Keep your Christmas plants alive. December 7, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets.
Tags: care of Christmas plants, cyclamen, keeping cyclamen alive and healthy, keeping poinsettias alive and healthy, poinsettias
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were determined to get some poinsettias and cyclamen for our mantel and Christmas table yesterday. We didn’t want anything fancy—just two white cyclamen and two scarlet poinsettias for our mantel, and one large red poinsettia and two smaller white poinsettias for our Christmas table. We’ve found that the mantel plants are perfect with our Christmas tree with its red balls and twinkly white lights, and the kitchen table is too small for anything more elaborate than our poinsettias and two red candles.
As we were driving back from another classic display, the Goschenhoppen Historians’ Christmas market, we passed a small greenhouse that had been on the road from Green Lane to Red Hill just about forever. It was a classic mom-and-pop operation, its signs said it was open, and one of them said they grew their own poinsettias, a real rarity in this age when most greenhouses, groceries and the like buy theirs as “plugs” (started plants) from one or two enormous poinsettia greenhouses. Silence and I screeched to a halt, turned around, and returned to the little greenhouse.
It was a horrible, cold, drizzly, miserable day, the kind where you just can’t wait to get back inside and crank up the heat or turn up the fire. No wonder we were the only customers, and Grandma was the only person minding the store. But the plants were gorgeous, and Grandma was full of good, easy advice for keeping them healthy. Since we only bought the cyclamen and poinsettias, this is what she told us:
To keep cyclamen fresh and healthy, don’t water them until the soil is dry. The leaves may wilt, but the second you water them, they’ll perk up and the plant will look beautiful, including those gorgeous patterned leaves. Choose plants with plenty of buds coming on (look at the base inside the leaves), and you’ll have gorgeous blooms continuing through Easter.
As for poinsettias, Grandma said the only thing that could make them wilt was to overwater them. We’ve heard that before, too: That you can kill poinsettias by overwatering them, but otherwise, you’ll enjoy them through the summer. Our small white poinsettias (free from our local bank last Christmas) lasted through the summer. Who’s to know what these will do? Let us know how yours hold up.
Love your pets, love yourself, love your home. October 5, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets.
Tags: cats, dogs, flea medications, flea meds, flea preventives, fleas in history, pets
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, your three bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, are all history buffs. Silence is especially interested in the domestic history of past times. When the three of us get together, it’s a topic we often talk about. As in, how did the royals and nobility in earlier times, who clearly loved their lapdogs, manage to survive living with their fleas and with their unspayed, unneutered pets?
When our friend Ben and Silence first moved here to Hawk’s Haven with our two cats, we didn’t realize that the cat of the previous owners had left fleas everywhere. We’d never experienced fleas at all, nor had our poor cats. The experience left us with bloody, itchy bites all over our lower legs, and nearly killed our cats from blood loss before we realized what was happening. Fortunately, there are now flea sprays that stop larval development in your home, breaking the vicious cycle. We’ve never had a flea problem again.
Every month, we feed our dog Shiloh a chewy treat that also happens to prevent heartworm disease. We used to dose her with a poisonous flea-and-tick preventive on her neck at the same time, but now they’ve developed a chewable. She loves her “treats,” and it’s such a relief to be able to feed her something she loves once a month rather than rubbing something she hates onto her neck.
This is easy, but it’s not cheap. It’s still better than dosing your house, your family, and your pets with God-alone-knows-what, though. And it’s far better than being bitten alive by those fleas (or, shudder, ticks). I still wonder about royals like King Charles I and his queen holding their beloved spaniels in all those portraits. Were their legs bleeding and itching the whole time? Don’t let it happen to you. Give your pets their meds.
Love your pets today. October 4, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, pets.
Tags: Feast Day of Saint Francis, Saint Francis, Saint Francis and animals, Saint Francis of Assisi
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Today, October 4, is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. On this day, many Catholics take their pets to church to be blessed. But you don’t have to be Catholic to share the spirit of the saint who called animals his brothers and sisters.
