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Escape Artists and Neighbors

Life loves to grant opportunities for introspection and growth. Sometimes they come from unexpected, and often, unpleasant places.

Sadie, our Rottweiler/we’re not sure what else, is the happiest dog that has ever graced our home. She’s the smallest of our three rescue pups but has been known to take on a pit bull that made the mistake of jumping into our (more appropriately “her”) backyard. She’s sweet, gentle, and incredibly smart. The “smart” part can sometimes be a problem…

Our little stinker! I can’t stay mad when I see this face…

She recently discovered a space where she can jump the fence into our neighbor’s yard and escape to the front yard. She loves to explore, and our cul-de-sac offers endless opportunities. Our other two dogs, Jameson and Maggie, are bigger and I just assumed she had found a hole somewhere to crawl through. After several attempts to block any small holes she might have found, our neighbor informed me where she was jumping the fence. Our neighbor went on to explain that he didn’t want her in his yard. He has a two-year old daughter and was fearful of Sadie. I dutifully affixed a guard to prevent her from jumping in the same spot.

Did I mention Sadie was incredibly bright? She apparently found another spot. I put her in the house and tried to figure out where she was jumping the fence. It wasn’t long before the White Settlement Police came knocking on my door asking about the “dog problem”.

I’m somewhat ashamed of my initial response. While I was quite friendly to our local law enforcement (who threatened us with “doggie jail”), I wasn’t so gracious thinking about our neighbor. I fantasized all the possible ways I could make his life miserable. After all, we had put up with the chaos coming from their house – the noise, the loud swearing at the kids, and the dog who stayed on our front porch rather than in their backyard (a cute little cuss who ate our cat’s food) and never said a word. They, they, they! Mouthing off to anyone who would listen (sorry Son for interfering with the hockey game), I made for a great self-righteous, pompous victim…

Self-righteous anger doesn’t serve me well. I had time to calm down and go on to bed. Sleep is amazing. I awoke with a far calmer attitude: that is until my morning routine was broken by having to take time to take Sadie out on her leash. Agitation quickly returned.

I finally grabbed my coffee and greeted the morning in my usual way with morning prayer and meditation on the porch. However, thoughts of the previous evening’s police visit kept interfering with my prayers. Suddenly, I remembered Jesus’ words:

“If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend (or in this case, a neighbor) has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5.23-24 The Message)

I didn’t think it wise to go to my neighbor at six o’clock in the morning. I pondered the situation further. I began to look at the incident from God’s perspective, forcing me to look inward rather than outward toward my neighbor. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with what I found.

A little back story is in order…

We live in a well-kept, older working-class neighborhood. Most of our neighbors have lived here for years. They are either retired military or retired Lockheed Martin employees. The only time children are playing outside is when grandkids (or great-grandkids) come to visit, so it tends to be quiet.

The neighborhood demographics are changing. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here. There’s more younger people, families, and racially and culturally diverse residents. Several of the older residents on the block have passed away over the last couple of years. Their children, who already have places of their own, usually put the homes up for sale. The housing market is tight in our area, so a couple of the houses have been purchased by investors to either “flip” or keep as rental properties. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here.

The house next door is one such property. It’s always been bit more run down than other homes on the block. It’s been bought and sold a couple of time in the last year and a half. The first owners did little in the way of improvements so when the present owners began working hard to bring it up to current building code, we were thrilled.

New Neighbors…

We watched with a degree of trepidation as the new family moved in next door. They were loud and seemed to have a hundred people helping them. After they settled in, we learned all the “helpers” were family members. It turned out they had ten children and one on the way. So much for our quiet little cul-de-sac!

The solitude of my evening porch time has often been broken since they arrived; by the younger one’s screaming and crying and the parents yelling at them with a variety of swearing and threats. The two and three-year-old kids have repeatedly been found walking around the block without parental supervision (or clothes). The older ones often block the street playing basketball daring neighbor’s vehicles to interrupt them. It goes without saying that our new neighbors are difficult to live with. No wonder I felt justified in my anger about the dog incident.

Unfortunately, justification only goes so far. It’s a great substitute for reality. Was I mad because they called the cops on my dog or was it because I couldn’t stop Sadie from getting out? Who was I upset with? What was I afraid of? It always seems to come down to fear.

