My most recent horse rescues are two lovely Morgan mares that came from a Pennsylvania horse auction widely known to be attended by large-scale slaughter brokers. Fortunately, a sales broker who works with the group Forever Morgans, purchased them. Forever Morgans' mission is to find good homes for horses that would have most likely ended up on a slaughter truck.
The first mare, Laurel, arrived in the summer of 2011. She was a 16 year old mare that had been an Amish carthorse. When she arrived, she still had on a full set of driving shoes, which we quickly pulled to let her just be a horse. Although, she had a lovely temperament, she didn’t really understand being a pet. She didn’t know what apples or carrots were and did not understand why we would just come into the pasture and brush her for no particular reason. It took awhile but she soon began to realize that she had a new life here, full of lazy days in the pasture with lots of treats and kind words.
In December of 2011 we rescued, again through Forever Morgans, a 17 year old mare we call Ivy. She had had some success in the show world and then had been sold to the Amish to be a carthorse and broodmare. She had been run trough the auction with her six month old filly who was sold separately and unfortunately did not make it. She was a flashy big bay with a graceful long neck and big expressive eyes. When I rode her, it felt like I was going like a freight train, but her trot was as smooth as silk. Remembering her early life as a show horse, she was appreciative of the treats and good food and lots of love so she settled quickly into her new life with us.
The winter of 2012 was mild here in Wisconsin and passed without a fight. Laurel did well all winter. With her heavy winter coat, and 24/7 access to hay she gained weight quickly and was looking good. But, no matter how much grain and hay I fed Ivy she did not seem to be gaining as quickly I would have liked.
Even though she was ribby, I noticed her belly getting wider and wider. It was then I suspected that she may be pregnant, but no… that couldn’t be. She was sold as open (not bred) so she couldn’t be pregnant… could she? So I increased her feed just in case and kept an eye on her to see how she progressed.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when on April 1st, I noticed the first signs of eminent foaling. She was all bagged up, meaning her udder was developing in order to nurse a foal. I was happy and excited. We had not had a foal around for years. How fun to have a surprise one and most likely a purebred Morgan at that! I prepared a stall for her and began the waiting game.
After many restless nights spent checking on her every few hours, on April 10 she had a beautiful, healthy bay colt. As a firm believer in imprinting newborn foals (the practice of familiarizing a newborn foal with humans) I spent the next few hours carefully touching every part of his silky soft body and tiny little hooves.
Ivy proved to be an excellent mother and it was evident that she had done this many times before. She was calm and let me handle the foal with no sign of nervousness or stress. We decided to name the foal Quincy, as it seemed to suit the friendly colt’s exuberant personality.
Laurel, who was in the paddock with Ivy all along, proved to be an excellent auntie. She gave Ivy plenty of space with the foal but stayed near enough to make her and Quincy feel safe as part of a herd. When Quincy was a little older he naturally, as colts do, began to pester Laurel. She, being the good-natured mare that she was, would gently reprimand him and teach him important horse manners.
One morning when Quincy was about a month old, I was surprised to find Laurel missing. Ivy and Quincy greeted me like usual, but Laurel was nowhere to be found. There had been a thunderstorm the night before and I checked the fence to see if she was frightened by something and ran off but it was working just fine. It was then I found her behind the barn. She was covered in mud and in obvious pain. She grunted and rolled and I knew right away we were dealing with a bad case of colic. Horses cannot burp or release excess gas through their mouths and so whenever they get a stomachache or a blockage it needs to go through their whole system. I called the vet and then went back and got Laurel up and began to walk her. Walking helps get their systems moving again. There was nothing to do now but wait.
