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Love your pets, love yourself, love your home. October 5, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, 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.


Let’s be kind to dogs. August 30, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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This past Sunday, August 26, was National Dog Day. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were up in the Catskills and had a good friend watching over our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. But oh, we were so happy to see Shiloh when we returned home, and she was so happy to see us!

Shiloh isn’t like our two previous dogs, who were both golden retrievers. We adored our goldens, and they adored us. But they both thought they were people, and had no dog instincts at all. Shiloh has every shepherding instinct there ever was. She is only happy when everyone she’s watching over is together in a space she can oversee. If it happens that our friend Ben, Silence, any guests who happen to be here, and our cats are all within Shiloh’s view, she’s ecstatic. But if, say, OFB is in the living room watching a mystery on TV and Silence is in her office working on the computer, Shiloh will position herself exactly between us so she can keep an eye on us and make sure we’re both okay. Exactly between us. And she’ll hold that position until we come together.

Unlike most of us, Shiloh knows exactly what her job in life is, and she knows how to do it. OFB and I understand that our job is to make sure she’s able to carry out her job without hindrance from us. We love you, Shiloh!!!

Do you know what your dog’s job is? Do you know how to help him or her achieve it? Do you know how to show your dog how much you love him or her, in a way s/he understands? Please, please try.

        ‘Til next time,


The grief of dogs. July 10, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Good grief. Silence Dogood here. Scientists have announced the amazing finding that dogs may experience grief just like, and as deeply as, people.

What’s actually amazing is that it’s taken science so long to “discover” what any pet owner or animal lover could have told them was obvious: Animals have emotions just like us. They experience happiness, excitement, anticipation, desire, contentment, sadness, anger, outrage, fury, fear, terror, insecurity, uncertainty. They experience engagement and boredom, just as we do. They experience love, and can experience hate. They feel loyalty and can feel alienation. They know mourning and loss. And they remember.

Elephants and apes actually hold forms of funeral services for their dead. Dogs are famous for refusing food and dying after a beloved owner’s death. Crows can precisely recall people who have injured them, and pass the knowledge that these particular people are dangerous through colonies and generations. Parrots like Amazons and African greys, who can communicate directly with us, will let us know how they’re feeling in no uncertain terms. (When my first marriage came to an unhappy conclusion, Plutarch, my yellow-naped Amazon, announced out of nowhere: “Thomas* is bad! Thomas is bad! Thomas is bad!”)

This so-called discovery is especially galling for me and our friend Ben, because our elder cat, Athena, is dying. She isn’t in pain; she’s just letting go, leaving us. Watching the reaction of our younger cat, Linus—literally throwing himself on her and crying his heart out—and our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, who lies as close to Athena as she can get and licks her for minutes on end, as a mother cat would her kitten, would rip the heart out of a stone. Or maybe even a scientist.

Why is science so slow to acknowledge that animals have thoughts, memories and feelings? The answer, unfortunately, is obvious.

Much of science is based on animal experimentation, which is generally if not uniformly about the torture of animals. (Exceptions are animal behaviorists, who attempt to learn about animals without tormenting them, such as Irene Pepperberg and her famous African grey, Alex, or Jane Goodall and her chimps.)

The scientists who do torture animals in the name of science are told that they’re pursuing a noble goal, such as discovering new cures for human diseases. For their mental health’s sake, they must distance themselves from the animals, deny them the status of fellow creatures who deserve to be allowed the basic rights of a life of comfort and loving contact with others.

In this respect, the scientists are no different from slave owners, Nazis and other genocidal types, and serial killers. But they’re also no different from the unfortunate kids who end up in the military by choice or by draft, trained to be deadened to the humanity of the enemy so they can kill them. (We’ve seen how well this attempted indoctrination works; we call it post-traumatic stress disorder.) And most ironically of all, this total dismissal of the feelings of animals links these scientists directly to their purported enemies, the science-hating fundamentalists, who also believe that animals were put on Earth solely to be exploited by people. 

We now live in a virtual world, where the human genome—and presumably any animal genome—can be mapped, and information extrapolated accordingly. Surely we no longer need to force our scientists to torture animals in the name of progress, reducing the poor people in the lab coats to subhuman status in the process. Picture the guy who tortures dogs as a day job, hoping to find some kind of medical breakthrough, and then goes home to his family and the beloved family dog—a dog who clearly loves him—every night. It’s enough to bring on a serious case of schizophrenia in anyone.

