Life in this foster house is getting quieter and quieter.
Two weeks ago, a mink got into our chicken house and killed all our chickens. It took a while for us to figure out what could possibly have gotten into the secured coop, but the only possible hole was so small it could have only been a mink. Plus, Mink kill for sport, which is evidently what was happening as all the chickens were dead and none were eaten (much).
We’ve kept chickens for fourteen years and this was the first time we’ve lost chickens in this manner. I’ve run foxes out of the chicken yard (in broad daylight), possums have dragged out pullets who roosted too close to the sides of our chicken tractor, and hawks stole our young birds regularly until we strung wires back and forth across the top of the yard like twinkle lights (with CDs and pie plates dangling from it – very red neck chic). It’s always been an ongoing battle to keep them safe, but for the last few years we’ve been able to do that.
It makes me sad, but in a weird way it’s a relief too. One less thing to deal with in our upcoming move, though I’m sure we could have found homes for our ten aging hens.
About the same time, our barn cat, Tonks, disappeared (maybe this is what emboldened the mink?). She’s disappeared for a few days or even a week before and always returned, but this time she’s been gone over two weeks.
She may still turn up, but the silence in the barn is unbearable now because on Sunday we lost the only other residents. After an unexpectedly difficult loading (that took over two hours and ultimately required the assistance of my cowboy neighbor), my friend Carol helped me move our two horses to a friend’s farm in Maryland where they have quite definitely lucked into the good life. Once unloaded they trotted out across their new lush field and didn’t look back. I’m very happy that they went to a friend so I will always know how they are and can visit when we are in the area.
Now it’s just our three dogs, Gracie, Fanny, and Otis, plus Mama Mia.
On Monday, for the first time in over twenty years, I didn’t have to go up to the barn to feed and water and visit. It was unsettling. I walked Otis (we’re not using the dog yard so that the grass can recover and look great when the house goes on the market) and then Mia and then Fanny in the still quiet and it really hit me that we are moving away from this little farm. It’s been in the works for almost a year, but with all the animals gone, I guess my soul is finally grappling with the reality of leaving this hillside. We’ve raised our babies (human, fur, and feathered) here and it has been an oasis from the chaos of life.
This place is as familiar to me as my children’s faces. I know that the snow melts first and the grass grows spotty on the crest of the hill above the blueberries (a friend once told me that blueberries will grow in ‘piss-poor soil’ which is why I planted them there and they have thrived).
I know the smell of the black walnut trees that skirt the edge of the woods and crave the scent of the mountain laurel that spills out below them. I wait every July for the wild raspberries to bloom along the cornfield and out from under the enormous pine tree that seems to be succumbing to some type of blight along the driveway. The fox den at the top of the pasture will soon come to life with a new batch of babies and the ground hogs will attempt to claim the corner by the apple trees prompting Gracie to up her patrol there.
I have walked dogs daily all of the 18 years we’ve been here; nearly two hundred foster dogs have christened our hillside. I’ve likely taken thousands of trips around the pasture and know to duck instinctively below the mulberry tree that hangs over the fence, yet somehow manage to trip on the long-filled in ground hog hole at the northeast corner on a regular basis.
Frankie and Hermoine are buried at the top of the hill where Nick and I regularly sit to ‘survey the manor’ at the end of a workday and throw the ball for Fanny and watch Otis explore the woods. Nick created a bench out of a huge stump for us to sit on.
Every year, every season is different and yet comfortingly the same. The asparagus is late this year. I finally spotted two tiny noses poking out yesterday (hopefully they won’t retreat when they feel the snow flakes falling today!). I think we might finally get a decent cherry crop, apples too, but I think I may have pruned the pear tree back a little too hard. The rhubarb is flourishing and I hope whoever buys this place will appreciate it more than I ever have.
This has been the perfect place to foster dogs, despite the unfortunate horse encounter when Gala got kicked in the jaw. The space and quiet and the hill, even, have nurtured so many creatures, including myself. I will miss it but I am ready for the next adventure. With our kids grown and our careers taking different turns, it’s time for a new space.
I’m hoping Mia will find her family soon. And after that, in our last few months here, I’m not sure what fostering will look like for us. It’s unlikely that I will be able to stay away for long. I’m going to try to keep this blog going and post updates on other foster dogs and possibly re-post some of my favorite stories from the last six years fostering. I’m even considering a podcast that starts back at the beginning (with Galina!) and shares our story. I enjoy this community, so while you may not hear from me every week, I will be sure to post when I have news or stories or dog ideas to share. (You can also keep tabs on me on my writer blog and the Who Will Let the Dogs Out blog.)
I hope you’ll stick around. My story isn’t over and fostering is not something I will give up until I’m no longer needed. And, unfortunately, that won’t happen anytime soon (but it will happen, I’m certain of that too!).
Please send your positive vibes Mia’s way. It is time for her to go home. Maybe this year was necessary. Maybe she needed it to finally find the family that was meant to be hers. I’ve seen the fostering magic work so many times. And now she needs a big dose of it.
You may or may not know that I’m part of a collective of ‘dog writers’ (with NYT best-selling authors Teresa Rhyne and Peter Zhuetlin) who host a ‘Yappy Hour’ most Thursday nights at 8pm (EDT) on our Facebook page, Dogs & Books. We interview other ‘dog writers’, host a book club, and talk all things dogs. Tonight we welcome Carol Novello, the author of Mutual Rescue (and the mastermind of the film series and foundation by the same name). Her book is incredibly uplifting and informative; it shares stories and research that show that we don’t just rescue animals, but they rescue us too. I don’t need any research to know that my animals have saved me time and again, you likely don’t either, but join us if you can (you can watch on Zoom or Facebook) to learn the latest on how animals are becoming a powerful tool for rehabilitation, healing, and helping all kinds of people live their best lives. I loved Carol’s inspiring book and know you will too.
Thanks for reading!
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find more information on my book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) and my latest novel, Blind Turn (Black Rose Writing, Jan 2021)
If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org or follow us on Facebook or Instagram to follow the journey of our upcoming film, Amber’s Halfway Home, that chronicles a day in the life of rescue in the dog pounds of western Tennessee.
Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. It’s available anywhere books are sold.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographer Nancy Slattery takes many of the pictures on my blog. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact: email@example.com.