Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

Oh, you guys.

Yesterday was a rough day.  I was tense and on edge from the moment I woke up.  Writing it out and reading your comments helped enormously, but there's no sigh of relief at this point.  We're still playing the waiting game (and I, for one, am tired of it).

The title of this post is a line from Tennyson's In Memoriam, which is a beautiful poem about suffering and trying to reconcile the loss of a loved one with one's faith in God (plot spoiler:  It's not easy.  For Tennyson or anyone.).  But it came to mind yesterday when we lost the newest member of our family (and NO I DO NOT MEAN THE DEUCE--the baby and I are both fine and I DO have a good sense of perspective about that, thank you very much).

We lost our little Dixie.

I know, I know.  The Urban Farm thing seemed so sweet and idyllic.  A place where flowers bloom and birds sing and the sun is always shining and the garden is always ready to harvest and dogs lie down with chickens.

Except our dogs do not lie down with chickens.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

I got home from work in time to have a quick lunch before heading to the hospital for monitoring.  I let Cooper out in the backyard to enjoy the beautiful day while I ate.  No more than thirty minutes later, I called him to come in because I needed to leave.  He did not come when I called him.

He has been fascinated by the chickens, but we've mostly ignored him, hoping he would lose interest once he realized they were here to stay.  We let him see them through the pen (supervised) Sunday afternoon.

Then we ended up moving them out to their coop permanently when David caught Loretta up on the side of the tub in the garage, ready to hop over the edge.  They are still so small that they just stay in the coop and have not ventured out into their pen on their own, although during the day we leave the ramp open so they could go outside if they wanted to.  Cooper couldn't see them at all, just hear them (and smell them), so he was pretty intrigued by the whole thing, but we didn't think much of it.  He spent a lot of Sunday evening hanging out near the coop, but he couldn't actually get to them, and he wasn't barking at them or anything.  We planned to introduce them when the chickens were bigger, making sure that Cooper understood he wasn't to lunge at them, and figuring that once they had wings and claws they would be intimidating enough that he would leave them alone (as he does the chickens at our parents' houses).

But when I went outside yesterday to see why he was not responding, I found a fox in the hen house.

And by fox, I mean puggle.

And by henhouse, I mean that he had clawed his way into the pen by separating the chicken wire from the entry way where David had nailed it in place.

Cooper was in the wire pen.  The chicks had been left in the coop.  But the door between the two was open.
I screamed--the kind of blood-curdling scream that probably should have made my neighbors come running.

I leaped across the deck to the chicken coop and threw open the roof, convinced I was about to see a horror-movie style scene of blood and gore.

Instead, I saw two chickens, hanging out together in the corner, as far away from the door leading out to the pen as they could get.  Wynona and Loretta were there.  But Dixie was no where to be found.  The pine chips near the door were moved out of the way, as though there had been a scuffle at the top of the ramp.

Cooper was out in the pen, next to the ramp, staring at the chickens, and then at me as I started crying.  He tried to come over to me when I called him again (my voice edged with hysteria) but he seemed to be afraid of the ramp, and I couldn't reach him.  I also couldn't lift the big lid to the pen and reach in and lift him out because (1) he's freaking heavy and (2) my belly is freaking huge.

I was looking everywhere for Dixie, but there was absolutely no sign of her.  I knelt down in front of the little door to the yard, opened it, knocked the ramp out of the way, and dragged Cooper out of the pen by his collar.  By this point, I was sobbing.

Dixie was gone.

And my sweet, precious, unbelievably cute, most lovable dog in the entire world had MURDERED her.

I haz chikn?
I couldn't bear to look at Cooper.  I KNOW that he's part beagle and his instincts are to hunt, but I felt like he was a secret sociopath, lurking in our midst, waiting to slaughter the innocent.

It didn't help that Dixie was the smallest and sweetest and my favorite of our chickens.

It also didn't help that I was now late for my non-stress test.

I got Cooper in the house, Loretta and Wynona safe in their coop.  I hurried around the yard, hoping against hope that somehow Dixie had escaped the pen through the hole Cooper had created and was hiding somewhere.

