Pets, we love 'em. You know...that unconditional love thing. Something we all want, but can't always find, except from our pets. We've had so many over the years. Twenty-five years ago we started out our love of German Shepherds with a dog named Jeremiah. He was the son of a seeing eye dog in training at the Topanga Seeing Eye Dog Institute. When I was going to Glendale College, I knew one of the trainers there. He owned a female who was going through training to become a seeing eye dog when she got pregnant. He offered me pick-of-the-litter. At that time males weren't used for seeing eye dogs, but now training techniques have changed and males as well as females are used with equally good results. Jerry and I would grow up together.
Here's a picture of Jerry at 2 years old.
He lived to be 131/2 years old.
Several months later I came home from work. I found Eddie
looking through the phone book.
"What 'cha lookin' for?" I asked.
"I'm tired of watching you mope around here all day. We're gettin' a new dog!!"
We talked to several breeders. None seemed to be right. Then came Phyllis LIedtke of Rancho Rhein German Shepherds She had the attitude we were looking for. She seemed to be truly interested in breeding really strong dogs so we went to see her. She had the most amazing Shepherds we had ever seen. Her older males were unbelievable. We were to find out later that most of the dogs we had seen were Schutzhund trained. We looked over the puppies she had for sale and immediately latched on to Max.
His ears would eventually stand up.
We called him Max, but his registered name was "Xaran". Phyllis letters all of her litters alphabetically from A to Z. Max was from the "X" litter, so his name had to start with an "X". Why didn't we call Max "Xaran"? Well, we did at first, but after Max came home, we realized we wanted to get Max a little friend. Phyllis had another litter at the time. The "Z" litter. We went to see Phyllis to pick out another puppy. Of course Max came with us and started to play with his new "sister".
We all picked "Zorra". I say "sister" because Zorra and Max shared the same father but their mothers we're sisters.
Does this make sense to anybody but us??
Zorra was a little young to bring home so we decided to pick her up after Eddie, Max and I had gone on a little vacation. So off we went. Max was only about 14 weeks old when we left. When we got back we picked up Zorra and took her home. It was then that we realized we had a naming problem. Xaran...Zorra...Xaran...Zorra. To a puppy, the names sounded the same. We couldn't get either dog to respond to their names separately. If we called Zorra, they both came. If we called Xaran, they both came. If Phyllis didn't require the letter designation of the litter to be the first letter in the name of the dogs you bought from her, we would have named Xaran "Max" anyway. So Max it was!! He was still registered with the AKC as "Xaran" so every body was happy happy!
So Max and Zorra grew up together doing all the things puppy's love to do; bite, chew, dig, eat and sleep. Zorra grew up to be such a spectacular female, we thought we'd breed her. Of course Phyllis Liedtke was involved. Her friend had a male named Vandal vom Rhein. He was a 15x SchH III (Schutzhund) champion. Zorra gave birth to 9 puppies. All of Zorra's puppies were black when they were born. As they grew up, they all started to get their tan markings, except one. The littlest one in the litter. As time went by, we became increasingly attached to the amazing "Little Black One". We named her..................................................
Max, Zorra and Margie.
They would be forever known as "The Team"
The New Kid on the Block.
Three growing German Shepherds eat a lot of food. We were always at the local pet stores buying food and struck up a relationship with one store in particular. Every week we'd come in and buy a ton of food and there was someone there that had a special greeting for us. "Hello." In a large cage near the cash register was a beautiful Macaw named "Kenny". We would later find out that Kenny was a girl so we renamed her Penny, but more about that later...
As to be expected of us, we grew very fond of Penny's greetings whenever we came into the shop. We found ourselves dropping by the pet shop just to see her.
Over the Memorial Day weekend we we're sitting on the deck thinking about how neet it would be to have a bird sitting out here with us. On our way to the grocery store, we stopped by the pet shop to see Penny and found it closed - closed for the long weekend. She was locked inside her covered cage. We just wouldn't have any more of that, so as soon as the pet shop opened, we went plopped down the credit card and brought Penny home.
In this picture she was 5 years old.
