The window is smudged, especially near the bottom where the noses meet the glass. Behind it sits the old leather sofa. Not the stark, Danish kind with a stiff upper back, but the comfy, overstuffed, pillowy kind that invites you to sink into it with a cup of hot tea and a blanket. It would be the perfect place to look out over the farm on a rainy afternoon if the couch were orientated that way. But it’s not. Instead, the comfy sofa faces inward, with its back up against the glass, to engage conversation from across the room.
It is there that they sit, waiting for me, whenever I am not at home. On one end is Brutus, the aging Shepherd mix, slouched into the arm of the couch with his head craned around and resting on the pillow topped back, his gaze fixed outside. Slumped at the other end in a mirror image pose is Dodger, the ethereal, red-coated, blue-eyed Husky. Between them is Murphy, the painfully cute, caramel and white Beagle mix, draped long ways across the back of the couch on a billowy platform he somehow scrunches out of the overstuffed leather. From there he can see beyond the front porch and well past the donkey barn, almost to the start of the driveway.
And so it is usually Murphy who spies my car first. By the time I am past the donkey barn I can see him through the window, now seated on the couch back with his head tilted back and his nose pointed skyward, letting loose with a full Beagle howl. Dodger quickly pops up and adds his high pitched yelps. Old Brutus is slow to un-slouch, but his head is at full attention with one ear up Shepherd style, and the other forever flopped down. He joins the chorus with his low, staccato paced woofs.
As I pull up in front of the house, the two younger dogs leap off of the couch. Brutus gingerly plants his front feet onto the floor before pushing off with his back to follow them to the front door. My other three dogs come running. There is Uma, the imposing, hundred pound Akita mix, Blue, the snow-white Pit Bull with the one blue eye, and little Jenny, a black dog of unknown breed that could pass as an undersized Lab. It is all I can do to nudge the door open past the swirling wall of dog that has gathered to greet me. Somehow I manage, and the dogs rush out past me, turn in tight circles and escort me inside, barking and spinning around my feet every step of the way.
I shut the door and Murphy jumps up to tag me.
I am home.
Brutus has been with us since 2006. We adopted him along with Jenny (below) after some friends of ours were forced to leave Colorado due to a family emergency and couldn’t take the dogs with them. As near as we can figure, Brutus is some kind of Shepherd mix and is probably 14-years old. He is exceptionally high-strung, competitive, loyal and smart. It won’t surprise us if he starts talking. Brutus likes to think he is in charge and most of the time we don’t argue the point.
Jenny is also about as old as Brutus. When she came to live with us, we already had a dog named Jenny Lou (who has since passed away), so we tried calling her Jen-Jen. She never accepted the name change. Jenny loves to dig holes in the vineyard and roll in cow poop. Yes, she is loving life on the farm. We have no idea what breed(s) she is. We’re going with Black Lab crossed with a cattle dog, and possibly some Dachshund.
Uma was a four-month old puppy when she came to live with us in 2005. She belonged to a couple living next to a house Bob was working on in Bandon, Oregon. They had just had a baby and didn’t have time to house train Uma (who they called Precious), and so they kept her tied to a tree in the yard! It was only a matter of time before the couple asked Bob to take her. And he did. Good thing, too, because it turns out Uma can tell when our wine grapes are ripe. She sniffs them all summer long but won’t try to eat one until they’re at 23 Brix, the perfect sugar content for harvest! Uma is an Akita-mix. Her name comes from Ummagumma, an early Pink Floyd album. (The idea came to me because the coloring on her face reminds me of the Obscured By Clouds album cover. But you can’t name a dog “Obscured By Clouds.”)
Murphy, and his “brother” Dodger (below), joined our pack on Mother’s Day 2008. He was just two years old at the time, and Dodger about three. They belonged to a young couple I worked with who asked us to take them. They kept the dogs crated while they were at work during the day and both Murphy and Dodger were so dissatisfied with this arrangement they howled all day long. This got them tossed out of more than a few town homes. Murphy likes to think he is my boss and he absolutely insists on a daily run in the vineyard no matter what the weather. Many days, I am glad for his enthusiasm. The walks keep me in shape and in touch with the health of the vines. We are pretty sure Murphy is a Beagle-cattle dog mix and the Beagle comes out whenever he howls.
Dodger is a red-coated, blue-eyed Husky, and as far as we know, is the only purebred in our pack. He was named by his previous owner after “The Artful Dodger” in Oliver Twist, a character that is something of a ringleader and a thief. The ringleader part is true of our Dodger. While Brutus likes to think he is in charge, we think Dodger is the Alpha Dog. When something is important to him, like sleeping next to my side of the bed, he gets what he wants. Dodger is happiest when it snows, which doesn’t happen very often here in southern Oregon. His favorite pastime is going with us to the donkey barn to get a carrot. He loves carrots! They help keep up his orange-colored coat.