          ‘Til next time,


* Not his real name.

May is National Pet Month. May 9, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Today’s guest post is courtesy of our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. (That’s just Shiloh to you.)

Hi everyone! OFB and Silence have let me write today’s post, and have even promised to give me an extra treat if I do a good job. (I’m hoping for one of our fabulous Hawk’s Haven eggs, but hey, I’m not picky. Just give me the treat and nobody will get hurt.)

Did you know that May is National Pet Month? What a great reminder to be extra-nice to your pets! Here are some ways to show how much you love us:

* Don’t feed us junk. People aren’t the only ones facing an obesity epedemic. Give us the best food you can afford, don’t overfeed, and when it’s time for a treat, choose a healthy option. We love eggs, veggies, fruits, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, whole-grain bread and crackers, popcorn, Shredded Wheat, and other healthy options. (Well, we dogs and parrots do, anyway. The cats here at Hawk’s Haven tend to turn up their noses at all treats except cheese and sweet breads like pumpkin and zucchini bread.) If you’ve never given your dog raw veggies, try offering a bell pepper strip, broccoli floret, cucumber or radish slice, or a little arugula next time you’re making salad. you’ll be amazed!

* Please keep us safe. Do everything you can to make sure we can’t run out the door or out of the yard and into the street. Don’t poison us with junk food, chocolate (poisonous to all animals) and other sweets, toxic chemical cleaners, or poisonous plants. Keep us up-to-date on vaccinations and preventive medicine so we don’t get ticks, fleas, Lyme disease, feline leukemia, parvovirus (kennel cough), and the like. Don’t leave us outside unsupervised to burn (in the case of white-furred dogs), broil, freeze, get sopping wet, die of thirst and neglect, or hurt ourselves trying to free ourselves from our prisons. Don’t put us in the open bed of a truck and assume we’ll stay there; teach us to lie down inside instead.

* Don’t break our hearts. We live for your love; please make sure you give us plenty of affection and attention every single day. Let us know how important we are to you. We love you so much!!! You don’t have to spoil us with food and toys. Just let us spend plenty of time with you and remember to talk to us and pet us. If you can, let us sleep in your bedroom at night (on our own beds, not yours). We find your presence reassuring, and it strengthens our bond with you.

* Let us be ourselves. We’re dogs (or cats, or parrots, or bunnies), not little people. Please love and respect us for who we are, not who you are. 

* Don’t add to pet overpopulation. Spaying and neutering save lives—millions of lives. So many unwanted pets are euthanized every day that it just makes me howl. Those lives didn’t have to end, not if pet owners had acted responsibly.

* Let us help. Every May, OFB and Silence lend a photo of me, our parrot Plutarch, and our cats Athena and Linus to our local bank as part of their drive to collect donations to fight pet cancer. We dogs would be happy to walk or run with you for a cause, to become therapy dogs and visit elder-care facilities or literacy dogs helping children become comfortable with reading at the local library. The opportunities are out there; please take the time to find one that you and your pets would enjoy.

* Visit local shelters. Looking for a companion animal? Why not start at your local shelter? (Or, if you’re looking for a special breed, contact a rescue organization.) Silence and OFB have adopted many a rescue bunny from shelters after families had discarded them once Easter was over. You don’t need to be looking for a pet to visit a shelter, either. You can go and volunteer to spend time with the animals, donate food, toys, and other objects, give a monetary contribution, give the poor things some much-needed Reiki or TTouch massage. Every animal needs love and loving care. Please help if you can.

Gee, I guess that’s about it, unless you can think of something I’ve forgotten. If so, please share it with us! Hey, Silence, do I get that treat now?

              Your friend,


Reigning cats or dogs? August 1, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love dogs. And we love cats. We also love birds, fish (and other aquarium denizens like shrimp, clams and snails), reptiles and amphibians, chickens, and bunnies. So far, we haven’t succumbed to the allure of insects, spiders, or ferrets. But our friend Rob is a ferret fanatic, and we’re following the career of our friend Susan’s tarantula Quentin with interest.

