MASSACRE AT FURRY TOY PASS – EVIL SQUIRREL’S NEST 4th ANNUAL CONTEST OF WHATEVER

Welcome to Serendipity’s First Entry to Evil Squirrel’s Nest’s 4th Annual Contest of Whatever


Story by Garry Armstrong

Photography by Marilyn Armstrong

A cautionary tale for lovers of stuffed, furry toys – and dawgz!


No one wants to talk about that dreadful, dark day in history. It was a day of senseless violence — as opposed to those many other more sensible violent periods. The massacre was perpetrated on an innocent, unsuspecting civilian population. The blemish on our national reverence for furry creatures with embedded squeakers can never be erased.

Squirrel was the first -- but hardly the last -- casualty.

Squirrel was the first — but hardly the last — casualty.

We treasure stories about children playing with teddy bears. We sing lullabies about cuddly, soft animals who live in the sense memories of our innocent kid years.

We should have seen it coming

We should have seen it coming

But, now there’s a darker, more murky chapter. It’s about our Scotties, Bonnie and Gibbs. A bloody chapter about the ambush at Furry Toys Pass!!

There’s no forgetting the innocence of the furry victims. Mr. Rabbit, the Hedge Hog brothers. Cousin Squirrel, and Yellow Beaky Kid. They lived their lives in quiet solitude, in a hidden valley that promised safety from marauding Scotties.

Bonnie has broken through! Security breached! Alarms sounding!

Bonnie has broken through! Security breached! Alarms sounding!

Security was heightened as new members joined the furry family.  But the Scotties had a mole who leaked information to them about what should have been The Safe House. Danger was near. No one fully appreciated the depth of the Wrath of the Scotties.

With fang and claw, Gibbs is first to attack!

With fang and claw, Gibbs is first to attack!

Deception was a key part to Bonnie and Gibbs game plan. They appeared quiet and serene, maybe nothing but biscuits on their mind. We were lulled into a false sense of security. The Furry Kids were left alone and vulnerable in the pass that led to a box canyon and the badlands.

it's a trap, a trick, a feint!

it’s a trap, a trick, a feint!

In a flash, Bonnie and Gibbs made their move!! We couldn’t believe what happened. Mr. Squirrel!! The Hedge Hogs, The Soggy Doggy and Yellow Beaky Kid — all snatched in cruel jaws before we could move to save them. We couldn’t keep up with Bonnie and Gibbs as they swooped in for their prey.

Back up troops were too far away. Bonnie and Gibbs had taken over Furry Toys Pass!!

We’re now waiting for a dispatch from Reuters to see if  Bonnie and Gibbs will consider a diplomatic trade-off for the lives of their furry hostages. The Scotties are adamant in their demands. They want a huge payoff. BIG biscuits, none of those wimpy, small brittle things that melt in their paws.

Garry tried negotiations, but the Scottish Terrorists remain obdurate!

Garry tried negotiations, but the Scottish Terrorists remain obdurate!

We’re not sure if we can save the furry kids. Too many treaties have been broken, too many treats consumed. Too many casualties with holes in their furry bodies, squeakers mashed to groans. Too much hours spent stitching and mending. Too many colors of thread needed — and too many needles.

The Old Man was right about those Scotties. They are bad.

Bad to the Bone!!

YOUR STORY BY RICH PASCHALL

Why It Is Important By Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


From time to time, I have had the opportunity to post a few small works of fiction.  They were just little stories that I hoped would make a point.  While they are no one’s story in particular, they all contain elements that are familiar to me.  I filled in the details with characters and descriptions that would make each a story.  If you read any of them these on past Sundays, I hope you found some enjoyment.  Now I would like to recommend to you a more important story.  It is one that only you can fill in the details, and it is imperative that you do it soon before the chance slips away.  That story is your story.

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How often have you wondered about the details of your ancestry?  How often did you wish to know more about your parents’ lives or your grandparents’ lives?  Where did they come from? How did they meet?  How did they fall in love?  What did they do before you were around?  Perhaps you have parents who were around at pivotal points in history.  What do they recall?  Did you wait until it was too late to ask these questions or is there still time?

