.  We saved her from a trip to the pound.  She was and always has been, a pretty ugly little gal.  From the start, Pepita was the misfit in the family.  We already had an Australian Shepherd mix and a gorgeous Collie/German Shepherd cross who were 5 times as big as her and deeply in love with each other.   She was the third wheel.  We also had 2 cats who wanted to have nothing to do with any of the dogs and were similarly in love.  She has spent a decade snapping jealously at the other dogs whether they were vying for our attention, or each others.

Pepita takes her self-appointed position as guard of the Serranos and their home very seriously.  She will growl and snap at anyone unfamiliar and is not a big fan of kids.  One time when the vet was here to see a goat and we were not here, Pepita gave a her a nice bruise on the leg for invading the homestead.  She can only be treated at the vet by taking her in the back–as far from me as possible.  She will not cooperate as long as she is focused on protecting her mama (me).  Once away from me, she is happy to cooperate–even received acupuncture on her last visit. When Lillian was born, we decided to call Pepita “bad doggie” to drive home the message of the care needed in being around Pepita.  At first, Pepita was wildly jealous of Lily.  Lily grew up with her and knew to be careful around her, but was NEVER afraid of her and Pepita pretty quickly realized that Lily was here to stay, outranked her, and was to be protected also.  Lily and Pepita quickly became friends.

When we moved to the farm, Pepita loved the action of it.  She could run, chase animals, and had plenty of territory to guard and defend.  There is little that once barrel-shaped girl loves more than to sunbathe her belly and snooze the day away. She is also the one that can run down a baby rabbit and inhale it in under a minute.  In fact, when it comes to food, Pepita is a scavenger and a glutton.  I’m not sure if that is emotional baggage from the rough start to life or that it is just her, but that dog will do nearly anything for food.  She never savours, only swallows big chunks and begs for more.  We have tried to change that behavior, but there is no way she ever will.

Pepita is brave and always the first to protect us.  Not long after we moved to the country, there was a night when we called the dogs in to be fed, and Pepita did not show.  With her love of food, we were concerned.  Just as Paco was going out to find her, she appeared.  She was bloody and her neck was very swollen and bleeding.  She had clearly gotten into a fight.  The other 2 dogs were fine.  I knew immediately that Pepita had waged battle against some wild creature while the other two cowered behind a tree.   We still don’t know what she fought with, perhaps a raccoon.  I took Lily to bed and Paco rushed Pepita to the emergency vet. They put her under and opened her neck to see what damage there was.  Miraculously, Pepita had 2 small puncture marks on each side of her throat but no major damage.  She also had cuts and scrapes, but the swelling was mostly edema.  Whatever got her by the neck, shook her hard.    She came home with topical and oral antibiotics and bounced back fairly quickly.  Then the itching began.  She developed a horrible rash and was miserable.  She lost hair and scratched endlessly.  The vet checked again and again for mange causing mites, but could not find them.  We were just about to pay for super expensive allergy testing when he was able to confirm mange.  She had caught it from her wild foe.  Finally, that episode was over.  Luckily she has had no other run-ins like that–whether they haven’t come up or she learned her lesson that night, I am not sure.

So, as I pamper and nurse my octogenarian pup, I am struck that we have come full circle.  She came to us in dire straights and she is again in need.  She looks now much like she did then.  Emaciated.  It is do or die.  The difference now is the deep relationship formed over 10 years.  I am really thankful we can help her now.  Now Pepita and I are constant companions.  We all came home the other day and Pepita rushed out the door past Paco, ran up to me, and jumped up and down while giving me a hello bark.

I have often said she was meant to be a pampered lap-dog.  I could always imagine her with an old woman that would feed her treats all day and let her in and out of the house a 100 times a day.  Now, she is the old lady.  I am really glad she is my old lady.  I give her shots, cook her meals, give her back rubs, and let her in and out a 100 times a day.  We could go on like this for 6 months or 6 years, but we are doing our best to enjoy what we have.

Note:  Pepita is Spanish for pumpkin seed. We also call her Chippy, Chippy-tuerca, PPT, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and Chi Chi Ree. No one has called her Bad Doggie in a long time.