Now for those of you who have never had a large parrot, think before you go out and buy one. Large parrots require a whole lot of attention and if they don't get it, they let you know in no uncertain terms. They are highly intelligent, and want to be a part of every moment of your day. If they don't get that kind of attention, it can change their behavior in a very negative way. Some birds will begin to pluck their feathers out, or mutilate themselves if left alone. It's a 50 to 70 year commitment, so think before you act. Eddie and I did lots of research before we bought Penny, but no amount of research could have prepared us for what we we're about to go through. We we're her personal blood donors for the first couple of weeks. She took a chunk out of us whenever she could and we weren't sure why. We we're wondering why we had paid a bunch of money to bring something into our house that hated us and could take one of our fingers off if she wanted to, so we looked for help. I was told about a lady named Sally Blanchard who published a magazine called The Pet Bird Report. Sally told us about a bird behaviorist named Lane Dicker who probably would be able to help us out so I gave him a call. He and his wife agreed to come up to the house and take a look at our situation. He was great! He showed us how to take control of Penny instead of letting Penny control us. The very first thing he did was something we hadn't been able to do for several days. Pick her up! We spent the day learning how to train her, what certain behavioral things meant and how to react to inappropriate behavior.
Given a little time, we all learned how to behave around each other. Penny now seems to be a well adjusted happy bird and is certainly a full member of the family. She has quite a vocabulary and is adding words and phrases all the time (I'll be adding some sound files of her talking real soon). You really have to watch your mouth around parrots. They'll pick up things you don't want repeated and spit them out only at the most inappropriate times. It can be quite embarrassing. What about the dogs you ask??? As you know parrots, especially Macaws, have very large beaks. I've heard that they have the strength to snap a 1 inch hardwood dowel, something I don't want to test. Just as Eddie and I were very careful around her in the beginning, the dogs also give her plenty of room.
Parrots can be plenty noisy and Penny is no exception. When we first got her we had no idea how loud she could be until that first scream. It was amazing. I thought jet aircraft and rockets were the only things that made that kind of sound! My ears were ringing, and the dogs went running. In fact one day we came home from the market and found Zorra and Margie down the street in the neighbors driveway waiting for us. Max, of course wasn't bothered. He was asleep in the living room when we got home. Zorra and Margie had broken through a wooden fence and pushed their way through a chain link fence to escape the noise. As time passed they got used to it, but we haven't. She still screams to get attention, just like a little kid and it can really get to you. it's just all part of having a parrot. Like a child throwing a tantrum, you learn to deal with it.
To learn more about parrots, we'll have some links on our links page to point you in that direction.
You can also visit Penny's Gallery, a link which can be found in the column to the left.
In January of 1997, Max was attacked by three dogs and received an injury to his spine, which eventually left his rear legs paralyzed. He had been getting increasingly weaker as he had gotten older, but the injury to his spine wasn't helping things. Dr. Sheldon Altman, our vet for the past 15 years, had told us that K9 wheels might be an answer to help him to get around. Work being a little slow that year, we didn't have the funds to buy a new set of wheels, but as chance had it, someone had left an old set of wheels on the front steps of Dr. Altman's clinic in Burbank. He called me and said that he thought they might fit Max so Max and I rushed to Dr. Altman's office and tried them out. With a little adjustment, they would fit perfectly. The rigging was somewhat old and rotten, and it needed new wheels, so I took it to the mountaineering department at Sport Chalet, told the guys what I was trying to do, and asked if they had anything that would work. The guys we're so into it, they pulled out all the trick stuff. Special light weight nylon straps, sheep skin covers for the straps and special light weight high strength fasteners. I found some nice knobby pneumatic tires (filled with air) at Home Depot, put on a longer axle and attached the tires. After several trials with Max, some final adjustments he was ready for a trial hike. We put Max in his wheels, gave him a little pat on the butt, and off he went in a cloud of dust! We were amazed. He took to the cart as if he had been in it for years. He could now go out in the field, sniff around with the girls, and go on long hikes with us. Max had his mobility again.
As we go through our lives, the only thing that remains constant is change. One day while Max was dragging himself around the house, as he did when he wanted to get somewhere and he wasn't in his wheels, he pulled himself down a couple of stairs that connect the bedroom level of our house with our living room level. In that fall he broke his right leg pretty badly. The vet tried to set it so we could get it in his wheels, but she wasn't successful so Max had lost his mobility and with it his will to live. He died in his sleep on December 3, 1997 only a couple weeks after he broke his leg.
Max was only 11 1/2 when he died.