Instead, just give a few more minutes of your time to make your pets happy. Make sure your cats’ litterbox is clean and filled with fresh litter, your aquarium filter is replaced, your birdcage bottom is cleaned and lined with fresh paper. Make sure every pet has fresh food, treats, and water, and fill up the wild bird feeders. Finally, pet, brush, and play with your dogs and cats. Let them know you love them. If you have chickens, don’t forget to give them leftovers: fresh fruits and veggies, bread, rice, and so on. Everybody will be so happy!
If you think about how much your pets love you, if you think about why you have them, if you think about how much you love them, how much your children love them, maybe it will be a little easier to buy some nutritious treats for them today while you’re grocery shopping, or decide to spend an extra ten minutes a day playing with them, or not yelling at them if they’re making a racket.
Happy Saint Francis Day!
Cats and sliding glass doors. September 12, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets.
Tags: cats, cats and sliding glass doors, escaping cats, indoor cats, keeping cats safe, outdoor cats
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve had a nightmare the past year with our two indoor cats, Linus and Layla. They’re half-siblings (cats can have kittens by multiple fathers at the same birth) who were born outside at our country cottage, Hawk’s Haven, to a feral cat who was hit by a car or, more likely, shot by some monster we later discovered was shooting outdoor cats for target practice, when they were just kittens. So we brought the kittens inside and raised them as indoor cats.
That’s been seven years now, and they’ve both been very happy with us. However, the sliding glass door that opens onto our back deck has always been an issue, since that was where they were born and lived as kittens before their mother died. Every now and then, one or the other would rush out the door before we could shut it, no matter how vigilant we would try to be about monitoring their whereabouts. This usually had to do with getting our black German Shepherd, Shiloh, in or out of the house. Mercifully, the escaping cat would usually recognize that it had made a terrible mistake and let itself be “caught” and brought back inside immediately.
But over the past year, we’ve had both cats run out and stay out for months. First, our beloved Linus escaped last summer and didn’t allow himself to be “caught” until winter was almost upon us. First, he simply vanished without trace. But a month or so later, he returned and lived on the property, showing up and yowling like mad to get our attention, until he finally let me grab him and bring him back inside on Christmas Eve, the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. As soon as he was back indoors, he acted as though he’d never been away, displaying zero interest in a second escape attempt.
But then this spring, Layla, not to be outdone, escaped from the same door in the same manner and remained outdoors until this week. She, too, simply disappeared for a month, then returned and hung out around the house, yowling and following us around, demanding to be petted but refusing to come inside. (Of course, we put out food and water in both cases.) Finally, I got her to come in, and just like Linus, she acted like she’d never been away.
Last night, I had a nightmare where we had a third outside cat, who was grey like Layla but lacked her white markings and peridot-green eyes. As with Linus and Layla, I was simply terrified that she’d be hit by a car or shot by the crazy neighbor. (Mercifully, I think he’s left our area now, since neither Linus nor Layla was murdered.) What a relief that it was just a dream!
Point being that I don’t know how to secure a sliding glass door when I’ve opened it to go outside, and especially not with the dog in tow. I try to watch as vigilantly as I can, but sometimes it just takes a second or two too long. (I say “I” here because this has never happened when our friend Ben was taking the dog out.) Our dog Shiloh recognizes that her job on returning to the house is to chase Linus to make sure he doesn’t try to escape, and she’s usually good at that. But it’s not fair to place responsibility on her for keeping the cats safe.
Do any of you have good ideas for keeping cats from running out sliding glass doors? We’d be so grateful to hear them!
‘Til next time,
A three-part food disposal system. September 11, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: chickens, composting, earthworm composting, food, food waste, not wasting food, saving food, using leftovers, wasting food
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Silence Dogood here. There’s nothing as demoralizing as wasting food, but we all do it. It’s not just a shame, but a sin, when people all over the globe, people in our own cities, are going hungry. Yet we’ve all had the experience of opening our vegetable drawer and finding produce that’s past its prime, or discovering a container of leftovers that makes us go “Eeeeewww!!!,” or looking forward to our morning toast and finding a moldy loaf of bread (sob).
