Wild, night time adventure

Even though I’ve lived in Kansas for nearly a decade now, the closest I’ve ever really been to raccoons has been driving passed unfortunate roadkill. Living in town, there wasn’t much to draw them in, considering the abundant surrounding fields and windbreaks that offered everything they needed. Who would have guessed my first up-close encounter would occur at home, here in Great Bend.

At about 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night, I was sitting on the front porch swing, enjoying the quiet and the view of an almost full moon shrouded in light clouds, discussing the high points of the day with my husband on the cell phone. Suddenly, I heard the loud chatter of a squirrel at the top of the maple tree in the front parkway. Dear Husband warned me to stay away from that tree. He’s lived in the country a good number of years, and had never heard a squirrel making a ruckus at night. There had to be something wrong with it.

All became quiet, and I started talking about what the kids were up to, then I heard the sounds of claws on tree bark, and paused again. Was it a cat? Had Smokey crawled up in the tree hunting squirrel? No, that couldn’t be it. He’s a daring cat, but he’s more interested in watching and sneaking up on unsuspecting birds.

Soon, I saw the culprit emerge from behind the tree. At first I thought it was a cat. A really big cat. It was walking funny though. Then it hit me, it was a racoon. It slowly started making its way across the newly planted lawn, and silly me, my curiosity got the better of me. With cell phone in hand, I started sneaking over to get a better look. The racoon came out of the shadows the moonlight defining its features better. I was fascinated by the way it walked. Headed toward my driveway, it once again went into the shadows.

A few days before, I met one of our neighbors across the street, who after introducing himself warned us to make sure we take our dog in at night because there were raccoons living in the (abandoned?) house at the corner, and they were active at night. His words came back to me, and having not taken the dog in yet, I went around the house to gather up faithful Boy-boy and make sure he was out of harms way. I’d never heard of a raccoon attacking a little dog, but as I said, I’m no raccoon expert.

After he was safely inside, the sensor light by the garage was tripped, so I went to investigate. The racoon stood only about 20 feet away on the other side of the chain link fence between mine and my neighbors house. I started advancing slowly, sure any second I’d scare the animal off and see if he went into the suspected house. Amazingly, he wasn’t fazed at all by my presence. In fact, he started coming closer to me, which I found a little intimidating. I stood still, watching, describing his movements to Dear Husband, as it went up first on the neighbor’s front porch, then the back porch. At one point, it was within 10 feet looking straight at me. Not finding anything, he continued on through the yard, through a gap in the fence, and into the next yard.

On Sept. 27, Wichita Eagle blogger Michael Pearson posted When Raccoons Invade, describing a friend’s encounter with raccoons entering their garage through a pet door to steal cat food. The friend suspected the ongoing drought had displaced many raccoons from their natural habitat at the nearby Cheyenne Bottoms. The question is, when the drought is over, will they be happy to move on back, or will they have become accustomed to the rich and varied diet available in our garbage and pet bowls? As for me, doggy isn’t going to be fed outside anymore, and trash will now have a locking lid.

Lending a helping paw

 

What began as an effort to find a home for a stray dog recently led to a partnership between East Elementary school teacher Chris Garner and NCK Paws, a resource for people and pets.  

Education is Garner’s main focus.   

I want to educate people about how to treat animals.”

On Tuesday, February 7, she started with a story hour for students at East Elementary school in the after school program.  

For the lower grades, Garner read a story about how to approach dogs and how to take care of them.  For the upper grades, she read a story about reading dog body language.  

Helping her with the lesson was Joy, a Bernese Mountain Dog.      

Pet responsibility and how to care for their pets at home is what we’re trying to teach the kids,” Garner says.  “I wanted to be able to have the children put into practice what they learned from the story.”  

Joy’s owner offered to allow Garner to use the dog.  As a therapy dog, Joy was trained to remain calm and obey commands in similar situations where several kids would be present, and noise would be prevalent.  The children, exuberant from activities in the classroom, responded to the needs of the dog,

Its amazing the way children and dogs connect,” Virginia Thull, a former teacher and member of NCK Paws says.  “Children that are ordinarily loud and full of energy will quiet down and connect with a dog in ways they won’t with their peers or their teacher.”  Thull was on hand to assist Garner with the story hour.

