The Chickens, the Coyote and the Hole in the Roof


I got caught on the phone yesterday with seven-year-old Cosette. I called to see how her mother was feeling, as she had been sick for a few days, but I never did get to speak to her. Once Cosette answers, talking to anyone else in the house is not an option. You can either settle in for the duration or hang up (assuming you have an excuse she’ll accept) and try again later when she may be otherwise occupied, perhaps in telling her brothers what’s what. I had some time to kill, so I let her carry on.


Lately Cosette has been concentrating her efforts on getting some chickens to raise in the backyard, so as to provide the family with fresh eggs daily and fried chicken on an occasional basis. Her father, who grew up in the country, and her mother, who is severely ornithophobic but a real trooper, are indulging her in this pursuit, despite the fact that they live in a crowded St. Paul suburb where you’d think there’d be better zoning restrictions.

I have to say Cosette knows more about the habits of chickens and the perils of owning them than I have gleaned in a lifetime. Her father will construct a chicken coop this fall, she says, with the goal of purchasing about ten baby chicks next spring. However, the instructions for building it are woefully lacking, so he has some research to do.

The chicks will have to stay in the basement until they are old enough to face the elements. Her mother is not pleased with this arrangement, but Cosette assures me that Mom won’t have to do a thing as she and five-year-old Bret Jr. will take care of all the chicks’ needs. This includes going into the basement every hour and squeezing them so that they don’t get pasty butt.

I had never heard of pasty butt, but I’ve since learned it is a very real affliction wherein poop dries around the chick’s “vent area” creating a seal that fresh poop cannot breach. The cure, according to Cosette, is to squeeze the chick until the poop comes out. Now I have not attempted to assay the validity of this claim. God help the innocent, that’s all I can say.

Assuming the chicks make it through this ordeal, when they are four or five weeks old they will be moved outdoors. This doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods, however, as Cosette has learned a coyote was recently spotted in the neighborhood. Said coyote has, in fact, killed all the neighbor’s chickens. (Yes, it is a neighborhood already rife with chickens.) As there was no roof on their pen, the coyote was able to jump in and then…hen havoc. The neighbors had to buy more chickens.

Okay, this next part is a little shifty, but I’m going to tell it just as it was told to me. I asked Cosette if she wasn’t worried about Ursa, their beleaguered dog, with a coyote running around. She said she has a plan for that.  She is going to dig a hole in the backyard with a ramp that runs through the house and up to another hole in the roof. Then, aided by a “machine” she has yet to build, she will “launch” either Ursa or the coyote (this part was a little vague) into the ramp and out the hole in the roof, to what end I’m not sure.

Frankly, I think she was just adlibbing by this point. If you don’t cut her off, she will continue embellishing with information only she can comprehend. I said I had to go start dinner. Cosette said, okay, but to call her back, as there is a lot I don’t know and she needs to bring me up to speed. I can hardly wait.


Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Photo credits:
chickens – (stock.xchng )
coyote sign –


Dumb Wildlife

For the third day in a row I’ve had to pull a pile of twigs out of my newspaper box. Some clueless but determined bird fills it up about as quickly as I can empty it. While I don’t mind a persistent bird as much as persistent hornets, who continue to try to establish a hive in the eaves over the kitchen window despite the fact that I keep blasting it off with the hose, obviously I cannot allow wildlife to nest in the newspaper box. Even if I had the carrier throw the paper in the driveway until the baby birds had hatched and flown away, the mailbox is part of the whole setup, and I can’t have some territorial mother bird dive-bombing the mail carrier. I am not going to the post office to pick up my mail just because a stupid bird can’t figure things out.

One fall some Swifts built a nest in my chimney. They made a racket up there and, convinced it was a raccoon, I sent up an exterminator, only to find out that Swifts are protected and cannot be removed from your chimney no matter how much they annoy you. You just have to put up with it until the whole family picks up and flies away. Forget about having a fire.

I don’t know why the creatures of this earth want to torment me. There was a turtle in the garage last week. It had parked itself under the car and I was afraid to back out, because the last thing I need to come home to is a dead turtle. I think it’s the same one that’s been hanging around since Mother’s Day, when daughter Jessica spotted it in the driveway and made her boyfriend John reluctantly put it in a bucket and then transfer it into a plastic kiddy pool to show the grandkids; except that it looked so pathetic trying to scramble up the sides of the pool that they let it go and it crawled off into the raspberry bushes to hide, which was ridiculous because any one of my grandchildren could have been the inspiration for Lord of the Flies. Well, not Grace.

