A Rub Behind the Ears

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.
~Billy Collins, from “Dharma” from Sailing Alone Around the Room

We all should know, at least once in our lives, the complete and total enthusiastic and worshipful devotion that comes without hesitation from a dog. No other living creature grants us this: not a spouse, certainly not our children, never a cat or a horse, but dogs worship the ground we walk on.

It doesn’t take long when living with one or two dogs, to realize they are only human too – with insatiable appetites for independent defiance as they follow their noses rather than respond promptly to a call and whistle.

I love them anyway, even though they are wholly misinformed about my apparent divinity on earth.

In my view, our farm dogs exist solely so I can rub behind their divinely designed corgi ears.
Is that not reason enough?

How to Almost Kill Your Farm Dog


sammySamwise Gamgee still blind the day after almost dying


Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?
~L.M. Montgomery


I’ve owned dogs and horses and a host of other farm animals during thirty years of farm living.  Animals can be unpredictable in their behavior but they don’t make mistakes — only humans do.  One of my mistakes nearly killed my dog Sam last week.

My Cardigan corgis Sam and Homer are full time outdoor farm dogs who do chores with me morning and night.  They accompany me to the hay barn to fetch bales of hay, they gather up the barn cats for herding practice, they help me clean the horse stalls by picking up (and usually eating) stray manure balls that I fail to pick up fast enough.  These are very important jobs for a corgi whose brain and sense of self worth depends on being needed.

All was ordinary on Sunday morning as we went from stall to stall doing our clean up work, including my quarterly deworming of the horses by syringing wormer paste into their mouths before letting them have their morning meal.

A few hours later on Sunday afternoon I went out to the dog yard to let out Homer and Sam to do barn chores and Sam stood immobilized at the gate, trembling and blind.  His pupils were completely dilated, he couldn’t see a thing and had been vomiting — a lot.  The only possibility was a toxic exposure, most likely licking up a glop of ivermectin paste in the shavings of the stalls we were cleaning after a horse slopped it out of their mouth during the worming process.

We scooped him up and took him to the emergency animal clinic, where the suspected diagnosis was ivermectin poisoning with severe dehydration and acute blindness from the neurotoxicity of the drug in a smaller herding dog with genetic propensity to this kind of reaction.  He was lucky to be alive as the case studies show that sensitive dogs often go into seizures and coma.

In thirty years of worming animals with farm dogs around my feet, this had never even occurred to me to be a risk.  Now I know better, and the dogs will stay out of the barn during worming and for several days afterward as the manure can end up with toxic amounts of wormer drug in it too, and corgis happen to consider horse manure a delicacy.

Sam was vigorously rehydrated with intravenous fluids overnight, had an appetite in the morning but still remained blind as his pupils remained fully dilated for about 24 hours.  He slowly regained his vision over several days, and now is back to his sweet, playful  incorrigible corgi self.

I’m very grateful I didn’t kill my dog, but I sure managed to come close.

At least tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it — yet.




Hairy Toes Blessings



photo by Brandon Dieleman
photo by Brandon Dieleman



“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)

It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to such a blessing.   But I like the idea of being blessed starting from the bottom up,  encompassing my most humble and homely parts first.

The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves.   They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought.   Benedictions can extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings;  wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.

But let’s start at the very beginning: let’s bless our hairy toes.  A very good place to start…

“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”
Flannery O’Connor

May you always have…
Walls for the winds
A roof for the rain
Tea beside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
Those you love near you
And all your heart might desire

May those who love us, love us;
and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles
so we’ll know them by their limping.
Traditional Irish Blessings

photo by Nate Gibson
photo by Nate Gibson