So Zorra and Margie had a couple of good years together. Mother and Daughter rivalry continued as if nothing had happened, but I could tell that the girls missed Max.
Zorra was starting to get along in age and her rear legs started to weaken. It was summer and we wanted to get another trip up to Lake Almanor before Zorra got too weak to have fun with us so off we went. We packed up the boat and the truck and headed for the lake. We had a great time, but as the trip drew to a close, we knew in our hearts that Zorra might not be back here again so we named a beach after her; "Zorra's Beach" (photos to come).
The night before we we're going to leave, Zorra got really sick. We called a local vet in Chester, the nearest town. His advice was, since Zorra had stabilized in the last couple of hours, that we should get her home and to our vet as soon as we could, so before first light we left Lake Almanor for the 12 hour drive home. Zorra rested comfortably in the back of our truck, on the way home, and we arrived just in time to get her to the doctor. Her condition was diagnosed as "Pancreitis". We had no idea how dangerous it was. Zorra was in the hospital for a couple of days and when she showed signs of improvement, we we're allowed to bring her home. She did quite well for a couple of weeks, except for the occasional setback, she was getting better. Then one Sunday, after her best day since our return, she took a turn for the worst. Her symptoms returned with a vengeance and she died that night while sleeping on the deck outside our bedroom.
Zorra was 13 1/2 when she died.
And then there was one.
So now out of the fabulous line of dogs that we had gotten from Phyllis, there was one left. The amazing little black one, Margie.
Margie at 8 1/2 years.
We could tell that Margie missed Zorra tremendously and now she is the "Alpha" dog for the first time in her life, the only thing is that she hasn't any dogs to be "Alpha" over so...
Off to Rancho Rhein German Shepherds we go.
At first we were just looking. We were shattered at Zorra's passing and we just wanted to touch base with Phyllis and see an old friend. Margie needed a family and we felt strongly about getting a new dog so we were really looking for a puppy. Phyllis had moved to new digs in Leona Valley, CA where she had purchased 6 1/2 acres of land and setup shop. What a beautiful place. Air conditioned kennels, a special puppy room and gobs of room for her dogs to run. She showed us around and took us to see the mother of the litter she was expecting in November, but it was still August, a long time to wait. She took us to the upper kennels and showed us some of the other dogs she had for sale. These dogs were older and were in various stages of training. We Immediately latched on to a rathar large beautiful black and tan male that was 10 months old at the time. Eddie just fell in love with him. His name is Oscar, from the "O" litter. We brought him home that day!
Oscar at 10 Months.
When Oscar was a puppy, he had been placed with an older couple that, I'm sure, had no idea what they we're getting into because they returned him to Phyllis. We're really not sure what happened to him during those very important days in his life, but we're pretty sure that he wasn't treated very well. Oscar was real skiddish and easily frightened. When we got him home he had some pretty bad sores around his neck, probably from being tied up with a leather collar on all the time. Eddie took him and spent every waking moment with him and formed a bond with him that nothing could or ever will break.
Oscar and Eddie - September, 1999.
And then there were two.So Oscar and Margie got along great. Margie finally had somebody in her life again and, as you can see, Oscar was very happy with his new people. He got to go on hikes, never got tied up, and always (well, almost always) got his way.
Oscar and Margie in our Jeep. Margie is Oscar's Great Aunt!
But wait! There's more!! Remember we were going to see about getting a puppy from the litter due in September? Well September came and so did Pepper, you guessed it...from the "P" litter. The very next litter that Oscar's mom had, with the same father so...Oscar and Pepper are brother and sister, separated by about 1 year.
Pepper the day we brought her home.
And then there were three again!
Oscar-13 months, Margie-12 years and Pepper-4 months
Well, The New Team is doing great. Pepper has grown up to be a beautiful little girl. And I mean little. She only weighs about 65 pounds, but is packed with power. Her nick name is Peppy Pepper. Here's just an example of what she loves to do. She's the only German Shepherd I've ever seen that loves to climb trees.
It's hard to tell from the photo, but that's about a 6 foot jump.
Margie's gotten a little older. She's a little more than 13 1/2 now. She's lived longer than any other dog we've ever had. Her only limitation is that she can't walk any more on her own so guess who inherits Max's wheels...
Margie proudly modeling her wheels one day while on a long hike at one of our local parks.
