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Friday, December 31, 2010

Dick Sparrow, king of the Drafts

An icon passed from this earth last week, an icon from my childhood.

I remember, as a child, attending the Great Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport and all the fun that entailed (that’s another blog to write). But every year we looked forward to the day and night that the great draft horses would come to perform. We watched first the halter classes and guess at the horse with the best conformation. Later we enjoyed watching the draft pulls, where the horses competed at pulling weights. We’d cheer and yell to help them pull ever heavier weights until finally the winner emerged.

Then at night came the big attraction. All of the various companies entered the hitch classes. First it would be a buggy with one horse, then a two-horse hitch with a wagon. Finally it was the big hitches, the four and six-horse hitches. We sat in the stands judging our favorites and condemning the others. We’d cheer and clap to signify our favorites and complain when the true judges picked someone different.

Well, one of those competitors was Dick Sparrow of Zearing, Iowa. He was one of the favorites every year. He drove palomino Belgians that were always matched to perfection. The rig would shine in the stadium lighting and the harnesses glistened. The sound of those large hooves pounding the earth shook the entire stadium. Sparrow was most famous for his 40-horse hitch which travelled around the country for special exhibitions. It is said that when he drove that bunch he had 5 reins in each hand!

Last week we lost Dick Sparrow. It seems like a part of my life has died along with him but his family continues the tradition. They continue to raise the best of horses and are most gracious to visitors to the farm. I’ve even read that they are big on training future draft horse drivers. Many of his sons and daughters are still in “the business” showing and raising draft horses around the Midwest. The Sparrow legend lives on.

For more information see the Des Moines Register’s coverage at:

They also have a blog with more information about Sparrow’s life:

Friday, December 24, 2010


It’s hard to watch a loved one age but it is a natural process of life. I sit with Twygal on my lap, she likes to sit upright with her paws curled on my chest and her head under my chin. I should be typing but instead savor the time I have left with this little fireball.

She showed up one day in the barn, a tiny, round ball of fur just popping up from between bales. So I grabbed her and took her home. She was young enough that I didn’t have to go through any taming process as I did with other feral cats and kittens. The only thing we disagreed about was her name. I wanted to call her Galaxy in tribute to another cat I’d lost that year. After all her tortoiseshell fur looks like a night sky sparkled with stars. But she preferred the name Twilight. You see, I believe that if you are open to suggestion cats will tell you their proper names in time. In the end we agreed to combine the two, thus “Twygal.”

True to her tortie coloring she became quite a little monster. She’d terrorize the older cats and attacked anything that bothered her. She is also a perfect example of redirected aggression. She won’t usually bite me but if I’m bothering her too much she’ll take out after the nearest cat or even the dog. Sometimes my bad side comes out and I’ll tease her into attacking another cat by rubbing her back for a moment. If she happens to be pointed toward some hapless cat he becomes her target.

A very different thing happened the first time she met my sister’s very large Siberian Husky. Granted it was her first time outside since I’d caught her but the minute she saw that large dog she bit me and took off. Luckily she was on a leash so I was able to grab her before she managed to slip out of her harness.

At home she rules the roost and even keeps the larger cats away from her food. She takes her position at the foot of the bed and makes her displeasure known if I move my feet during the night. Her personality changes, though, whenever she visits her veterinarian. She becomes this silly, shy little nothing that puts up with anything they need to do to her. No one at the clinic would ever believe what she’s like at home.

Now Twygal is 16 years old and she’s facing some health issues. We’re not sure what exactly is going on but she lost a lot of weight a while back and had a terrible bout with colitis. After many attempts to control her symptoms we’ve finally got her back on track and she’s back to her chubby ole self. The difference is she needs more attention now and I’m obliged by my love for her to give her every bit she asks for. Twygal is a joy in my life that I’ll always treasure.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Screamin' Demon

Have you ever noticed those unsung heroes at your veterinary clinic, those feline wonders who wander around seemingly without a care? Do they greet you as you enter the door or do they casually wave their tail at you as you write out your check? Or perhaps they remain in the “back room” during regular hours to keep them out from under foot of clients but they are there. The resident, clinic cats. Every clinic cat has its story. Maybe next time you see one you might ask what his story is. Demon was one cat whose story I can tell.

Demetrius was one of a litter of four born to one of our barn cats, Nile, in 1973. I had just started working at a veterinary hospital when he was born. Over the next few weeks the kittens started dying, not of disease but from the attacks of a neighbor’s dog. Demetrius was the only surviving kitten. I was not allowed to bring him indoors so I did the next best thing: I took him into work with me.

I walked in the front door with the small blue bundle in my arms and everyone rushed to see what it was. When I explained the situation our veterinarian agreed to take Demetrius in as the clinic cat.

