A Furry, Finned or Feathered Treatment Plan

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Due to changes in Fair Housing Act laws, clinicians are experiencing a significant increase in requests from patients for medical documentation to keep emotional support animals with them in “no-pets policy” rental housing. On a college campus, this leads to far more than just two-legged mammals inhabiting dorm rooms.  There has been an animal explosion on our University campus with over seventy animals of various types approved as an “ESA” in the residence halls and unknown dozens more who live with their owners off campus yet still frequent campus.  Only a small minority of these animals are actually trained and certified as service animals with the right to accompany their owner on public transportation to any public place, including classrooms and eating establishments.  The rest are approved only for housing purposes, yet they are regularly showing up in airplane cabins and grocery stores, dressed in little jackets that are easily purchased along with “certification letters” for big prices on the internet.  ESAs have become part of the campus and community landscape.

As a relatively outdoorsy, green and tolerant northwest University campus, the presence of animals on our campus has yet to seem like a big deal, but as the animal numbers inevitably increase due to 25% of the college student population nationwide currently eligible for an animal due to a mental health diagnosis, it is becoming a big deal as individuals insist on exercising their civil rights along with their dogs.

And it isn’t always dogs.  There are cats, along with the occasional pocketed rat, hamster, guinea pig, flying squirrel, and ferret not to mention emotional support pot bellied pigs, tarantulas, and various types of birds.  And at least one snake.

Yes, a snake.

As a physician farmer concerned with stewardship of the patients I treat and the land and animals I care for, I’m emotionally caught and ethically bound in this treatment trend.  The law compels clinicians to provide the requested documentation to avoid  potential law suits alleging discrimination, yet I’m also concerned for the rights of the animals themselves.   I’ve loved, owned and cared for animals most of my sixty two years and certainly missed my pets during the thirteen years I was in college, medical school, residency and doing inner city work (my tropical fish and goldfish notwithstanding).  I neither had the time, the money, the space nor the inclination to keep an animal on a schedule and in an environment that I myself could barely tolerate, as stressed as I was.   That is not stopping the distressed college student of today from demanding they be able to keep their animals with them in their stress-mess.

As a clinician, I’d much prefer writing fewer pharmaceutical prescriptions and help individuals find non-medicinal ways to address their distress.   I’d like to see my patients develop coping skills to deal with the trouble that comes their way without falling apart, and the resilience to pick themselves up when they have been knocked down and feel broken.   I’d like to see them develop the inner strength that comes with maturity and experience and knowing that “this too will pass.”  I’d like individuals to see themselves as part of a diverse community and not a lone ranger of one, understanding that their actions have a ripple effect on those living, working, eating, riding and studying around them. Perhaps corporate work places, schools and universities should host a collaborative animal center with rotating dogs and cats from the local animal shelter, so those who wish to may have time with animals on their breaks without impacting others who aren’t animal fans, or with potentially life threatening animal dander allergies.

So I find myself reluctantly writing a prescription for a living breathing creature perceived by the law as a “treatment” rather than a profound responsibility that owners must take on for the lifetime of the animal.   With great gravity, I always let my patients know an animal is not disposable like a bottle of pills (or a human therapist) when no longer needed and must have a lifelong commitment from its owner beyond a particular time of high personal stress.

Pardon me now while I go take care of my dogs, my cats, by birds, and my horses and yes, my goldfish.  They are my joy to support for decades and for as long as they need me.

josekelsy

Turn Aside and Look: An Opened Door

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

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Sam does barn chores with me, always has.  He runs up and down the aisles as I fill buckets, throw hay, and he’ll explore the manure pile out back and the compost pile and check out the dove house and have stand offs with the barn cats (which he always loses).  We have our routine.  When I get done with chores, I whistle for him and we head to the house.  We go back home.

