Posts Tagged ‘Dogs’

I was going to write today about Memorial Day since we are in that holiday weekend. But something last night set me thinking about our old beagle, Mae Belle Brown, and I thought I would memorialize her in some small way here instead.

I have mentioned that my home and studio is set at the edge of a forest which means that we are daily witnesses to a constant parade of wild creatures of all sorts. It’s a virtual Peaceable Kingdom, if you’re familiar with the famous folk paintings of Edward Hicks. On any given day, we see dozens of different sorts of birds, waterfowl and large and small animals.

Just yesterday, I watched three adorable and fluffy fox kits rolling around after they emerged from under a shed of ours above our house in the woods. Then I watched as several wood ducks from our pond came down my studio driveway to munch on a handful of corn I had thrown out  for the wild turkeys, of which one tom stood several yards away from the ducks, his feathers all puffed out and his wattle fully expanded in regal display. And just a few more feet from the ducks stood a mother doe who was nibbling at the same bit of corn.

Just a short while earlier, this doe had rousted two small young bucks who regularly relax and drowse in the juniper bushes next to my studio window. I call them my studio interns and they are very young, most likely recently evicted from their family unit when the new fawns arrived. In time, as the fawns get stronger, they will rejoin the family unit. But for now, they are just biding their time, feeling a little untethered as they are not really sure what to do.

It might have been this same mother doe who I had watched, earlier in the morning, with her newly born fawn in our front yard. As she nursed her fawn, another equally young fawn emerged from the woods. The doe sniffed at the fawn. But it was pretty obvious this was not her own baby and the fawn moved on into the brush at the edge of the woods. A short bit later another doe came through searching for it.

Later in the day, at this same spot, we watched as one of these does pursued a raccoon on the ground. The raccoon moved quickly to a tree and scurried several feet up on one side of a larger tree while the doe waited on the other side of it.  She moved around and the coon went a bit further, just out of reach. When the doe moved around to the other side, the coon descended and headed through the brush. The doe was quickly right behind it and the coon went up another tree. This went on for a while, with the coon holding tight to the tree as the doe stood waiting patiently below it, a kind of Mexican standoff between the two. Eventually, the raccoon was able to make a getaway.

Watching this reminded me of a similar incident that occurred with our old beagle Mae Belle Brown many years before. It was in this same spot that she had encountered a similar mother deer. Unfortunately, unlike the raccoon, she couldn’t climb a tree.

Now, Mae Belle was a beagle we had rescued a few years prior to this incident. A friend had told me that there was an old beagle at the local shelter that I should see as she knew I had a fondness for beagles. When I went to the shelter and asked about the dog, the caretaker said she was somewhere around the place, just wandering on her own in the hallways between the kennels. Just then she came around the corner and I was stunned at her appearance.

She was the most pitiful thing I had ever seen.  The was small and old, very very gray, all the beagle colors washed almost completely out of the her face and back. And that back, it was so swayed downward, the weight of her little bulbous belly dragging it low. This was all set on four tiny skinny legs that gave her the appearance of a short bratwurst sausage set on four tiny chicken legs. No, not even chicken legs. More like chicken wings or quail legs. What a pathetic sight it was to see this gray little sausage on quail legs waddle down the hall.

They had found her behind a local Pizza Hut, snuffling around the dumpster and nobody had come forward to claim her. She smelled almost as bad as she looked, the kind of odor that came with rot and decay. I left and went home, pretty sure this wasn’t the girl for me. But the thought of that poor little thing just gnawed at me through the day. I came to the conclusion that if we didn’t take her in, nobody would. I told myself that she was in such poor shape we would most likely act as a sort of hospice for her. Maybe we have her for six months or a year.

So, that afternoon she came home with me. We found that her teeth were a horror show, mostly rotted to the gums which were also in terrible condition. In fact, there were points where you could see completely through the rot in her gums to the roots of her teeth and beyond into her mouth. The roof of her mouth was rotting as well. It was a wreck.

After a bit, after unsuccessfully trying to treat her with antibiotics, we went to another vet who convinced us that she was in good enough condition, despite the fact that they estimated her age at 11 or 12, to undergo dental surgery. They extracted all her teeth except for her 8 molars that were in decent condition and one single lower canine in the front. It was a great success. Her mouth cleared up well and the odor went away forever. There was an article on dental surgery for dogs in the local paper that featured her story. Our little star.

Through the years we had her, she had all sorts of setbacks. She had come to us with infections in her ears that resulted in pebbly concretions that would periodically give her small seizures. We were able to clear those up. Then once she has an episode where she somehow sprained her little rat tail. She couldn’t wag her tail without extreme pain and when she had to defecate, it was a horrible experience. She would squat and squeal as she released her load. The vets said there was little to be done but give it time so for weeks we watched helplessly as this poor little girl would squeal each day.

That brings us back to her encounter with the mama deer. It was in early June. Mae Belle was in the yard just snuffling around as she had often done before. She seldom ventured more than fifty feet from the house. In fact, she was normally eager to get back to her bed. We were reading the paper that morning when suddenly there was terrible wail from outside. Going to the door I could see Mae Belle down in the yard in front of our house, on a wide path between two patches of woods that led to our pond. Maybe 100 feet away. She was on her back and a deer was jumping up and down on top of her, trying to stomp her into the ground. I ran screaming at the deer and was within ten feet or so before she sensed my coming. At that point, I was afraid I was going to have to tackle her but thankfully, she fled into the woods.

