Farming, Pets and Livestock

Entertaining Angels: Four-Legged Ones, Mostly

November 22 is certainly the anniversary of one of the most unpleasant surprises of my life. Three weeks into our wholesale transfer of family and belongings from Nigeria, via England, to Brookline, Massachusetts, my mother picked me up from my fourth-grade class at Edward Devotion School, and on our way up the steps to our apartment we were accosted by the building janitor, who was wailing and hollering that the President had been shot.

“Drunken old fool,” said my mother, who never minced words.

Yes, he was. But yes, he had been. And the next few weeks were quite shocking for this newly emigrated family who somehow found itself at what was ground zero for the Kennedy family, with me attending JFK’s old grade school, and Dad a Fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, where his immediate boss was an up-and-comer named Henry Kissinger.

It’s a time I’ll never forget–what I was doing, who I was with, what we did after. (I was a bit cranky that all the television programs had been pre-empted, because it was the first time in my life we’d had a television, and I wanted to watch Bozo the Clown.) People came together, and it was one of those moments in time that you remember forever.

But, I digress. As usual.

Three years ago, just before Thanksgiving, on or about this day, a neighbor gave me one of the loveliest surprises I’ll ever have.

I live on a farm.

Mr Right and I are not really serious farmers. We have some sheep, and a few goats. He says we run a welfare program for them. He’s about right. We certainly don’t make any money from them.

What we really have, in abundance, is strays.

Abandoned, rescued, and strayed, rabbits, cats, and dogs. A couple of the aforementioned sheep. The occasional biped. And so on. It’s a perpetual motion machine. They come. They stay. They live to a good old age. They die. Another one turns up (surprise!) to take the vacant spot.

Our track record at homing truly lost pets is quite good. With the help of the local vets, the local shelters, the local newspapers, the animal control people and the local dog or cat lovers’ networks, we can usually find out where they came from and return Fido or Felix to their good home. Thank goodness.

The ones that can’t be placed usually stay forever. And for some reason, seem to live incredibly long lives. The ones that visit just for the food (I’m thinking ‘cats’ here), usually find themselves crated up and on a short, sharp visit to the veterinarian (surprise!). I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars over the past twenty-five years spaying and neutering every cat within about a ten-mile radius of here, sometimes one at a time, sometimes three or four at a time. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds.

I don’t know if their ‘owners’ notice the difference, but I certainly do. At least in my cat food bills.

Shameless Holiday Season digressive plug to you all: please support your local animal shelters. They are not the ASPCA, or part of the Humane Society of the United States, both of which have sometimes obnoxious political agendas. They are organizations worthy of your help, staffed by dedicated volunteers and by people who don’t make a lot of money. They depend on donations and grants. Please help them. (And if you have one of the few ‘bad apple’ shelters in your area, please do everything you can to fix it). Thank you.

Back on point: Our neighbors, about a quarter of a mile up the road, are serious farmers. They have registered sheep that belong to a recognizable breed with inherent, repeatable characteristics. (We do not. Sometimes our lambs are white. Sometimes they are black, or very dark brown. Sometimes they are both, in spots or patches. Sometimes they have wool on their bellies. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have horns. Sometimes they don’t. Every lambing season, a new marvelous succession of surprises.)

Five years ago, our seriously farming neighbors purchased, at great expense, from North Carolina I think, a Great Pyrenees guard dog puppy for their flock.

GPs are lovely dogs. Weighing in at between 110 and 150lbs when fully grown, they are stunning, long-haired beasts, of white or cream coloration, with the gentlest temperaments you can imagine. When they are fully trained, and engaged in their jobs, they live with the sheep, eat with the sheep (dog food, not sheep food), and guard the flock from predators (gentle as they are, a full-grown GP bearing down on you, barking like mad, is an alarming sight if you’re not expecting it).

Unfortunately, Levi (our four-legged neighbor), did not like living with the sheep and being a guard dog. To demonstrate his dissatisfaction, he became an escape artist extraordinaire. He went over the fence. He went under the fence. He went through the fence. He opened the gate. He climbed out of the pen. He chewed his way out of the horse stall. And so on.

One fall day, while I was visiting my granddaughter, who lives a few hours away, Mr She phoned up.

“There’s a huge dog on the back porch,” he said. “It looks like a St Bernard, but it’s white.”

“Is it Levi?” I said.

Once we had worked out that it probably was Levi, Mr She returned him to his Mom and Dad.

A week later, he came to visit again. Mom and Dad were away at the time, so he spent the night in the mud room. (Animal lovers in this area do not let obviously friendly and people-savvy dogs run loose lest they be shot by someone (perhaps reasonably) fearing for the safety of his livestock.)

Back home he went, and a few days later, here he came once more.

And so on.

One day, just before Thanksgiving, on or about this day, in 2011, Levi’s Mom came to pick him up.

“Would you like to keep him?” she said.

“I would love to,” I said, “but I can’t afford to buy him from you, and anyway, isn’t he supposed to be guarding your sheep?”

She laughed. “I just want to give him to you,” she said. “He loves you. He won’t stay with us, he’s not doing his job, and I think he wants to live here.”

So, he does (what a surprise).

He’s bright, affable and affectionate. He’s still not down with living in the barn and guarding the sheep (I think he finds their conversation dull, repetitive, and beneath him). He doesn’t like very hot weather. He doesn’t like very cold weather. He doesn’t like red, or white, pickup trucks. He really doesn’t like thunder, or guns firing, and when he hears them he hides in the bathroom and closes the door with his nose. (In fact, he’s a better meteorological prognosticator than the guys and gals on the Weather Channel. Thirty minutes before the thunder starts, without fail, Levi heads for the high ground, closes the door, and wedges himself between the washing machine and the sink. You could make money betting on him. Don’t try that with weather.com, whose forecasts, as they relate to reality, often contain an element of surprise).

Because of his myriad failures to conform to breed standard, we’ve speculated as to whether he’s been misclassified. If he is, in fact, a breed of one. Maybe he’s a “Lesser Pyrenees.” Or perhaps a “Not-So-Great Pyrenees.”

That’s only half-right.

He is, in fact, a breed of one.

He’s the Greatest Pyrenees.

He loves me to a level that is geometrically bigger than the amount of love that he bestows on anyone else. He may love me more than anyone, or anything, else on Earth does. And I love him right back. Having him suddenly ‘gifted’ to me is one of the nicest surprises I’ll ever know.

Here we are, sitting on the edge of the water trough, on one of our walks, the only time in my life I’ve ever been moved to take a selfie (Levi’s the one on the left). Eat your heart out, JLaw:

Happy Thanksgiving from us both!

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