No worries, this food needn’t go to waste. Our friend Ben and I have a three-part food-disposal system that takes care of pretty much everything. Well, actually, I guess it’s four-part. The first line of defense is our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our yellow-naped Amazon parrot Plutarch. They do a pretty decent job of eating scraps of cheese, veggies, chips, nuts, and the like.
The second line of defense is our flock of six heritage-breed chickens. They’ll eat that moldy bread, overripe tomato, leftover rice or pasta, wilted greens, or what-have-you with relish. The only thing I’ve ever seen chickens reject is zucchini. If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.
Then there’s our earthworm composter. Earthworms also love leftover fruits, salad greens, and veggies, but they’ll also eat things like coffee grounds and tea bags, turning them into rich fertilizer for greenhouse and garden plants.
Finally, there are our compost bins. We can put anything in them, with these exceptions: diseased plants, meat, dairy, grease. Diseased plants will contaminate the compost, infecting whatever you put it on, while the other contaminants will attract rats and other vermin to your compost bins. I’d also advise against putting weeds, especially weeds that can harm you like poison ivy or aggressive weeds like thistle that can spread throughout your garden, in your compost bins. Sometimes, the trash can is the only option.
However, between pets, chickens, earthworms, and the compost bin, a lot of potentially wasted food gets returned to the earth and enjoyed. I love to cook and use fresh seasonal produce, but I never feel guilty about eating out. OFB and I make a point of bringing every single thing we don’t eat home. I’ll bring a meal home that’s big enough for the two of us for another supper. OFB will bring his leftover French fries and half a bun home for the always-thrilled chickens. With our pets, our chickens, our earthworms, our compost bins, and, well okay, ourselves, there’s never an excuse to waste food. As our beloved hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “Waste not, want not.”
‘Til next time,
Pet your dog, don’t praise him. September 7, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dogs, dogs and people, interacting with dogs
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One of our friend Ben’s favorite cartoons is a “Far Side” classic that shows what we say and what our dog hears. Basically, the man is saying “Ginger! Bad dog, Ginger! Why did you do that when you know I’ve told you not to, Ginger? What a bad, bad dog, Ginger! Shame on you, Ginger!” Then it shows what she hears: “Ginger… Ginger… Ginger…”
Apparently, the same is true in real life, according to recent research. The scientists compared the reactions of shelter dogs and strangers and pet dogs and their owners when the dogs were praised or petted. Then the process was repeated with dogs being praised, petted, or ignored. In all cases, the dogs responded strongly to being petted, but their response to verbal praise was the same as being completely ignored.
Good grief! Then what is that rush of attention, the brightening of the eyes, the licking of your hands and arms and biting of your clothes, trying to get as close to you as possible, when you speak to her? They say the brightest dogs can recognize 250 words. Our beautiful and beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), certainly understands what we’re saying to her, whether we’re talking about treats, toys, or going outside, or about leaving her in charge while we’re out and how long we expect to be gone, or pretty much anything else, including “thank you.”
Of course, Shiloh loves to be petted, too. And we love to pet her. But it’s combining action (giving her a piece of bell pepper or a green bean or a dog treat or a toy) with words, or even special songs we’ve made up for her, that gets that tail going windmill-style and the happy tongue hanging out. We think she loves interacting with us on many levels, not just one. Do you think that about your dog? In any case, don’t forget to pet him!
Emergency preparedness: Buy toilet paper. September 2, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: disaster preparedness, Disaster Prevention Day, preparedness, stocking up for emergencies
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There may have been something funny about the theme of this year’s Disaster Prevention Day in Japan, “Let’s stockpile toilet paper!” But there’s nothing funny about the disaster that prompted Disaster Prevention Day, held every September 1st. One Spetember 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck an area of Tokyo and killed more than 140,000 people. Most of the lives were lost due to fires sweeping through the area and burning down the closely packed buildings, which were made of wood, bamboo and paper and used flames for cooking, heat, and light. In a country prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, being prepared for a disaster makes a lot of sense.