It is not that my brother and I did not think to ask our parents about their earlier lives, we just did not get good answers.  Of course, we did not press them on anything, especially when we were young.  My mother lived through the Great Depression. The family was so poor that a wealthy relative offered to raise my mother. She feared my grandmother could not properly feed all her children (six, although one died as a child).  Apparently my grandfather was not a good provider.  Details of his bad habits are sketchy.  My mother was not given away and they struggled through the 1930s.  As for the war years, I have no idea.

My father was born into rural American farm life.  He joined the war effort (WWII) as soon as he was old enough.  Like many of our “greatest generation” he said little about it.  “What did you do in the war, dad?” we might ask.  “I learned to peel potatoes”, he would usually respond.  Even if that were true, it does not tell the story.  My father was a member of the army air corp. 509 Composite.  That is the group that was on Tinian Island.  There the secret mission of the group there was to drop the atom bomb on Japan.  Did my father know any of that?  Probably not as records indicate he was trained in first aid and medical support.  Remaining documents are a matter of contradiction.  Some of the record may have been untrue to cover what was the actual story.  We’ll never know.

Late in dad’s life it was futile to recover any details.  My brother tried to get some information and did a lot of research that allowed us to only confirm a few things.  We have medals, his discharge paper and the 509 Composite book with some pictures as the only definite facts.  The rest of the story was my father’s joke or dismissive answers.  Of course, we have heard that many who came back from the war, did not want to talk about it.  In my father’s later life we did attend some family reunions and travelled to the rural community where he was born.  My grandparents are buried there.  We learned some of his past, nothing about the war.

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I tell you all this to remind you that you may want to learn as much of your ancestry as you can.  It is part of your story.  You may have heard of ancestry.com or the PBS television series that traces the ancestry of famous people.  These have become popular because of our desires to know who we are and where we came from.  If your parents and grandparents are alive, ask them your questions now, before it is too late.

When my grandmother was still alive and in her 90’s, there was a picture taken with her holding her great-great grand-daughter with her daughter, grand-daughter and great grand-daughter behind her.  I wonder if there is a copy of that photo for the infant in the picture.  More importantly, can anyone recount the stories of those in the picture?  Save your priceless photos too.  There may be no telling how valuable these pictures will be to future generations.

What about the most important story of all?  That would be your story, of course.  You may not think it now, but your story may be important to the future.  Consider what your friends and offspring may wish to know.  Tell the stories as honestly as you can.  That does not mean you have to tell everything.  Some things are best if they are not passed along.  Tell the things the next generations will want to know about you, and who and what came before you as far as you know.  You will be honoring the future generations in this way.  What you wanted to know about your past may be what your offspring will want to know about you.  Toss the dirt out the window and do not be tempted to give “alternative facts.”

National Public Radio has featured stories from Story Corps.  Over 100,000 people have recorded their stories there, some more than once, years apart.  Some are absolutely moving accounts of where some people have been in their lives.  I heard one on the radio of an elderly couple who told their story on-line and then updated 10 years later before the husband’s death.  Then he recounted how he wrote love letters to his wife every day for over 40 years and their love had never died.  Did following generations know this?  They know it now.  Do not leave your story untold and unwritten.  It is your legacy.  It is the most important story you know.

IT REALLY DOES TAKE A VILLAGE by ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I think it also takes a village to get someone to the age of 100. I saw both of those concepts in action this past weekend when we went to Minnesota to celebrate the 100th birthday of my husband’s Aunt Helen.

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Aunt Helen is the matriarch of a big, happy, close-knit multi-generational family. We stayed with one of her two daughters, Barbara, who has two daughters of her own in addition to two sons-in-law and five grandchildren. All live close, or relatively close, to one another and are all integral parts of each others’ lives.

Barbara’s daughters never need babysitters. Their kids range from 2 to 13. Either their sister, or parents will take the kids for the day, overnight, or for a week – whatever is needed. Aunts, cousins, and grandparents go to the meets, games, plays, you name it, for all the children. The three generations have regular dinners and often spend weekends together. They travel together. Sometimes, it’s just the two sisters and their kids. Sometimes it includes grandparents. All eleven of them are going to Disney World together for a week in March.

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And everyone visits Helen in her nursing home. She was in independent living nearby till she was 95. Then she lived with Barbara for three years until Barb couldn’t care for her Mom at home anymore. Throughout, Helen participated in most family gatherings and events, so she has been able to be a huge part of her grandchildren’s lives and a big, though more passive part of her great-grandkids’ lives too. It was only a few years ago that Helen lost her mobility and moved into a nursing home. Also nearby.