Birds are very delicate creatures, both mentally and physically.
Penny had been laying eggs and we knew from her behavior that she was about to have another, but this one was taking a long time to come out. We got concerned so we took her to an avian vet that had been highly recommended to us. At first we thought that we we're facing only a minor, fairly common situation.
In all the reading and research we did before we got Penny, nothing was going to prepare us for this.
It seems that it's a very bad idea for captive birds to lay eggs unless they are to be bred. The eggs that Penny had been laying caused her to become calcium deficient, so when she produced the egg that was inside of her the shell didn't completely form. It was much softer than it needed to be to survive the pressures Penny would put on it when she tried to express it. She became egg bound. But the egg wasn't stuck it had collapsed on one end. The vet tried to see if she could get the egg out in one piece. She couldn't. It broke inside her and the doctor did everything she could do to clear the egg out without leaving a trace of the egg material, which becomes toxic if not completely removed.
After surgery, Penny was in intensive care for a week and was improving, slowly. Memorial Day weekend was coming up, and the Doctor said that since the clinic would be closed for those 3 days, that Penny should come home for the long weekend so we could keep an eye on her. The doctor gave us all her personal contact information and said that if her condition changed for the worse, we we're to call her anytime. We we're excited about having her home and gathered up all her favorite stuff to play with.
Over the next few days, she didn't improve as much as we we're all hoping so come Tuesday morning we brought her back in for a checkup. Her abdomen had begun to swell and because of that Penny had to undergo exploratory surgery to see what was going on inside her. Penny's doctor called in another very respected avian doctor to consult with during the surgery, but nothing that the two doctors could do could save Penny's life. She had full blown "Yoke Peritonitis". She died on the operating table.
Penny died on May 29, 2001.
She was only 9 years old.
I can't tell you how much we learned about avian health during that time. We we're hurt and angry that we didn't see this coming. We thought we had learned so much about caring for birds. We had, but not every bird expert will give you the same answer to the question you ask, nor is accurate information easy to find. Birds hide their symptoms until they are so sick that they are close to death. Everybody has an answer, but many don't really know. In my heart of hearts, I still think that caring for exotic birds is as much a guess as it is a science. No matter what anyone says, no one has all the answers. If you choose to bring an exotic bird into your life, be watchful and careful. It's a very long and demanding commitment, probably longer than you will live, if you're lucky, so don't make that decision lightly.
The Silence was Deafening
It took us many months to come to grips with life without Penny. Even though the 3 dogs definitely kept us busy, we missed having a bird. A pet that talks back to you is an amazing experience so we started looking for a new Macaw. Penny's personality was definitely a combination of a Blue and Gold's and a Military's and quite unique to Penny. We weren't looking for a bird to replace Penny, but one with a similar state of mind so we first looked at Blue and Golds and Militarys. It didn't take us long to realise that Penny's personality was more a Military than a Blue and Gold. After much debate and searching, looking at several other Macaws like a beautiful baby Scarlet, a stately older Harlequin, a wonderful little Severe, and this really cute baby Military. We fell in love with the Military and brought her home on June 11, 2001.
Welcome Home Sky!
She Lived Longer Than Any Other!
On August 21, 2002, we lost Margie. After months of growing weaker, and barely able to take her walks at the park, it was time. During the early morning hours of the 21st. Margie got real sick. Our only recourse was to let her go at home or take her to our long time veterinarian, who made special arrangements for Margie that day and left the choice of what to do to Eddie and I.
It was too painful to see Margie suffer. Dr. Milder was gentle and kind.
It's the hardest decision that anyone living with a pet has to make. Max and Zorra had made their own decisions, but Margie had Pepper to deal with and would not let go. And deal with Pepper she did, showing to the very last day that she was the "Alpha" of this family!
She slipped away, hardly any difference between life and death. This girl will always be missed. She was the last of "The Team" - the end of an era.
Margie was 14 1/2 years old when she died.
She was a tough old broad.
New Life and Times...
It's been a long time since we've been able to really go on long hikes, climb up the hills, or go out in the boat with the dogs. Now's the time for Oscar, Pepper and Skylar. It's their turn now.
Let the festivities begin!
We'll be back soon and update these pages with some great photos of Oscar, Pepper and Skylar. Until then........
All Our Best!