Mar 07

2016

Farm Life: Rest in Peace Little Bear

It’s taken me a while to write about poor little Bear, our pet African pygmy hedgehog. He died just before Christmas. Of course I was very sad, but even more I was overwhelmed by guilt. From the second I heard that Bear had been found lifeless in his cage, I was filled with deep regret. In the weeks and perhaps even months before that day I had become very clear that Bear, while cuter than you can possibly imagine, was not the right pet for us – it was obvious he was not thriving in our home – and I had planned to tell Coco, his “owner,” when she came home from boarding school just a week later that we needed to find a new and better home for him. The struggle I faced was that I couldn’t really imagine where that would be.

The first problem we faced with Bear was that he came into our lives not with proper consideration and planning, but on impulse. A year ago, Christopher went to pick up Coco from boarding school and later that afternoon they arrived home with Bear! Another student had brought him into school hoping to sell him, and Christopher and Coco just couldn’t resist him. As cute as all headgehogs – especially miniature ones – look in photos I was shocked by how much he looked just like a blonde sea urchin with legs. His quills were sharp. Really sharp. My internal alarm bells rang right away. “This is a crazy idea!” I cried to Christopher. Why should our daughter who lives at boarding school for the majority of the year take on the wellbeing of a new pet that lives at home? And where is he going to live? Christopher thought Bear would be happy living outside in the cage with the two bunnies. While I was googling “hedgehog habitats” and discovering that Bear’s rare variety meant he couldn’t live outside because he needed to be in a minimum of 72 degrees, Christopher and Coco thought they’d try him out with the bunnies. Well the bunnies hated him and got very aggressive with Bear and upset him terribly. He hyperventilated for hours afterwards. We resolved that he would live in Coco’s bathtub until a proper cage arrived from Amazon in a day or two. Well, his cage arrived and it was HUGE, dominating Coco’s tiny bathroom. But he seemed happy enough, exploring around, eating the catfood and fresh roasted chicken we’d been told he especially liked. And he ran and ran and ran in his wheel, but only at night. Yes, he was nocturnal. And that meant that whenever we went to play with him and give him love he would be sleepy and grumpy. Nothing in me thought this was a good idea, and the regret in me now is that I didn’t act then and there, that I didn’t insist that he be returned immediately.

I admit that I too get swept up in his cuteness and in the novelty of him. But it didn’t last long. When I thought of all the endless nights he spent in that cage in the bathroom, alone while the rest of the house slept, more alarm bells started ringing. We’d take him out of the cage at 9 or 10pm when he was just waking up, but he would do his rapid heavy breathing that clearly signalled distress and after a few minutes I would put him back, worried that I was upsetting him. Also, hedgehogs are not easy to hold. I could just about cup him in my hands when he was relaxed, but he would spook easily and when he did his spikes would puff out painfully stabbing my hands.

After a few months, I received a warning sign. I checked on him late a few nights and found that he wasn’t on his wheel doing his beloved running. As I live on the other side of the house though, I thought he must have just been doing it later on in the night while we slept. Then after that I noticed he was eating less, and not finishing his chicken. When Coco came home for a weekend, I expressed serious concern. She played with him late into the nights and took videos and showed me that he was happy and playful, which he did indeed appear to be in those moments.

But my feelings about his wellbeing became more grave over time and I decided I would tell Coco when she came home mid-December that I was sure he wasn’t thriving and that we needed to find a new home for him, perhaps with other hedgehogs (and I certainly wasn’t prepared to get another).

On a Monday in early December Zach’s friend Ali come over to the house, and she was desperate to play with Bear. She patiently waited until after dinner when he would be waking up and then we brought him out to play. Bear was always shy and nervous at first but as usual he eventually warmed to us and did all his sweet and endearing body movements and facial expressions. I showed Ali his funny buck teeth and his oversized mouse ears. She was scared to hold him so I let him crawl all over her on the sofa. He seemed happier than I had seen him in ages. I even sent Coco a message that I thought Bear was maybe becoming friendly and more well-adjusted. But the next morning as I was doing an errand after dropping Zach at school I got a text from Christopher saying that Bear had died in the night. I couldn’t believe it, but of course in retrospect it all made sense. I was devastated. I felt like we had utterly failed this poor creature. I am sure he died of depression and loneliness. He showed all the classic signs – decreased energy, decreased food intake – and yet I didn’t know what to do to better care for this helpless creature. He wasn’t neglected, he had a lovely home, plenty of food and toys and we loved him. And then it became clear to me. Bear was never meant to be a pet. He never should have been taken out of his natural habitat.

Here on our farm, animals and the loving care of them is a huge part of our lives and one that gives us great pleasure and happiness. We have managed and cared for endless pets and livestock that have thrived on our watch. But this time we got it wrong. I don’t mean to say what is right for everyone, but what I do know for sure is that pygmy hedgehogs, unlike rabbits or hamsters, are not easy to care for. I think anyone would have a hard time convincing me that they should be pets under even the most responsible and loving circumstances. Lesson humbly learned.