The questioning began growing deeper and deeper. The guy had told me he was concerned about his two-year old. I know Sadie wouldn’t hurt a fly, but does he?  Could I not see he had a point? The deeper I looked inside the less I could point fingers at him. I hate it when that happens!

Shifting Perspectives

One of my favorite prayers is the “Saint Francis Prayer”, especially when the line asking to “understand, rather than be understood”. It’s amazing to me how quickly I forget it when things don’t go my way. While I’m grateful my perception, my thoughts, and my actions are less self-centered than they used to be, I still have days when the world just needs to “do as I say”. Father may know best. I do not.

I probably won’t be running next door and apologize for my ill thoughts. Thank God for the pause button between my thoughts and my actions. I tend to re-act slower and think a bit more before acting these days. I don’t appear to step on as many toes and quite frankly, making amends and corrective action is not on my favorite list of things to do. As my friend Jim used to say, “Crow is best eaten fresh…”

What I will do is pray to “understand, rather than be understood” and stay here on the porch enjoying my morning coffee. It’s funny how much easier it is to bask in the peace and solitude that follows a bit of understanding…

Would you call the “Doggie Police”?
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Rain Days…

It’s quiet down on Opal’s Farm. The rain has been falling since the pre-dawn hours and work came to a halt. Jameson the Farm Dog curled up next to my desk when the thunder rumbled earlier and hasn’t moved since. He’s not a big fan of thunderstorms. I’m convinced it’s due to the many nights in a kennel at the shelter. I can only imagine how it must feel to be alone with thunder crashing outside and a hundred other dogs barking. I’d be scared too…

Rain Days!

Needless to say, I’m working inside today. You can’t plow in the mud and stuck tractors are not much fun…

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Jameson the Farm Dog

Thoughts From the Porch: I had a big day planned. The operative word being “had”. One of the frustrations in farming can be the dependence on the weather, the one thing that cannot be controlled. There’s either too much rain or not enough, either an early or late frost, a brutally hot summer or a brutally cold winter. Farming is always dependent on the weather. So, it is this morning…

Still, even a day of rain can be a blessing. This week has been a bit hectic. Keyboard time has been limited to thank you notes for our ribbon cutting attendees and constant appeals for donations and sponsors. That’s the perpetual chore for most non-profit organizations. However, since I had to rearrange the schedule to fit the weather, I found the time to share some thoughts from the porch.

Waiting to leave for Opal’s Farm

The morning started with threatening skies. I greeted the day with mixed emotions. Part of me wanted it to rain. It’d be a great excuse for staying home and this has been a busy week. When the clouds finally let go of their watery loads with a resounding bang, I felt a twinge of relief. Jameson, on the other hand, did not.

For those of you who don’t know, Jameson is the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. I’m not sure his title ever went to a board vote, but I made an executive decision as Farm Manager that he would be our official mascot. Besides, I’m not sure I would even know how to farm without a Farm Dog.

Jameson came to join our little family almost three years ago. Missy, my Sheltie companion of ten years, had passed away in March of that year and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ready to adopt a new dog (another story for another time). She was more than simply my best friend. She was special. I can’t explain it any better than that. Pet parents will know exactly what I’m talking about.

One day, almost a month after Missy died, I was at the feed store up the street from the Humane Society of North Texas animal shelter. I was finished early for the day and I could just stop in to look, right? I stopped in and wandered through the kennels. I was rather proud of myself that I didn’t make an impulsive decision, but when I got home, I had to confess to Margaret I’d opened a door that maybe I shouldn’t have.

To my surprise, Margaret said, “If you want to adopt a dog, then maybe you should. Our home seems a little empty now”.

I said, “thank you but maybe I’ll think about it some more”. I started on some chores, but an hour later I was headed back to the shelter. I wanted to get there before they closed. So much for taking time to think about it.

To make a long story short, in the very last kennel I inspected my heart simply melted. I left the shelter with Jameson (although we hadn’t decided on a name yet). The incredible folks at North Texas Humane Society were happy to share some of his background. He was nineteen months old and had been born at the shelter. He’d been adopted twice before and returned because of “behavior problems”. Most of his life had been spent in the shelter and the employees loved him. He had a bit of a reputation there and I took him around to say goodbye before heading home. The last thing they told me was that “he’s not a ‘cuddler’.”

