Welcome Home Gentle Giant

Our bull’s injury is the biggest news this week from Medicine Spirit Ranch. Curly, our Charolais bull, recently developed an unwillingness to place weight on his right back leg. His ankle swelled and he hobbled around on just three legs. After loading him into the trailer and hauling him across town to our vet’s clinic, we learned why this was. Curly had developed an abscess from a cut on his hoof. Ouch! That must have really hurt, big guy.

Curly, our Charolais bull

Hauling Curly is always a memorable experience. Our small cattle trailer can hold up to ten calves but hauling them is less difficult than when hauling Curly by himself.  He is so large he weighs down the trailer such that the back end of the pickup and the trailer hitch reach almost to the ground. When Curly shifts his weight in the trailer, the whole pickup lurches. It makes for quite a ride. Our vet, who sees plenty of bulls in his work, even commented on what a large but gentle bull he is.

Curly spent a week at the vet’s receiving antibiotics. During this time he was limited to a stall, a large one but limiting for sure. I don’t recall him ever being confined before, and he didn’t like it. I know he was hurting, but somehow I think his apparent discontent resulted less from his injury and more from his unusual location and lack of his herd.

I may be over interpreting, but Curly did not look happy at the vet’s. This proud king-of-his-herd guy was dirty, seemed to have lost interest in what was going around him, and appeared to mope. These are not typical behaviors for our Charolais bull. Can bulls become depressed? He sure looked it.

After recently receiving the call from the clinic saying he was ready to come home. I attached the trailer to my pickup. I headed into town to load and haul Curly back to his ranch, his green pastures, and his waiting herd. The herd had even expanded in his absence by three new calves.

While Curly still moves around slowly, he now does so on all four hooves. We no longer have a three legged bull which I consider a very good thing. I don’t think Curly would be able to do his job on one hind leg.  Curly also appears happier now that he is back at his own ranch.

Our gentle giant- “Open wide for a range cube”

 

GUESS IT JUST GOES TO SHOW, OUR GENTLE GIANT IS A HOMEBODY.

Buddy, “Nice to see you again Curly.”

Bonus Calves

Woo hoo!!! Three bonus calves were born this week. That is, mama cows purchased in September with calves already by their side, and now have given birth to yet another unanticipated calf. The average price for the pair, now the trio, just went down. What a bargain!

Surprise, bet you weren’t expecting me!

The bonus calves have white faces with the remainder black or brown. Our Charolais bull does not throw this color calf with our Black Baldies, but instead throws smoky colored calves, light brown or gray. Also the cow gestation period of nine and a half months just doesn’t work for our Charolais bull. Sorry Curly you can’t claim parentage!

Curly, the bonus calves stepdaddy

These are small calves compared to our usual smoky calves. With an Angus daddy, the calves start  smaller than with a Charolais daddy.  All three of the bonus calves are heifers. Perhaps I will let them grow and given their different genetics, make them into new producers for the ranch. Now that is an additional bonus.

The first bonus heifer at one week of age. Note smoky calf on right and a longhorn/charlolais cross in foreground

Baby calves are so cute no matter their lineage. Must admit though when I saw the first I took a double take. You can imagine my surprise after the third. Life is sweet. Spring calves are one of the highlights of springtime on our cattle ranch. Hoping you too find bonuses in your lives during this lovely season.

More Accolades for Carrying The Black Bag

I have more good news to report regarding my book, Carrying The Black Bag.  My book has been named a Montaigne Medal finalist for 2017 under the auspices of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards.

For those of you who don’t know what this is which is probably most if not all of you, The Montaigne medal is given in honor of the great French philosopher and awarded to the most thought provoking titles each year. Given the many hundreds of titles under consideration, it is highly affirming to be listed among the finalists. Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales is also being considered for other awards including category, press, and grand prizes.

For those of us who write, we understand this can be a lonely exercise. The pathway to publication is often littered with rejections and disappointments. Such acknowledgements and awards as this one provides meaningful affirmation and encourages me to continue with my writing efforts.

Thanks to all of you who have encouraged my writing, acted as alpha or beta readers, and especially for those of you who have bought the book.

The Lovely Couple Plus One

Katie, Kevin, and Olive in their Engagement Photo

Our daughter’s upcoming wedding is the really BIG news in our family. Katie and Kevin O’Neal will wed next month. We couldn’t be happier for the lovely couple.

It should be no surprise that with Katie growing up in our animal-loving family, she became an avid animal lover herself.

About five years ago while volunteering at the Dallas dog shelter, Katie fell in love with a mongrel dog and adopted her. They have been extremely close ever since. Olive has supported Katie through the emotional turmoil of a major job change, watched her dispatch several boyfriends, and survived several scary thunderstorms that deposited huge limbs in their front yard and mere feet from their house and car.