One little girl said, I don’t like big dogs,” Thull says. The other teacher told her to just move to the back.  “By golly, by the time the story was over, she’d moved to the front and was one of the first three kids to pet the dog,” Thull says.  “We helped her take a step in the right direction.  That is what this education is about.”

In January, Garner took an animal down to the O’Connor animal shelter in Concordia that needed a home.  Animal Control officer Heather Atchison  asked her if she would like to be part of NCK Paws.  

I told her I’d love to do that because that is my passion– Helping animals,” Garner says.  

Chris is a perfect person to start this type of program because she’s passionate about education,” Thull says.  “The books she’s reading are very specific about teaching children about pet ownership.  Realistically, we could stop a lot of heartbreak if we could educate the owners of pets.  We can make a quicker impact if we work on education.”

NCK Paws

The organization’s main focus is to help the animals of North Central Kansas.   Members of NCK Paws help to put families who want a pet together with families who need to find a home for a pet says Thull.   Currently, story hours, volunteer transport, and fund raisers to purchase needed items for pet rescues and shelters are how the group fulfills its mission.

The organization has been in existence since January 2011.  Members include people from Belleville, Miltonvale, Clyde and Concordia.   Tuesday’s book event marks the group’s first opportunity to branch out to Belleville.

Shelter Dogs Good Pets

Virginia Thull is a founding member of NCK Paws.  Her work with animals started with work as a volunteer at the O’Connor animal shelter in Concordia.  

Before I started working with animals at the O’Connor shelter, I thought the dogs out there probably were not worthy of being pets,” says Thull.  “ I don’t think I’m the only one who ever thought that.”  Her perception of abandoned and shelter dogs was that they were mean or uncooperative or untrainable.  

Working at the shelter, I realized the opposite is true.  Most of the dogs that go through there are very adoptable and wonderful animals. “

Garner, owner of three shelter dogs agrees.  Garner once owned a therapy dog, which she found on the highway in Oklahoma City.  

He was the best dog I ever had, and he was on the highway,” she says.  Garner donated the mixed-breed dog, “Big Dog”, to the C.A.R.E.S. program, an organization that trains therapy dogs.  

It was the hardest thing ever to give up that dog,” she says.  Big Dog went through training with a teacher in Kansas City, while Garner kept tabs on him all summer.  Later, she learned the first handler did not work out, and she had the opportunity to step in and complete the training.  She jumped on the chance.

Garner taught fifth grade for over 20 years.  She used Big Dog in the classroom, sharing time with the special education teacher.  She also took him to the nursing home.  His presence changed the mood and atmosphere in the classroom, she says.  

Big Dog would invariably pick kids who needed him, who were sad that day,” she says.  “It was amazing how he just seemed to know who needed him.”  

Nationwide Pet Transport

Thull has been an active pet transport volunteer for a few years.   She started when O’Connor Animal Shelter had animals that did not get adopted out.  With a recent commitment to becoming a no-kill facility, a solution had to be found.  That, in part, meant reaching out to area rescues.  

Rescues are usually run by private individuals or non-profit organizations and are not bound as city-run shelters are to strict time limits in which a home needs to be found before euthanization occurs, Thull says.

Thull learned there is a whole network of rescue people who “pull the dog”.  Pulling the dog means, the rescue would adopt the dog, take it to their location and foster it until it is ready to go to a home.  

Thull transports animals.  She’s taken nearly 40 animals to rescues, she says, including cats.  Shes been to Colorado four times.  Once she helped transport a dog from North Platte, for the National Brittany Association in Massachusetts.  

They pulled a Brittany Spaniel from Manhattan to take to a foster home in South Dakota,” Thull says. Through an email network, she became aware.  “The trip was divided into five legs.  After I met the volunteers from Manhattan in Concordia, I drove from Concordia to North Platte.”

From there, she was asked to take a second leg of the trip, and took the dog to volunteers in South Dakota who brought the dog to it’s new owners.  

Thull says she has also assisted with a pet transportation network that starts in St.Louis and travels I-70 in vans.  People bring their dogs to I-70 and put them on the van that takes them to rescues in Colorado.  