Fast forward to today and I can tell you he doesn’t know he doesn’t like to cuddle. In fact, he obviously isn’t aware he’s not a lap dog (a 100+pound lapdog, mind you!). He got his name because from day one he’s been a licker. I don’t need a shower after a few minutes with him. Why not name him after my favorite liquor, Jameson’s? Licker, liquor, get it?

As I sit here writing this, Jameson is right by my side. He’s really a ‘Momma’s boy’, but when it thundered, Jameson found his place by my side. You see, he’s terrified of thunder. I can’t say for sure what the root of his phobia is, but I think it has to do with being in the shelter those many months. Living in North Texas is pretty scary during the Spring thunderstorm season. I imagine it’s even scarier for a young dog in a kennel by himself with a cacophony of other dogs barking around him…

As for behavior problems I still haven’t figured that one out. Jameson is a typical Catahoula – fierce enough to take down a wild boar or a bear and gentle enough to love on our grandkids. The only thing I can figure is he was waiting on us to be his family.

That’s Jameson’s story. We’ve since been blessed with Maggie (a Catahoula-Coyote mix, or as Margaret says, a Coyotahoula) and Sadie (our pretty mixed breed – part Rottweiler and…?). They love the farm as well, but there can only be one official Farm Dog and Jameson earned that title…

One may wonder why an official Farm Dog is such a big deal. Only those who have known the love of a canine companion really ‘get it’. To say that dogs are “man’s best friend” is a gross understatement. Besides, I’m sure his spirit will make the produce grow bigger. It’s made my heart grow bigger…

It’s time for dinner!

The day I brought Jameson home he ventured out into the backyard for the first time. At once, he went straight to where Missy was buried and sat reverently as if to pay his respects to my beloved friend. He sat there for quite a while, then went to the other end of the yard to take care of dog business. One can’t tell me that dogs lack the same spirit we all share. I want that kind of spirit around our farm as well as our home.

So, here’s to Jameson the Farm Dog. Feel free to stop by and visit anytime but be prepared to cuddle!

For those of you who don’t know, Jameson is the official Farm Dog for Opal’s Farm. I’m not sure his title ever went to a board vote, but I made an executive decision as Farm Manager that he would be our official mascot. Besides, I’m not sure I would even know how to farm without a Farm Dog.

One day, almost a month after Missy died, I was at the feed store up the street from the Humane Society of North Texas animal shelter. I was finished early for the day and I could just stop in to look, right? I stopped in and wandered through the kennels. I was rather proud of myself that I didn’t make an impulsive decision, but when I got home, I had to confess to Margaret I’d opened a door thaThat’s Jameson’s story. We’ve since been blessed with Maggie (a Catahoula-Coyote mix, or as Margaret says, a Coyotahoula) and Sadie (our pretty mixed breed – part Rottweiler and…?). They love the farm as well, but there can only be one official Farm Dog and Jameson earned that title…

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Of Cats and Cat Boxes…

I do not like cats. There, I said it. While I may prefer the company of dogs and horses to that of most people, I do not like cats! My dislike for the creatures ranks right up there with rats, venomous snakes, and mosquitoes. I realize that many people love them, even my wife, but I am a dog person through and through. I’m sure that the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’ was mistranslated in the Biblical story of the Garden. I’m sure that Satan took the form of a cat rather that a serpent. Cats are generally obnoxious, dirty little animals, leaving fur all one’s clothes They are lousy companions and usually have this demanding attitude showing their disdain for whole human race. Their only talent is that they know how crap in a box.

Now before all you cat people form a lynch mob, please allow me to explain. I’m allergic to cats. Moreover, I may not remember much from my childhood, but I remember that a cat ate my hamster one day when my dad left the garage door open. It’s one resentment I’ve never been freed of. I’m obviously traumatized for life. My Uncle Carl, on who’s ranch I spent many a summer day, told me the only redeeming value a cat had was the ability to keep the barn free of vermin. I’ve been of the same opinion to this day.