Mae Belle was again a wreck. Her belly was cut open and she was in shock. We wrapped her up sped her to the emergency vet. They were able to stabilize her and bandage her up cuts. She had twelve breaks in her ribs. When we took her home the next day, she was sore but able to move around. She recuperated surprisingly fast, open sitting at the open doorway of our home with her bandage her midsection, growling lowly whenever a deer cut through the yard.

I did some research and found deer attacks on dogs are surprisingly common. especially in the spring when the does are protective of their fawns. In fact, that same day, a friend who lives several miles from us, watch as their neighbor’s dog was chased and cornered by their garage by a deer. No injuries in that case but it happens on a regular basis. So, watch your dogs if there are deer around your home this time of the year.

Despite all her physical problems and injuries, Mae Belle had a great five years with us. She actually seemed to get younger with each passing year and displayed more and more vigor, joy, and satisfaction as the time went on. She would do a little dance of joy when being fed, where she would dance and bounce from side to side on those little chicken wing legs, a big grin on her toothless mouth.

What a baby doll. It hurt like hell when we had to put her down after a chronic illness quickly knocked her for a loop. But that time we had initially thought would be a short time to comfort her turned into a wonderful five years for us both. One of my favorite memories of her sleeping next to me with her little chicken legs wrapped around my thigh.

If you get a chance to someday adopt an older dog, do it. Their love and gratitude is such a tangible thing that it far overshadows the inevitable sorrow that comes with their passing.

All that came back to me yesterday watching that deer harass that poor raccoon not ten feet from where Mae Belle had been attacked. I know that Memorial Day is about honoring those that have given their lives in service to our nation but today I am honoring Mae Belle for all that she gave to us. The photo at the top is Mae Belle near the end of her time with us. That sweet little snausage.

Have a good day.

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Civil War Dogs- Dog JackI’ve been cat-sitting in the studio for a few days, bringing the total of felines ( all strays or discards) around here to four.  While I love and appreciate these cats with their distinct personalities, having four around has made me yearn for a dog once more.  While zipping through images, anything resembling a dog makes me stop, including this old cabinet card for a mascot, Jack,  for the 102nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers from the Civil War.  The card lists the battles that jack took part in with the regiment as well as listing his capture by the Confederates and his subsequent exchange for opposing troops.  Quite a resume and the fact that the regiment made the effort to have the photo and card made speaks to Jack’s rank in the regiment.  

I knew that dogs have been used in combat for ages, in modern times serving as detectors of bombs and corpses.  But the mascots of the Civil War intrigued me.  Jack here, for instance, was a stray who wandered into a Pittsburgh firehouse and , through his tenacity, eventually worked his way into the firefighter’s hearts, joining them as they enlisted as a unit for the war.  He would march with the troops and would stand at the end of the firing line during combat, barking furiously at the opposing troops.  Jack served for over three years, including six months in a Confederate prison camp where it is said he gave great comfort to the Union prisoners there .  He was wounded a number of times and finally disappeared in December of 1864 near Frederick, MD.  Jack was never found but it is thought he was probably killed for the expensive silver collar his comrades had awarded him.

The only known photo of Sallie

The only known photo of Sallie

Jack was one of the more famous of the Civil War dogs, having portraits painted of him that still hang today as well as a recent movie giving a fictionalized account of his life.  But my favorite is undoubtedly the story of Sallie, the mascot of the 11th PA Volunteers from around West Chester, PA.  Given to the regiment’s captain as a four or five week old pup, Sallie (named after one of the local beauties) became the apple of the regiment’s collective eye.  She trained with the men, responding to reveille and roll calls with great discipline.  She was affectionate with her troops, who she knew even out of uniform, and proved to be fearless when they entered the fray.

Her combat record was remarkable.  She served for nearly the duration of the war, receiving wounds including a severe shoulder wound that did not deter her from her duty to her comrades.  It is said that after the surgeon was unsuccessful in removing the  gun’s ball from her shoulder (it later emerged after working itself to the surface), Sallie was back on duty , tearing the seat out of the pants of a soldier who was trying to flee the battle.  After the battles, including Gettysburg, , Sallie would lick the hands and faces of the wounded and would guard the dead until their comrades would come for them.  It is said that during a review of the troops in Fredericksburg, VA, Abraham Lincoln even doffed his stovepipe hat to Sallie as she passed, much to the delight of her fellow troops.

Sallie's Place at the Foot of the 11th PA's Monument

Sallie’s Place at the Foot of the 11th PA’s Monument

But, like most war stories, there was no happy ending.  In February of 1865, two months before the war’s end, Sallie was killed in combat at Petersburg.  While the battle raged around them, her regiment took on the task of burying her on the battlefield.  The affection that these troops had for this canine warrior was so strong that when they erected a regimental monument at the Gettysburg battlefield in 1890, they chose have a likeness of Sallie watchfully laying at the foot of the larger monument.  I think it’s telling that when the regiment had a reunion at the battlefield in 1910, the group photo was shot so that there was space so that the statue of Sallie was among them.

I can only imagine the value of the affection and warmth Sallie  and other less known canine mascots offered these men while they struggled to get through the war.  A dog’s unconditional love is a wonder.

11th PA Volunteers with Sallie among them 1910

11th PA Volunteers with Sallie among them 1910

Civil War Dogs- Sallie Monument detail 1 Civil War Dogs- Sallie Monument detail

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