We both grew up with pets—our friend Ben’s first pet parakeet was purchased before I was even born—and we can’t imagine a life without the rich rewards of sharing our lives with them. Which brings us to wonder about the seemingly age-old debate about the relative merits of cats and dogs, most recently rehashed yet again in yesterday’s Parade magazine article, “Cats vs. Dogs.” Which is smarter? Which lives longer? Which is faster? Which is more popular?

Sheesh. Call us cynics, but we sometimes wonder if this so-called controversy is just made up by journalists desperate for stories. Especially when articles like the one in Parade note that only 62% of Americans have pets, but more than 90% of Americans consider their pet a member of the family. (Maybe the missing 28-plus percent have pretend pets.)

But we digress. We wonder about all this because we can say for a fact that every pet is rewarding in its own way, whether it’s a beautiful neon tetra, a cat that’s happiest purring on your lap, a dog whose tail can’t stop wagging when she sees you, a guinea pig who squeals happily when it hears you opening a lettuce wrapper, or a parrot whose funny comments make you laugh after a long, bad workday. Why must we be asked to choose one or another when we can have them all?!

Anyway, returning to the questions raised by the article, let’s dish up a few answers:

What pet is smartest? Setting aside folks who keep great apes as pets (what are they thinking?!), the smartest pet is unquestionably a parrot. The two brightest parrot species, the yellow-naped Amazon (our own renowned Plutarch the Pirate Parrot is a yellow-nape) and African grey (the world’s most famous parrot, Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s Alex, was an African grey), are now acknowledged by animal behaviorists to have the intelligence of a five-year-old child. In our opinion, many humans don’t have the intelligence of a five-year-old child, so this is saying something. (Groucho Marx: “Why, a two-year-old child could understand this! Get me a two-year-old child, I can’t make heads or tails of it.”)

According to the Parade article, the brightest dogs have the intelligence of two-year-old children; even an average dog can learn 165 human words. Presumably the five smartest breeds, which include our own beloved German shepherds and golden retrievers, know plenty more; don’t think for a minute they don’t know what you mean when you spell w-a-l-k, t-r-e-a-t, or c-a-r. (Or, of course, v-e-t.) Cats, by contrast, only recognize around 35 words, according to the article. But at least it acknowledges that the brightest cat breed is our own favorite, the Maine coon. To put this in perspective, Koko, the famous San Francisco Zoo gorilla, understands 2,000 human words; the average person, 60,000 words; our friend Ben, 600,000 words (just kidding about the last part).

Which lives longest? If it’s a dog-cat contest, the answer would definitely be cats. We’ve had a friend whose cat lived to be 30, and one of our Maine coons, Jessie, lived to 19. Small dogs can also live fairly long lives, making it into their late teens regularly or early 20s if they’re lucky, though the larger the breed, the shorter the life; great Danes, for example, tend to live only 8 years, and the max for our own preferred breeds, German shepherds and golden retrievers, is around 13, exceptionally 14 (sob). Given the much-longer lives of larger species like ourselves, elephants, whales, and horses, this makes no sense to us, but sadly, it’s a fact. However, the award in this category as in the intelligence category goes to parrots: A parrot like our Plutarch can live more than 100 years. (Plu is currently a comparatively youthful 27.)

Which is the best hunter? Solo, it’s a cat. Dogs hunt in packs like wolves, and are superb pack-hunters, but pet dogs don’t have a lot of opportunity to practice this skill. However, if you could see our cats Linus and Layla catch a mouse, assisted by our black German shepherd Shiloh, you might have to conclude that cats really can hunt in packs very effectively, and are willing to allow their dog “siblings” to join them, and all these authoritative answers are nonsense. Our old cat Jessie preferred to hunt in tandem with Silence Dogood as her hunting partner; Jessie would catch a mouse but not harm it, yowl to announce the catch, and then wait patiently by the front door, mouse in mouth, for Silence to don a fireplace glove, grab the mouse, and hurl it—outraged but unharmed—out the door.

Which is most useful? That depends. When humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to farmers and agriculture made civilization possible, supporting great civilizations from Mesopotamia to Ancient Egypt, cats were by far more useful. Cats ate the rats and mice that would otherwise have eaten the stores of grain that supported the cities. That’s why cats were worshiped as deities by the Egyptians.