When our vet, Dr. Tom, arrived he treated her with medication to ease her pain and help her muscles relax. We also tubed her with mineral oil to ease her digestion. We were instructed to keep an eye on her and see if her symptoms and her pain subsided. Laurel's condition turned out to be what was most likely torsion colic or a twisted gut, a much more serious case, where part of the gut gets twisted, like a kink in a garden hose. We planned on giving her the night to allow the mineral oil to work but when I went to check on her about 8:00 that evening she was thrashing in her stall. My heart sank as I realized Laurel was not going to recover, and it became clear to me what I had to do. I called Dr. Tom and asked him to come out and put her down, as she was suffering and I knew she wasn’t gong to recover. I went back out and led her out onto the grass to wait for Dr. Tom. It was then I let out a short sob, which startled Laurel and even in her pain she leaned her head into me as if to say are you ok? Her attention made me cry even harder. She was finding it hard to walk so I just stood with her, and a moment later she lay down in the cool spring grass. She was breathing heavily as I knelt down and stroked her head. “You can go now,” I said. “You can go.” With that, Laurel looked at me one last time, her eyes soft and warm. She heaved a last big sigh, and then she was gone. I wept while I petted her, not wanting to leave her, but I knew I must Tell Dr. Tom that he did not have to come after all. I finally went inside, thinking how courteous she was, saving Tom a trip in the dark night and me an additional vet bill.
The next morning, I let Ivy and Quincy out into the paddock. They quickly realized that Laurel was gone. Ivy called for her but after awhile, she went back to eating her hay.
I noticed Laurel’s grooming kit with the extra soft brush for her face and the empty hook where I hung her halter and I began to cry again for my poor mare. As all animal lovers can attest, it is never easy to lose the one you love.
While I openly wept for my beautiful mare, I tried to console myself that Laurel had a good life here. There was always food, there was always pasture, there was no work or a harsh smack from a whip, and there was plenty of attention from children, who were only too happy to brush her coat and comb her mane. I had to tell myself that at least we did what we could for her and both our lives were better for having found each other.
At that moment, I felt something come up behind me and nibble on my shirt. It was little Quincy, trying to get my attention. He jumped and snorted as I turned and then came up to me again, cheerfully demanding to be scratched and fussed over.
Hey, I’m still here. He seemed to be saying. You still have me to love. And that is just what I am going to do.
Spring is busting out all over here at White Robin Farm. Lambs are being born. Chicks are hatching and the flowers are waking up from their long winter sleep. I thought I would share with you some of my favorite spring images. Happy Spring to all of you from all of us at Barbara O'Brien Photography!
A few years back I had an assignment to photograph a small goat dairy near Winona, Minnesota. I happily documented the owner and family with the milk goats and even managed to get some nice images of their massive billy goat who was the undisputed leader of the herd.
They also had many adorable baby goats and I had fun feeding them bottles and watching them play. I noticed that three little white goat kids had escaped from their pen and mentioned this to the owner. She laughed and told me not to worry; those three are always getting out. I finished shooting and was beginning to load up my gear when a small white kid goat jumped into the back of my open minivan.
“Hey!” I shouted, and was reaching towards him to pull him out, when the other two kids goats jumped in one right after another. They were duplicates of the first goat. All white with big perky ears, and short wagglely tails. “Hey!” I said again, laughing. The owner came over and stated, “You may as well take them. They are too small for the butcher."
She explained that they were triplets, and although weaned and ready to go, they weren’t worth anything at the sales barn because they were on the small side. They were males and although she’d like to, she can only keep the females or does for her dairy.
I remembered my husband Kevin’s prior agreement with me that sheep were ok, but no goats! Goats, from our experience, were nothing but trouble. You can’t keep them in their pen, they like to jump on cars (at least the pygmy goats do) and they eat everything in sight.
But when their three little faces peered out at me as if to say, “Well? Let’s get going,” I knew I was done. Being an animal person, I always have an empty crate in the back of my van, so I loaded the goats in it.
My four sons were thrilled when the goat kids jumped out of the crate and ran right up to them to be petted. Kevin… not so much. “Goats,” he sighed, shaking his head. “I thought we agreed."
“They were going to be butchered,” I told him. “I couldn’t let that happen.” As if on cue, the goat kids ran to Kevin, pushing on him with their heads and wagging their short tails. “Ok.” he said to them, while he scratched their heads. “You’re here. You may as well stay.”
The younger boys promptly named them Marcus, Aralias, and Tiberius. They tend to name animals after what they are reading and it happened to be about the Romans at the time.
I set the goat kids up in a horse stall with an old calf hut for even more shelter. It wasn’t long before they figured out that they could crawl under the bars of the gate to freedom.
They became our constant companions. Whether it was chore time, where they insisted on stealing corn from the chicken feeders, or haying time, where they jumped on and off the bales as I tried to move them around, or just hang out in the yard time, where they tried to nibble on the book I reading, they were always part of what we were doing. When a crew came to insulate the house, the goats managed to sneak into the back of their open truck and had to be locked up for the duration.