Jan 19

2016

Mourning my Dad

I took some time out to mourn my dad, who died peacefully at home last week. I am trying not to feel too sorry for myself, as I know that I’m lucky he lived a full life, and that my children got to know him so well, but the truth is I am just terribly sad. He was simply awesome – both as a human being and as a dad – and had a huge role in influencing the person I am today. I’ll be blogging again by the end of the week, but in the meantime I wanted to share with you the obituary my sisters and I wrote about him.

Long time Palm Beach resident Stephen Cutter, 75, died peacefully at home in Floyd, Virginia on January 10th after a brave battle with cancer. Born in Boston, MA, on April 20, 1940 to Harry and Beatrice Cutter, he moved to Palm Beach with his parents at the age of six and lived there until he was 60. Stephen was a pioneer in residential real estate for 40 years, running his family’s firm Cutter Real Estate and serving as the president of the Palm Beach Board of Realtors. A gifted natural athlete, he enjoyed many outdoor sports, and even established windsurfing as a competitive sport at the Bath and Tennis Club in the 1980’s.

Stephen proudly served his country in the US Navy, including a stint aboard the USS Intrepid in the sixties. His time spent in military school and in the Navy inspired a meticulous nature that led to the most perfectly made beds, beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts and fastidiously organized closets one could imagine. He was also a devoted member of Rotary International, and served as the president of Palm Beach Rotary for many years.

In 1976, Stephen made an early investment in Mel Fisher’s legendary hunt for the capsized Spanish galleon Atocha, off the coast of Key West, Florida. When the wreck was eventually discovered in 1985, he became the beneficiary of all sorts of amazing treasure – 17th century gold coins, silver bars, emeralds and rubies.

Later in life, Stephen retired to Floyd, Virginia and would realize his lifelong dream of becoming a farmer. He raised organic sheep, tended a vineyard, took immaculate care of his land and made many meaningful friendships.

Most importantly, Stephen was a unique spirit, always courageously choosing his own path. He was fiercely independent, spiritually curious, and possessed an enthusiastic and often mischievous sense of fun, adventure and humor. He was a beloved and valued member of his community both in Palm Beach and in Floyd. He also had the most impressive head of hair many people have ever seen.

Stephen is survived by three adoring daughters, Kimberly Cutter, Amanda Brooks and Phoebe Cutter, two grandchildren Coco and Zachary Brooks, and also by his loving partner Rebecca West.


Sep 10

2015

Life on the Farm: RIP Jack Bauer

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Jack Bauer and his field mate Inspector Clouseau (Jack and Clue for short) actually belonged to my brother-in-law, but because we all live on the same farm, the donkeys would spend part of their year in the field next to our house. A few months ago, my husband Christopher was walking past that field when Clue ran up to him in utter panic. He was hee-ing and haw-ing as loud as he could and he looked scared. Christopher jumped the stone wall into the field where Clue was crying and followed him towards where it looked like Jack was lying down. Christopher instinctively knew in that moment that Jack was gone. Why would he be resting or sleeping while Clue was in such a state? As he approached him his fear was confirmed. Jack had died. Clue continued to run around, completely freaking out. Poor Clue. That afternoon we rang a neighbour who has donkeys and she agreed to adopt Clue right away so he could begin bonding with hers. ..


May 28

2014

Life on the Farm: Cock-a-Doodle-Boo-Hoo

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As I’ve often told you, there is no shortage of heartbreak on the farm to balance out the intense joy and deep sense of happiness we often feel from sharing our lives with so many wonderful animals. Sometimes I look out my kitchen window while I’m making tea in the morning and see a cat or two, a dog or two, a pony or two, a handful of hens and/or the occasional lamb or pig escaped from their enclosure. I can also usually hear a combination of calls from the horses, the donkeys and the rooster. Often the whole scene makes me laugh out loud, but other times it makes my throat tighten up and my chest hurt. We came back from our Easter vacation to the news that our three hens – the only remaining three that is – had been eaten by the fox while we were away. It was particularly sad because we had raised those last three from birth and they had just started laying a week before we left. After giving ourselves a week to mourn them, we decided to start again and went to see Mabel at the local bird sanctuary to collect a new rooster and ten hens. ..


Nov 14

2013

Life on the Farm: Mourning Murphy

There is so much life on this farm that makes me happy. Every morning the hens are lined up on the bench outside the kitchen window, waiting for our leftover toast from breakfast. Then there are our twin black kittens. I still call them kittens, but they are now full-sized at 18 months old. They are so deferential to my kids’ treatment of them – last night Coco built Dizzy a hammock and made him spend the night in it and he obliged her – but then they go outside and they are both badass hunters...


May 15

2013

Life on the Farm: Kaiser and Bang Bang

For all the animal joy that exists on the farm in every direction that you look – chickens, kittens and dogs on the lawn, pigs and horses in the stables, donkeys and more horses across the field – there is, unfortunately, also a good dose of animal heartache.

Late in the autumn, Coco lost one of her beloved pigs suddenly and without explanation. The twin Gloucestershire Old Spots had been her 10th birthday present the summer before last, and she fed them and cared for them all that first summer...