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Category Archive: Animals

Oct 28

Legends are born in October, so are surprises

“October is a fine and dangerous season in America” – Thomas Merton

October is indeed a lively month, always full of surprises and interesting fact and folklore.

Come to think of it, October could be my favorite month of the year with Halloween and quirky other holidays to celebrate such as the International Moment of Frustration Scream Day, National Cake Decorating Day and Leif Erickson Day (who was he again?).

But this particular holiday, “Squirrel Awareness Month”, is one we absolutely must talk about later in this story, and we will.

Mostly, I love the surprises that October brings whether from politics, weather changes, folklore or baseball. For example:

Politics: We know that politics can turn on a dime in the month of October, especially in presidential election years. Yet, candidates continue to surprise us with well-timed ‘October surprise’ news releases. They can rise to the top and influence the outcome of an election in a blip.

Weather: I don’t know why weather changes in October are such a surprise to me each year, but they are. Yes, I realize that the change in the seasons is coming, but on that October day when I first feel the cool, crisp fall air that feels so good, it is indeed a pleasant surprise. Watching the color change in autumn foliage likewise catches me by surprise every fall. I ask myself: “How many times have I seen this?” Still, it is breathtaking year after year.

Folklore: Did you know that October is really the eighth month of the year in the old Roman calendar that began in March instead of January (not the tenth as we know it today)? That is why October retained its name ‘octo’ meaning ‘eight’.

October’s birthstone is the opal, and legend has it that the opal will crack if it is worn by anyone who was not born in October. Actually, I once had an opal setting that cracked. I wonder?

Baseball: Remember, ‘Mr. October’ Reggie Jackson who could always be counted on to hit home runs in October during the World Series? And now, Albert Pujols is a Mr. October in his own right, tying Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson’s World Series record of hitting three home runs in a single series game.

However, the biggest surprise of all this October has to be the birth of another October legend –the Busch Rally Squirrel. I wonder if that crazy squirrel that ran all over the field at Busch Stadium during the Division series playoffs knew that October was Squirrel Awareness Month? Squirrels everywhere are no doubt cheering him on.

Here’s the back-story on ‘Rally Squirrel’ if you haven’t been keeping up on October baseball and squirrel surprises:

On October 5, 2011, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (stltoday.com) reported that a squirrel, now known as the ‘Busch Rally Squirrel’, ran across home plate while Skip Schumaker was at bat in the fifth inning during Game 4 of the National League Division Series. This series game was between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

The night before in Game 3 the squirrel made a brief appearance darting across the field into foul territory along the third-base line. Cards lost. In Game 4, he came back, only much bolder this time. Cards won.

With that, legend was born, and Rally Squirrel entered baseball lore as another Mr. October surprise.

As a result, grown adults dress in Rally Squirrel costumes at baseball and football games, kids are dressing up as Rally Squirrels for Halloween, and squirrels everywhere are certainly celebrating Squirrel Awareness Month. After all, who has done more for them than Rally Squirrel?

Additionally, Rally Squirrel has his own Twitter account @BuschSquirrel, and, yes, even though I am a loyal Kansas City Royals fan, I am a proud follower.

After Game 3, the squirrel tweeted, “We need to win. I’m not ready to hibernate yet.”

In a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch, Rally Squirrel insisted that Matt Holiday, Cardinals left fielder, urged him to charge the plate. “There were sunflower seeds in it for me,” Rally Squirrel said.

What can you say? Rally Squirrel is baseball’s newest celebrity and perhaps it’s biggest October surprise ever.

Gotta love October.

Oct 13

Epilogue: what ever happened to Red and Autumn, savvy mountain dogs?

“The greater love is a mother’s; then comes a dog’s.” – Polish Proverb


A reader asked me last week about a column I wrote in the fall of 2006. It was about Red and Autumn, tough, savvy mountain dogs, and their unusual love story, not just love for each other but for humans as well.

