Archive for October, 2010

Why Foster? Simple. It’s a Joyous Thing!

A Bedside Table Full of Blessings

When the plea went out from our local shelter recently for help with the dozens of tiny, motherless kittens who needed fostering, I finally ponied up and jumped in full force.

When I went to pick up a few of the babies and saw how many there were (literally dozens), peeping their squeaky little appeals to all who passed, sitting dejectedly in the corner of their cage, or, in the case of the stronger ones, leaping up and hanging from the cage door so you couldn’t miss them, I decided to take as many as I thought I could handle. So nine it was, from three different litters.

These babies weighed between one and 1.5 lbs., mind you, and gaining enough weight to be spayed or neutered and then put up for adoption was the main goal. Socialization the next, almost equal, priority. I thought, “Okay. I can do that. A couple of weeks of a little mayhem but lots of play time with kittens — it’ll be fun!”

Think again, Leta. The day after taking my babies home, ringworm was discovered in the nursery so all in that section had to be isolated and treated. It was decided to keep mine where they were — at my house in my guest bedroom — but a week later one of my tiny tots did glow blue (not good) when the shelter vet scanned him for ringworm with the black light.

Alas.

So it was decided my crew too should receive treatment. This consists of dipping as well as oral medication. Since I had unexpected guests arriving for a long weekend, and the kittens had to go to the shelter for their treatments as well as routine vaccines and deworming, the shelter graciously offered to keep my babies for four nights so my guests could inhabit my guest quarters without having nine kittens scrambling all over them.

I went to retrieve the babies yesterday. Or part of them. I had decided only to bring back four or five of the smallest, as the nine-some had indeed proved to be fairly tricky to handle. The stronger amongst them would attach themselves to me like iron shavings to a magnet when I walked in the guest room door, or several would come pouring out into the hall and land amidst my six dogs who were standing there ever curious about the new occupants. (Fortunately my dogs are cat-friendly, so no mishaps there). But it was hard. Besides, all had gained weight and thrived under my watch so I thought the larger ones would probably do just fine if I left them there. So four or five it would be.

NOT.

When I got to the shelter I was first and foremost totally awed by all the  the folks who work there do for these little guys, every day. They have to do ungodly things to them several times a day (pills, shots, dipping, cleaning up diarrhea, to name a few), keeping decontamination uppermost in mind at all times.  I was so impressed!

But I was also horrified. Every single one of my babies had lost at least 2 or 3 of the hard-earned ounces I had put on them in the ten days they were with me. One was back down to 1 lb. and had horrible diarrhea. Her little face looked like a Biafran orphan, and I could tell she was walking that line between deciding to live or not. They were all depressed and somewhat lifeless. After all, in their circumstance they could not be taken out and handled so they could not receive the oh-so-important cuddling and loving and play time all babies need in order to thrive.

Needless to say I scooped up all nine of my babies again . . . plus one. She too was tiny, tiny, and was isolated in a cage all alone. I could not leave her behind.

I’ve had “my” 10 babies home for 24 hours now, and am as protective of and concerned with their welfare as a mama bear. They are getting top-grade kitten food from the health food store, are eating voraciously 4 or 5 times a day, and some soothing intestinal herbs and powerful micronutrients are already putting a little pizazz back into them. A few are still puny and obviously not feeling well, but several are zooming around the room again turning somersaults together, or sitting in the sun watching the birds outside their large window. And my little Biafran baby, Blue, is beginning to stretch when she wakes up (a good sign) and show a lot more interest in her food.

I don’t plan to adopt any of these wee ones, but yeah, they are starting to take on distinct personalities and names:  Zapata, Sparks, Ochenta and so on, and it will be a red letter day when I can take them back to the shelter fat and happy and well socialized so that they can go to wonderful, caring homes. It’ll be a while — no two-week frolic, for sure — but it’ll be more than worth it.

"Sparks," so named by Ava, a friend's little girl in Boston.

Whether it’s baby kitties, an adult dog or cat, or a rescue horse, I urge you to help out when you can. It is so gratifying and good for your soul, not to mention life-saving for these precious beings.

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What Makes A Good Riding Instructor?

Heels down!!!   Head up!!!  Soft hands!!!!   Toes forward!!!   No, no, NO — MAKE him do what you want, don’t just ASK!!!

This is what you’re hearing and trying to make sense of . . . but meanwhile you’re just going in circles on some horse you don’t know and trying to hang on for dear life!

If you’re a horse lover and a rider, I’m sure this sounds all too familiar. And frankly, it’s the reason I’ve stayed away from formal riding training most of  my life. The militant approach so many instructors seem to take has always felt out of sync with the human-horse bond to me.

Hopefully this technique is a thing of the past. Like those old-school piano teachers who would rap you on the knuckles if you held your hands wrong (my poor mom had to endure this when she was a child …….).

But I digress.

If you’ve read my blog for long, you know I’ve been struggling to come back from a fall two years ago and so have been unable to ride consistently or comfortably during that time.

About three months ago I heard about a therapeutic riding instructor in my area and decided to try her out. I already had a great physical therapist, massage therapist, and other good healers on my team, so why not add a good riding instructor to the mix? I really had nothing to lose, and I knew if I didn’t like her . . . well .  . .that would be that.

Imagine my surprise when a young, tall, wisp o’the willow blonde who looked about 15 arrived at my place one Sunday in September, a toddler in tow, and announced that she was my new riding instructor! And did I mention beautiful? (I hope she didn’t notice that my jaw was on the ground.)

Here's Christina & daughter Mesa, so . . . well, you get the picture.

Christina immediately impressed me with her winning smile, her soft spoken demeanor, and her matter-of-fact but loving management of her 16-month-old daughter, who was obviously an appendage no matter what the activity. Her credentials are stunning: not only a related college degree and certification as a therapeutic riding instructor, but 10 years of experience including managing a therapeutic riding program for the disabled, along with years and years of her own horsemanship experience before that. And she’s so young she could be my daughter . . . well maybe even my granddaughter! Egads!

But the proof is in the pudding, right? After thoroughly reviewing my “case” and taking a careful look at my off-kilter back, up I went. Once again, for the first time in months. Maybe this time would be a charm.

Christina & Mesa, carefully and lovingly directing my re-entry into riding.

Christina immediately identified a few things I could do with my posture in the saddle that would ease my back and help me slowly re-accommodate myself to regular riding.  One of these was to shorten my stirrups so much that I looked like an old woman in a rocking chair — but wow, does that take pressure off the lower back. (And now, two months later, I’m proud to say, my stirrups are back down where they should be.)

Me, in that first lesson, feeling mighty awkward and stiff!

There was no yelling. No “correcting.” Just gentle suggesting, praising, encouraging, laughing . . . and above all, cautioning — not to do more than “felt good” on any given day, which at first would turn out to be only five to ten minutes at a time in the saddle.

Two years ago, before my fall, my mare Bella and I went to a group clinic given by a recognized dressage instructor in our area. Bella was the only horse there who was not from the woman’s own stable — all fairly highly trained dressage horses. And Bella could not do straight lateral (sideways) work down the fenceline. The clinician said Bella was just “putting me on,” slapped her hard on the shoulder, and the next day Bella was so lame on that leg she couldn’t put weight on it for days. Bella knew her limits, I knew she wasn’t spoofing me, and the teacher was an idiot. Enough of that! I’m sticking with Christina.

I am making great progress and feel so blessed!

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Check out Christina’s website, Buckaroo Balance. And if you live anywhere nearby, I’d encourage you to attend one of her clinics or indulge yourself in some private lessons. Whether you’re “disabled” or not!

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