In mediaeval Europe, cats ate the rats that brought fleas and plague, and should have received an even more heroic welcome. Unfortunately, they became associated with Satan-worship and witches and were systematically exterminated, resulting in the plagues and famines that swept Europe repeatedly during that period. Depriving lonely old women of their pets and martyring both for merely existing merits Divine retribution in our opinion!

Today, of course, dogs are more useful, whether they’re therapy dogs in assisted-living facilities or hosipitals, drug- or bomb-sniffers, trackers, hunting dogs, companions for the blind or wheelchair-bound, police dogs, library dogs, sentries, or a thousand other occupations. Our friend Ben feels confident leaving Silence Dogood in our German shepherd Shiloh’s protection, knowing that Shiloh normally loves everyone, but wouldn’t hesitate to defend Silence with her life if she detected a threat. (And I know Silence would do the same if she felt Shiloh were threatened, as I would defend them both with my own life.)

But that’s not to say cats are useless nowadays. Ours patrol the house for mice and insect invaders, and make sure these vile enemies are dealt with swiftly and decisively. They’re also quick to alert us to perceived dangers, whether it’s an oncoming storm or a stranger at the door. And there’s nothing like a cat on the lap to warm you on a cold day!

Which is most affectionate? Dogs have a reputation for slavish devotion and cats for aloofness. But our observation is that this is a bunch of hooey. All our dogs have loved us, and so have all our cats. They’ve all crowded around us for love and attention, praise and petting. We’ve never had an aloof cat, but then, we’ve never expected to have one.

We’ve engaged with all our pets and expected them to engage with us, and they never disappoint. And this has been as true of the most wary feral cat who found its way to our deck as it is of the cats and dogs we raised from infancy; it certainly takes them longer to trust, but what a great feeling the first time one of them makes the decision, rushes over, and shoves its head under your hand with a loud purr! Even our fish rush over when they see us. (Not that we think they’re being affectionate, we just think they enjoy looking out of their aquariums as much as we enjoy looking in.)

We think animals respond as we expect them to respond. If you treat a dog as a “dumb animal,” chained outside to its house without human contact, or assume cats have no interest in interacting with people so you ignore them, you’ll get what you expect. But the poor cats and dogs, who would love to lead a full life as part of the family, certainly won’t get what they deserve. And if that’s the way you treat animals, how exactly do you relate to people, people such as, say, your kids and spouse?!! Oh, yes, we’re sure that ultimately you’ll get what you deserve. In fact, you’re already getting it every minute, aren’t you? Otherwise, how could you act like that towards anything or anyone?!!!

But again, we’re straying from the point. Which is that, for us, it’s not a question of cats or dogs. It’s the joy of cats and dogs, and parakeets and parrots and every other creature that can increase our joy and expand our world. Every pet we’ve ever had the privilege of knowing has enriched our lives and taught us so much about the nature and value of life and relationship. Every pet has shown us the meaning of, the value of, love and trust. Absolute love, and utter, absolute, ultimate trust.

No wonder people risk their lives to save their pets. They know, without question, that their pets would do the same, and more, for them if they could, and never think twice. Not because they’re stupid and incapable of thought, but because of their boundless love and trust. May we find the strength to love them and merit their love, and in the end, may God find us worthy of them.

Vets for pets. September 9, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was checking out a post on Yahoo! of the best jobs for the future. It of course included nursing, technology, pharmaceuticals, and etc. But it also included becoming a veterinarian. Of the $48 billion Americans spent on their pets in 2008—the last year for which there are public records—$24 billion was spent on vet bills, I mean, pet health care. For any math-challenged readers out there, that means people spent half the total cost of pet ownership on health care.

Our friend Ben has not cross-checked statistics on how much Americans spent on human health care in 2008, but $24 billion on pet health care strikes me as a bit excessive. No wonder pet health insurance has become a thriving industry. As people come to regard their pets as more and more intrinsic parts of their family, they’ve become more and more willing to pay for their health care, whatever it costs. Surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? Steroids? Hey, whatever it takes.