Blue is a young American Bulldog-mix (or possibly a purebred) who came to live on our farm about a year before we did. She was rescued by the family that was taking care of the farm prior our move here after they discovered she was being kept in a rabbit hutch! Blue has turned out to be the perfect farm dog. She considers it her job to accompany us on our daily chores and whenever our nephews come to visit she appoints herself their constant guardian and companion. We have since learned that dogs like Blue were once known as “The Prairie Nanny” because they were often used to watch over children. When our caretakers returned to Denver after our move here, we all agreed it would be best if Blue stayed with us on the farm. As the term “Prairie” suggests, Pit Bulls are not always the best city dogs. However, Blue is perfectly suited to farm life. Because they does not menace cats, Blue and Honeymoon (below) are the only members of the pack allowed in the horse barn.
Honeymoon is a young Pit Bull that belongs to Nick, who works on our farm. Whenever Nick comes to work, so does Honeymoon, so she is like the seventh member of the pack (even if Brutus doesn’t entirely agree). Honeymoon spends her days bounding from one end of the farm to the other as Bob and Nick work and she never seems to run out of energy. She’s been clocked running alongside one of the farm buggies at 25-30 mph. Like Blue, she is perfectly suited to farm life and a favorite among our nephews when they visit.
Mama Cat appeared in our horse barn, along with her three kittens, on a rainy night in March 2012. While we can’t be sure how they got there, we think someone must have left them, hoping/knowing it would be a good home. For us, it was as if we had been gifted a complete set of cats; an orange one, a grey one, a black one and a calico Mom! We named her Mama Cat because she is an excellent Mother. We watched her teach her kittens how to climb and hunt and play.
In May of 2013, Mama Cat had an unfortunate encounter with a visiting dog that cost her one of her rear legs. But it hasn’t slowed her down a bit. Even on three legs, she is a lethal hunter, an affectionate pet, and an exceptional Mother. She is usually the first of the cats to greet us when we arrive at the barn each morning.
Orange Kitty was the first of the three kittens I discovered in the barn. I named him Pumpkin, but Orange Kitty suits him better. Don’t be fooled by his gruff expression, he is an extremely cuddly and affectionate cat! He comes running whenever he hears the buggy and he often jumps on board to ride along on chores.
Orange Kitty broke his right hind leg when he was still a kitten. We have no idea how. He had to wear a cast for several weeks and then work hard to re-hab himself. He wasn’t satisfied until he could climb trees as well as his brother and sister. To see him now, you’d never know he had a broken leg.
Grey Kitty likes to think she is in charge of the horse barn and she relishes in tormenting any other cats that come through that are not members of her family. With us humans, though, she is docile and affectionate, especially when she is late for breakfast and wants us to serve up her own, personal can of Fancy Feast. I named her Cloud when I first saw her because her coloring reminds me of the Oregon sky. But the name Grey Kitty stuck. She loves to ride on the hay wagon and follow us around when we clean horse stalls. She always sits exactly where we are trying to work. It’s her way of helping.
Puddy Cat, A.K.A. Pudd is no longer with us. But I couldn’t possibly tell the story of the barn cats without including him. Pudd (rhymes with pudding) was the third of Mama Cat’s three kittens. He got his name because he looked so much like the cartoon cat Sylvester, we all started saying “dooo, I think I saw a puddy cat.” Pudd took after Mama Cat. He was a lethal hunter and he had absolutely no fear. Perhaps if he had had a little fear he’d still be here. But then, he wouldn’t have been Pudd.
Puddy Cat is buried under his favorite shade tree in the barnyard. The spot has become a gathering place for us to chill out and cuddle and play with the other cats. They know to meet us there. Pudd was dearly loved and he is deeply missed by his humans and by his feline family.
Black Kitty would be mortified if he knew his baby picture is on the internet! But this photo best tells the story of Black Kitty, who we were calling Itty Bitty Kitty at the time the picture was taken. He was found orphaned on the farm on the very day Mama Cat had to have her leg amputated. He was no more than a month old and was so small he could sit in the palm of your hand. He was in desperate need of a Mama. And we knew Mama Cat would need company while she convalesced in our guest room. And so when Mama Cat woke up from her surgery, her leg was gone but Itty Bitty Kitty was there! As you can see, they adopted each other immediately. When they were both recouped enough they returned to the horse barn. Orange Kitty and Grey Kitty eventually made their peace with having a new “little brother.”
It is not lost on us that Mama Cat lost a son when Pudd died. She spoiled Black Kitty rotten and never really pushed him to hunt and climb like she did her other kittens. As a result, he is a Mama’s boy and quite full of himself. In his mind, though, he is a tough, grown up cat, like a black panther or a cougar. And so the name change to the more mature “Black Kitty”.
Sweetie is the longest tenured resident on the farm on four paws. She came here in 2010 with the family that watched the farm for us prior to our move. She arrived as a house cat. But when her family went back to Denver in 2012, she had transformed herself into a barn cat. And so, she stayed. She is, as her name implies, a real sweetie. Unfortunately, Grey Kitty loves nothing more than stalking Sweetie and chasing her out of “her” barn. Sweetie has relocated to the hay barn. But she finds me, Bob or Shella whenever she wants a can of Fancy Feast or a scratch behind the ears.