“I saw your column last time about Henry, the cat,” the reader said, “but what ever happened to those mountain dogs you wrote about once. You have to be fair and write about dogs, too, not just cats,” the reader laughed.

The reader’s question made me curious as well. I decided to find out what happened to those two after three years since I first encountered them.

When I first met Red and Autumn, they lived in the mountains in Teller County, Colorado, southwest of Colorado Springs. Elevation: 9494.

EPILOGUE: three years later. A car hit tough, indestructible Red since I first wrote the story. A vet who lives nearby saved his life, but Red is crippled and in constant pain. Red’s adoptive family, where he stayed when not wandering the mountains, cares for him full time now. Autumn never leaves Red’s side since his accident and does not venture across the mountain to her home and family anymore. I am told Red will give you a bark, but he is no force. They stay close to the house and avoid the bears.

If you want to hear the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say, take a look at their love story, written October 28, 2006.

“Red and Autumn are savvy dogs”

We were hiking in the Rocky Mountains when Red appeared from behind a huge mossy boulder, the kind of rock formation you often see in the Colorado high country.

I was expecting a bear and was somewhat prepared for that potential encounter, if one can be prepared to meet a bear.

Instead, a great red-haired street-tough dog, a stray, growled at me. He came closer. I did not move a muscle.

About then, my brother stepped out of the woods with bear stick in hand and called to Red.

Apparently, he and Red knew one another.

John threw Red a doggy treat.

I learned later that my brother always keeps doggy treats in his pocket in case Red wanders through the forest and surprises him.

The thought crossed my mind that doggy treats in one’s pocket might possibly attract bears as well, but I dismissed that notion for the moment anyway.

I was aware that in the fall bears are consuming 20,000 calories a day in preparation for their winter hibernation.

Doggy treats could do nicely for the bears as an appetizer for their main course, the human carrying the doggy biscuits.

“Don’t worry,” John said. “No bears around right now. Don’t worry about the dog either. Red has been abused, dumped in the mountains, and is actually afraid of you.”

Red, adopted by a kindly neighbor who feeds him, still runs wild in the woods. He is as much a part of the mountain wildlife as are the bears.

John asked me to look across the clearing.

“There’s Autumn, Red’s friend. I wondered if she was with him today,” John said.

Autumn is a motley sort of animal, an Australian sheep dog with a black and white and grayish coat and haunting eyes. She never steps too far from the safety of the woods and rarely moves into a clearing.

That is, until Red signals her through some uncanny method of communication between the two of them that it is OK to travel further.

What a peculiar relationship these oddly paired dogs have.

Red travels nearly five miles one way every few days to visit Autumn at her home across the mountain. Then, the two make the five-mile trek back to spend a couple of days with Red’s adoptive humans.


When the time to go arrives, and they somehow instinctively know that, Red and Autumn begin their journey back across the mountain to Autumn’s family.

Red may stay a night or two with her or come straight back.

No one knows why or how the two communicate so well.

After awhile without her, Red heads off in her direction to escort her back to his place.

My brother will say, “Well, there goes Red. He must be going to get Autumn.”

She always comes with him, but only for a day or two.

When she is ready, Autumn signals Red that it is time to walk her home.

Once she stayed too long, and her worried humans came looking and drove her back in the truck. It was too far and too dangerous for her to walk alone.

Red knows that, and he is there to protect her.

On one occasion, while visiting at Red’s place, Autumn was attacked by a bear.

Red, of course, came to the rescue, although Autumn suffered an injury to her leg. Happily, she survived.

I was thinking about all this and how amazing these two creatures are when I realized I was standing in a clearing alone halfway up a mountain.

My brother, my sister-in-law, and my husband had climbed much higher up the mountain on some exploratory mission, and I was left in an open meadow.

Choosing to stay behind due to my arthritic knees, I realized all too quickly that I was without help, and I was standing near a tree where bears had recently discovered a honeycomb. The evidence of their meal was left on the ground.

