Category Archives: Wildlife

Lady Esther: The Cat that Was Not a Cat

woman in holiday poinsettia sweater

Last night I met a remarkable woman at a downtown Christmas party in Kansas City.

Her name is Betty.

She has always lived in Kansas City. When she was a young girl, she lived on Country Club Plaza.

She really wanted a pet cat. However, her mother did not like cats. So her father brought Betty the next best thing.

A pet skunk.

vintage photo of girl with pet skunk

Lady Esther’s scent glands had been removed, but she was still named for the perfume Betty’s mother wore and that her father didn’t like.

When Betty put a harness on Lady Esther and walked her around the neighborhood, people crossed the street to avoid them.

“She walked with her tail straight up!” Betty says.

When she wasn’t walking or cuddling with Betty, Lady Esther lived in their use. She used a litter box.

“She was just like a cat,” Betty says.

When Betty went to college, Lady Esther was given to a man who ran a barbecue restaurant. Unfortunately, Betty says Lady Esther must have eaten too much barbecue, for she didn’t live long after that.

After college, Betty went on to do work at a local nature center, helping orphaned squirrels and other creatures get strong enough to go back out in the wild. She also spent many years serving lunch to students in a Parkville, Missouri, cafeteria.

Sometimes she runs into them, when she’s out hunting hedge apples for craft projects.

Thanks for the lovely conversation, Betty! I wish you a very happy holiday season!

Readers: What’s the most unusual pet you have ever had or encountered?

 

What To Do with Dandelions

Do you hate dandelions?

I don’t. In fact, I love them.

Taraxacum officinale dandelion

Taraxacum officinale. Source: Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885 (U.S. Public Domain)

As I inspected the garden last weekend, I was thrilled to see quite a few dandelions sprouting.

Although we don’t use weedkillers, we don’t get a lot of dandelions.

That’s probably because I like to pull them. And when I do, I try to yank out the whole plant, root and all, well before their heads turn into those fluffy seed puffs. That helps keep the overall population down.

In addition to removing them where you don’t want them, pulling dandelions provides a seasonal treat that’s packed with minerals and nutrients.

If you have been reading this blog long, you know I’m a fan of wild edible plants.

I’m especially fond of dandelions, which are plentiful and trending for foodies. Over the past year, I have seen bags of dandelion greens on the shelves at Whole Foods and dandelion salads on the menus at restaurants. (I tend to gulp at the price.)

According to Whole Dog Journal, dandelions can also be beneficial for dogs.

Last weekend’s dandelion haul wasn’t massive – just about 15 young plants, none of which had flowered.

But that was enough. Cleaning dandelions takes a while, especially if you don’t plan to throw anything away.

The entire dandelion plant is edible, although the greens can be a little bitter.

I cleaned mine by soaking them three times in water and then scrubbing all of the dirt from them.

Then, I snipped their roots for roasting and gathered the greens in a bowl.

I haven’t turned my roasted roots into a liver-cleansing tea just yet, but I have gotten use from the greens.

dandelion greens

Last night, I snuck some greens between layers of cheese in a batch of nachos. I called ‘em Dandy Nachos.

And on Easter, I used the greens to garnish a batch of deviled eggs.

As promised, see below for the deviled eggs recipe. It’s one of my famous, inexact recipes, so you won’t need any measuring cups.

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Deviled Nest Eggs

What you’ll need:

As many boiled eggs as you want (Remember, each whole egg makes two deviled eggs)

  • Wasabi mayonaise (Available at Trader Joe’s)
  • Your favorite yellow mustard
  • A handful of fresh dandelion greens
  • Capers
  • Paprika
  • Bowl and spoons for mixing

Directions:

Carefully peel your boiled eggs – I find it’s best to do this while they are still warm. Slice each egg in half and separate the yolk from the white. Gather all of the yolks in a bowl. Once you have separated all of the eggs, you can mix up your filling. Simply add the yellow mustard and wasabi mayo and begin stirring. Start with a small amount of the condiments at first – no more than a teaspoon – and taste as you go along. You will know when the taste is right for you. Garnish each egg with two or three shreds of dandelion green and one or more capers. Each egg should resemble a little bird nest with very tiny eggs. Sprinkle paprika lightly over the whole batch.

Have you ever eaten dandelions? What did you think?

Ouch!

If porcupines were tree branches, they would look like this.

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Long-haired Luke picked this up in his golden tailfeathers last night during our jog along the Trolley Track Trail.

He squatted down to do his business, and when he stood up, this foot-and-a-half-long weapon was swinging from the underside of his tail. Because his fur kept him safe from the thorns, he seemed more confused than anything – like a cat with a string tied to its tail.

Never have I more wished to be carrying a pocket knife on an outing.