Many counties and small towns have limited resources to deal with stray dogs.  The city of Belleville’s policy for dealing with a stray whose owner’s cannot be identified includes three days boarding with an area veterinarian followed by euthanization if the pet is not claimed.

Garner and Thull have both heard stories from owners whose pets have escaped while they are out of town, and came home to learn their pet has been euthanized.  They hope that through education and volunteer efforts, fewer sad outcomes for pets in North Central Kansas are in the future.  

Suggested reading list:  

Tails Are Not For Pulling, by Elizabeth Verdick , 22 page board book
Be A Dog’s Best Freind, by Renne Payne and Jennifer Gladysa, 25 pages
May I Pet Your Dog,by Stephanie Calmenson, 32 pages
Pet’s Playground:  Playing Safe in a Dog-and-Cat world,by Dr. Amanda Chin, 100 pagesImage

East Elementary teacher Chris Garner and Joy, a Bernese Mountain Dog, lead a story hour for students in the Belleville after school program. Selections were carefully chosen to teach pet care skills. Garner is a member of NCK Paws, a group focused on being a resource for helping people and pets in North Central Kansas.  

New Focus

“We’re not dying, we’re fighting!” is a sentiment shared by Republic County Economic Development director Jenny Russell last year which really sums up the attitude of many not only in North Central Kansas, but throughout America who still believe life in a rural town is valuable.
I finally decided on a focus for this blog.  I feel I’m uniquely positioned to deliver insights and comparisons on rural and small town living, reports on culture and the arts in rural North Central Kansas,  and on what the people of this area are doing to hang on to their identities and communities amid continued urban out-migration.
I’ve learned over the past nine years quite a bit about making the transition from city life to rural-town life.  Attitude really is everything.  Some of what I’ve learned came as a big surprise to me, but over time it began to make sense.

Here is a little about me, and how I came to live in a rural town in North Central Kansas.
In 2003, I made a radical life change.
I grew up and lived in the Denver Metro area, and was a SAHM of three children.  Sitting in the drivers seat of the mini-van for hours on end in the daily quest to get from home to store, park, school and home again was getting to me.
I moved to Concordia, a rural town in North Central Kansas, 500 miles from family, with a plan to purchase and manage a handful of rental properties, start a business and raise my kids.  My friends thought I’d lost my mind, moving to a place where the nearest Target store was over 50 miles away and the nearest Starbucks over 100 miles away.  There were no private schools or charter schools within reasonable driving distance.  At the time, there were no movie theaters within a 50 mile radius either.
My family, on the other hand, was supportive.  We’d taken several drives in the country when I was a child, and often we’d talk about what it would be like if we moved to the country.  None of us really understood what life would really be like, I learned later, but we were intrigued.
In June,2003, after purchasing three fixer-uppers, I loaded up the minivan with the kids and the dog and what tools and belongings I could pack in, and we drove to Kansas intending to spend a month staying at and working on the one that needed the most work.  In the mornings, I’d let the kids play and we’d go for walks to explore our new town.  During the hottest part of the day, we’d stay in and watch videos in the air-conditioning.   In the evening, we’d go down to the public pool and swim to cool off, have dinner and then I’d put them to bed. That’s when I stripped wallpaper and cleaned mold off walls, peeled off floral “walleeze” from cabinets and wood trim, cleaned cigarette smoke residue from all surfaces, and scrubbed and polished and painted everything I could to bring the house to a habitable condition.
One month turned into the whole summer.  Soon, it would be time to head back home to Lakewood, and get the kids ready for school.  Over that summer, I reflected, I’d come to be friends with my Kansas neighbors, something that eluded me back home where front-of-the-house attached two-car garages allowed most of my neighbors there to avoid contact with one another.  In our small town, the kids and I could walk to the library, the store and the park. Back home, it would take us the same amount of time to get in the van, travel out of our subdivision and onto the highway we would need to take to get to similar destinations.
I decided then, that we would make our move permanent, and I enrolled my kids in the Concordia school system.
Since then, I’ve owned a few businesses, survived a divorce, and began my new career as a reporter for The Belleville Telescope, a weekly county paper.  I travel back to visit family in Denver several times a year, and as much as I love seeing my family and experiencing great restaurants, after a few days of sitting in traffic to get to these great places, I can’t wait to get home again.