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Still Standing

Today is election day. The pandemic rages on. My garden tells me it is the end of the season. The squash, the tomatoes and the cucumbers are wilting. The beets are thriving, the onions are hanging in there, the spinach has reseeded itself and grown again. About half of the chickens are laying, the others have not started yet. Hundreds of thousands of people have died from this disease. I don’t trust my country to make a change in leadership. I can’t do anything about that. Life on the ranch goes on.

Andi is a plain bay mare. She is 33 and a half years old now. She has bandages on her front legs. These are the first bandages she has ever worn. She responded as one might expect, lifting each foot nervously, looking at the bandages and snorting in alarm.

I had to put these bandages on her because she has the equine equivalent of bed sores. These are sores from scraping the front of her fetlocks against the ground as she struggles to rise after lying down. She has been struggling a great deal lately, so I confined her to a corral roughly 40′ square. If she were any other horse on the ranch, I would be able to give her the anti-inflammatories she needs without confining her in a small space. But even after being with us for 14 years, she still won’t let you catch her in a large space.

Andi came to us when we took in six horses from a large rescue effort by our horse club. She was pregnant and had a nursing colt at side. She lost the pregnancy but the colt has grown up and thrived. The year after she came to us, we bred her to our stallion and she produced a spectacular and very friendly filly that we named Susannah. Suzy is the one who died in March.

Andi has outlived several companions, many younger than she is. For many years now, we kept Andi apart from the larger herd because her teeth are so bad that she needs mash two or three times a day. She plays at eating hay and grass but can’t get any nutrition from those. She has outlived two of the three mares who were rescued with her. She has outlived two other mares who joined her in the “mash unit.” Then, when we had no more toothless mares, she lived with health-challenged geldings. She has outlived two of those. The last passed a month ago and she showed significant signs of mourning.

Andi’s problems got worse lately. As mentioned, I had to put bandages on her. She has such difficulty getting up that, even with stronger medication, she still falls several times before getting to her feet. In the process, she can migrate away from the soft shavings she starts out on and end up on hard or rocky ground. That makes rising even more difficult and falling more painful. Eight days ago, after five hours of trying to get her up, after rolling her over to see if she would have better luck on the other side, I called the vet to have her euthanized.

That may seem heartless. Our ranch helper said he could put in some posts to make a pulley to help her get up. He was very sad that I was prepared to kill the horse instead of giving her more help. A language barrier prevented me from explaining it to him in full.

We have had several horses who had trouble getting to their feet. One horse gave up lying down at all and would lean against the fence to rest. That was a horrible way to live. Another horse would wait calmly until a much younger and stronger me came to roll her over with a rope. We had another who figured it out himself, and for years he would roll over before even trying to get up. He did great. But most of the time, horses will panic if they can’t get to their feet. They feel vulnerable and trapped and the last thing in the world they want to do is roll over and put their bellies in the air, even for a moment. For a horse, not being able to rise is a very tough way to live.

All of those other horses trusted me and other people completely. Their baseline stress level was very low, but even with them, if they happened to lie down early in the night, they could be stuck for many hours before anyone came to help them. Being stuck on the ground can cause a host of secondary problems, from colic to pneumonia.

Andi still doesn’t trust people much at all. While she is “trapped” on the ground, she is afraid. When I come to “help,” she reacts as if I am attacking her. When she does get up, my impulse is to stroke her neck and hug her in relief. Again, she moves away, treating me like a predator. For her, not being able to rise is worse than for most. If she can’t do it herself, her quality of life is abysmal.

When the vet arrived, he checked her vital signs, listening to her heart and gut sounds before ever asking her to rise. She lay there with her eyes wide while he moved around and over her. I wondered if she had made a connection between vets and the deaths of her many companions. When the vet asked her to get up, she did. She lurched and staggered and finally stood. She walked quickly around the corral, pausing to snort and paw the ground, and toss her head at us.

Maybe she succeeded because she was on her good side after being rolled over, and someone new was asking. Maybe that gave her one last jolt of adrenaline. Maybe I no longer have the power to scare her into rising. I take a little comfort in that. Maybe she is finally starting to fear me less.

The pawing is a sign of discomfort, probably muscle cramps from being down and straining to rise. It passed as she walked around and loosened herself up. Though I know why she paws the ground after rising, I can’t escape the fact that it looks like defiance. Her tail lifted, her neck arched, she looks for all the world like she is ready to fight.

I asked “what now?”

Looking at the mare as she snorted and marched around, pawing and stomping, the vet said “when she looks like that, it is hard to…” I nodded before he finished. It is hard to put a horse down when they look so bright and alive. He sighed and decided to try one more thing: dexamethasone. He explained that I could use that when she was having a hard time and other meds are not enough. You don’t want to rely on steroids for an extended period, as they can damage major organs. But when a horse is 33 and the alternative is euthanasia, choices are limited.