Over time several things became obvious; for one, Demetrius was too long a name for a cat that the clientele would be meeting. For another he was becoming a demon of a kitten. Soon the word stuck and he became Demon. First, he began climbing up the backs of clients with no forewarning. That had to stop so he had to be declawed. Next he learned to sit in waiting for certain clients to come in to pet him. They would innocently stroke his soft fur until suddenly they found Demon’s clawed back feet embedded in their hands. Not only that but he learned how to climb on people using his back claws. So Demon became a completely declawed cat. Besides his trouble-making he was also known for being quite talkative to the point of being annoying at times.

However, Demon was always my cat no matter what anyone else thought. Everyday I’d come in to clean the kennels I would stop in front of his cage and lean down for him to climb upon my shoulders. He’d ride my shoulders as I let the dogs outside to the runs. He’d also ride my shoulders as I cleaned up out in the rest of the clinic though he’d jump down whenever there was trouble to be made. I was responsible for keeping him out of trouble but I was pretty lax in that department.

Occasionally Demon managed to escape the bonds of his indoor life by slipping out the back door of the kennel room. No one ever saw him do it but that was the only way he could have gotten out. Soon we would notice that he wasn’t around causing trouble and we’d look outside to see him sunning himself on the roof of the runs. Meanwhile the dogs would be barking like crazy at the escapee.

In 1975 our receptionist talked me into taking Demon to a cat show. It was to be the first ever Iowa State Fair cat show as well as our first. I felt he needed a much more “dignified” name for such an affair so, because of his talkative nature we dubbed him Screamin’ Demon. I learned from the receptionist that cages at cat shows must be decorated in some way so I measured out some poster boards to fit in the cage and painted them in an appropriate theme. It was covered with demonic figures.

Something like 100 cats were entered in that show so we sat and waited quite a bit. But it was worth it in the end. Screamin’ Demon became the first cat to win first place in the first Iowa State Fair cat show!

In spite of all the glory, Demon lived the typical life of a clinic cat. His one other role in the hospital was as a blood donor. For a couple of years he donated blood to cats that needed it for a variety of reasons but he easily bounced back with all the TLC he received each time.

Then came the other cats. You see our wonderful veterinarian was a cat lover and took in a variety of cats. Himabby was a Himalayan/Abyssinian cat he’d adopted that had trouble using the litter pan so he came to the clinic. Rascal was another one who’d outstayed his welcome at home and joined the clinic. By this time I was no longer working at the clinic but I’d stop by for visit periodically with my favorite feline buddy. Demon never seemed too happy with the other cats that came into the clinic but he tolerated them. Demon lived a long, happy life as a clinic cat and left a legacy never to be filled in my life.

So the next time you visit your own veterinary clinic be sure to ask about the clinic cat. You might be surprised at the variety of stories you’ll hear. And you’ll hear the stories from people who truly love them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Planning for Your Pet

The holidays are a time of celebration, good, abundant food and festive decorations, what could be bad about it? Well, for our pets, a lot. When you plan for the holidays make sure to keep your pets in mind.

First off a regular diet is important. Just because it is the holiday season and many delicious foods are available that doesn’t mean that your pet should partake in the human munchies. It may be okay to offer your cat or dog a small sliver of turkey as a treat but anything more or anything else could cause problems. Remember that some things we eat can be poisonous to pets such as, onions, garlic and grapes. Besides, once you start offering human food to pets you encourage them to beg at the table or at your chair side or anywhere else you might be eating.

Second, visitors are likely during this season and bring their own dangers for your pets. Some visitors may not like pets so you’ll need to accommodate their wishes if you want to have a happy time during their visit. Keep the pet in a room by itself but make frequent visits to the room to keep your pet happy. Besides, your pet will probably feel better away from all the human festivities. During the celebrations the doors will likely be opening and closing a lot too so your pet will be safest in its own room. Provide all the comforts your pet could want in this room such as a soft place to lie down, food and water and of course a safe toy to occupy him.

Other considerations are the things your visitors are likely to bring with them. For instance, might they bring their own pets? And will your pet get along with the visiting animals? Your overnight guests may bring another hazard to your household: medications. Be sure that their medications are safely out of reach from your pets. And plants: many plants are hazardous to pets, especially lilies. Seasonal plants such as Poinsettias can cause serious stomach upsets and bring on a visit to the emergency clinic if ingested. Keep all new plants up and away from pets until you can check to see if they are poisonous to pets.

Third, decorations make the holidays so special but they can cause serious harm to your pets if broken and/or ingested. Tinsel is one of the worst types of decorations for your pets. If swallowed it can become tangled in or even cut through the stomach or intestines. Broken glass is just as dangerous if ingested but can also cause painful cuts if stepped on. Remember, your pets are running around barefoot. Ribbons and bows are likewise dangerous if swallowed or can become wrapped around toes or feet. And remember the electrical cords and appliances. Pets love to chew on cords and electrocute themselves. If you use space heaters or similar appliances be certain to keep your pets away from them. They could be burned by them or knock them over and cause a fire. The preservatives in Christmas tree water can be extremely toxic to your pet so cover the pan in some way to keep pets away from it.