Except this morning.  I whistled when I was done and his furry little fox face didn’t appear as usual.  I walked back through both barns calling his name, whistling, no signs of Sam.  I walked to the fields, I walked back to the dog yard, I walked the road (where he never ever goes), I scanned the pond (yikes), I went back to the barn and glanced inside every stall, I went in the hay barn where he likes to jump up and down on stacked bales, looking for a bale avalanche he might be trapped under, or a hole he couldn’t climb out of.  Nothing.

Passing through the barn again, I heard a little faint scratching inside one Haflinger’s stall, which I had just glanced in 10 minutes before.  The mare was peacefully eating hay.  Sam was standing with his feet up against the door as if asking what took me so long.  He must have scooted in when I filled up her water bucket, and I closed the door not knowing he was inside, and it was dark enough that I didn’t see him when I checked.  He and his good horse friend kept it their secret.

Making not a whimper or a bark when I called out his name, passing that stall at least 10 times looking for him, he just patiently waited for me to open the door and set him free.

It’s a Good Friday.

The lost is found even when he never felt lost to begin with.   But he was lost to me.  And that is what matters.

He was just waiting for a closed door to be opened so he could go home with me.  And today, of all days, that door has been thrown wide open.

 

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Though you are homeless
Though you’re alone
I will be your home
Whatever’s the matter
Whatever’s been done
I will be your home
I will be your home
I will be your home
In this fearful fallen place
I will be your home
When time reaches fullness
When I move my hand
I will bring you home
Home to your own place
In a beautiful land
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
From this fearful fallen place
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
~Michael Card

Seen Through at a Glance

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whenever you mark a horse, or a dog,
with a peculiarly mild, calm, deep-seated eye,

be sure he is an Aristotle or a Kant,
tranquilly speculating upon the mysteries in man. 

No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses.
They see through us at a glance.
But there is a touch of divinity ….
and a special halo about a horse…

~Herman Melville from Redburn: His First Voyage

 

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There are some animals (and people) who will not look you in the eye.  It may be a reluctance to appear too bold, as direct eye contact can imply, or it may be a reluctance to expose too much of their own inner world and feelings.

Because eyes don’t lie.

But when you can empty yourself into another being’s eyes and feel both understanding and understood, that is a touch of divinity at work.  The eye is a mirror, a gazing ball and a collecting pool, and we reveal,  reflect and absorb when we really take the time and gather the courage to look deeply into one another.

 

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The North Wind Dying

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Outside, the north wind,
coming and passing,
swelling and dying,
lifts the frozen sand drives it
a-rattle against the lidless windows
and we may
dear
sit stroking the cat stroking the cat
and smiling sleepily, prrrr.
~William Carlos Williams

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José is our front porch cat. That is as opposed to our garage cat, our upper barn cat, our lower barn cats and those that come and go on the farm because we’re a hospitable place where food is always on the table.

But he is the king of the farm cats.  No one questions him (usually) and no one occupies his front porch bench without his express permission. His Majesty shows mercy to any who show proper submission, and every once in awhile, that includes the dogs.  He’s trained every pup here over the years.

He is the official front porch farm greeter, rising from his pillowy bench throne to investigate any newcomer up the sidewalk, mewing his cheerful little “chirp” of a meow in welcome.  Then he turns around and returns to his perch.

José also is a performance cat, having been trained in his younger years to ride on a bareback pad on our Haflingers, walk, trot and over jumps (sorry, no pictures).  This once again proved his ability to get any creature, large or small, to submit to his will.

The love of his life is our daughter, Lea.  José  arrived on our farm 13+ years ago from a city home where he had been adopted as a stray of indeterminate age, and was too intimidating to the other resident cats.  José needed his own kingdom and his own queen so he set his eyes on her and decided he was exactly what she needed.  They have had many happy snuggles together over the years whenever she returns home, including only a month ago during the holidays.

The winter weather was brutal over the past month with weeks of bitter northeast wind blowing right over José’s front porch bed.  Usually during northeasters he picks up and moves to another of our farm buildings until the storm is done, and then reclaims his favorite spot when he deems it cozy enough to be worthy of him.

Only this time, when the wind went away, José didn’t return.

