Friday, August 26, 2011

Animals indoors and out

My intentions with our daughters are always to get them outside, more. I don't always get out as much as I should, but I am *always* happier when I do. This summer I went to morning swim practice, and returned to spend days gardening, helping Brian rebuild our deck, mow, manage rainwater, and tend critters.

But Tiggy, our kitty, always liked being with us for these activities. So, despite me knowing full well what all the rescue organizations and many responsible cat owners say, we let Tiggy out with us. She would follow me to the back of the yard, and wait while I swam, and walk back up the yard with me afterward. While we worked on the deck, she would lay nearby. When we went out, she would meet us by the front door upon our return, and she always came inside with us when we came indoors. Until early July, when she went missing. Nearly two weeks later, Brian found her a couple of blocks away, addled, blind (we soon discovered), and not herself. She's back to about 95% of her former self, but now, an indoor cat, no longer our companion in the garden.

The chickens, of course, continue to be outdoor animals - albeit mostly cooped. Again, though, we have tended to let them out of the coop to explore the plants and bugs in the yard, while we're home gardening and working. And again, they have always enjoyed it, producing bright-yellow omega-3 rich eggs from their varied outdoor diet. They haven't gotten lost, at least not yet. However, the chickens have developed a couple of bad habits - one, working their way into the garden and pecking at our heirloom tomatoes (as Brian noted, we both like homegrown tomatoes more than we like eggs), and digging up the soil in our newly planted raingardens. Lately, they're losing their freedom, not only because school is starting and I can't be home to chickensit them in their wanderings, but because I can't trust them to keep to the mulched beds and pine needles and lawn. A pen is clearly a necessity, but in the meanwhile, I'm realizing freshly that free-range chickens in the suburbs just don't really work that well (at least, not as free-range).

Finally, the latest critter in the mix - bunnies. After years (decades?) of wanting a bunny, I have finally got a bunny - two, even! - to cuddle, at least when Emily and Hazel let me get a hand on them. Though we drooled at the Kentucky State Fair, we succumbed at the Animal Rescue League, where Cecil and Gigi came neutered, healthy, cuddly, and ethically (it's like an animal thrift store! what's not to love? recycling *and* lifesaving, all in one). I've met many rabbits in my life, 98% outdoors - wild, in hutches, or loose at the University of Victoria. But as I learned in the adoption process, an indoor rabbit does not a good outdoor rabbit make. The hutch Emily and I built is now indoors, with a pen in front for exercise, and a lot of unwanted garden turnips making themselves useful as rabbit forage. They'll live a good life, and we'll enjoy them - but once again, they won't be our companions outdoors.

I'm typing this in the playroom with Bella, crazy kitten, playing nearby with a marble. The hamster is running her wheel. The bunnies are downstairs in their pen while Hazel and a friend play dollhouse nearby. Tiggy is upstairs with Brian and Emily, laying nearby while they read or play computer games. The chickens are roosting for the night. The garden is outdoors, waiting for tomorrow, but meanwhile we are now a household where nature is both outdoors and in. Animal husbandry may not be farm-style around here; between nearly losing Tiggy and really losing chickens to a fox back in 2008, we've had enough lessons about nature being red in tooth and claw. Instead, we're learning about responsibility, the inevitable conflicts between love and freedom. We're learning about lots of different kinds of poop. And I sleep a lot better knowing all the furry critters are safe, as long as I don't go all Lenny on them and pet them too much.