Since then I have seen the turtle plowing through the grass, parked on the front walk and lurking in the rock garden. Yesterday it was back in the raspberry bushes. At least I think it’s the same one. They all look the same, green and neurotic. Stalked by a turtle, besieged by things that fly. No wonder I’m a mess.

Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Mouse Hunting Season Again


So we’ve been having this unseasonably warm weather and along with it the anomalies that brings. I heard on the radio this week that we can expect a bumper crop of mice. One pair of mice reportedly can result in over 3,000 offspring in a single season, and mating rituals are starting early this year. For mice, that is.

People who know me will tell you of my long and embattled war with critters. Some of the worst mouse experiences were chronicled in Of Mice and Me (under Critters in the archives), if you’re interested. I don’t care to write about them again. Right now I am girding for the next semiannual skirmish. Spring and fall is when they start scouting for weak spots in the foundation.

Personally, I leave mousetraps baited with peanut butter in the basement all year. I don’t check them, of course. In fact, I surround them with paper bags and furnace filters, so I won’t have to see a dead mouse. Then I wait for my son-in-law, Bret the Brave, to show up and check the traps. He hasn’t been by for quite a while. It could be getting ugly down there.

When my mother was well, I used to complain to her about having to pick up dead mice in the basement. She wasn’t especially sympathetic. “Oh, just get over it,” she’d say. Which reminds me of the time she took out a loaf of bread and found a live mouse in the bag. Mom dumped out the bag in the kitchen sink, hit the mouse with a wooden mallet, and stuffed it down the disposal. Did I mention that she was raised on a farm?

I have no intention of getting that close to a mouse myself. Otherwise, what was the point of having that big wedding for Gina and Bret? My role in this mission: pick up more mousetraps and peanut butter.

Photo: ©2000 Craig Orsini
Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Westminster: Rigged?


Did you watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on TV last week? I’m not really into pet competitions, but for some reason, every February when the Westminster dogs come sniffing around, I get hooked. Usually I can venture a guess on which dogs at the New York show are frontrunners to win. This year, not even close. That’s because this year’s winner, a Scottish deerhound named GCH Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, has to be one of the ugliest dogs ever evolved in nature.

I’m sure “Hickory” is a very nice dog – and I am a huge dog-lover – but I know from ugly dogs, and this is one. That’s because I myself have owned an ugly dog. Our first dog, Rocky, was ugly when we got him as a puppy – short black fur going in all directions, long spindly legs without much hair – but we thought he’d grow out of it. He didn’t grow, period. He stayed a sweet, small, ugly dog. I know he was ugly because when I took him to the vet, the vet suggested entering him in the Ugliest Dog Contest. Cruel really.

Anyway, Hickory reminds me a little of a larger Rocky. See?

No offense to Hickory, but there were a lot of cute dogs at that show, and in my opinion, the best dog in the U.S. (which is what you supposedly are if you win Best in Show at Westminster) should at least be cute.

The dog we had after Rocky, an apricot poodle named Gigi, was cute. Neurotic. Paranoid-schizophrenic. But cute. I’ll tell you about her sometime.


Ode to Ursa


Despite her name, Ursa is not a bear but the pet of my youngest daughter, Gina, and her family. She was adopted from one of those animal rescue places and the name came with her. Gina and Bret were going to change it, Ursa being an illogical name for a dog, but in the end they just left it alone. Why confuse the poor animal anymore than she already was by suddenly calling her a name she’d never heard in her life.

Ursa joined the family shortly after Gina and Bret were married. She got lots of love and attention, put on some weight, and probably thought she’d been dropped into the bosom of Abraham. Then they had Cosette.

Cosette LOVES Ursa. She has from the get-go. By the time she could crawl, she was putting her little fingers in the dog’s ears and eyes and lifting up her lips to examine her teeth. When she was learning to walk, Ursa would stand patiently as the baby pulled herself up using handfuls of dog hair, and didn’t move until Cosette sat down again.