And finally if you haven’t done so before now maybe this is the best time to get your pet micro-chipped. Open doors are common even on the coldest days as you greet guests to your parties, as you lug in all those presents or as the kids come and go from the snow filled out-of-doors.

Many dangers await our pets in this season of celebrations but with thoughtful planning they can enjoy the festivities safely.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lady Butterfly

She just never had a chance. Lady Butterfly came into my household as a feral cat that needed very little taming but I was dealing with the terminal illness of another cat. He was “that special cat” one that we all have. Somehow amidst all the turmoil I was able to find a home for the pretty little Lady with a family that was excited to have her.

Lady was a petite brown classic tabby and white cat with the silkiest fur I’d ever felt. Almost immediately when I let her out of the trap she became a sweet loveable pet. But I wasn’t in a position to keep any more cats so I sought homes for both her and her brother, Target. I finally got a call from a woman with two teenage daughters who really wanted a cat. I was thrilled that someone was willing to take on an adult cat and made plans for them to take her.

Meanwhile Misha Baryshnikat was dying. He was my special cat, one that had traveled around the Midwest with me to many, many cat shows. He’d been the second best Household Pet Cat in the CFA Midwest Region one year but was the best in my heart every minute of his life. His pancreas was inflamed and he probably had a tumor that was growing in his gall bladder but he would never have survived surgery so I could do no more for him. His veterinarian gave him about a week to live.

Then one day amidst the snowy beginnings of the blizzard of ’96 I got a call from the woman who had adopted Lady. Seems the sweet little Lady wasn’t fitting into the family as quickly as they’d hoped and they wanted to return her. I agreed to meet them halfway between our homes to pick her up. I found the little Lady swimming in a carrier covered in urine and feces. She’d obviously been in the carrier a very long time. I transferred her to my own carrier and left right away. She just never had a chance. The snow began falling with even more ferocity that I’d expected on our way home.

Lady made herself at home once more in my isolation room with her brother and I returned to Misha’s side. Then the blizzard hit. It snowed that night and by morning the skies were so white I couldn’t see my neighbor’s house! I awoke in a puddle that morning and realized that Misha was having a seizure losing control of his bladder. I tried calling his veterinarian but she was stuck in Des Moines at a conference. It didn’t really matter anyway since I couldn’t have gotten to the clinic myself.

I spent the next two days just holding Misha in his plush little red bed wishing I could calm his seizures and staring out the window. I knew I was losing my baby but I could do nothing more than hold him. Finally, that Sunday, a trusted friend made it to my house and drove me to the clinic. I held Misha tightly the entire trip. I knew nothing more could be done; his liver was failing, his pancreas was inflamed and who knows what else was going on in that ravaged little body. My buddy of 14 years left me that night.

That next week I cared for my other cats like an automaton. I fed my own cats, cleaned their litterpans then did the same for the ferals but then I went back to bed to curl up with Misha’s little red bed. But each time I entered that isolation room Lady wouldn’t let me ignore her. She’d ignore her food to talk to me instead. She’d crawl up on my shoulders every chance she got but she couldn’t give me what I really wanted.

Finally I gave in and took the two cats into my family giving them names. Lady kept trying. She would sleep under the covers with me much like Misha would as if she were trying to fill the void. But she couldn’t replace him. She talked to me at night as if to tell me it was bedtime much as Misha would but she wasn’t him. Even later when I started to show her, she did very well bringing home almost as many awards as Misha. But she wasn’t Misha.

She just never had a chance but somehow she broke through anyway. Lady became a great Pet Therapy cat comforting many residents in nursing homes and youth shelters and even fit in with my sister’s young children and all their noise. Today she is almost 16 but still very active and still very loving and still trying to fill that void. In doing so she’s become her own part of my heart.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


If you’ve ventured into this blog I’d like to introduce myself. I am a professional writer dabbling in several themes but especially pet-related topics, gardening, nature and veterinary issues. I’ve had pets of all types but presently live with several cats and a dog named Blizzard. I try to keep a small backyard vegetable garden every year and am trying to get rid of my lawn by expanding my flower gardens all over the yard. I also have a patch of native plants in my backyard that keeps me connected to nature by attracting all sorts of birds, toads and snakes.

I’d like to help my readers keep up on issues that affect their pets, gardens and the natural world. Much to their chagrin I will use my own pets as examples when possible and I may even tell you when the morels are ripe for hunting or when to plant your veggies.

I hope you’ll forgive me if occasionally I dive off into other subjects but I promise not to do so often. It’s just that I do have a lot of interests and if, for instance, the Moody Blues come to town again then I may have to write about that concert. Or if The Hobbit ever comes out, I may have to write about those movies. But for the most part I’ll stay on topic with a weekly blog on pets.

So, thanks for your interest and let’s give our pets the best of care.