Watching Our Pet Population Get Decimated

It’s been a rough ten days for the animals at our homestead.

Despite a wonderful influx of dearly loved human companions coming to visit in recent weeks, we’ve dealt with far more than our fair share of animal-based disasters. Perhaps it’s only because we simply have more creatures in our lives than most people, but it still feels like what we’ve been dealing with recently is well beyond normal.

Don’t believe me?  I’ll list the total incidents we’ve dealt with and you can let me know if someone’s put a hex over our home or not.

The Chickens

As you might know from my previous post, we are in the process of fostering a mother dog and her five cute puppies. These little guys have been nothing but a joy in our lives and the easily the highlight of my entire month. However, adding six new creatures to one’s daily life is never without difficulty. One big problem is that Rosie, the stray-turned-mother, isn’t all that used to living a stable life. In fact, we recently learned what she was most likely subsisting on before she came our way: live chicken.

Our OTHER dogs (shout out to Wendell) do just fine with some free-ranging poultry pals.

The problem started when I noticed some of our chickens had flown out of their coop and were happily scrounging around the yard. I failed to think anything of it because our birds escape all the time. Wendell and Aldo, our laid back puppies, are hardly bothered. Turns out Rosie is wired a little differently. I stepped out my front door a matter of minutes after seeing the birds to find the bloody carcass of one of them under our hemlock tree. There was no question it was beyond help. Immediately noticing the second chicken happily plucking by a nearby fence, I bee-lined over to quickly bring it back over the fence.

That was my mistake.

Rosie is a people pleasing kind of dog and rarely spends more than a few minutes away from my side. Unfortunately, this time I led her right to her next prey.

Long story short, the next five minutes were spent with a large stick in my hand, frantically trying to deter the single-minded pursuits of a dog ravenously tearing my poor bird apart limb from limb. I’ve seen plenty of large animal butcherings and cats playing with mice in my day, but nothing was as brutal as this bloody scene. Thankfully, it was all over in a matter of minutes.

All that’s left of one of our hapless birds after Rosie got hold of her.

Somehow, I managed to pull myself together enough after the carnage to grab the bodies of both birds and put them in our closed lid compost pile (assuming in the process that Rosie couldn’t get in) and continued onto my off-mountain errands. While it was truly horrible to watch one of our best layers get so savagely brutalized, I was a little proud of myself for how I calmly I dealt with the situation afterwards.

That feeling didn’t last past getting home. I opened the front door to find piles of feather scattered throughout our house. Turns out Rosie got into our compost bin just as easily as she caught the live chickens, and what little remained of the poor birds was now blowing through every crevice of our home. Was the chicken body in our bed?! There was no way to know…until Rosie dug up the head of one of the bird days later to show me just how skilled she was.  Suffice to say, my screaming probably wasn’t the reaction she was looking for.

Did I mention Ian was gone for three days when this happened? It totally figures.

The Cat

Losing chickens in such a violent way is never fun, but at least they don’t live in our home. Even worse was losing our dear cat Peak.

Within a day of moving the puppies outside into their new goat-barn-turned-home, we noticed Peak wasn’t moving as much as she normally does. It’s horrible to admit, but it took a long time to notice anything was off, because we attributed her aloofness to avoiding the six additional dogs in the house. After she napped for a full 24 hours, Ian took her to a vet who confirmed that something was truly wrong. A urinary tract infection diagnosis caused other puzzle pieces to come into place, like urine found in our bed a few weeks ago and puddles close, but not in the litter box.

Unfortunately, when we finally noticed her symptoms it was already too late. Within a matter of hours after visiting the vet, poor Peak lost her mobility, even her ability to stand, and began to meow piteously for hours on end. After what must have been a horribly painful process of organ shutdown, Peak passed away in the night.

Poor little Peaky, a year ago during happier times when she decided to gift herself to us as a living electric blanket.
Poor little Peaky, a year ago during happier times when she decided to gift herself to us as a living electric blanket.

Though she wasn’t really our cat (she came with the house as a mouser), Ian especially took her loss hard. It’s difficult not to feel responsible for her highly preventable death now that we have the hindsight to see her symptoms so clearly. However, at the time we were simply too distracted taking care of the puppies and keeping an overprotective mother dog away from our pets to notice anything amiss. And unfortunately, it’s now too late.

The Dogs

We lost three animals to highly preventable deaths within a week, but we weren’t over the worst of it yet. Bad things always come in threes, after all.

Sunday afternoon was a glorious sunny day, and we took advantage of it by going for a leisurely walk with good friends. On the way home, Ian noticed something funny going on with Rosie. Her teats were covered in blood, and every step caused droplets to spew out onto her thighs and the dirt road below.