Our friend Ben also approves of stockpiling toilet paper, tissues and the like for emergency purposes. The Japanese government suggested keeping a month’s supply for every household member in reserve; in Japan, they sell special emergency rolls that are something like 460 feet long and are rolled so tightly they look like those big rolls sold in the U.S. I wish we had those here!
I’d take this even further. Of course you could blow your nose with toilet paper if you ran out of tissue. But if you’re dependent on a well for all your water, as we are here at Hawk’s Haven, if the electricity goes out, your water stops running. Normally, we try to never use “picnic products” like paper plates and bowls, paper or plastic cups, and plastic knives, forks, and spoons. But we keep a supply on hand for emergencies, and actually used some of them when the power went off for almost a week last winter. When you have to drink bottled water, use it to brush your teeth, and use it to flush the toilet, you don’t want to waste it washing dishes! Paper towels and napkins are lifesavers here, too. Not to mention extra toothpaste, soap, and so on.
Even if you’re on a sewer and get city water, if something contaminated your city’s water supply so the water was basically unusable for drinking, bathing, etc., you’ll want a backup supply of bottled water. Those big gallon jugs are great for flushing the toilet, but we find that, over time, they deteriorate and spring leaks. We use them in our greenhouse and to water our raised beds and container plants, but always keep an eye on them and recycle any that spring leaks. We also keep some on hand for the toilet, but keep an eagle eye on them to make sure they’re not leaking on our mudroom and laundry room floors! For permanent, leak-proof water storage, our friend Ben recommends those perfectly clear plastic jugs that a lot of “spring water” is sold in. They’ll never leak unless you step on one. And for drinking water, we get cases of real spring water in glass jugs, which we’ll also use for tooth-brushing in an emergency.
Besides toilet paper, the Japanese government recommends stores of food and water, a portable toilet, and a first-aid kit. I don’t know what they mean by “portable toilet,” but our friend Ben doubts that it’s a Port-a-Potty. Instead, it’s probably one of those sturdy buckets with toilet seats that are sold at camping, hunting, and sporting-goods stores like Cabela’s. You put a plastic bag (like a plastic grocery bag) inside the bucket, anchoring it with the lid, then go when you need to go and toss the bag when it’s full.
If you have a lawn and garden, you might think about buying a chamber pot (a porcelain receptacle for urine) at a flea market and pouring the nitrogen-rich urine on your lawn and flowers (not your food garden!). Urine has been known for eons as an excellent natural fertilizer.
Here in scenic PA, we’re in the path of the aftereffects of major environmental disasters rather than on the front lines. We won’t have to face off against earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, or other terrible acts of nature. But we could certainly suffer their effects, as well as terrible droughts and winter ice and snowstorms. It’s always best to be prepared.
We always have a cord of wood curing for our woodstove, since if the power fails it could mean the difference between frozen pipes (and frozen us) and reasonable warmth. Our gas stove can be lit by matches if the electricity goes off, so we can have warm food, even in winter (you can also use your outdoor grill if you have one). But we also have canned food that we can eat cold if we must, along with food that’s durable and fine at room temperature like crackers, nuts, dried fruit and cheese.
Since we’re not in the eye of a storm or other catastrophe that would force us to abandon our home, we’ve basically tried to disaster-proof our home so we could continue to live in it in the face of a power disruption, ice storm, or whatever. But we have stocked our cars with durable emergency items (including first-aid kits and space blankets, toilet paper, bottled water, tissues, sani-wipes, condiments, utensils, etc.) just in case.