Olive is long, low slung, with the head and bark of a German Shepherd. While she looks like a dog put together by a committee, she has an incredibly sweet disposition.

Kevin has told me that he knew if he were to win over Katie, he would first need to win over Olive. While Kevin has a terrific sense of humor, there is some truth to his statement. Kevin takes care of Olive when Katie is out of town. He takes Olive on walks and has over time completely won her over.

Of course Olive goes on walks with Katie and Kevin

When Kevin proposed to Katie, she accepted his proposal of marriage. Posted below is Olive’s response as well to Kevin’s proposal. You see Olive asked me to post her answer. for all to see May the three of them have a wonderful marriage with best wishes and congratulations to the lovely couple plus one.

Dog Lessons On Living- Part 2

In my previous post I dealt with how two dogs modeled how to deal with serious illness and impending death. The two examples were from our current Border collie, Buddy, and our long deceased Shetland sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy. Their love of life and passion for their favorite activities persisted despite their physical challenges.

If we abandon the arrogant notion that humans are somehow completely different from other animals and instead recognize our common genetics, anatomy, physiology, needs, and behaviors, then animal behavior can become a potential assist for our lives.

I am reminded of a story from my recent book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales about Mary from Minnesota. This story, like many others in the concluding chapter of my book, took place aboard a fictitious cruise ship and demonstrated great perseverance of some physically handicapped folks in the face of adversity. The very real members of a group that Trudy and I accompanied had been organized by a national Parkinson’s Disease organization. Despite Mary’s advanced disease requiring  her to have a feeding tube, tracheostomy, urinary catheter, wheelchair, and and full-time attendant, she had demanded to go on the cruise.

Unfortunately Mary didn’t make it and passed away during the cruise. When speaking that evening by phone to her daughter in far away Minnesota, I learned to my surprise that the family had  expected Mary to die on the cruise. After recovering from my shock, I further learned that Mary had a lifelong habit of taking on great challenges. Despite her failing health Mary in recent years had undertaken skydiving, ridden a burro down into the Grand Canyon, and been strapped to a dogsled in Alaska. Mary refused to give in to her illness nor would she be prevented from trying new, exciting, and life changing thrills.

From Sailaway Chapter of Carrying The Black Bag

While Mary was only one of our passengers with Parkinson’s disease, all of them despite their balance issues dealt with the swaying of the deck and with the many challenges of shore excursions and beach activities. They also managed the dietary differences that at times limited the effectiveness of their medicines. None of these brave people shied away from the challenging experience, showing their zest for life and denying their illnesses control over their lives.

Now I know not all people with PD would make such a challenging journey. Indeed life is like a marathon and all of us hit the wall at times. Some persist and break through the wall while others are unable to do so.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift but persistence is also demanded

Both Buddy our Border collie, Taffy our Sheltie, and Mary refused to give in. All lived their lives to the greatest extent possible. I don’t know where Mary derived her zest for life, but she might have witnessed it in her pet. For whatever reason, Mary had learned to live her life as fully as she possibly could, believing that the quality of her life was more important than the number of days she lived.

Therein may lie a lesson for us all. Our challenge may be to garner as rich and full a life as possible. We all will likely be faced with challenges. Some of us will continue to strive and others will find an easier but less fulfilling way to live. Nothing is wrong with either approach, but our pets may have at least modeled the more courageous approach to life. Without it would we have even considered such a course of action?

Dog Lessons on Living

Forty years of practicing medicine and having lived long enough to acquire some gray hair have allowed me to observe people dealing with illness and impending death. These challenging periods prove difficult for sure , but I believe our pets can help to cope with and even model helpful behaviors that benefit their owners. The mindfulness of the pet owner becomes necessary in order to learn these pet-assisted lessons.

At our house we’ve had two experiences that I wish to share that have brought me to this conclusion. Our Border collie, Buddy, unfortunately injured himself many years ago while leaping over a cattle guard. I found him shortly after the accident, dragging his paralyzed hind limbs. We were to learn that Buddy had ruptured a disc that had extruded into the spinal canal and traumatized his spinal cord. After evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation Buddy slowly recovered. He now has the reasonable use of his hind legs and moves about without any assistance. For this we are incredibly grateful.

Buddy had always loved to run and herd cattle. His racing around the ranch with his tongue flapping deliriously and with a goofy look plastered across his muzzle has for me defined unbridled enjoyment. With time he has regained the ability to both run and herd, although not with quite the same proficiency as prior to his injury. Nevertheless, Buddy still loves to ride in the pickup, watch the cattle, and when needed to jump out of the bed of the pickup and do a stint of herding.

