Monday, August 25, 2008

Texas Porcupine

Back in June this little one was found tangled up in a towel in some one's front yard. No one knew where she came from and no one ever saw her mom walking the neighborhood looking for her. The people that found her called their vet who in turned called the sanctuary. The tiny baby porcupine soon found herself as a unique addition to all of the raccoons, squirrels, and opossum babies that were being cared for.

Porcupines are found in this part of Texas (south central) and chances are, you won't usually see one. They are incredibly secretive and don't bother anyone (unless of course your dog decides to try and chase one out of the yard and they end up in the only corner in the yard!). Their diet is similar to that of other nocturnal animals--bugs, grubs, ripe native fruits, leaves, and the inner bark of trees. The may forage on the ground at night, but during the day, they sleep and nap up in the trees. They are superb climbers with long black claws on all 4 feet. The soles of their hands and feet are soft and I've often likened adult porcupine feet to baby's because of the similar shape.

Her body was a little larger than my hand and her tail wasn't much longer than that. Her fur was black and soft with just a few prickles to remind you of her species. She made a small, quiet 'huh' sound and you could tell missed her mother terribly. She was fed a specialized formula and given small bite sized pieces of fruits and veggies to nibble. She seemed so small. She loved hiding in a small crate with a pillowcase and hay for comfort and medium sized tree branches near so she would be familiar with her native elements.

She stayed in the clinic until she was a little bigger and a little older. In July, she got her own place outside. There, she was able to experience the sun, wind, outdoor sounds, and night time in safety. I can only imagine what her thoughts were. I took photos one afternoon and she roamed the area of her hutch. She immediately began eating dirt and gnawing a rock. Since they live so close to the ground and eat mainly the inner bark of trees, minerals play an important role in their diets. Shortly after, she found the tree that shaded her home. She took her time smelling around the base and then climbed between the trunk and branch and took a short nap.

By this time she was getting more spines and while they were smaller and darker than her adult ones would be, they were still hurtful! She began to 'startle'-meaning that if she was startled, her fur would stand on end and the famous lower back quills (however small!) would stand out. Her tail fur and quills would also swell and stand up. It was amazing that even though she was in an unusual situation (being taken care of by humans with however little contact) she was instinctively defensive.

By the beginning of August, she was in an even more remote location and in a bigger space. She was in an old pigeon coop that offered her lots more room to climb and explore. Large logs were placed at angles so that she could practice her climbing and the roost boxes offered her hiding places.

Her 'big girl' quills were coming in nicely and they reminded me of the ones I had stashed away at home from when the dogs cornered a huge porcupine in the back yard and had to go to the vet to have them removed. Long and white tipped with black. Her black 'baby' fur was quickly being replaced with course white hairs that blended the black under-fur with her quills. I have often wondered how mama porcupines care for the little ones--even her ears are protected by tiny back quills.

Exactly what does a mother porcupine's love look and feel like?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Grief and Mourning

I felt the shaking begin in my midsection and flow outwards. My knees felt as if they would buckle. I could feel the sobs forming and having to consciously hold them inside--my body shook, racked with silent screams and sobs, tears leaking out of my eyes and falling downward, breathing ragged...

Oliver's death was entirely unexpected and a shock. He was brought into the clinic for a routine castration so that he could be put in the sheep pasture without worries of little ones popping up. As the vets prepared the surgery room for him, I visited and loved on him. How handsome he had become! His horns were getting long and his once baby face now took on the character of an almost adult barbado sheep.

During the surgery, he stopped breathing. The vets worked quickly and re-established his breathing but he wasn't able to breathe on his own so they performed a tracheotomy. After the surgery, he was put into a room to fully recover from anesthesia. I visited him and while he was still groggy, he recognized me and paced, ready to leave. I told him it wouldn't be much longer, that he would be able to get back outside as soon as he shook off the anesthetics.

In the meantime, I was outside photographing our first-of-the-season skunk experiencing green grass, the breezes, and the sun for the first time. Dee came outside and as she walked towards me I could tell by the look on her face that the worst had happened. We held each other and cried--how entirely unfair, how entirely unfair.

I made my way to where I had last seen Oliver. He was there, on the floor, looking as perfect as the last time I saw him. His death had happened so fast that everyone was still in shock. I stroked his sweet face and muzzle, his ears, his rounded belly... and cried, waves of grief pouring out of me. I barely heard the vets apologizing. All I could do was replay all of my memories of him in my mind.