Last but by no means least are your pets and critters, who’ll find themselves cut off just like you. Making sure you have extra food (and litter, in the case of cats) for your pets on hand at all times just makes sense. We keep our cat, dog and wild bird seed in big pest-proof tins and our parrot and parakeet food in pest-proof glass jars. The chickens’ scratch grains and egg-layer pellets are stored in metal garbage cans in the chicken yard, safe from invasion.
“Be prepared” is more than a Boy Scout motto. It could be a lifesaver!
Don’t throw out those fish and frogs! August 26, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets.
Tags: aquarium keeping, aquarium maintenance, aquariums, aquatic frogs, fish, frogs in aquariums
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When our friend Ben moved to scenic PA after grad school, I set up a goldfish tank in my new apartment. One day, I returned from work to find my biggest goldfish, Agamemnon, lying stiff, dry, and to all intents dead on the floor. (After that, I always put a hood on my aquariums. It never occurred to me that anybody would try to jump out.) Picking up the seemingly lifeless fish, I decided that there was nothing to lose, so I threw it back in the tank. Within minutes, Agamemnon, now aka Lazarus, had revived and was swimming around as if nothing had happened. He lived for many more years.
Our friend Ben was reminded of this today when I went into the kitchen and saw one of our two aquarium frogs lying stretched at full length on the floor in a pile of our dog Shiloh’s fur. It looked like a poster frog for rigor mortis, but I picked it up and began removing the dog hair. Eventually, its legs started moving, so I tossed it back in the tank. (Our current aquarium has a tight-fitting hood, so I have no idea how it escaped.) Soon enough, it was swimming around with the other frog and the fish, seemingly unfazed by its misadventure.
If you have an aquarium, or are thinking of setting one up, my advice to you is this: If something dies in the aquarium, it’s dead. But if it “dies” outside the aquarium, it ain’t necessarily so. Put it back in and see if it revives. And always put a hood on your tank!
Morning rituals. July 31, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: calm, centering, empowerment, morning rituals, taking back power
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Do you find yourself beginning every morning the same way, with some soothing activity that brings you a little calm, peace of mind, and feeling of security before you plunge into your day? Maybe it’s as simple as picking up a cup of your favorite coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts on the way in to work. Or maybe a walk or bike ride every morning sets you up for the day. Sometimes a hot shower or a soothing rub of body lotion is enough to make you feel pampered and centered.
We have a friend whose morning would be a disaster if he couldn’t pore over the baseball box scores, and another who begins every single day by reading the comics, convinced that a good laugh is the right start to a good day. Another rises early every day to meditate. For yet another, it’s worth getting up an hour early to go to the local diner and indulge in the “farmer’s breakfast”—pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, homefries, and toast, with plenty of coffee to wash it all down. (Gulp. But it’s heaven to him.) One relative couldn’t imagine a morning beginning without attending morning Mass.
Of course, we have our own morning rituals here at Hawk’s Haven, too. Silence Dogood is not what you’d call a morning person, yet she wakes with the light. In the interval between daylight and the return of consciousness, she likes to keep things calm and absolutely quiet. She sits at her computer and reads Yahoo news and her e-mail, then visits a few favorite sites, and then will write a blog post or two to kick the day off. Our friend Ben, meanwhile, will put on some coffee, take our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, out for her morning walk, feed the chickens, water the garden, and get the papers, which he (and, eventually, Silence) will read. OFB enjoys hot toast or croissants or English muffins and marmalade or hot pepper jelly and lots of butter along with that morning coffee and the papers. Silence can’t even look at food before 10 a.m., and then she’s more likely to opt for fruit and cottage cheese or a quinoa salad.
It doesn’t really matter what you do in the morning, as long as it makes you feel good and sets you up for the day. But we do think that morning rituals, whatever they are—doing the same things at the same time every morning—will get your day off to a healthier, more empowered start. We even think that applies to the eye-popping diner breakfast, morning walk, and meditation equally.