However, instead of cutting around the evil entanglement, I spent ten bare-handed minutes, gingerly tugging strands of hair away from the sticky, hair-like thorns, many of which lodged themselves in my skin throughout the process.

Charlie Machete seemed to be laughing at us all the while.

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Oh well, it was an adventure!

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, several thorny varieties of deciduous trees grow in Missouri. I think our spiky branch was new growth from a black or honey locust that fell off due to the recent snowstorms.

Many honey locusts grow along the part of the trail we were on. They have a terrifying appearance, their own branches wrapping around the trunk like wooden barb wire.

HoneyLocustThorn

What hazards must you watch out for on your outings?

Ranch Life: Livestock, Working Dogs, Wolves and People

As an all-around animal and nature lover, I often find myself thinking about the ways in which dogs can negatively impact the environment.

People and Carnivores logo

Then, every so often, a story like this pops up – a story about working dogs whose loyalty provides a sustainable and reliable form of livestock protection. It’s an awesome solution especially at a time when many people violently resist the reintroduction of natural predators like wolves.

Even if you aren’t interested in the eco-angle of this story from the People and Carnivores conservation group, I urge you to watch this 7-minute video for the rare and old timey dog breeds featured in it. (And don’t be put off by the creepy thumbnail image.)

To learn more about how human society and the great predator animals can share the planet, check out PeopleandCarnivores.org.

What do you think of the Livestock Guarding Dogs?

If you like this story, check out my post on the Conservation Canines.

A Movie for a Dog

scooby and a turtle

Here’s a fun activity for you and your dog.

Turn on the following YouTube video, preferably on your biggest screen and plop your dog down in front of it?

Does Fido watch?

A Dog Tale: A Movie for Dogs is a short film created by a team of film students at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University.  Experts, including scientists, trainers and dog owners, helped the students to include many elements known to stimulate dogs and presented in an attention-generating (to a dog) way.

The only problem: YouTube isn’t smell-o-vision. As his most powerful sense, scent is how a dog “sees” the world.

This was obvious when we showed the movie to our dogs, on the biggest screen in our house. The animal sounds, squeaky toys and red fox flitting across the screen did not cause Scooby, Luke or Charlie Machete to do more than twitch an ear.

Visual media developed with dogs in mind will always be limited in its impact.

(However, that didn’t stop DOGTV,  a paid streaming TV channel for dogs, from being created.)

Check out what else the students learned in the short “dogumentary” that accompanies the film.

Do your dogs watch TV?

Now that you know a movie isn’t the right thing to give your dog this Valentine’s Day, check out some better ideas in Wayward Hearts – a Valentine’s Gift Guide for Dogs and Dog Lovers from Wayward Dogs!

Conservation Canines save wildlife one scat at a time

Can a dog help save the whales?

Orca AKA Killer Whale

Photo by Innotata. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

If you read the New York Times, are a fan of Wayward Dogs on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you have probably already encountered the story of Tucker, the onetime stray black lab mix who now spends his days sniffing out Orca scat from the deck of a boat off the coast of San Juan Island, Washington.

By leading scientists to this obscure excrement, Tucker helps them monitor the health of the whales and understand where they go when they’re not in the San Juan area.

I can’t believe this dog is for real.

According to the story, Tucker is the only dog in the world currently trained and working to detect the scent of whale droppings in the open ocean, but he’s not the only dog sniffing out endangered species poop for science.

Since 1997, the non-profit, Washington-based organization Conservation Canines has been training dogs to trackers of endangered whales, bears, owls, elephants, caribou, pumas, jaguars, giant anteaters and even mice.

Studying the scat is a non-invasive way for scientists to learn a whole lot about the animals, including their sex, species, nutritional status and reproductive health. In the case of the orcas, the presence of the chemicals like DDT and dioxin in the scat suggests in what other waters the animals may have been swimming.

We humans are killing off the rest of the planet at an alarming rate.

Something like 200 plant and animal species die off each day, mostly as a result of human impact.

Like our own, the world dog population is more of an overpopulation. Just ask shelters and rescue groups. When they’re free-roaming or feral, dogs can pose a threat to wildlife, as well.

As a person who cares deeply about the environment – and is a crazy dog lady – these are things I think about a lot. In fact, I often feel a bit guilty about the time and energy I put into dog advocacy, compared with what I do about the plight of threatened wild things.

My foster dog Charlie Machete

My foster dog Charlie Machete

What if at the end of the world, it’s just us and dogs? Would that be worth it?

Discovering the Conservation Canines organization was huge for me yesterday. This is an area where domestic animal rescue and environmentalism can come together. Humans can work with dogs to help in the fight to save other species.

Almost all of the Conservation Canines are rescue dogs or owner surrenders. Tucker came from the streets of Seattle.

