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Ian & Raven raveian@wolston.com 541-971-0372


Confessions of a Surrogate Mother

by Raven OKeefe

When I go anywhere near the dining room in the evening, I tiptoe, hold my breath, try not to make the slightest sound. But it's no use: they hear me or smell me or sense me somehow, and up goes the astonishingly loud chorus of "Ma-a-ama! Ma-a-a-ama!!!" I peek over the gates that close off the dining room and there they are -- Nathan Arizona Jr. and Pixie, my two little Shetland lamb bottle-babies, wagging their tiny tails as fast as they can and putting on major cuteness demonstrations and begging me for some of that sweet yummy lamb milk replacer.

We do a bit of dialogue: "Maaaaama!" "Laaambies!" "MAAAAMA!!" "LAAAMBIES!" Then I give in, big softy that I am, and give them a few nips from their bottles before they go into their dog crate for the night. They're just so impossibly cute! They butt their little heads against me, they suck on my finger, they cuddle in my arms and nap.

Then I look behind me, and out in the kitchen are five sets of big brown accusing eyes glaring at me -- our Border Collies, Tess, Ben, Moss, Hope, and Kim -- saying as plainly as if they were speaking the words: "WHAT are you THINKING! those are sheep! SHEEP!! They don't get cuddled and smooched, they don't bounce around the house like little wind-up toys, they don't hop up on the couch to sit in your lap, and they DON'T belong in the HOUSE! My god, woman, get a clue!"

Moss is our main working dog, and he's particularly gravely offended over this travesty. For the first few days he was so incensed that he wouldn't even look at me, though by now he settles for withering glares of disgust and lips curled in disdain. Hope, our other day-in/day-out working dog, is appalled as well, but somehow the lambies seem to have awakened some deeply buried spark of maternal instinct in her at times; she even went so far as to lick one of the little ones when he needed a bit of a clean-up. (Ooh, but I can tell that she yearns -- yearns! -- to give them the odd nip now and again, just to show them who's boss!)

Ben is nine years old and is the sweetest and most wonderful dog I've ever known, though he has bad hips and doesn't do much serious work any more. Benny and I are totally in love, so his attitude seems to be one of indulging me in a particularly foolish whim... but I catch him giving me sidelong glances as if to say "Um, shouldn't you be seeking some professional help about this aberration of yours?"

The other two don't really care much about the situation. Tessie is our sheep dog emeritus, going on 14, can't see or hear very well any more, sleeps most of the time. But she is a born nanny, the Mrs. Doubtfire of the clan, and she actually spent the night in with young Nathan Jr. on his first night of life, so he'd have someone warm to cuddle up against. Now she just ignores the whole nonsense, as she does with most matters other than those related to food or naps. And Kim? Oh, she's just... Kim. A big five-year-old puppy whose herding drive is somewhat lower than that of your average gerbil, a bouncy little goofball who lives the motto "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Lambs in the house? Sure, why not! Maybe they'll play with me!

Young Nathan Jr. is four weeks old now and his little roommate Pixie is almost two weeks, so both are out grazing in the fenced-in front yard most of the day, though they are still crazed to have their bottles first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Soon they'll be weaned and will be out in the fields with the other lambs and sheep, and the dogs will forgive me (I hope!)... until next spring, and the next invasion of bottle babies.

--Raven OKeefe