However, my wife loves cats. She loves dogs as well, but she had cats up until we got married. I was adamant about remaining ‘cat-less’. After all, we had our dog, Missy, but she was definitely my dog. Margaret missed having a cat companion, and about three years ago I caved in and we adopted a cat. I placed on huge qualification on the adoption: I wouldn’t clean the litter box. I have a major problem with cat boxes. That’s where I draw the line. Margaret had back surgery a couple of weeks after the cat adoption. Guess who has cleaned the cat box…

Because it was a male we insisted on it being neutered prior to coming to our house so it wouldn’t spray our furniture. He went to a local veterinary clinic for his procedure and came to live with us that very night. Neither of us could come up a name for our new family member. I suggested ‘furry little f***’ but that was deemed inappropriate. I joked we should just call him ‘Ball-less’ given that those parts of him had been severed earlier in the day. I was told that, though it was funny, it wouldn’t do for when the grandchildren were about. Fortunately, our daughter, who has some hearing loss thought we were saying ‘Wallace’ and the name stuck. It’s our little inside joke, especially when the kids are here…

Please understand that our pets are rescue animals, so I’m going to get on my soapbox for a moment: The folks at the Humane Society of North Texas, the Dallas SPCA, and the myriad of rescue shelters (and one in your area) have an abundance of animals needing forever homes. So, if you’re thinking of becoming a pet parent, please, please, please help your local shelter. Over the last three years, we have had a puppy and a kitten, but we prefer to adopt older animals. They need a forever home more than most of the pets in the shelter. Now I can step down…

Wallace was probably about two or three, and when he came to live with us, and he was the strangest looking cat I’d ever seen. His fur was bristled and coarse, his legs seemed way too long for his body, and he was extremely thin. We soon discovered that he was malnourished and that accounted for his strange appearance. Since that day, he has thrived and filled out into a beautiful (yes, I said it…) cat. Today we call him our ‘fat cat’…

Wallace was an indoor cat until we installed our doggie door. He figured it out quickly and after a while, we couldn’t keep him inside the house. We’ve tried to keep him indoors during the extremes of Texas weather, but he won’t have it. He insists on staying on our front porch, where he has a ‘cat house’ and his food and water. He doesn’t stray far from the porch, except to sleep on the roof of my truck. He’s basically well-fed and lazy. He doesn’t care about stalking birds and squirrels like the other neighborhood cats or else he suffers from a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Either could be the case. Most of the time, we find him sleeping on his back in the shade…

I guess that’s why I was so surprised as I sat on the porch, enjoying my coffee, and thinking about the day ahead. Suddenly, a huge commotion next to my truck arose. A squirrel came flying out from underneath, chattering loudly as it scooted up the nearest Ash tree. Less than two inches behind him, right on his tail, was our Wallace. The squirrel climbed high enough to turn around cussing at Wallace. I’m not sure who was more shocked, me or the squirrel. Who knew that Wallace could move like that? I guess he wanted both of us to know he still holds his place in the food chain. I could only look on with admiration, and if truth be known, a little pride in our cat.

I still don’t like cats, at least everyone else’s, although I’ve learned to tolerate them. Our other one, Shadow, was raised by our Catahoula, Jamison, so she doesn’t think she’s a cat. She doesn’t ‘meow’, she ‘barks. I’m okay with that.

I swore I’d never own a cat. I swore, with every fiber of my being, that I’d never, ever clean a litter box. Then I got married to the woman my soul connected with, the love of my life and now I have two cats and emptied the litter box until they discovered the dog door (thank you God!). Love has the power to change even the hardest of hearts.

If truth be known, I kind of like the furry little beasts. We have a crazy neighbor who has been known to shoot neighborhood cats with his pellet gun. I would have some serious words with him if one of my cats were to fall victim to his crankiness. Go figure – maybe I even love the little guys…

It may be a bit of a stretch here, but if love can overcome my intense dislike, even hatred, of cats, it’s probably able to overcome a lot of other negatives in life – or at least let me see them differently. God, of whom the Apostle John said, is defined as love, has transformed far more than my distaste for cats. My heart, and my eyes, have opened to a whole new world. Transformation occurred as my relationship with him developed, just like in my marriage. I’m growing and learning how to love today (and yes, cats included).

I had much more to say, but Wallace won’t stop reminding me that his food bowl is empty and it’s well past nap time. I gotta go…