Three days ago, she was down again and would not rise. This time, she was next to the fence and that was making things more difficult. When she tried to stretch out her front legs, one landed just under the fence rail. When she tried to roll onto her side, her head did the same. For two hours, I waited to see if she would get up. The colt in the corral next to her reached through the fence and started licking her back, much like a mare would do with a foal. When he started licking the top of her head, she waved him away but still didn’t get up.

Sleep deprived as I was, it took me a long time to realize that while I could not move the horse, I could move the pipe panel fence. I unlatched the panel and swung it out of the way, giving her more room. The colt came into her space and cleaned up Andi’s leftover food. After a while, I took him away in case he tried to play with her. A few hours later, Andi did rise again.

Yesterday, I gave her a small dose of dex in the evening. She was hardly eating. I made up two buckets of mash, one with her usual pellets and one with a new mix of sweet feed and alfalfa pellets. This morning, the new mash was gone. I made up another batch of what she had eaten with warm water. She showed interest in that. As far as I could tell, she did not lie down last night. She ate about half of the warm mash before stopping. That is the most she has eaten in one go in several days.

The vet has been back a few times this last week, for another horse with a mystery fever (possibly a coronavirus) and another with colic. Every time he came, Andi was up and about and looking bright. I wonder if I’m losing my mind, if being too close to the subject, and punchy from lack of sleep, my judgment is unreliable.

I know her days are numbered but every time I see her on her feet, her eyes bright and her ears alert, I can’t help feeling a little bit of hope. I doubt that she will recover enough to leave hospital corral, but today she’s still standing.

Still Staying Home, Mostly

My experience of the stay at home order has been mostly orderly. Once a week I go out to do some necessary work, and on my way home I make my weekly store stop. Sometimes it is the feed store, sometimes the grocery store, sometimes the hardware store. The change has been gradual as far as how things work at the stores. On day one of the stay at home county order, I noticed people doing a 6 foot distance dance in stores. By week three most people were covering their faces. Now, the stores have someone out front to keep the number of people in the store down and everyone is masked. At the food market today, there was a young man monitoring and wiping down the shopping carts. That seems sensible to me. (more…)

Broken

Suzy died. I don’t know how. All I know is that her trainer called and said she was found dead in her stall this morning. She finished her dinner and then died some time in the night. She was eleven years old. In her prime. A beautiful, well-built, beautiful moving mare. She was in training because we wanted to see her in a horse show. I wanted that. I wanted people to appreciate her. Even if they could not appreciate her the way I did, I admit that I wanted them to say “ooh, what a pretty horse.” It seems incredibly stupid now, to give a shit what anyone thinks about a horse. I guess it is part of connecting with fellow humans. What sad sacks we are. (more…)

Caging the Plants

Five new cases yesterday. Much better than the 16 we had on the 8th. A second death on the 10th. You wonder who it was. When you look at numbers like they have in New York and Italy, you wonder who has not died. But when the numbers are in the single digits, you wonder who did die.

Yesterday we reached 69 recoveries, with 81 active cases. The County health department issued a face-covering order. Not sure how they will be enforcing it, but even before they issued the order, stores were limiting the number of customers who could enter, and it seemed that everyone in our town was wearing a mask. In our town anyway. I noticed the masks and store entry limits while buying strawberry plants. (more…)

Chicken Day 4

The chicken project seems to be working for me. I feel less aimlessly anxious. I still don’t find much on tv that is entertaining or holds my attention. I still let the tv show the news while I ignore it, but I am calmer.

The county seems to be hanging in there. Our new cases have dipped a touch over the past few days. Four new cases today, but seven recoveries. It seems like most of us have bought in to the social distancing program. I’m not sure how long we can keep it up but if it is working maybe enough of us will still be around to pick up the pieces of our economy. (more…)

Why Won’t the Chicken Go in the Store?

Over 7,000 deaths in the US now. That is a lot more than yesterday. In our county there were ten new cases today but also seven more recoveries. We were stuck on thirteen recoveries for a long time, for six days. That’s a long time in pandemic time. National news says that our stay-at-home orders are working. I hope that’s true. I hope it holds. Not only do I want our community to kick this bug’s ass, but the country will need help from places like California. They won’t get any meaningful assistance from the prez. He’s too busy settling scores and distributing the 500 billion dollar bribe Congress gave him for his friends and family. And Congress… it’s like expecting a commuter train to complete a mini-bike course. They’re not built for emergencies. This is why so many of us are being told to stay home. This is why we will have to do this for a very long time.

I never didn’t love living on the ranch. I never felt the absence of a city or close neighbors or bars I could walk to. I have always felt lucky to live here, but now I feel it more so. I am not confined to my house, or an apartment. I am not being deprived of the things I love to do. They are all here at home. I am so lucky to be able to do things like build a chicken habitat and get chickens in case the food supply chain breaks down next fall. Or sooner. And suddenly it is strange to me that I have never really considered having chickens before. I was born in the year of the Rooster. We are not in the year of the Rooster now.