I’ve looked, I’ve called, I’ve left goodies out.  But no José. No chirpy meow, no yellow eyed gaze, no black velvet fur to stroke, no rumbly purr to vibrate in my lap.

I fear he has left for warmer quarters far far away from here as the north wind was dying this winter.

I think he was dying too, and somewhere on the farm — I just haven’t found it yet — there is a black coat that he left behind.

He doesn’t need it any more.

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Best of Barnstorming Photos- Summer/Fall 2016

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Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
~Mary Oliver

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All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.
~Helen Hunt Jackson from “New Year’s Morning”

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The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.
– G.K. Chesterton

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To live is so startling, it leaves little room for other occupations.
~Emily Dickinson

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…whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable
—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things. …
And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4: 8 -9

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For more “Best of Barnstorming” photos:

Winter/Spring 2016

Summer/Fall 2015

Winter/Spring 2015

Summer/Fall 2014

Winter/Spring 2014

Best of 2013

Seasons on the Farm:

BriarCroft in Summer, in Autumn, in Winter,
at Year’s End

A Frayed and Beautiful Land

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Here is a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world…: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling — not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.
~Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

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The weather is getting brisker so the outdoor critters, some invited, some not,  are starting to move inside.  The cats scoot between our legs as we open the front door, heading straight for the fireplace to bask in the warmth rather than a cold wind.  The corgis come in from the yard for a nightly snack and chew bone, and stretch out on the rug, acting every bit like pieces of furry furniture.  And today there was another mouse in the trap under the sink.  I almost thought we were mouse-free with three weeks of none sighted and none trapped, but there he was waiting for me when I got home from work, well fed and quite dead.  He became an opportune meal for a cat too lazy to go get himself a living breathing mouse.

From nibbling to nibbled.  It is a tough world, inside and out.

Our most numerous and ambitious visitors from outside are the spiders, appearing miraculously crawling futilely up the sides in the bathtub, or scurrying across the kitchen floor, or webbing themselves into a corner of the ceiling with little hope of catching anything but a stray house moth or two this time of year.   Arachnids are certainly determined yet stationary predators, rebuilding their sticky traps as needed to ensure their victims won’t rip away, thereby destroying the web.

I don’t really mind sharing living quarters with another of God’s creatures, but I do prefer the ones that are officially invited into our space and not surprise guests.  The rest are interlopers that I tolerate with grudging admiration for their instinctive ingenuity.  I admit I’m much too inept and bumbling to find my way into someone else’s abode through a barely perceptible crack, and I’m certainly incapable of weaving the intricate beauty of a symmetrical web placed just so in a high corner.

After all, I am just another creature in the same boat.  There is something quite humbling about being actually invited into this frayed and beautiful, this complex and broken world, “pitted and scarred” as I am.    I’m grateful I’ve so far escaped capture in the various insidious traps of life,  not just the spring-loaded kind and the sticky filament kind.

So it is okay that I’m settled in, cozy in front of the fireplace, just a piece of the furniture.  Just so long as I don’t startle anyone or nibble too much of what I shouldn’t, I just might be invited to stay awhile.

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Damp All Through

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Early morning, everything damp all through.
Cars go by. A ripping sound of tires through water.
For two days the air
Has smelled like salamanders.
The little lake on the edge of town hidden in fog,
Its cattails and island gone.
All through the gloom of the dark week
Bright leaves have been dropping
From black trees
Until heaps of color lie piled everywhere
In the falling rain.
~Tom Hennen “Wet Autumn” from Darkness Sticks to Everything.

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There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…The air is damp and cold
and by now I am a little hungry…
The squirrel is high in the oak,
gone to his nest , and night has silenced

the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

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Even when the load grows too heavy,
weariness rolling in like a fog to
dampen all that was once vibrant,
even then

~even then~

there awaits a nest of nurture,
a place of calm
where we are fed
when we are tired and hungry.

We will be filled;
we will be restored;
the load will lighten.

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