Sometimes as I sit in the pasture with Rocky I still see his shadow running through the pasture, ears back, smiling...

Our sweet Cher was next to pass on. I had been in the yard saying yet another good-bye to Minnie Pearl and playing with them both. I spent several hours playing hide-n-seek, chase, and teaching them to climb on their shelter so each in turn could be Queen. That was a Thursday evening. Two days later, Saturday, Casey visited and as we ate lunch at a sandwich shop she told me that Cher had been brought into the clinic the night before not being able to stand or eat and was having trouble breathing. Not long after, she began to crash and wasn't able to be revived. She died of what was believed to be pneumonia due to aspiration.

I stopped breathing when Casey finished her story, shocked. Then sobbed. The grief of the loss of another baby was almost overwhelming. My mind raced, wanting to blame someone, everyone, even myself for not being there. Finally I realized there was nothing I could have done to stop what in some cruel way was meant to be.

Sweet Cher was with us only a short time but her presence is still felt and all who knew her smile--she was a star indeed.

This photo was taken two weeks ago on a Thursday evening. I spent most of the evening with the boys as I had taken Scooter to his vet appointment earlier in the day. Vinney had just overcome a severe allergic reaction that made his face and head swell. It was a tense few days. After about a week or so as the swelling subsided, the skin on his face hardened a bit and his nose cracked. The skin on his ears also began to harden a little. His lips then cracked--all of this was his body healing from all of the swelling and trauma of rubbing on everything he could find to ease the discomfort.

He wasn't keen on people touching him but he did come near when I was sitting with Rocky and I was able to see how he was doing. His face did look like a boxer after a fight-still a little swollen, but the scabbed over skin looked fine. He sauntered past but always remained close to Rocky and me.

The following Monday I got a phone call--Vinney had been found dead in the pasture that morning. Though I cried before the call was over, I found that I was somehow strangely removed from the news. For the rest of the day I intellectualized that I wouldn't see Vinney the next time I worked, but my emotions were frozen in disbelief.

The following day at work I spoke with Traci about what had happened and she told me that an intern was supposed to give him his meds and neglected to do so. She continued to speak but the tears began. I tried to hold them back but I couldn't. I put my hands over my eyes and tried to stop breathing. My insides shook so terribly and I suppose the sounds I made were disconcerting but Traci held me while I cried, gently letting me know it was ok, to let it all out... my boy, my sweet Vinney... gone. Really gone.

While it's unknown if the meds he was supposed to have received would have saved his life, I firmly believe that had the intern at least seen him that evening, things may have ended differently.

Sweet Scooter. The little goat that could. Not long after this photo, Scooter was again unable to stand. His limbs were again too weak to hold him. Arrangements were made for weekly chiropractic and acupuncture appointments, his diet was again modified with more browse, fewer pellets, and he was weaned from formula. He was just three months old and had spent just a few weeks on his feet. The majority of his life had been spent laying in a crate.

He rallied not long after his third appointment. He was able to stand and even take a few steps but it was obvious something big was going on--his back legs were very weak and his front legs couldn't coordinate with one another to walk far. Several days later he was again not able to stand. One front leg was not able to be straightened and his left side front and back was so incredibly weak. We had hopes that he could compensate with learning how to graze on his knees like Rocky but again his front legs were so weak that he wasn't able to balance.

Much discussion ensued about his quality of life. He was a goat and yet had just a few weeks in the outdoors grazing and living like a goat should. He was in obvious decline and while his demeanor was excellent and he had a true solid will to live, was living in a crate and being taken outside for short segments of time when time allowed good enough? With heavy hearts it was agreed that this was no quality of life and that it wasn't fair to him.

Everyone spent time with Scooter and a small group of us walked, he in my arms, out to the pasture he loved. His last moments were spent grazing and smelling the breezes. Rocky sat behind me as Scooter, cradled in my arms, took his final breaths and slipped quietly away, no longer suffering in a broken body, his spirit free.

I still have a hard time with all of these stories. I cannot write them much less read them without the emptiness in my center and tears coursing down my cheeks. I am holding on to the hope that they will each visit me in my dreams, showing me their new lives. I have hope.