According to the group’s website, the dogs that make great trackers often don’t make great family pets. They’re too hyper and too single-minded.

The dog now in training to do what Tucker does is a flat-coated retriever who was so obsessed with her ball that when her former owner placed it atop a refrigerator, she sat and stared at the ball for eight hours.

If only the rest of us could apply that level of determination to protecting the planet…

You can support Conservation Canines by shopping at the group’s merchandise site. I rather like the hoodies and “honorary member” shirts for dogs.

Honorary member of Conservation Canines

Wouldn’t your dogs look great in this shirt?

What do you think about this story? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Fun fact: I have been obsessed with whales since I was a little kid. That’s why there are books by the marine life artist Wyland in the “Favorite Things” section of the Wayward Dogs Store.

Gardenspiration

It’s totally cliche, but my family spent Mother’s Day at a botanical garden.

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Stepdad and Mom by some big bunnies.

Flora abounds at Powell Gardens, a green thumb’s paradise located about half an hour east of Kansas City.

All sorts of amazing things grow on 970 acres of land.

The property is divided into several different types of gardens. There’s a perennial garden, a woodland garden, a water garden and even a living wall.

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The wall is alive.

We saw plenty of fauna, too.

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Which is prettier?

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The common Powell Garden snake.

My favorite area of Powell Gardens is the Heartland Harvest Garden.

This garden is designed to demonstrate the variety achievable in a locally grown diet. The Harvest Garden also shows that edible landscaping can be a beautiful thing.

Aerial view from the silo that overlooks the Harvest garden.

Guests are discouraged from picking anything, including the plentiful strawberries, which are served in the Powell Gardens restaurant.

But I did pick up some inspiration while wandering the rows of fruit trees, grape vines, potatoes, lettuces and other edibles.

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‘Nuf said.

The deep purples, arresting greens and ruffled leaves of lettuce and cabbage show up in beds throughout Powell Gardens. In the Harvest garden, various types were planted together to create a colorful salad bed.

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Lettuce, cabbage and kale, oh my!

Did you know you can grow kiwis in the Midwest? Powell Gardens has several types.

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Baby kiwis!

Although I don’t kid myself about ever being able to grow as big, diverse and manicured garden as the Harvest Garden, it was neat to see how the professionals get things growing.

I’d now love to try growing kiwis and add a paw paw tree to our mini orchard.

Also: My whole family and especially my mom had a real nice time.

Thanks, Powell Gardens!

Where do you go for gardenspiration?

Cygnets

I had to look up the word for baby swan. It’s cygnet.

What a beautiful word.

A mama swan is a pen. A daddy swan is a cobbe

Five cygnets and a pen.

These fuzzy little cygnets are the latest additions to the animal farm my dad helps manage.

They look so peaceful I wish I could be there right now.

What are your favorite baby animals?

Two Bikes and a Dog on the Katy Trail

The Wayward House exists along the Trolley Track Trail, a former trolley line transformed into a popular walking and hiking trail in Kansas City. The Trolley Track Trail stretches across 4.5 miles of urban landscape, passing through business districts, residential neighborhoods, woods and creeks.

The Trolley Track Trail is kid stuff compared to another repurposed rail line in Missouri.

Recently, Zach and I loaded up our bicycles and Luke, the most athletic canine member of our pack, and drove just under two hours away to Boonville, Missouri, where we picked up the Katy Trail.

Popular among cyclists, runners and nature lovers, the Katy Trail is part of Missouri’s State Park System.

Built on a former route of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad that ceased operation in 1986, the Katy spans approximately 240 miles and passes through small towns, farmland and a diverse array wildlife habitat.

We rode only a tiny portion of the trail – approximately 24 roundtrip miles between the towns of Boonville and Rocheport, Missouri.

But our escape — from the city, jobs, housework and most of our pets — was sublime.

On the Katy, we saw turtles, frogs, toads, geese, ducks and other birds I couldn’t venture to name. We saw neon green comfrey plants, free growing garlic and wild blooms of purple, blue, pink and white.

We saw bathouses, snakes and snakeskins, a sun-bleached rodent skull in the middle of the road and little bone piles in stone caves.

It was wild.

And Luke? He had the time – and workout – of his life.

Come back tomorrow to find out some what this trip taught us about bike trips and dogs.

Do you have a favorite bike trail in your city or state?

Up close and personal with elk

I visited my hometown in Nebraska over my birthday weekend. While we were there, my dad introduced Zach and me to some of his animal friends.

Check out the rack on this one!

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This elk is called Rambo.

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My dad helps feed Rambo and the rest of the elk herd, as well as bison and various other animals for a friend.

These two tough guys make a handsome pair.

Now give Rambo a little kiss!

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