I knew it wasn't true, but I wanted to find her so much.  I was still crying, and knew I had to pull myself together and get to my appointment, but it felt like I was the one who had let Dixie die.  I had let Cooper out in the yard unsupervised.  I had failed to protect a defenseless little baby bird.  I had allowed her to be attacked and eaten by a big, bad wolf (evidently in one gigantic gulp).  It was so horrifying.  I'd already become attached to those chickens, especially to Dixie, and I still didn't want to accept the fact that my sweet, cuddly, snuggle-buddy Cooper was a vicious and bloodthirsty predator.  I mean, he is a freaking PUGGLE!  It's a novelty mixed-breed!  He should be DOMESTICATED!  He should not be a merciless KILLER of innocents!

I called David and managed to say, "The baby is okay, I'm okay" before I burst into tears and started wailing.

David thought I had been in a car accident and totaled the car.  He kept asking me to repeat myself.  Finally, the third time, I managed to take a deep breath and say, "COOPER.  ATE.  DIXIE!"

Honestly, I think David was as sad as I was.

So you can imagine the sort of mood I was in by the time I got to the hospital for my appointment.

The NST started and the Deuce was apparently napping, perhaps worn out from all of the excitement of my horror-filled afternoon?  I watched the machine print out a graph that showed no accelerations and I started to feel panicky.

This was it.  This was what happened to my babies at 34 weeks and 1 day.  This is where everything starts to go wrong.  I was preparing myself for the worst.  I needed to get David there.  I was starting to convince myself that they were going to admit me, there was going to be an emergency c-section, the Deuce would be in the NICU, there would be danger of brain damage and cerebral palsy and other risks associated with prematurity... and... and... (because when you start worrying, why not go WHOLE HOG, you know?).

The nurse came in and said, "Your baby is sleepy!" and I burst into tears.  I said I was worried.  I told her I'd eaten lunch and a cookie and I was drinking ice water and I was afraid something was wrong.  I told her that 34 weeks was when we'd lost our first baby.

The nurse went to get me an apple juice and I texted David and told him that no one but me was concerned, but I needed him to get up to the hospital as soon as possible.

Then I chugged my apple juice, David texted me that he was on his way, and about fifteen minutes later, the Deuce had passed the NST with multiple accelerations and I was on my way to have my fluid level checked via ultrasound (it was normal).

I called David on my way from the testing center to my OB's office to ask him where he was.  Traffic was crawling, so I told him not to bother coming to the hospital--he probably wouldn't make it there before I was heading home.

He got home shortly before I did.

I was still weepy and only somewhat convinced by my OB's reassuring hug that everything was going to be okay.

Dixie was still gone.

We were both so sad.

Cooper did not go anywhere near the chicken coop.  David said he'd gotten "in big trouble."  I asked if he spanked Cooper (we don't spank the dogs as a general rule).  David just repeated, "He got in big trouble."  I was glad I wasn't there, but honestly I'm even more glad that he is afraid to go over by the chicken coop.

I think we're going to get one more baby chick while Loretta and Wynona are still small, and try to keep our number at three this time.  I also think that I am not really cut out for the realities of life and death on a farm.

Cooper wanted to snuggle as usual on my lap last night.  I was horrified and angry with him, but I also knew that he did not understand why.

Why no luv?
So I, reluctantly, allowed him to sit with me.  He sighed contentedly and rested his head on my belly.

 My ever-loyal and loving companion.  And killer of chickens. 
Life is fragile and fleeting.  The laws of nature are mysterious.  And I am so freaking ready for this week to be over already.


  1. Oh I would have been fit to be tied! What an upsetting day!

    Cup of tea, good book, movie distractions... be as kind to yourself as you would Eliza or Deuce.

  2. Brooke, I'm sorry you had to learn that lesson the hard way, and that your doggie was the one to teach you. I am a farmer in addition to my "real" job, and life bitch-slapped me the hard way in 2009 when a coyote took advantage of a slip in my vigilance (and a really bad sun burn) to slaughter my entire egg-producing, beloved money-making flock of 11 hens and my favorite rooster. They all had names. The beast killed the roo and a hen in the chicken run, but left only blood and feathers as evidence of the others' fates. We did eventually find the severed head of one of my Easter Eggers. I have been schooled and no longer get attached. We sold my replacement flock to a friend and fellow farmer while I was pregnant with my twins (too much work for hubby), intending to start again with a little home flock only, maybe three hens and no roos, when our kiddos were old enough. My babies died. We still don't have chickens.