It strikes me that Buddy during his convalescence never gave up on himself, nor did he permanently abandon his valuable role as chief herder on the ranch. Despite lingering weakness, he continues to carry out his job with typical Border collie passion and enthusiasm. A job for a Border collie is vital. As the old saying goes, “If a Border collie doesn’t have a job, he’s liable to become self-employed.” Trust me, when this happens it’s never a good thing!

Buddy sleeps more now following his injury

Our second pet-assisted experience resulted with our Shetland Sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy, and occurred years ago when we lived in Lubbock. Taffy’s favorite activity and what she most anticipated was her evening walk. She would become so excited when we presented her leash for our walk. Unfortunately Taffy eventually fell ill and was diagnosed as having cancer. While we knew the cancer would eventually take her, we were given the encouraging, if incorrect, prognosis by her vet that she had at least weeks if not months to live.  Despite Taffy not feeling well, she still agitated quite demonstrably at the end of each day for her walk.

Taffy during her healthier days

I distinctly remember her recruiting us that last night. Trudy and I dutifully leashed up Taffy and began a slow trek around our block. Taffy seemingly sniffed  every tree we encountered and observed the goings-on in the neighborhood with her eyes glistening with excitement. Unfortunately despite her wanting to, her energy gave out a third of the way around the block. She simply was unable to muster the strength necessary to walk any further.

On recognizing this I reached down to gather our sweet dog in my arms and then continued our walk around the block. Taffy gazed out from the crook of my arm and noted the happenings of her final trip around the neighborhood. Later that night she died peacefully in her bed. I like to think Taffy died  happy having made one more glorious trip around her block.

The thing is, Taffy continued to do what she most enjoyed despite her serious illness. Her willpower and determination continued despite her substantial depletion of energy. It seems to me that a broader and more personal message exists for pet owners much like the messages both Buddy and Taffy have given us.

I will continue discussing this topic in a subsequent post and plan to give a few human examples. These people-related corollaries will come from my book, Carrying The Black Bag.

Please share your thoughts as to what you may have learned from your pet regarding illness or impending death.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Dogs and Storms

We experienced a tornado watch with lightning, thunder, and almost two inches of rain. While I am always pleased when rain falls on the ranch, Buddy, our senior Border collie, doesn’t see it quite the same way.

Buddy is on the right

You see, Buddy is scared to death of storms. During a storm he will either hide under the bed, crawl behind the toilet in the bathroom, or take cover in my closet. The latter is rather poetic since that’s where he was born almost twelve years ago.

I worry about Buddy’s bladder capacity during these storms but have found him difficult, if not impossible, to dislodge from his safe spot. Last night I stuck my head under the bed and tried to talk him into going outside. Buddy who is normally very well mannered and responds immediately to commands, stared right back at me, as if he had suddenly gone deaf and paralyzed.

I sensed he was telepath-ing me a message that went something like this, “You must be nuts Buster if you think I’m getting out from under this bed in this terrible weather!!!” When I increase my encouragement to the extent of physically trying to remove him, Buddy growls. It is not a menacing growl nor one that worries me. He would never bite me but his lack of enthusiasm for going outside becomes quite clear.

Poor Buddy, thunder visibly shakes him up. His eyes become furtive, he shivers, and he takes immediate cover. With his dog ears, he knows when a storm is approaching far earlier than his seemingly deaf, slow footed human companions. (Our good points consist of feeding him, having cattle to herd, and letting him ride in a pickup.) I know we could get Buddy some doggy Xanax but the storms are pretty rare and, well, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Buddy is getting on in years but his tolerance for storms is not improving with age. Typically after feeding the stock and doing ranch chores in good weather, he retreats behind a screen in the living room where we have his dog bed (actually one of three). There he can look out from beneath the screen, avoid the canine rambunctiousness of Jack and Bella, stay out of the human traffic patterns, and get a good nap. We refer to this corner of the living room as “Buddy’s Office.”

If the weather turns bad, Buddy slinks off to the bathroom, my closet, and at night to under our bed. He actually is able to find safe places which convinces me this dog is really safety conscious.

The storms bother Little jack not one bit. Jack, our “Texas Brown Dog” adopted us three years ago after surviving on the road for over a month. Guess he got used to storms.

Bella, our female Border collie, has some wariness of storms in that this is the only time she becomes  affectionate. Last night during the storm she climbed up on my chest, put her head next to my neck, and laid there. This is most unBella-like behavior! She just doesn’t take well to affection. But last night she proceeded to lick my face with he raspy tongue until she had removed several layers of skin and acted like she had missed me for an eternity.

Am hoping for better weather tonight and a better night’s sleep.

Bella on the left and Jack on the right