We have learned that we can forget about trying to keep them in their pen. There is an old saying, that if your fence can hold water it can hold a goat. We have found this to be true.
Just when I thought I had closed all the gaps large enough for a small goat to crawl under, they learned to jump right over it. I watched in amazement as they jumped straight up and over, one right after another, like small deer. I wonder why nobody has started the sport of goat agility like they do for dogs. I think goats would be excellent at it.
And forget about having a garden; although the goats do eat weeds, they also eat all the good plants and shrubbery as well. I remember the first spring we had them, I had a lovely plot of tulips that were just about ready to bloom. The goats had escaped again, and it only took them moments to eat the tops off of every tulip.
I won’t say they’re all bad though. Now that they are full grown, topping out at 75 pounds each, they protect the sheep and will drive away dogs they don’t know. They are good company and are always curious about what we are doing. Being white, they photograph well, and are easy to find in the dark. And finally, they are always guaranteed to make me smile.
This fellow's name is Wild Bill. He gets that name as he has quite the way with the ladies. He is a white Leghorn Rooster. He would like to think that he is top dog, but he is not.
That honor goes to his fellow. Mr. Fugley. We don't know what he is. His mother hatched him out and his dad could have been any number of roosters we had at the time. Poor Mr, Fugly, He may not be much to look at, but the ladies love him and he is ruler of the roost. Even the dogs leave him alone.
A few more of Wild Bill. He spends a lot of time talking the big talk but is nowhere to be seen when Mr. Fugley comes around.
This is Rudolph Valentino, he is named after the famous Latin
lover from Hollywood’s early years. Quite the handsome fellow don’t you think?
He is even brave enough to take on the cats.
But this is what happens when he sees Mr. Fugley.
Now this is what the roosters spend so much time fussing over.
This is one of the ladies they spend so much time fighting over. Her name is Grace. All of the speckled hens like her are named Grace.
All of the red ones are named Ruth.
All the white ones are named Gladys.
And all the ducks are named Richard. Don't laugh, It just makes thing easier.
And here is why we keep Mr. Bill, Rudolph Valentino and Mr. Fugley around at all. They keep the hens happy. Happy hens make more eggs and more eggs make a happy me!
Making movies is a little bit like making magic. It may look real on film but, of course, it is all an illusion. I was reminded of this a few weeks back when a good part of the country including western Wisconsin, where I live, was in the grips of a dangerous heat wave. Temperatures soared and heat indexes were at 115º F plus.
As I sat working in my home office, sweat dripping off my brow in spite of the two fans positioned on either side of me, I was reminded of when I was working on a feature film called Here on Earth. It starred a young Chris Kline, and equally young Josh Hartnett, and a lovely young actress named Lee Lee Sobieski. We had been contracted to provide a herd of dairy cows to give reality and atmosphere to the dairy farm location.
We dutifully hauled the six Holstein cows to the set every morning and once they were unloaded, cleaned up and made comfortable we waited around for their inclusion in a scene.
Movie work is a classic case of hurry up and wait which means everyone must show up at 6:00 am because they just might change the shooting schedule in which case you better be ready when the first assistant director runs up to you, walkie-talkie in hand, and says breathlessly, “The director would like to use the cows now.”
This in itself is not so bad, but shooting happened to be taking place in a record heat wave not unlike the one we all just experienced.
We had a place in the shade, and plenty of water for the cows so they were ok when we were not working but once we moved into the lower level of the barn it was stifling hot and we felt the cows were at risk.
I mentioned this to the first assistant director who expressed our concerns to the director. The order was then given, “Cool the cows!” and a large plastic duct was pushed through a window and cool, clean conditioned air began to pour into the barn. It was heavenly if you were a cow. But if you were a trainer or just about anyone else, you had to stay back out of frame and almost die as the barn heated up even more because of the monstrously huge movie lights and close pressed bodies of the crew.
