If Your Annual Veterinary Bill Is Greater Than Your Income…

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to eat free…”

(With apologies to Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty.)

I always wanted to have a ranch gate sign made that read, “All hope abandon, all ye who enter here,” but Darleen didn’t see the humor in it. Besides, she pointed out that half the people who saw it wouldn’t understand what it meant in the first place, or where the quote came from. Fortunately, we’re isolated enough that we don’t get too many uninvited human visitors, but every starving stray animal for miles around seems to think our little ranch is the local homeless shelter, and I guess they’re right. Over the years we have taken in and found the owners of—or new homes for—two German shepherds (running together), a Boxer, three Labradors, one Golden retriever, two border collies, one mutt that appeared to be part Himalayan mastiff, multiple generic cattle dog crosses, and something that looked like it started out wanting to be a pit bull but gave it up as too ambitious. And countless cats.

Those are just the ones that have wandered onto the place uninvited. The rescues we actually sought out and made part of the household include two German shepherds, three Welsh corgis (Two Cardigan, one Pembroke), two Chesapeake Bay retrievers, one Boxer, and a horse. And countless cats.

The horse we rescued was being starved to death in an appalling situation, and we rescued it with the thought of keeping it for Darleen because it was only around fourteen hands. Of course, the moment we started feeding it, it promptly grew to sixteen hands, in spite of already being four years old, and it turned out to be a brawler, taking on any and all of our other horses without regard for sex or even how badly it got beaten up, which it invariably did. We finally sold it to a professional trainer who wanted a project, and just to show you what shrewd and cunning horse traders Darleen and I are, we are the only people I have ever heard of who have rescued a starving horse and still managed to sell it at a loss. I’ve never figured out how we achieved that.

The latest addition to the Parker menagerie is a cat we spotted from the kitchen window a few weeks ago. Between coyotes, bobcats, hawks, eagles, and owls, any domestic feline out on its own in this neck of the woods has a lifespan that can be counted in days, at best. This particular cat had evidently flunked “Hunting 101—An Introduction to Basics,” because she consisted, literally, of a moth-eaten hide loosely draped over a skeleton, and I suspect her lifespan at that point consisted of hours at most. Needless to say, anything that helpless automatically has Darleen wrapped around its paw. (Anything with fur, that is. I’ve tried helpless many times, with no success.) To be fair, this poor thing was in such bad shape that we didn’t even dare take her into the vet for almost a week because all she was capable of doing was eating and sleeping. And, of course, by the end of a week, she had Darleen wrapped…etc., etc…and is now a permanent member of the Parker establishment, with health insurance, pension, a 401k, social security, and three squares a day. I have named her Grace, because she once was lost, but now is found, but Lucky would have been just as good. Or, according to Roget’s, Fortunate, Providential, Blessed, Favored, Out of the Woods, Over the Hump, In A Bed of Roses, In A Tub of Butter, or Fat Dumb and Happy (informal).

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