It appears that our pets are suffering the same diseases we are. I’ve had two friends with diabetic cats, who gave them daily insulin injections. Silence Dogood and I have had two dogs who developed cancer, and have suffered the horrors of their treatment, and the thousands of dollars it cost in each case. Our friend Cole has spent at least that much treating his ailing parrots. And while Silence and I have never had the problem of obese pets, it appears to be as rampant a condition among animals as it is in our society as a whole.

I’m so thrilled that people are finally taking pets seriously, as part of our love continuum rather than some separate thing to throw in the backyard. But, as I think we over-diagnose and over-medicate ourselves, constantly bombarded as we are by commercials from pharmaceutical companies assuring us that we’re not well, but there’s a pill that will fix us, we’re now succumbing to the same syndrome with our pets, who can’t even claim the right to say no.

Yes, love your pets. Yes, give them the basic health care they deserve, the annual checkups and shots. Yes, read up on the latest ideas about good pet health, and make an effort to give your pet the food, supplements, and toys the experts recommend. Yes, above all, show each and every one of your pets that you love them and that they matter to you. But please, could we try to rise above our hypochondriac culture? Refrain from rushing out to the  doctor or CVS every time we don’t feel 100% and dose ourselves or demand the latest remedy we happened to see on TV? And please, please, could we not subject our pets to the same stupidity?

A good vet, like a good doctor, is a godsend, sometimes the difference between life—or at least quality of life—and death. But let’s use both as we should, when we truly need them, rather than when advertising tells us what to do.

What kind of person would kill a cat? December 5, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were sitting at our tiny kitchen table, reading the Saturday paper and trying to have a relaxing weekend morning. (Well, I was actually clipping coupons prior to reading the paper, and OFB was checking sports stats.) OFB was still in PJs and bathrobe, but I always dress the second I’m up, which proved to be a really good thing, because suddenly, there was our neighbor Bill knocking on the deck door.

“There’s a cat lying on the front stoop of our house,” he said. “It looks like it’s been hit by a car, and I have a feeling it’s one of yours.”

We live on a blind curve, and people and animals have frequently found themselves the victims of accidents as speeding motorists spin around it. (So far, in the case of people, it’s been one-car accidents as they lose control rounding the curve.) With sinking hearts, we followed our neighbor back to his stoop.

There, curled against the front door, was our beloved companion Simon, bleeding and crying. Simon had been born on our place when some wretch dumped off a pregnant cat there, figuring as they all do that hey, it’s the country, what a great place for an inconvenient cat! Thanks too much.

When Simon was old enough, we took him to be neutered and to get his vaccinations. But with three large cats, a huge dog, four birds, and fish (not to mention bazillion plants) in our tiny cottage, we simply couldn’t bring him in. Still, Simon was special. He lived on and under our deck, demanded attention and loads of petting whenever we came outside, enjoyed the company of our dogs Molly and Shiloh, and mentored all other strays who found themselves turning up here. He lived in glossy-coated contentment here for seven years.

I thought it was strange that Simon should be hit by a car when he was always so careful, and that his injury seemed to be confined to a single bleeding spot behind one shoulder. But that he needed help was obvious. I put a warm towel over him, stroked his head and back, and then rushed home to call the vet.

A half-hour later, I pulled into the vet’s parking lot with a restless Simon in the cat carrier. (One great drawback of country living is being so far from services.) I carried him in and the staff took him to the back right away to check out what was wrong.

A while after that, a technician asked me to come into one of the consulting rooms to speak to the vet. I thought she looked pale and subdued, not a good sign. Given that Simon had changed locations a number of times while I was setting up the appointment, at one point climbing down off the front steps of the neighbors’ house and meandering into a shrubbery across the drive, I thought it didn’t look like he’d broken anything and had an above-average chance of pulling through, though internal injuries were always a dreadful possibility. I tried to prepare myself for whatever news there would be.

But nothing could have prepared me for what the vet, also pale and very subdued, said when she appeared. “I’m sorry to tell you that Simon died while we were examining him.” Oh, no. But that had always been a possibility. It was what came next that took my breath completely away. “Did you actually see him get hit by a car?”

“Well no, the neighbor found him on his stoop and came to get us.”

“I’m afraid it wasn’t a car. Simon was shot quite deliberately through the heart.”

As my hands flew up involuntarily to cover my mouth, I felt that I’d been shot in the heart myself. Who could do such a thing to such a loving, lovable creature?!!