As an only child of only children, I was in total awe watching all this intergenerational interaction. Everyone is comfortable with and knows everything about everyone else. There is bountiful camaraderie. Jokes, shared memories and teasing as well as support and love all around. Not that there aren’t tensions and disagreements, but overall, the warmth and affection is palpable. Everyone feels important in their little galaxy.

This is wonderful for children and their developing egos and personalities. It’s also essential to give an elderly person connections and purpose to their more limited lives. Studies show that that is something that most people who live to be 100 have in common, along with great genes!

barb-photos

Aunt Helen was overwhelmed when her daughters threw her a large 100th birthday party. The whole family was there – both her girls and all of their children and grandchildren as well as three beloved nephews who traveled very long distances to be there. (I’m the wife of one of the nephews who Helen refers to as ‘the kids’ – they are all in their mid 60’s to 70’s.)

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We are pack animals. Through most of history, we have lived in cohesive groups – extended families, clans, villages, small towns. Everyone knew everyone else and was there for each other, for better or worse. Today we have splintered off into self-contained units. The nuclear family is the norm – Mom, Dad and 2.5 children. After this weekend, I’m not sure that scenario is optimum for anyone.

A long time ago, one of her grandchildren told Helen she had to live to be 100. Since then, that has been her stated goal in life. A few days before her birthday, Helen told Barbara that she thinks she needs a new goal. Barbara asked if she wanted to make 101 her new goal. Helen replied, “No. I think I’ll make it 105!’

With the love and support of her own personal ‘village’, I bet she makes it!

Check out: A VERY HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, AUNT HELEN – BY TOM CURLEY for more of the story!

YESTERDAY IS ANOTHER COUNTRY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

“Yesterday is another country, all borders are closed.”

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It was a wonderful piece of dialogue from “MidSomer Murders.” In the episode, Chief Inspector Barnaby is questioning a murder suspect about his whereabouts the previous day. The suspect tries to dodge the questions with thinly veiled irony. “Yesterday, Chief Inspector, is another country. All borders are closed.” Barnaby ultimately opens the borders and nails the suspect. Still, I liked the perp’s style.

As we begin the new year, many folks around the world are thinking about the events of the past 12 months. Here, in the United States, many of us think of 2016 as another country with all borders closed. We don’t want to recall the epic long Presidential campaign and its result. We’ll have to open those borders in less than three weeks with the swearing-in of the new President.

Reality bites and this time, it has fangs and claws.

Our yesterdays are always subject to border closings, depending on how we remember them. I often write about legendary people I’ve met in my professional life. Those are pleasant stories to recount.

There are parts of my past I choose not to share. Those borders have remained closed. Rich Paschall, a fellow blogger on Serendipity, wrote a touching piece about heroes and icons we lost last year.  It jogged my mind to return to this piece that I began writing last week. Thanks, Rich!

A lot of the borders to yesterday are closed because we don’t want to revive the memories. I certainly don’t. They aren’t happy memories. They make me sad. I’ve never been good at handling emotions.

Someone recently wrote a Facebook piece about the pain of seeing a loved one pass away, deep in dementia.  Quickly,  I tried to blot out the images of Mom, whose last years were diminished by dementia. No luck. I could clearly see the woman who used to be Mom.  Strike that.  That’s what I was thinking in the moment, especially during the final months of her life. She was still Mom but she didn’t know me.

I struggled during those final visits. In  part, I struggled because I felt guilty I couldn’t come to see Mom more often. It was a four (or more) hour drive from Massachusetts to Long Island. During the drives, my mind would fill with images of a younger Mom. I could hear her laugh and see her smile. I remembered the things we did together over the years. In my mind, I saw her wedding pictures — Mom and Dad in the prime of their lives.

By then, Dad had already been gone for five years, yet I hadn’t been able to cry for him. Now Mom was slipping away. In what turned out to be my last visit, I tried my best to reach through the dementia, to reclaim a few moments with Mom.  I failed. A few weeks later, in the middle of sub teaching a high school class, the principal and Marilyn entered the classroom. I instantly knew Mom was gone.