It seems that she nicked a nipple on some barbed wire, and the cut went deep. So deep that my squeamish stomach couldn’t bear to look at it, and Ian’s emergency wound kit was completely useless. Worst of all, she still had five hungry puppies to feed, so we had no other option than to go into her pen and cover her injured nipple to prevent tiny baby teeth from tearing into her farther. Early Monday morning, a vet visit was scheduled to get her stitched up.

Now Rosie can’t be allowed within site of her babies for the next few weeks until her milk dries up, meaning we need to keep her confined in our summer kitchen. Incidentally, this is directly below my writing area, meaning I get to look forward to piteous whimpering and lots of scratching at the door for weeks on end.

Rosie in her cone of shame to prevent her from licking her wound.

But were we done with our misery? Of course not. Though my darling little Aldo was perfectly fine the entire night after Rosie’s injury  and as happy as usual to go outside and play in the morning, he brought himself upstairs and hid under our bed before 8:30 am. It’s rare for him to be antisocial, but we ignored the warning signs until he refused to join us on a walk later in the day. By then, it was clear that something was really wrong.

Ian pulled him out from under the bed and quickly found the cause of his problem. A gash, over eight inches long along his back thigh, was open and bleeding. Though we’ve never had problems with barbed wire in the eighteen months we’ve lived here, it seems two of our dogs got grievously injured within 24 hours of each other in completely different parts of our property.

The poor boy couldn’t put any weight at all on his leg, and once we carefully placed him in his crate he couldn’t even handle sitting down (though he tried constantly). 3:45 couldn’t come soon enough for our now double vet visit, and Ian came back hours later with just one dog and hundreds of dollars more than expected in vet bills. Worst of all, Aldo’s injury was too severe to send him home right away, so he stayed at the office overnight to get dozens of stitches and staples put into his back thigh the next morning.

TWO dogs in cones, for unrelated accidents, in less than 24 hours. How does that even happen?!
TWO dogs in cones, for unrelated accidents, in less than 24 hours. How does that even happen?!

And that’s pretty much how the animal-side of our week went. Part of me wants to laugh at the ridiculousness of all this, but mostly I just want to cry.

Animals suck and I hate them all. I’ll never love another creature again…except for these stinking cute puppies. Somehow they still are managing to have a few (likely limited) positive attributes. I guess they can stay for a few more weeks.

I’m getting rid of every other animal I’ve ever been stupid enough to care about and just keeping these guys instead. And also Wendell. He can stay too.
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3 thoughts on “Watching Our Pet Population Get Decimated

  1. Oh Lydia, I’m so sorry, that sucks. Everyone expects us farmers to be so thick skinned, but we’re not, we just witness more tragedy than most and are simply forced to cope with it. I work on a dairy farm and have been doing farm work for most of my life, animals die often in that environment, and it still bothers us all. (Well, except the pigeons and rats, I don’t think I’ve ever felt sorry for a dead rat, but anyways) It doesn’t get easier to deal with either, unfortunately.
    On a learning experience note I also would like to caution you about another problem you most likely know about when mixing chickens and puppies. Chickens carry a parasite called coccidiosis. (I think it’s a parasite, maybe a bacterium) Most animals actually carry it in a certain degree. Baby animals are susceptible to this parasite, and exposure to it, through feces primarily, can make your puppies very sick even though your chickens are perfectly healthy. So, to avoid problems, try not to let the puppies play with the chickens until they’re maybe 3 months old ish. (Big strong immature dogs, not fuzzy cuddly puppies)
    Also, a thought about barn wire. If you guys don’t have a goat, get a goat! I promise you’ll love them, they are personable, snuggly, comical and territorial, and they eat brambles and scrub brush. You live on a mountain side in West Virginia so I’m guessing it may get a tendency to become a bit overgrown. (I can’t know as I’ve never been there) Your barn wire is probably hiding in brambles and scrub which seems completely innocuous until a dog jumps in after a rabbit. Then bad things happen. I can tell you from experience BARB WIRE IS THE DEVIL! I don’t clearly understand why this stuff shows up all over farms, but I’m sure whom ever chose to put it there regretted it shortly. So, if I was in your position I would get a goat to eat the scrub that I’m too busy to whack down myself, and then clean up what the goat uncovers in the underbrush. Also, goats have thicker skin than dogs, so if they do unfortunately cut themselves you are less likely to have to make a run for the vet, and more likely to have supplies on hand to care for them. I could go on waxing poetically about the attributes of goats, but I’ll stop now.
    So, in conclusion, I’m very sorry about your recent tragedy, and hope spring bring s brighter days to your homestead. And get a goat, seriously, and a few kittens too! Best of Luck!

  2. Rotten week! My heart goes out to you but don’t give up; live and learn. A goat is not a bad idea (ref. previous comment) but as usual, do your homework; goats do NOT like dogs! Poor Aldo & Rosie- old barbed wire is the WORST. Lord knows I’ve had my battles with the stuff. Take heart- it will get better.

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