The actors were treated well, also. The crew had broken for lunch in a large event tent, which offered shade, but there was still no breeze and the heat and humidity was oppressive. I was watching as everyone moved as slowly as possible to avoid any extra exertion when I noticed Lee Lee Sobieski exiting her trailer. She looked liked an angel just stepped down from the clouds as she approached – every hair on her head in place, her makeup perfect and completely sweat free, as if she was immune to the weather. She came with her plate and sat at our table, which was unusual, as animal trainers are pretty low on the film crew totem pole. She happened to be an animal lover and wanted to know more about the cows. So we enjoyed a brief, if hot, lunch break with her. Then she floated back to her air-conditioned trailer and we went back to the cows.
In my next life, I am either going to be a beautiful young actress or a beautiful young acting cow. In either case, I will be cool.
Mark your calendars and hightail it to the second annual Dog Days of Stockholm on Friday and Saturday, August 5-6, 2011 in beautiful Stockholm, Wisconsin! This family-friendly, dog-friendly community festival on the banks of Lake Pepin in western Wisconsin provides great fun for dogs and dog lovers alike. Stockholm is a short drive from the Rochester, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Eau Claire areas.
On Friday night, party outdoors on the grounds of the historic Old School House. Enjoy wine, cheese, pie, and music under the stars from 7 to 9:30 pm (admission $5). Steve Meyer & The Blues Dogs Band will rock out live boogie rock and oldies. All ages are welcome. Put in your bids for Saturday’s Silent Auction and buy your second Annual Dog Days T-shirts. When you’re away from the big city lights, you really can see the stars!
On Saturday, Pat Kessler of WCCO-TV fame is back as master of ceremonies for the Festival in Village Park (10 am to 5 pm, admission $5 for ages 16 and up, FREE parking). Enter your dog in the Best Smile, Best Dog Trick, Dog-Person Lookalike, and other contests. Watch agility demonstrations and see a Border collie herd ducks. Visit vendors offering people food, dog supplies and services, animal communication, and pet treats for sale.
Meet author Jenny Pavlovic, who will speak about disaster preparedness for your family and pets and sign her award-winning books, 8 State Hurricane Kate: The Journey and Legacy of a Katrina Cattle Dog and the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book. Omega Fields® will provide free Omega Nuggets treat samples in your gift bags and you can sign up at Jenny’s booth for a chance to win a free pound of Omega Canine Shine®, a wonderful flaxseed based supplement for your dog!
All proceeds of the festival (less expenses) will be donated to local animal rescue organizations. Please bring an unoped can or bag of quality pet food to donate. Meet representatives of local dog rescue groups and their rescued dogs in need of permanent homes. Nearly all of the dogs shown last year were adopted - let's get more dogs adopted this year!
Also at Dog Days of Stockholm...
·Animal Actor Trainer, noted lifestyle photographer, and Omega Fields Spokesperson Barbara O’Brien of the Animal Connection will teach us how to get good photos of our dogs!
·Animal communicator Sage Lewis will tell why our pets act the way they do!
·A working dog will demonstrate police dog and search & rescue moves!
·Other fun demonstrations will include: dog agility, dog Frisbee, groomers, dog tricks, even a dog rap artist!
Stockholm, Wisconsin, population 99, is about 75 miles from Minneapolis/St. Paul, 50 miles from Eau Claire, WI and 60 miles from Rochester, MN. Stockholm and the nearby communities of Maiden Rock and Pepin (the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder) are a fun mix of artists of all disciplines, traditional farm families, funky galleries, bed ‘n breakfasts, restaurants, and local shops.
Early in my career as a trainer of animal actors I had the chance to work with a wolf on a TV commercial. A hot shot director flew in from Chicago. I located a wolf owner through another animal trainer, and Steve, a man with many years of experience in handling wildlife for film, brought two beautiful wolves. The set was an abandoned farmhouse out in the middle of a recently vacated cow pasture. We did the filming at night. The wolf’s job was to run up to the door and scratch at it as if trying to get in. My job was to entice the wolf.
Steve and my helper, my husband Kevin, met at the back of Steve’s SUV and opened the hatch. Inside there was a large dog crate. Inside the crate was a wolf who initially pulled back and then came forward to check us out. Steve opened the crate and took the wolf’s heavy lead in his hands. He gently coaxed the wolf out. The wolf was a beautiful animal and much larger than I had expected. His head and jaws were powerful enough to cause serious damage if he was so inclined. His coat was silver gray and glinted under the temporary lights the crew had set up at base camp. The wolf, his head held low, eyed us suspiciously.