I was the main eulogist at Mom’s funeral. I’m a wordsmith. I could see people crying and smiling as I recalled my mother’s life. My stomach was tight, but I couldn’t cry. Not a tear.

I’ve talked to Marilyn about the grieving process. She understands, but it still troubles me. I’m such a sucker for sentimental old movies, but real life is something else, something I didn’t want to share.

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I’ve tried to shoebox the frailty of life. Keep the anxiety behind one of those closed borders. Marilyn will be 70 in March. I’ll be 75 in April. We have lots of health issues.

We try to enjoy each other and our life together. We feed off each other. Today, the borders are open.

BEFORE THE STREETLIGHTS COME ON

When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss. We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long bast bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.

Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.” Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for anything from a few cents to a few dollars and take it home to play. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.

We ran around a lot. Tag was one of the basics. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.

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There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue. In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.

Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.

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Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.

Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.

“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretend –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars. We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.

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I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street. Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.

It makes me wistful, thinking about it. I had a horrible home life, but I could escape by going out to play. “Bye, Ma, I’m going out to play,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and school contained what seemed unlimited hours of freedom. That was the most free I would ever be in this life.

Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.

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You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.

Darkness fell late. There was  more than enough time.

THE CHRISTMAS LEG

I was planning to make chili. In fact, we had just come back from the supermarket and I had brought it all home with me. The fresh meat, the chili beans. Big sweet onions. Diced tomatoes. We had not finished unpacking when the phone rang.

“My boss just gave me a 13 pound leg of lamb for Christmas,” he said. “We’ve got a great roast.”

“Thirteen pounds? I’ve never seen a leg of lamb that big.”

“It’s huge,” he said. “I’m sending Sandy over with it. She’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Indeed she was. By the time she brought it upstairs, she could hardly breathe and all I could say was “Are we sure that’s lamb? It’s gigantic.”

“Yes,” she said, leaning on the fridge and trying to breathe.

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I cleared out the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. By angling it slightly, we got the door closed, but it wasn’t easy. Sandy went home.

Garry and I ate dinner. No big surprise that I was thinking about lamb. I went online to see the latest greatest advice on cooking bone-in leg of lamb. I was pleased to see we have gone back to the “torch it for 15 minutes, then cook the rest slowly” which is how I learned to do it rather than the “medium heat and cook it until it is gray, tough, and flavorless.” The newer information suggests serving it medium rare, at about 135 degrees on the thermometer. The previous generation of lamb recipes says 160 to 170 degrees. Which is desiccated and, in my opinion, inedible.

Some sites are recommending using an oven roasting bag. What struck me was that there was no information on roasts larger than 10 pounds … and most seemed to believe that a leg of lamb will never exceed seven pounds including the bone. I knew I did not have a pan big enough to cook that piece of meat.

I confided my concern to Garry who suggested we weigh and measure it. He brought the scale to the kitchen and set on the stove. We hauled the huge roast out of the fridge and weighed it. The scale said eleven pounds, but I’m positive this scale always leaves off a couple of pounds, so I was forced to believe that my son had it right. Thirteen pounds. This would later be confirmed when we unwrapped it and there was a tag that announced it was a “restaurant cut full leg 13.13 lbs.”

Moreover, it measured 22 inches long. The biggest roasting pan I could find in any store was 17-1/2 inches. I wasn’t sure it would fit in the oven, much less the pan. Garry thought maybe the butcher at Hannaford might be willing to cut off the shank for us.

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We had to go buy a few things anyhow, so nothing ventured, nothing gained. I needed a gigantic roasting pan. Extra extra-large turkey roasting bags. Fresh rosemary and maybe a few other fresh herbs. Heavy duty aluminum foil in the extended play version. A veggie to go with dinner. I had been planning to bake corn bread, but the change in menu suggested hot buttered rolls and something green. Which turned out to be spinach because we like it, it’s quick to prepare, and they still had some. Yesterday, the grocery shelves were over-flowing. Today, half the shelves were empty. Denuded. Locusts? No, just Christmas.

While we were at it, I bought little red roasting potatoes and a pound of bacon because we might as well all finish off the evening with a trip to the hospital to deal with pancreatitis, the result of massive over-indulgence in rich food. Sandy and Kaity are doing the dessert specialties and I had a mince-pie which I had promised Garry I would bake. (I did.)