Here in rural Pennsylvania, we’re surrounded by farms and woods, and plenty of people hunt. Deer season began this past Monday, and we’ve been hearing a lot of gunshots over the week.

I’m a longtime vegetarian, but I’ve never had a problem with hunters. Or, at least, with hunters who take the time to perfect their woodcraft and marksmanship, who shoot to kill, and who eat their kills. It seems to me to be a more moral way of eating meat, taking responsibility for its death and butchering, than buying burgers or fried chicken and never having to think about what you’re doing. (I feel the same way about farmers who do their own raising and butchering.) Not to mention that supplying their freezers with meat from their hunts helps a lot of people get through the lean, cold months around here.

But there’s a difference between shooting a deer for meat and shooting a cat for meanness. I’ve only known one person in my life who deliberately killed a cat. It was in grade school, and the guy was pretty popular. One day, I heard him bragging to some pals that he’d stuck a firecracker up a cat’s anus, lit it, and watched as the cat blew up. Back then, I didn’t know that sadism to animals in childhood often led to torture and murder of humans as an adult. But I did know that I never, ever wanted to speak to, look at, or have anything else to do with this monster again as long as I lived. 

And now here was another one. Someone who could see a happy, cheerful, loving cat, a cat who loved affection and loved all people, and shoot him through the heart. Target practice. After all, it was just a damned cat.

As I drove disconsolately home, I wished that I had superpowers. Powers to find the monster who killed my cat, and hang the bloody towel that wrapped his injured body from the front of his house with “MURDERER” scrawled across it. There would be no point in shooting this pervert through the heart, since he obviously doesn’t have one. But I wish I could send him a dream every night in which he approaches a being he has every reason to love and trust, and is mortally wounded by said being for no reason at all, and left to crawl off in pain and bewilderment to die. Perhaps in time he might come to some understanding of what he did; perhaps it might keep him from killing someone else’s pet.

We’ll bury our Simon here, where he was born and lived his whole life. We’ll inter him beside his mother, Kittenous, so callously dropped off here all those years ago. She also found a good life here for many years, and however unanticipated, we honor her memory every day.

Simon’s loving, larger-than-life, sunny, laid-back personality was a mainstay in our lives. As he’d loved our Molly, we knew he’d love our Shiloh, and he didn’t disappoint. And God knows, he loved us. And we him. Simon, dear heart, you of all creatures deserved a pleasant old age sunning on the deck, purring and being petted by your many admirers. What sort of monster would have hurt you so?

What kind of person would kill a cat?

          ‘Til next time,


Going to the dogs. November 19, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Those who know our friend Ben and Silence Dogood know that we have a real weakness for dogs (and cats, and birds, and fish, and chickens, and… ). Our beloved golden retriever Molly lives large in our memories, and our black German shepherd puppy, Shiloh, holds a huge place in our hearts. Still, we’re amazed at the lengths people will go to for their beloved pets.

Last weekend, our friend Ben saw an ad in the paper for the new Honda Element. Excuse me, for “The new Dog Friendly Honda Element Package.” (Don’t ask us why the only word they chose not to capitalize was “new.”) I quote: “Cushioned pet bed. Car kennel and leash. Unique badging and ramp. Rear fan. Seat covers. Dog-bone rubber floor mats. Spill-resistant water bowl. And more.” Badging, say what?!! Sadly for Shiloh (and for Molly and Annie before her), the small print notes: “Package not intended for dogs larger than 80 lbs.”

Well, our friend Ben would like to inform Honda that our battered old 11-year-old bought-used VW Golf has it all over your souped-up Element when it comes to dogs, including those over 80 pounds. First of all, it has an incredibly cushy “pet bed,” aka the back seat, which is even lined with fleece for our dog’s added comfort. We too provide a leash and even a halter if needed, as well as a spill-proof water dish in the form of a recycled plastic food container and a bunch of plastic water bottles that we refill at the sink between trips. (It’s spill-proof because we give Shiloh water after her walks and before she gets back in the car. If she ends up dumping it all over the parking lot, who cares?!) We provide other amenities as well, including toys for the trip, liver treats, and a bag with plastic grocery bags, latex gloves, and zipper-lock bags to take care of any rest-stop bathroom breaks. Who could ask for more?