“He likes woman better than men,” Steve said. “You need to get low and speak to him quietly to show you are not a threat.” Steve then stooped and talked to the wolf in a sweet singsong voice, all the while stroking his head and back. I lowered myself and did the same. The wolf came forward and licked my hand. I was amazed to see such strength and power quietly submissive under my hand.
Steve told us that this wolf had been handled from birth. Although it appeared tame it was nowhere near tame. If provoked, the wolf could attack out of fear. If startled, the wolf might run off the set into the countryside.
There were the usual delays on the set. Spending a lot of time standing around and waiting is the not-so-glamorous part of show business. Finally, the producer came over to us and explained what he wanted the wolf to do. It’s funny how the instructions I receive on the set always involve more or different work than what I agreed to initially. In my initial conversation with the TV people, the wolf was to stand next to the farmhouse door, jump up, and scratch at the door. Now they wanted the wolf to be placed some distance away from the door, to run up to the door, and then scratch at it. For all of this the wolf would need to be off-leash with no handler visible on camera. Then the camera would pan to the side past the wolf to the open field that bordered the cow pasture.
I was skeptical. To my surprise, Steve agreed that he could get the wolf to do it. My husband Kevin was stashed out in the field beyond the farmhouse set. If the wolf was startled or frightened, he would most likely run for the field.
I stood inside the farmhouse door with my hands full of strips of raw chicken. My plan was that the wolf would smell me and my chicken inside the door and then he would jump up on the outside of the door in hopes of getting some chicken. We did a few practice runs, off-leash. The wolf did not run away and he came to the door as hoped, but he didn’t jump up on the door and scratch at it. I guess my strips of raw chicken were not sufficiently enticing.
Steve put the wolf back on his heavy leash and we discussed what to try next. The wolf then pulled Steve to the side of the house where he began to scratch and dig at the ground.
Meanwhile, the director, well known for displays of temper, was growing impatient. His assistant, walkie-talkie in hand, repeatedly came up to us to say nervously, “We really have to get this shot now. We really do.” Steve, having been in the business longer than I, took this in stride. He said the wolf would do the shot when he was ready and not a moment sooner.
The wolf continued to dig for a bit longer and happily pulled a dark slimy object from the ground. I could smell it before I saw it. Steve laughed and said, “This will work.” With his gloved hand, he handed me the putrid object. “What is this?” I asked, quickly pulling on my own leather gloves. “It's a dead raccoon,” he said. “Long dead.” Long dead was right. Its decomposing flesh barely clung to its long skeleton. It was a disgusting object but the wolf wanted it badly.
The nervous assistant popped up again, keeping a safe distance from the wolf, and said again, “We have to get this shot now.”
Carrying the raccoon carcass, I resumed my position behind the door. Steve took the wolf some 25 yards away from the farmhouse door. Inside the dark farmhouse, I could see a grip (one of the fellows that do all the electrical for the lights on the set) standing just outside a window to my right. “Be careful,” he warned. “There is no floor behind you. The cattle broke it all up by using the house as a barn.” I had only a small ledge to stand on. If I moved backwards off it, I would fall into a basement full of cow manure. It was dark inside the house but I didn’t need to be able to see to know that lots of cows had only recently left this house. I clung to the frame of the door, clutching the rotting raccoon.
The assistant whispered “Action!” to me, signaling that the wolf had been released. I held on to the frame of the door and held up the rotting raccoon. I could hear and feel the wolf slam against the door feet first as he scratched and pawed and tried to get to the dead raccoon. Steve was able to collect the wolf and gave him some raw chicken as a reward for being caught. Of course, the director wanted as many takes as the wolf could do and so we did it few more times. Each time I held on to the door frame for dear life so as not to fall backwards into the cow manure. My eyes began to burn from the smell of the raccoon and the manure. I wondered if my chosen career was so fun after all.
Then I heard the director bellow from his seat on the crane: “Who the [insert very bad word here] are you!” I heard my husband’s startled voice call a reply from across the field, “Uh…I’m here…for the wolf.” The director yelled, “Get the [insert another very bad word] out of my shot.” Although I couldn’t see his face, I was sure poor Kevin scrambled out of the field vowing never to work on a commercial with me again.