I sensed I was not entirely alone, so I began to turn slowly watching my backside in all directions.

No bear stick. The mountain climbers had them.

No Pepper Spray. It was in the truck.

Then, at the edge of the woods, I spotted Red. He did not bark. He did not want a treat. He did not move.

He was on bear watch and guard duty, not for Autumn this time, but for me.

Sep 29

R.I.P Henry, the cat

“No amount of time can erase the memory of a good cat –Leo Dworken

In Greek mythology, a prologue is an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details that tie into the main story.

With that in mind, here is my prologue to a story I wrote three years ago about Henry, a neighborhood cat who could survive just about anything including a near-death experience in our front yard.

Since then during a fierce territorial feline war, another cat in the neighborhood bit a huge chunk out of Henry’s head. Henry lived.

In the last three years, Henry also successfully dodged cars that nearly ran over him and escaped the clutches of any number of malicious raccoons, skunks and bobcats in the nearby woods where he was the undisputed king of the forest. He fell sick a time or two from eating too many mice, but somehow he always survived whatever ailed him.

If you are counting, that is more than nine lives. Sadly, this unconquerable cat recently succumbed to something he could not beat–old age and infirmity.

Henry was resolute, determined, tough, lucky and yes, one stubborn, big fat cat.

I miss him already. R.I.P Henry.

Therefore in his honor and by reader request, I am sharing once again my story about how I almost caused Henry to lose one of his nine lives.

“A cat named Henry”

“In a cat’s eye, all things belong to cats.”—Old English Proverb.

A common belief is that cats were worshipped as gods thousands of years ago. Cats have never forgotten this.

With that thought in mind, let me introduce you to Henry, our neighbor’s cat and undisputed god of our subdivision.

Now as cats go, Henry is quite likeable and better than most in my non-cat lover opinion.

Do not write telling me how wrong I am about cats. Hear me out first.

Henry is a portly, orange cat that minds his own business most of the time, mouses in the nearby field, and stands guard over my koi pond.

I generally give Henry the benefit of the doubt when he does this and assume he is guarding my fish instead of trying to eat them. So far, Henry sits contentedly watching the fish swim, and that is fine with me.

The real reason I give him this much credit is because he is a tad too indolent to expend the energy necessary for fishing.

Thus, I never worry much about Henry knowing that he will not take up fishing in addition to mousing.

As a rule, Henry eyes me with the same wariness and circumspection as I watch him. We hold our ground and neither budges.

I suspect that in a match of wills Henry would win because as all cats do, Henry senses that I am not a cat lover.

His air of superiority lets me know that he “totally gets it” (pardon the common vernacular).

Henry exudes confidence as though he understands Faith Resnick’s quote that people who hate cats will come back in the next life as mice.

That could be me except for my cat-hating redemption experience, “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey says.

One Friday evening, we finished packing a trailer with our youngest son’s personal belongings and furniture. We were about to drive him on an out-of-state journey to begin graduate school.

We padlocked the trailer knowing it would not be opened again until the following Tuesday, four long days later.

The next morning I realized I forgot to put one box in the trailer and hurriedly opened the lock to toss in the small box and finally be done with the packing.

To my surprise and Henry’s (this is when he re-enters my story), as I flung the trailer door open, Henry and I locked eyes. He was inside the trailer and sitting on the barbeque grill.

Apparently, he had hopped in the night before while we were packing and no one saw him.

I am not sure which of us was the most shocked, stunned, frightened or relieved.

Henry ran for home, and I was overcome with compassion for him. Likely, he would not have survived the four days shut inside a hot trailer.

I saved Henry purely on a last minute whim, or let’s call it, a nudge from the universe, and Henry survived to watch my fish another day.

Henry is now my eternal friend and I am his, although both of us realize there will never be any affection between us.

I figure that saving Henry keeps me from returning as a mouse in the next life.

We are even.

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