Hannaford said “no way, absolutely not.” If you didn’t buy it there, they won’t touch it. Time for plan B. I called my son.

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“It’s beautiful. It’s huge. It’s too big for the biggest turkey roasting pan. Do you have anything you could use to hack off a piece? I can deal with everything else, but it has to fit in the pan.”

“I have a Sawzall,” he said, uncertainly. “Not terribly sanitary, but it’ll cut through stainless steel, so I suppose it’ll cut a leg of lamb.”

“That leg will be roasted for hours after we cut it. That should sterilize it. I don’t think we have any other choice. Maybe a restaurant would have the right size pans and ovens, but we don’t.”

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And so it went. Owen bought a new Sawzall blade, wrapped the rest of the saw in plastic. Then he and Garry wrestled the roast into submission and removed the top of it, which turned out to be a good size crown roast. I wrapped it up and stowed it in the freezer. Another dinner awaits.

I don’t know exactly how the day will shake out, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. Not sure if I’ll cook it in the bag or do the broil-then-slow-roast. I didn’t expect those herbs to be so chopping-knife resistant, but I realized I have a food processor. I don’t have to do it by hand.

There will be dinner. I will not be beaten by a leg of a lamb. I shall prevail!

A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE | HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

AND PUPPY MAKES FOUR by ELLIN CURLEY

Our family consisted of two dogs and two humans. Then our 16-year-old dog, Lucky, died and we were down to three beings in the household. We had some anxieties about bringing another dog into our lives. We worried about finding the right dog. We feared the disruption and tension the wrong dog could cause.

Our worries are over. We lucked into the perfect dog to complete our foursome. The process was fairly smooth. Except for the fact that my husband wanted nothing to do with it! He hates the idea of choosing one dog out of the thousands of rescue dogs who desperately need homes. So I had to do all the ‘shopping’.

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I zeroed in on local rescue groups because we needed to introduce our dog, Lexi, to any potential adoptee. We had to make sure two dogs got along. I chose to meet one dog, Remy, who was described as sweet and cuddly. That’s exactly what we need. We are couch potatoes and would be a bad fit for an athletic, highly energetic, outdoorsy dog.

We met Remy and she was very reserved. However, she went right over to Tom and sat down leaning up against him. That bonded Tom to her immediately. Then she said hello to me and lay down on a dog bed in the room. The dog trainer making the introduction said that Remy had never done that with anyone else. She said that meant that Remy was comfortable and relaxed with us. To Tom, that meant that she was choosing us as her new family.

I insisted on meeting another dog because I didn’t want to feel I had blindly gone with the first dog we met. The other dog was adorable but there was something about Remy.

Remy and Tom

Remy and Tom

So we arranged for the rescue people to bring Remy to the house to meet Lexi. At first it didn’t go very well. Remy was scared and overwhelmed in the new environment. She wanted nothing to do with the overly enthusiastic Lexi. The rescue trainer said that this might not be the right dog for us and we were heartbroken. But we decided to give Remy 48 hours to adjust and relax. The rescue trainer said that if things were still not going well, we could bring Remy back to the rescue shelter, no problem. He assured us that this happens all the time. However, for us, that would have been devastating. We were already invested in this delightful eight month old puppy.

Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the two dogs to decide they liked playing together. Within hours they were chasing each other around the back yard and wrestling like old pals. We were so relieved! We had been instantly smitten with this sweet and goofy pup.

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Each day has brought new levels of comfort and accommodation. Now I can feed the two dogs next to one another instead of in separate rooms. They can now both be on the bed without growling or any other territorial conversations. They play together, rest together and share our attention amicably. We’ve even noticed that Lexi is more relaxed and less clingy to me. That is a bonus we hadn’t even hoped for! And it hasn’t been a full week yet!

Remy & Lexi

Remy & Lexi

We hadn’t fully realized how down we were after the death of our Lucky. We weren’t aware how empty the house had felt with only one, not very happy dog. We are suddenly so upbeat and joyful. We are reveling in our newfound enthusiasm for each new day with our wonderful Remy. We are laughing all the time at her antics and smiling over the connection the two dogs are forging with each other. We couldn’t have asked for a happier ending for all of us.