We did one more take and Steve decided that the wolf had had enough. We were done. The director was none too happy about this, but I deferred to Steve’s expertise. This was his wolf and he knew its limits. “You don’t want us to be chasing this wolf all over the countryside, do you?” he said to the producer. I envisioned a large wolf running down the nearby road surprising the drivers on their early morning commute.
Kevin joined us and moved to give me a congratulatory hug. “What is that smell?” he said, recoiling. “Oh, just a rotting raccoon carcass,” I said blithely, as I tossed a pair of good leather gloves into the trash bin.
I must be famous. How can I tell? Well, I have an entourage.
My entourage is with me morning, noon, and night. They accompany me while I eat and while I work. I am never alone. I am fascinating to them. They love me, they protect me, they compete with each other for my attention. They argue amongst themselves and jockey for the coveted position nearest to me. When I stand up, they stand up. When I sit down, they sit down. If I go upstairs, they come, too. When I come down again, they come down, too. When I go in the bathroom, they come in, too.
This isn’t my first entourage. I am the mother of four boys, after all. But now the two oldest are on their own out in the world and the younger two are teenagers with friends and activities of their own. I had to get a new entourage.
Each member of my entourage has his or her specific role to play. Apple the Aussie cross is my personal assistant. She wakes me in the morning and lets me know when it’s time to do chores. She monitors my health and nutrition: She never fails to remind me of mealtimes.
Liesl the German Shepherd Dog is my bodyguard. Ever vigilant, she keeps constant watch on me. And on everyone around me. When I step outside the farmhouse, she makes a sweep of the perimeter and checks for suspicious activity. Like a true fan, she is devoted only to me. My husband Kevin could fall in the well and Liesl would never say a word. But let a strange car come down the driveway or naughty horses break out of the fence, and Liesl will let me know.
Hawkeye the Border Collie is my fan club. His role is to look adoringly at me to let me know that I am the coolest, most wonderful person on earth. No matter what I wear, or say, or do, Hawkeye gazes at me with admiration in his eyes.
I not only have an entourage, I have groupies, too. To be honest, my groupies are only part-time groupies. They only show up when I sit down to work at my computer and then they’re out of control. They jump on my desk and walk across my keyboard. They block my computer monitor with their bodies, flick their tails across my papers, and say “We love you. We love you…a little bit.” Sometimes I have to shut my groupies outside the office door in order to get any work done.
My entourage and my groupies are not the only proof of my fame. Outside the farmhouse door, the paparazzi lay in wait for me. I have only to step outside and they mob me, all shouting out their questions at the same time. Really, I wonder if the paparazzi have any idea how much they sound like a flock of squawking chickens? Even their camera shutters sound like the flapping of wings.
So, I have the fame, the next step is the fortune. They go together, right?
Kylie is a good dog. She is a tri-colored Australian Shepherd and is owned by my good friend Kathy. Kylie is an obedience and breed champion with a room full of ribbons and trophies to show for it. This is a dog that would never dream of being naughty and not doing what is asked of her.
I have had the honor of hiring her many times for print ads and commercials. Kylie always did a great job for me. She followed my commands and was always cheerful with a joyful expression on her face. She loved to work and she loved being the center of attention. In the show ring and on the set Kylie was a star.
Then Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember crying with her when she told me and I hoped and prayed for a quick recovery. Kathy is a fighter and underwent aggressive chemo treatments and then surgery to fight her disease.
Months passed as Kathy went through her treatment, fighting fatigue nausea and tolerating the loss of her hair as her body struggled to beat the cancer that had taken hold. Her friends continue to pray and care for her. Kylie the Aussie never left her side.
We were all overjoyed when Kathy eventually was declared cancer free. I knew Kathy enjoyed having Kylie perform for the camera so I waited for her to tell me when she was well enough to begin bringing Kylie the Aussie to photo shoots again.
After I was sure that Kathy felt well enough to give it a try I booked Kylie for a shoot for a major retailer. Kylie was to pose with a human model who would brush her with a special grooming tool to remove fur.
When Kathy came in with Kylie, I hugged Kathy and asked how she was feeling. Kylie the Aussie had always pulled on her leash when she saw me and wriggled her whole body in anticipation. This time when I greeted her and her owner, Kylie the Aussie was oddly restrained in her manner towards me.