  3. omg, i was holding my breath the entire time. so sorry your doggie killed your chickie. :(

  4. Omg that totally stressed me out reading that. How sad and terrifying and this week just sucks for you and I'm so sorry about Dixie.

  5. I knew what this was about before I read it bc of the photo of Dixie in my reader but i still cried thru the whole post. 1) Bc I'm sad about Dixie, 2) Bc I was sad that you were so stressed out bc that feeling is sooooo familiar and being one month and one day removed, the memory of that stress is still very clear and real to me. So sorry you had such a rough day. Glad the Deuce is good tho.

  6. I have been reading and never commenting and thought I would...first off, this week will be hard and very stressful and mostly just hard. Pregnancy after loss is just so difficult and until that little baby is in your arms safe and sound, nothing anyone says makes us feel better, I have been in your shoes and the week of when you lost your duaghter is one of the toughest. You will pull through! You have many people cheering you on and it will be over soon! Yay for growing and happy baby in your tummy!
    As for the chickie, I have 30 hens and a couple of roosters and it is really hard when we lose them, seriously! But. They are very fragile when they are young, your dog may have just been investigating and then found out your chickie tasted good. Dogs and chickens can get along great, just not as little babies. I would keep them under lights in a water trough until they have feathers. Sorry you lost your chickie! You will love your hens, they are very easy to take care of and the eggs are delicious...take care.

  7. Oh fricking dogs. My friend who has 2 labs that make my 2 look well-trained just had a baby and we were commenting on how much easier life would be without them. And we are both dog people with no intention of getting rid of them but ugh. My patience with my own 2 is at an all time low. Our husky has killed a squirrel (and snuck it past Joe to bring it in the house and into our bedroom!), a couple birds, countless moles, a mice, and a bunny...so we know better than to try to get any kind of small animal with him around. Growing up, our sweet, incredibly gentle Cairn terrier (Toto dog from Wizard of Oz), ate our beloved hamster. Nature really sucks sometimes. I'm so sorry Dixie is gone.

    I'm glad Deuce passed the NST and it is normal for it to take a little while sometimes. As long as there aren't any big dramatic decelerations (ahem, ala Lucas), I wouldn't be too concerned if it takes a bit. Well, actually, because I'm a lot like you, I would be concerned because that's just what you do at this point in pregnancy. But really, doesn't sound particularly worrisome, not that I am helping much.

    Just a few more weeks! They will be over before you know it. Hang in there.

  8. That's so sad about Cooper eating Dixie :( I hate it when the dog reminds us he's really an animal.

    Glad the Deuce woke up! Baby dragon spent one whole NST a few weeks back refusing to wake up, and that landed me in the hospital overnight...during which time she was plenty awake, of course.

  9. Oh, how awful! Why are dogs so infuriating? Mine killed a kitten once. My neighbor was a cat hoarder (true story!), so it was a mangey little almost-stray kitten that came into our yard, but still. HE KILLED A KITTEN. It was horrifying.

    I am so glad the NST went well in the end.

  10. Oh I am so sorry! We also lost one of ours, they are so fragile. We bought 6 to begin with so we've just kept it at 5 and hope everything goes well from here on out. Sending calm happy thoughts.

  11. Oh I am so sorry! We also lost one of ours, they are so fragile. We bought 6 to begin with so we've just kept it at 5 and hope everything goes well from here on out. Sending calm happy thoughts.

  12. So sorry that Cooper's hunting instincts got the better of him, and on a NST day, too.

    I hope today is better and that your remaining chicks grow up with some serious "stay away from me, Dog" attitude.

  13. Just like Sonja said - I hate it when dogs remind us they are just animals. Like the time Roscoe found a decaying carcass filled with maggots and ATE IT. Only to puke it up on my bedroom floor. Twice. At 3 am. When I was 9 months pregnant. And home alone because Miles was deployed.