That’s because so much of the modern workday is about powerlessness—you do this for this many hours in this exact place and you’d better do it just the way we say and produce these results, even if that’s impossible, or else. Your time, your life, your mind are not your own, your talents are unappreciated, you’re just another faceless cog on the wheel, a “worker bee,” as a heartless boss at one old company described his employees.
But before work, you’re in charge. You have the power. No one can tell you what to do, can make you keep up with 50 social media sites while also doing your job for the same pay but ever-increasing hours, can put you on call after you’ve already put in a full day’s work. The difference between morning ritual and the lack of it can be the difference between feeling in control and out of control. So don’t feel ashamed of that Mickey D’s Egg McMuffin you pick up every single morning. Think of it as an empowering ritual.
Patriotic pooch and cat. July 3, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: American foxhound, George Washington, July 4, Maine coon cat, Marie Antoinette, patriotic pets
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There are plenty of breeds developed right here in the USA, from coonhounds to sled dogs. But if our friend Ben had to pick just two breeds to celebrate this Fourth of July, they’d be the American foxhound and the Maine coon cat.
You see, the American foxhound was bred by the Father of Our Country himself, George Washington, in the 1770s and 1780s, using foxhounds imported from England and France. I guess our first president was as interested in animals as in agriculture. (Mount Vernon still has descendents of some of his favorite livestock breeds, including cattle and sheep, but alas, no American foxhounds, or at least, none that Silence Dogood and I saw on our last trip there.)
The American foxhound is recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), however, so it must still be out there, a long-legged, handsome breed. (Our friend Ben saw a recent photo of an entire pack, proving that they’re still alive and well.) But before you go rushing off to acquire one, bear in mind that, like all hounds, it was bred specifically to hunt. If you want one of General Washington’s hounds, you’d better be prepared to provide it with plenty of exercise.
Moving on to America’s most patriotic cat, the official State Cat of Maine, the Maine coon cat, is the obvious choice. These regal, gentle giants (think a majestic lynx and the personality of Hodor of “Game of Thrones” combined) have tufted ears, thick coats, and luxuriously furred paws, ideal for surviving the cold New England winters. They are also, in our friend Ben’s humble opinion, the most beautiful and affectionate of all cats, with their open, laid-back, loving, doglike personalities. (Full disclosure: We’ve been privileged to welcome five Maine coons into our home over the years, and would never even think of another breed.)
No one really knows how Maine coons came to be. Unlike American foxhounds, they weren’t bred, they simply turned up. As a result, numerous rumors have arisen over the years. One of the most popular was that Marie Antoinette, planning her escape from France before its citizens separated her head from her body, sent a ship ahead to Maine bearing her beloved cats, which subsequently went feral. Another is that Maine coons descended from cats on the Viking ships brought to America by Eric the Red.
The lack of knowledge of their origins makes the Maine coon even more All-American, since so many immigrants’ records and history were lost when they cast their lot and shipped out to the New World. But if you’re wondering about the breed’s name, the answer is easy: The original Maine coon cats’ coloring and enormous size reminded Mainers of raccoons. And like raccoons, Maine coons are drawn to water.
Now Maine coons are available in many colors, and they’re the ultimate lap cats. They love everybody (even dogs), have the most adorable tiny squeaky voices, despite their huge size—“Meep!”—purr like there was no tomorrow, and are perfectly happy as house cats. And, despite their often goofy, clownish antics, they’re really, really smart. (They had to be to survive the Maine climate, outside on their own, right?)
You might want to dispute my choice of breeds and say that the true All-Americans are the mutts, the cats and dogs who, like most of us, were forged in the melting pot that defines American freedom and have no distinct breed to call their own. Our friend Ben is not about to argue with that! Our shelters are overflowing with sad, discarded animals who need homes.
I can think of no more patriotic act on July Fourth than to bring one of these shelter dogs or cats home and give them their freedom with a loving, caring family. But—I cannot tell a lie—should you wish to follow our first and greatest President’s lead, or answer the call of American freedom and independence, the American foxhound and the Maine coon cat are, in my opinion, definitely the way to go.