Apparently plenty of folks. Just today, Silence, who subscribes to the online service DailyCandy to keep up with trends, saw that an enterprising woman in Pittsburgh, PA had launched a business specializing in cake mixes for dogs (check it out at www.puppycake.com). Puppy Cake offers carob and banana cake mixes (with icing), as well as a cupcake pan that makes bone-shaped cupcakes, organic sprinkles, and ready-made cookies and cupcakes. All human-grade ingredients, of course. You can even find suggestions for party games and theme parties on the site (Luau, Birthday, Wedding, Puppy Shower, Costume, Spring, July 4th, Beach, Halloween). OMG.

Silence would like to point out that all baking done here at Hawk’s Haven is exclusively with human-grade ingredients. Any bread, cornbread, rolls, muffins, biscuits, oatmeal cookies, crackers, chips, or other comestibles served to us and our dog on-premises are guaranteed to be top-quality, without the added expense of buying mixes (mixes!!!) specifically for dogs. OFB has found himself in the doghouse more than once for sharing a fragment of doughnut with Shiloh, but no one could deny the human-grade ingredients in said doughnuts. 

As for party tips, our dogs have always had one comment when it comes to party food: “Just hand it over and nobody will get hurt.”

Mercy. We love our Shiloh and all our pets, and we indulge them as we indulge ourselves, no more, no less. But doesn’t this trend strike anyone besides us as over the top?

And what the heck is badging, anyway?!!

Feel the love. September 9, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. Today is National Feel the Love Day for pets. Our pets love us each and every day, so let’s make an effort to feel that love on this day and spend some time petting them, talking to them, and generally letting them know how much they mean to us.

I was just reading an article by a cardiologist this morning about how stress can literally kill us by destroying our hearts, even if our arteries are clear. Study after study has shown that pets are a great—perhaps the greatest—stress reliever. (Er, unless you look up and see that your puppy Shiloh is chewing the hall rug, or are awakened by the distinctive noise of your cat Layla throwing up. But I digress.) I remember reading about one test that showed how dramatically people’s blood pressure dropped after stroking a dog or cat, and we’ve all heard of the wonders that therapy dogs can do in nursing homes.

So let’s take a few minutes today to show our pets how much we love them. They give us so much, surely we can give them a cuddle or a walk or a treat to make this a special day! And wouldn’t it be great if we made a point of taking a few minutes every day to let our pets know how much we love them? We’d all benefit from feeling the love.

                 ‘Til next time,


Frugal living tip #29. July 20, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another Frugal Living Tip here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. When times are tight, we’re not the only ones who suffer. Those other beloved family members, our pets, are often the first to feel the budget crunch.

I was saddened but not surprised to see a tiny feature, buried in our local paper, anouncing that a no-kill pet shelter in Delaware had decided to open a pet food bank for families who were struggling to feed their pets during these tough economic times. Historically, in opulent times—Imperial Rome, Cavalier England, Victorian Britain, modern America—people lavished affection and attention on their pets. Then, when times got tough, they abandoned or even ate them.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. “The recession has brought a fourfold increase in the number of pets being given for adoption. Cash-strapped families can’t take care of their pets while trying to take care of themselves,” the article noted, adding that the foreclosure crisis had made the problem even worse.

Well, we all know what “given for adoption” usually means for a pet: the end, after being abandoned by those he or she trusted and loved, possibly for many years. But on the flip side, the cost of pet care really is astronomical. We ought to know, owning a dog, cats, a parrot, parakeets, and fish as we do. And God help you if your pet becomes ill, especially with a lingering, expensive illness like our beloved golden retriever, Molly. You’re going to be kissing thousands of dollars goodbye, at a time when a single dinner out may be a luxury you can’t afford. What’s a pet owner to do?

Here are a few suggestions that may help lighten the financial load:

* Switch to dry food. Yes, quality dry food is costly, but compared to canned or bagged “moist” pet foods, it’s a bargain. And guess what? A good dry food is better for your dog or cat. It will help you manage their weight and keep their teeth clean.