It is my usual practice to leave the owner in the waiting room and take the dog from the owner to work them on the set myself as most dogs work better when not distracted by their owner. Kylie was no exception to that rule. Although Kathy is an excellent trainer, in the past Kylie seemed to focus better when I worked her on the set without her owner in the room.
I started to escort Kylie away from her owner and towards the set but she sat down and refused to leave Kathy’s side. “Come on, girl,” I said, slightly surprised. This was not normal behavior for Kylie the Aussie at all. Where was the dog that practically dragged me to the set and was so happy to show off her skills and tricks?
“Go on,” said Kathy to her dog. “Go with Barbara. You’ll be fine,” she said.
Kylie the Aussie was obviously reluctant to obey. She slowly got up and went with me, but looked over her shoulder at her owner.
“Come on, girl,” I said in my cheeriest voice. “I’ve got cheese,” I said. Usually, the word cheese is the magic word to focus Kylie’s razor sharp attention. This time I said the magic word, she glanced my way for a moment, then looked back to the door of the room in which Kathy her owner was waiting.
Why was Kylie the Aussie acting so strangely? This was not like her at all. This dog loved me and usually pranced and danced on camera happily sitting and cocking her head for the camera.
The human model came in and I put Kylie the Aussie in position. I stepped back and began to cue her, looking for the sweet expression and happy ears that she always offered me.
Kylie did her best to be obedient. She is a good dog and knows that Stay means Stay, but there’s a big difference between a dog who is focused on the work and a dog who is just going through the motions. Kylie was just not with me. I told her Stay and she would Stay but only for a moment or two and then she would break her Stay. This is unusual for such a well-trained dog and experienced animal model.
“Oh, no! What did you do?” I said (my traditional speech when a dog breaks a Stay). I tried again. I gave her the hand signal and said “Kylie, Stay!” She paused for only a moment this time before breaking her Stay again. I was shocked. This is an obedient dog. She always listened to my commands and performed them cheerfully and happily for the cheese reward. What could possibly be wrong? I watched Kylie the Aussie as her gaze continued to go to the door. And then I understood. Kylie the Aussie’s mind was with her owner Kathy in the waiting room. I apologized to the photographer for the delay and took Kylie off the set. “Okay!” I said to Kylie. She bolted out the door and down towards the hall to be with Kathy. I could hear Kathy laughing as I headed towards them. “What is it, girl?” Kathy asked as Kylie stood on her hind legs and washed Kathy’s face with her tongue.
“She can’t leave your side right now,” I said. She knows that you haven’t been well and that her place is with you.”
Kathy held Kylie’s head in her hands. “Is that true, Kylie?” She said “Don’t you know that I am okay now?” Kylie looked back at her with the intelligent brown eyes of an Australian Shepherd, one of the smartest of all dog breeds. I think Kylie the Aussie felt the need to protect her owner Kathy and be with her. Kathy had beaten the breast cancer, but perhaps her dog still thought she still needed special care and attention. Although Kylie the Aussie shows every sign of enjoying being an acting dog, perhaps she thought she had a more important job right then: Being with Kathy.
“Please come to the set with us?” said Kathy to me, and we went back. I said to Kathy: “You work with her. She usually works better with me, but she needs you this time.” Kathy put Kylie in position, thehuman model readied the grooming tool, and the photographer began to shoot. It was like a different dog was there. Kylie posed and perked her ears. She put her paw up and then down on command and she spun around in a circle when asked. She even kissed the model’s face on cue. Here was the Kylie I knew.
The rest of the shoot went perfectly and the client was happy with the results.
Another six months went by before I needed to use Kylie on a shoot. I had been in touch with Kathy and knew that she was getting stronger and feeling better every day. This time when she came to the studio Kylie was overjoyed to see me, almost leaping into my arms as I said hello. And when I took her leash to lead her to the set she went with me without a backward glance.
On set she was once again a pro, offering all of her endearing behaviors like tilting her head and grinning for the camera. When we finished and I returned her to Kathy in the waiting room, I marveled at how different Kylie the Aussie was from the last time I worked her.
It’s amazing to me how dogs sometimes just know. Apparently, even though Kathy thought she was back to her old self, Kylie the dog did not agree and thought she needed to stay by Kathy’s side. Now that Kathy was fully recovered and cancer free, Kylie the Aussie also was back to her old self and ready to perform.