By 18 months, Cosette wanted very badly to feed Ursa, which she was not allowed to do. She would attempt to divert parental attention by giving the dog a few thumps with one hand (“pat, pat”) while sneaking her food with the other. Ursa, also keeping an eye on the folks, would close her mouth and turn her face to the wall. “Look,” she seemed to say. “I’m not eating it. I’m not!” One weekend I went over to babysit, and how was I supposed to know there was a ban on feeding the dog? When I got out the Chex mix and Cosette wanted to give Ursa some, it was okay with me, although the child did seem to get a little hysterical with happiness. I realized later, of course, that I’d failed yet again as a disciplinarian. Luckily, this is okay with me.

Cosette likes to organize things, which usually means me and the dog. When she was two, she would line us up (herself in front, then me, then Ursa) and off we’d go (“Walk, Gramma!”) from the living room to the kitchen to the dining room to the hall and back to the living room, round and round, stopping only when Ursa broke ranks and Cosette had to marshal her back into formation. Then it was circle, circle, walk, walk, until the dog, recognizing the utter futility of the thing, sat down and refused to budge. After that it was just Cosette and me, circling and walking, until I was able to distract her with animal crackers.

Cosette flops down on top of Ursa when she’s sleeping, chases her from room to room and issues commands which are largely ignored. The dog is a saint. Her only defense is crawling behind the dining room chairs where it’s harder for Cosette to reach her.


Now along comes Baby Bret. He seems less enthralled with Ursa than Cosette was at six months. He doesn’t laugh when the dog licks his face; he just scrunches up his nose. However, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before he’s tormenting her in the name of love.

Good luck, Ursa. We “intelligent” beings salute you.

Of Mice and Me


I need to find a handyman and soon. It’s fall in Minnesota and before you know it, it will be too cold for a handyman (or handyperson, I’m sensitive to these things) to patch the woodpecker holes on the north face of the house. It is my contention that the mice who maliciously entered my home last spring did so through one of three or four holes drilled there by woodpeckers. The invasion irked me no little bit, because when I remodeled a few years ago and replaced the siding, roof and windows (this was before the odious Great Recession), the #1 thing on my list for the remodelers was “No more critters.” They laughed at me then, but here we are, aren’t we?

I have a history with critters and it isn’t short. The worst mouse incidents included one that went through the wash with my unmentionables (it came out long and skinny from the spin cycle) and finding one dead in the Christmas creche right there with the Baby Jesus. I used to put down poison every spring and fall, which was supposed to make them go outside and die, except they didn’t. They died in the dehumidifier and old shoe boxes, and all I had for help was three daughters who would have danced naked in the street before they picked up a dead mouse.

So in lieu of mouse poison this time, I picked up some of those sticky pieces of cardboard that are like concrete shoes for mice. You fold them into a kind of tunnel, so you don’t have to look at the thing after it wears itself out and dies a horrible death, although I was pretty sure they would die half in and half out. That’s where my son-in-law Bret comes in. He grew up on a farm. Critters don’t phase him.

I put two cardboard traps in the basement, and a few days later Bret came over to check them for dead mice, except that when he got here the traps were gone. GONE. Gone, I say! What kind of demonic mice escape and take the traps with them? It unnerved me. I could picture half-dead mice staggering around the basement dragging their coffins behind them like some twisted rodent version of Night of the Living Dead. I couldn’t bring myself to wash clothes for a while, and when I did, I went down the steps stomping and pounding the walls (“I’m coming, Rasputin!”) Had to. I was down to one green and one brown sock. Then I went to Target and bought some cheap wooden mouse traps, the kind with the steel spring that means instant death and no escape, set them out with paper bags and furnace filters strategically placed so I wouldn’t have to see them, and waited for Bret to return.

Eventually we caught one mouse. The other (or others) obviously expired down there somewhere, which means one will turn up where I least expect it. I intended to clean the basement this summer, but you’d be surprised how long you can procrastinate on these things. And that’s why I need to find a handyperson, to patch the woodpecker holes before the mice start looking for their winter retreat.

Some day I’ll tell you about the garter snakes in the basement, the salamanders in the window wells, the bat in the kitchen, the toads in the dining room, the swifts in the chimney, the dead gophers in the dryer vent, and the woodchuck who came to my daughter’s baby shower.


I hate critters.