* Buy reusable litter. Granular “clumping” litters like Everclean may cost more than other brands, but you’ll save money in the long run and never, ever have odor problems. That’s because, rather than dumping an entire pan of wet, stinky cat litter out, you simply remove the “clumps” once a day, leaving the rest of the litter in the box to continue doing its job, and adding more litter as needed when the level in the box drops below an inch and a half. Skip the scented litters, which cats hate, and the plastic liners, which can easily be punctured and trap urine underneath. Phew! Just get a big, airy litterbox and make sure you clean it every day.

* Cut back on grooming. We’re so obsessed with grooming ourselves we often think it’s essential to endlessly groom our pets, too. Instead, make an effort to learn what your pet’s breed really needs in terms of grooming, and then see how much of that you can learn to do at home. We were surprised but pleased to learn that both our Molly, a golden retriever, and our current puppy Shiloh, a German shepherd, should be bathed only when needed, perhaps just twice a year. (None of our cats have ever required bathing or grooming.) It was easy to ask our boarding facility to add a bath to Molly’s agenda when we went on vacation, and baths were free if a pet boarded for seven days. We get free nail trims and ear cleanings every time our dogs go to the vet. But learning to brush, comb, wash, and trim your pet isn’t that challenging, and ditto for nail clipping, tooth brushing, and ear cleaning. Not only will doing this sort of maintenance on a daily or weekly basis save you money, but it will also go a long way to prevent future and potentially costly health problems.

* Pony up for preventives. We agree, the price of heartworm and flea and tick preventives seems unbelievably high. Talk about a bite in the budget! But you don’t know what expense is unless your house has become infested with fleas and you’ve had to battle to get them out, save your pets, and etc. (Not to mention the ultimate cost to your family’s health from the sprays.) And if, God forbid, your pet gets heartworms, you’ll be fighting an expensive and often losing battle for your precious pet’s life. Better to pay upfront for the monthly doses of preventives and avoid fleas—which can lead to anemia and actually kill a cat, as well as making your pets miserable—ticks, which can cause Lyme disease, and heartworms. This is money well spent.

* Shop for spay/neuter. Obviously, you still need to get your pup or cat spayed or neutered, but your regular vet may charge a fortune for this service (though considerably less for neutering, which is non-invasive, than for spaying, which is major abdominal surgery). Many shelters offer low-cost spay/neuter programs, and some veterinary hospitals do, too. It’s worth talking to your vet and asking for recommendations first, explaining your financial circumstances. He or she might be able to recommend a low-cost program.

* Do a treat retreat. If you’re constantly showering your pet with treats and toys that he shreds or consumes within seconds, you’re spending a ton of money for a very low return (and possible pet obesity). Instead, invest in durable treats and toys—real, sterilized bones, heavy rope or rope-and-bone toys, durable rubber and nylon bones and toys. Treat your dog to healthy “people food” when you’re cooking—a small piece of cheese, pieces of fruit or veggies that you’re cutting up for dinner, a spoonful of rice and/or plain yogurt, a piece of hardboiled egg or a small potato (cooled, please!). Dogs love them and they’re good for them, at a tiny fraction of the cost of manufactured treats. This goes for cats, too—a little yogurt, milk, cheese, pumpkin bread, even popcorn is a huge treat. And parrots love anything you love, from raw veggies to pizza and pie crusts! Finally, remember that you’re the best toy or treat of all. Taking your dog for a walk or a vigorous Frisbee toss, giving your cat some quality petting time, enjoying a movie or CD with your parrot: Additional cost zero, benefit incalculable. Pets all need stimulation, so don’t skimp in this department. Just be a very smart shopper and consider alternatives to disposable junk.

I don’t consider our pets to be disposable. They are valued members of our household, and when we got them, we committed ourselves to their care for as long as we both should live. To us, that’s as sacred a vow as any there is on earth, since pets in their innocence give their love and trust to us completely, assuming like children that we would never do them harm. At the same time, we need to apply the same financial constraints to our relationships with our pets that we do in all other aspects of our lives. Ludicrous and pointless (from our pets’ perspectives, at any rate) indulgences are stupid and may be ruinous. Our pets are what they are, dogs or cats or birds or bunnies to be loved, not children to be spoiled. Let’s keep our excesses in check so we can keep our beloved pets healthy, happy, and at home.

          ‘Til next time,