    Gotta love those little bastards.

    When you get a new chick - maybe give it the name of someone you hate or a bad person. So if something bad happens, it doesn't seem as bad. Oh, Cooper ate Adolph - well, atta boy I suppose. . .

    BUT most importantly - I'm glad you and bambino are doing well.

  14. :(

    This is why I don't farm.

    Glad the Deuce is ok.

  15. We have good reason to believe that our dog ate a flying squirrel -- one that got into our house. I'm kind of glad that the deed went down while we were all gone for the day. I'm so sorry about your little Dixie, but "I haz chikn?" totally made me laugh.

  16. Poor little Dixie Chick :(

    Glad the Deuce is doing well, tho!

  17. What a horror show! Not what you needed at all! Dogs will be dogs which sucks when they eat small animals and roll in dead crap but is wonderful when they rest their heads on our laps and treat our return home as the most wonderful thing in the world.

  18. I am so sorry. Indeed birds, especially baby ones are so prone to such mishaps. We lost our lil Dusky too to a cat, while we were in a vacation. It was sad, since we were so excited coming back home.
    This is one of the things that I am bothered by our lil Beagle as well. Sometimes he just gets too curious & wild, that it seems I don't know him at all. I just hope he gets along with our baby. The other day he saw a rabbit and started chasing it with leash on. I let the rabbit escape, and this guy started barking/crying like "Please come back, I wanna know you". Don't know how I can make my dog, cow-like; but I sure want to. If wishes were horses...

  19. Copper looks so innocent in the pics though! Specially where he is resting on your lap.

  20. ugh. to be honest, i only skimmed this post once i figured out what happened, because even [domestic] nature really is too harsh for me. i'm so sorry for dixie.

  21. I know it's not funny, but I spent the majority of that story laughing because you're such an amazing writer.

    I can't do animals... for many reasons... but much of that reason is because they die. I wrote off having animals since my first cat died when I was about 13. :/

  22. Ohhh no.

    When I was pregnant with my first (so early that I didn't even know it yet), I went outside to find that my dog was playing with something. When I asked what he had, he proudly spit out...a bunny head. Ew, ew, EW.

    I came running in the house screaming so loudly that my husband thought someone was trying to murder me.

    It was so traumatic and that wasn't even my pet.

    Sorry you had to go through it. Here's hoping next week is extra fabulous.

  23. Cooper?!?! What the heck man? Here I was thinking that you were the yin to Little Mac's Yang. Poor little baby chicken. Poor Brooke.

  24. Sweetie I'm sending you a big old hug from MN. I pray for you and baby Deuce EVERYDAY! The week is almost over then six left. I hate to say it but Coopers little face is so cute, even though he was very very naughty!

  25. Oh you poor love, what an ordeal. I can't help but still want to laugh when I see a pic of Cooper's cute face though. I'm sure he didn't really mean it?? He looks too cute and innocent!
    Thinking of you every step of the way.

  26. Oh Brooke -- I know it must have been awful, and I would have been every bit as horrified as you were to realize what must have happened (and really, Cooper, great timing with the NST...) -- but you had me cracking up with your descriptions and photos of Cooper's innocent "what, me??" face. Better luck with the next chick!

  27. I'm sorry about your little Dixie chick. So sad.

    But Cooper has such an innocent face, and is so cute. What a love. I'm sure he doesn't understand that he did anything wrong. xo

  28. This is so not funny, but the way you write it, I have to admit I've chuckled in a "omg I'm so sorry I'm laughing despite my horrified expression' sort of way. I think it's because Cooper's pictures are so CUTE and he looks so innocent. And clearly glad to be resting in the safety of his Momma's unending love, no matter what, there at the end.
    But poor Dixie. If there's any upside for her, it's that it obviously happened quickly.
    I'm guessing Cooper will stay a good bit away from the coop for awhile.

    Regarding the NST, as you know, I can relate!! I just hadn't read this thoroughly before I texted you this week. Sounds like we had the same experiences with those this week and YES to the freaking out all the way to delivery and NICU and complications. Because the worst happened before, and that would all be par for the course, right?
    So glad it turned out okay though. Will keep on keeping' on these last weeks!!