Tuesday, October 19, 2010


It's coming up on 2 months since April arrived, which is the amount of time I figured it would take for her to completely settle into her life here and get to know us (and for us to get to know her!). For the most part, we've been absolutely thrilled with her. And we seem to have successfully adjusted where needed to deal with the less than thrilling parts. Like hating cats and wanting to maul chickens. (More on the chickens below.)

April physically has been going through a rather large adjustment as well. I think it's safe to assume that she's never eaten a raw diet before coming here, and just like clockwork, she began experiencing some icky skin issues right at the the 6 week mark. This sort of thing is called "detoxing", because her body is getting rid of the toxins it's built up from eating kibble over the course of her life, and is to be fully expected when changing the diet so drastically. She has a few weepy sores on her skin (you can see one in this photo, just in front of her hip up on the spine). These sorts of things will heal themselves in time, so right now I'm just keeping an eye on it, putting on fly-repellent ointment when the weather is warm enough for flies (which is not often at this point), and making sure it stays clean. (April takes care of keeping it clean pretty effectively.) Although it looks pretty nasty, she lets me touch these spots and it doesn't seem to be painful to her at all. They should clear up over the course of the next several weeks.

We still keep her locked in her kennel at night, because the ducks are also locked in and don't need protecting, the sheep are locked into their main pasture which her kennel adjoins, and because it keeps her barking to a portion of the property where it's less likely to annoy neighbors (she's behind the outbuildings, so the noise is primarily pointed towards the woods). She's very cooperative about this and just loves her kennel and shelter, but she's always raring to go check out her territory in the morning when we let her out.

We've been leaving her with the sheep full-time (except nights) for the past 4 weeks or so. She seems to be doing her job of protecting them just fine, even though she still seems mildly uninterested in them. She does protect her kennel from them, with growling and barking, but they pretty much don't go near it anymore, so that sort of thing has died down. Other than that she's not shown any sign of aggression towards them at all, even if she's got her head in their feed trough scrounging up the last few morsels of grain with them. So I feel she's completely trustworthy with them. And she's great with the ducks -- they are not physically with her, but she guards at the sides of their yard and you can see her check in regularly (it almost looks like she's counting them to make sure they are all there -- if they're not all out in the field, she'll trot down to their shed and look in the window to make sure they are all present and accounted for!). She seems protective of them and interested in them. Chickens, however, she is obsessed with. After her mauling a few of them (which all lived without serious injury, by the way, but it was very alarming to look at), and watching her obsess over them when she could see them (to the point that she wasn't guarding anything else), we had to move them to an area where she can't see them anymore.

So basically things are working out just great! She did experience some sort of heart event the middle of last week -- she suddenly collapsed, was having trouble breathing, had an arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat rhythm), and her gums were cyanotic (blue, meaning she wasn't getting enough oxygen). We decided that a trip to the vet would be too traumatic for her (and for us, just getting her into the car would have been an issue, she's BIG), and that it wouldn't be safe for a vet to come examine her in her kennel. Fortunately, I have years and years of experience working for vets, and a good friend who is our vet just a phone call away. We felt comfortable that there wasn't much we could do for her at that point, and that rest was the best thing for her. She was back to her bouncy self by morning, but the best guess is that it's Congestive Heart Failure. There's also the possibility that this was some sort of "healing crisis" and a part of the whole detox process, and may never repeat itself. (We can hope!) I've got her on some natural products to help support her heart, and if it happens again we can start her on Lasix, which many dogs do very well on for years after a Congestive Heart Failure diagnosis. So hopefully she'll be around for a long time to come -- at this point I just can't imagine this place without her!

That's the hard part about adopting an older dog, but we wouldn't change a thing, we just love her!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

April meets the livestock

April has really started to settle in around here and has gotten quite comfortable with me and the hubby and her pen and paddock.

So I decided it was time for her to meet the livestock. She's been living amongst them since coming here, they've been just on the other side of her pen walls, or on the other side of the paddock fence. This has given her a chance to get used to them and bond with them while keeping them all safe.

Her initial introduction was on leash, but when she showed no particular interest in the sheep or chickens, I went ahead and let her off leash. She immediately mingled with them. The sheep were a little concerned at first, but most of them have been with Livestock Guardian Dogs before (on the farm where I bought them) so the quickly accepted her as a weird smelling sheep.

A very large weird smelling sheep. The chickens were a bit trickier. Yesterday a chicken (obviously with a death wish) flew into April's pen. April responded like a dog -- she immediately grabbed it and feathers were flying everywhere. The hubby was fortunately there when it happened, and he called April's name and she, being the very good doggy that she is, dropped the chicken and looked at him, giving the chicken time to escape. The chicken's fine, by the way, none the worse for wear. But now I'm a bit cautious with April around chickens.

Not that she's done anything before or since then to make me suspect she'd be anything but OK with them. Still....
Ok, well, livestock introduction continues on for a few weeks two or three times a day, until I feel comfortable leaving her with them unattended.

But for now, how about giving Mom a big smooch....
Good dog!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Yesterday evening the big white van pulled into our driveway and unloaded the big white dog. April came out of the vehicle readily and looked around. She approached me right away, in a friendly manner. She seemed to say, "Hey, I remember you, didn't you come see me the other day?" The ACO and I walked her through the pastures to the pen we had ready and waiting for her. On the way there, she looked calmly around, tail wagging slightly, body relaxed. She looked at ducks, sheep, and chickens all with the same cool manner. It seemed like she knew she was coming home.