I made arrangements to go get my first chickens tomorrow. Adding it to my calendar, I saw what was supposed to be a busy day. I was supposed to do a podcast and also go cover a game tomorrow. Sigh. But, chickens!

I was supposed to get my prefab chicken pen today but it did not arrive. The chickens are supposed to stay in their hen house for several days anyway, but I am peeved that I could not have everything all assembled and in place before getting the chickens. And really, these chickens might still be so young that they need to be indoors for a bit longer. I had not planned on that. I may be sharing the bathroom with them.

pultrypen

The poultry pen I’m waiting for

Still, with the roads open and no traffic, one would think that a company could meet their delivery date within a day or two. The first delivery time they gave me was yesterday, and then they said today. After that window closed, I got the call saying Monday. No wonder the country can’t get supplies where they need to be in a panic. Doing things right has just gone out of style.

Now, at least the supplier didn’t tell me that really I would have to go bid on the pen, outbid international bidders in order to get it. At least they respect that I have purchased it.

I was not satisfied with that. I called the local branch of the chain I ordered the pen from and discovered that they had one in stock. It was in the back of the store hiding under boxes and dust. I ordered that one for pick up at store. The website specifically did promise curbside pick up. So I put that order through, intending to just cancel the Monday order. But the website didn’t register my order. I called the store and asked if they had gotten the order at their end. No, they had not. The website also insisted that I had not placed any orders for the last 30 days. That was very odd. I checked with Pay Pal to see if anything had gone through. No, nothing.

I assumed everything was broken and resigned myself to having no pen until Monday. I grappled with visions of raccoons rattling the coop doors in the night, trying to get in, terrifying the little chickens. I added extra latches with thumb-dependent snaps to all the doors.

A few hours later, I got an email saying my order was ready for pick-up at the local branch. Of course, the local branch was closing in ten minutes. Sigh.

I am obsessed with curbside delivery these days. Sometimes it is the only way to get supplies without breaking the stay at home order.

I called a local building supply store last week and asked them if they were doing curbside pick-up. They said “no, we don’t have the manpower for that.” That is incredibly short-sighted of them. All these restaurant workers out of work, people needing building supplies brought out of the store and that store can’t put two and two together? And this is not a small shop, it is one of the bigger stores in the county. Sad. Some businesses are figuring it out. A smaller hardware store said yes, they would be happy to take a credit card over the phone and bring the order to the parking lot. But they do not carry lumber.

So I ordered the lumber I needed from a big chain store. I ordered online to pick up at the store. The store called me when they had the order. I asked if they did curbside delivery. The woman on the phone said yes, I just had to tell them I was doing that and they would bring something out for me to sign and so on and so forth. I called them yesterday morning to let them know I was coming to pick it up. They said great. When I got there none of the uniformed employees in front of the store had any idea what I was talking about. The young man I talked to said that the lumber exit was closed. I would have to go park (my truck and trailer in the very full parking lot), then go inside and “bring” my lumber through the store.

I explained that I needed curbside pickup. He repeated that I needed to go park and bring my lumber through the store. I ignored the proposed spectacle of me “bringing” sixteen foot long two-by-fours through the store at all, along with the six twelve foot long boards. And posts, there were posts too. I focused on the fact that he expected me to go in the store after I had been told I would not have to. Also that he told me to park in the lot even after he looked it over and could clearly see that there was no room for my rig.

I parked in the red zone, right in front of the store, on the off chance that this would draw the attention of someone in a position of authority. Staying in the truck, I called their customer service department to clear things up. The phone rang without answer for 30 minutes. Endless ringing. While I listened, I watched people milling about in front of the store, chatting and loading things. The employees standing around less than two feet apart, chatting. No one with masks, no one with gloves. I think I know why the virus is spreading faster in that town than in mine. There was no way in hell I was going to set foot in that store without a hazmat suit.

No one in a position of authority ever came to ask me why I was so very illegally parked. I would have been glad to see a cop. We are, after all, under a stay at home/social distancing order. I went home and called the chain store’s main offices and cancelled the order, after explaining what had happened. Turns out, they have no curbside pick up system. Though the store’s customer service lady seemed to know exactly how it should work, she apparently was not supposed to tell me that the store could do that.

In the end, I ordered the lumber from the local store that had just told me “no” in the first place. They charged a hefty delivery fee but at least they were honest to begin with. And at least none of this is happening to me because my state representatives have said mean things about the president. It really isn’t personal. And no one is going to die from failed lumber deliveries. Well, I guess they might if the lumber is being used to build field hospitals.

Chicken Little

I leave the news on without paying much attention. When that ass comes on with his prime-time-interrupting televised self-congratulatory bullshit sessions, I hit the mute button. When some news report shows clips of him, I hit mute. I cannot listen to that sleazy half-wit any more. Still, trying to watch anything other than news is difficult since I have trouble focusing. So I leave the news on. (more…)