We went into her pen with her and hung out for a bit to let her get accustomed to her new home. A couple days ago Hubby and I built a shelter out of a cattle panel and a tarp on the east side of the duck shed so that there will be plenty of wind break and shade, as this is where she'll have to stay when I'm working the stock with the collies or teaching lessons. The shelter itself is 8' x 10', and is inside a 10' x 16' pen. Roomy enough for her to be comfortable. It's amazing to see how much room she takes up stretched out on the thick bed of straw!

She roamed about the pen, readily accepting a few treats from me and a lot of petting from both the ACO and I. Eventually my Morgan mare, Annie, wandered over to say hi. Annie is a rescue herself, having come from a situation of neglect a couple of years ago, and understands that this is a pretty good place to be. Initially April growled and barked at her, but I reached up and put my arm around Annie's neck, petting her, and told April that she's mine. The barking immediately stopped. I fed Annie a treat, and fed April a treat. Then the two of them touched noses. Annie must have told her that she came to a good place, because April settled right down. At least until Hubby arrived on the scene. The same scenario repeated itself -- I put my arm on his and assured April that he belong here too. Same thing -- she stopped barking and settled down. Figuring it was going to work out, the ACO left and we continued on with our evening farm chores while April enjoyed her first raw meal.

So far so good! April spent the night in her pen, but this morning I propped the gate open and let her have the paddock that is attached to the pen as well. By this afternoon, she had the entire series of side pens in addition to the paddock. Eventually she'll be moving in with the sheep, but for now we're just letting her get used to being on the property and seeing the livestock she'll be involved with.

One problem that we'll need to address is that she hates cats. Or loves them in all the wrong ways, I'm not sure which. But I'll talk more about that later. For now, we're keeping Cosmo, our overly-dog-friendly cat, locked inside so that April has a shot of learning to relax here without him torturing her. (He of course wanted to sit up against the side of her pen, regardless of the fact that she was going crazy on the other side. Well, actually, probably BECAUSE she was going crazy on the other side. He's just that kind of cat.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

at the pound

It was a steady downpour when we arrived at the animal shelter. The first rain in weeks of dry weather, it was a very welcome wet.

I left hubby and the kids in the car and walked into the fenced compound. Two pitbulls, a large gray dog, and a small hyper brown and white one, barked enthusiastically at me. A Rottweiler cross stood patiently in a yard behind a sign marked "Guard Dog on Duty". It wagged it's tail at me and I chuckled. Sure didn't look much like a guard dog, more like a lap dog. He wagged his tail harder.

I opened the door of the small building at the center of the compound and stepped inside. Peering into the tiny office, I saw no one. To my right was a closed door marked "Cat Room". I waited patiently, reading the signs on the door. Rules about visiting the shelter. What to do if you want to pet an animal. How to make donations of food and bedding. Finally I knocked on the door and opened it a bit. My caution was worthwhile, there was a brown tabby staring up at me from the other side. Behind him was the Animal Control Officer (ACO) for the town. I told her who I'd come to see, and she told me where to find her, warning me that she barked at strangers.

My family joined me as we walked past the leaping, barking pitbulls and around the building to the back side. There were only two dogs on this side of the building -- an old, grayed lab cross, about 12 years old, which was bouncing up and down barking hoarsely. Next to him, the mountain of white we had come to see. I remember thinking that she didn't look as big as I expected a 100lb dog would look. And that she looked older than an 8 year old dog should look.

She walked steadily to the front of her kennel, barking voraciously at us. Her stance was firm and confident, her hackles were not raised, and her tail wagged slowly behind her, held level. Not a dominant position. Not a submissive position. Not friendly, but not aggressive either. She was all business -- strangers on her turf, as unnatural as that turf might seem to her, and she did what she knew to do, she was warning the woman who was currently her "boss" that there were strangers in the yard.

The ACO joined us, and I explained why we were there -- we had sheep and poultry in need of protection, and April was in need of liberation from the pound and a new job. A friend had sent me an email with a link to her picture on Petfinder an hour earlier, and I instantly saw how easily I could fill both of our needs.

The ACO moved April out to an exercise pen, and the boys and my hubby stood back a bit to help her feel more comfortable. I stood near the pen with the ACO and we chatted about April's history while she stopped barking and settled in to pace uncomfortably along the back of the pen. Despite the dogs around her barking at her and us, she paid no attention to them at all, focusing softly on us instead.

The story was that April had been surrendered to the pound a week earlier, along with the old lab cross kenneled next to her, because her owners had sold their cattle farm and couldn't find another home for the dogs. Both dogs had lived free in the pasture with the cows, April as a working Livestock Guardian Dog, the other as her companion. While the other dog seemed extremely attached to April, April didn't seem to care much either way. The other dog was a big-time barker, and being at least half sporting dog, would no doubt want to chase, or possibly eat, our poultry. There was no way we could take him.

But April we could take. The ACO was happy enough about that, she had been fearful that both dogs would need to be put down. There's just not much luck adopting out older dogs. At age 8, April is old for her breed, which commonly live to about 10.

We discussed Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs)-- the ACO had done her homework, and even though neither of us had ever worked with an LGD before, at least our notes matched. We both felt like this might just work out well for all involved.

The ACO was more comfortable bringing April out to us rather than having us take her from the pound, so I filled out the adoption paperwork and arranged for her to deliver April a few days later. April's adoption fee -- $5.

And thus April's second life began.