Epilogue to Miss Willie Whitefoot's story ....
Well, here's the thing ....
With strains of 'Born Free' playing in my head, I had intentions of turning Miss Willie Whitefoot loose as soon as we here at the Elk River Ranch received some rain. It had been rather dry, and I didn't want poor Miss Willie going from easy access to fresh water to the dryness of the woods. Even the run-off creek that runs through our woods was fragmented into small puddles. However, I must have made the mistake of talking aloud to Miss Willie about my plans - and evidently, she did not think much of the idea of making her way in the wilds of the woodlands, here.
On Tuesday evening, June 8th, at about 11 p.m., I put Miss Willie in her bathtub habitat. Miss Willie was becoming a bit too restless in the wee hours of the night to allow her to stay with me - it was, in my humble opinion, safer for Miss Willie to be in the tub overnight - plus, I benefit from a sounder sleep, if I don't have to worry about accidentally crushing a tiny rodent! Rain was predicted for Wednesday, and I figured I'd release Willie some time Wednesday afternoon or evening. Quite early Wednesday morning, I went to the bathroom to check on Miss Willie - to find she was AWOL! No little mouse; no where to be found. Now, this is a pretty big house - and there are a gazillion places for a little mouse to hide. There has also been some not quite completed construction on the main floor, and the baseboard molding has been taken off the drywall - so any self respecting mouse could be in the walls with no trouble, whatsoever. I did, however, worry about Miss Willie not being able to get fluids - so I put her bathtub water dish on the rug in the den, which is the closest room to the bathroom. I also decided to clean out the bathtub, taking out the branch, the rounded, hollowed half-log, the towel I'd put down on the floor of the tub for traction, and removed the grass seed heads, etc. I scoured the tub, then rinsed it thoroughly with the shower hose attachment.
Wednesday morning was eventful for another reason, as well. Judy the Gypsy, the very aged (appx. 40 yrs. old) Shetland pony, nickered for her breakfast when I opened the basement door (Judy's stall is in the 'walk out' basement of my home). As is my routine, I let the dogs out of their basement 12 x 12 stall to the back yard, to relieve themselves. While the dogs were out, I gave Judy her cup of 'horse chow'. I called the dogs back into their stall, mixed their breakfast meal, portioned it out in their dishes, set the four dishes down for them in the stall, and closed the stall door. Then, I poured 'horse chow' into a big bucket, to take out to the thoroughbreds' stalls. I noticed that Judy was standing over her feed tub, but not eating. She had also been slow to eat on Tuesday evening. I went out, distributed the horse chow , let the TBs into their stalls, then returned to the basement. Judy was on the floor of her stall. I entered her stall, and stooped down to her head. I brushed her forelock away from her face - her respiration was very shallow, and she was not responsive to my voice. I pinched Judy's upper lip - no reflex response. I patted Judy on the shoulder, and told her the Great Spirit would be quick to welcome her home. I knew there was nothing to do, but wait.
I turned the dogs back out for a bit, and then walked them over to their 'other' home - the chain-link fence enclosed yard of my neighbour, Ralph. I put the dogs in Ralph's yard, checked their water, then returned to my basement. Judy was 'gone'. I didn't feel too sad about her passing; all told, it was not a bad life, for a pony. Judy was not fewer than 23 years old when she joined me (perhaps as old as 26 or 27), and had been with me for nearly 14 years. She gained her 'full' name ('the Gypsy') because, when she first arrived at Phantom Farm, the Nissequogue Stallion Station on Long Island, NY, her first quarters were established in the double wide Kingston trailer, bedded with straw, until I had the opportunity to prepare a better sleeping arrangement for her. Judy was always treated like visiting royalty. In our nearly 7 years here at the Elk River Ranch, Judy has had a 7' x 10' basement stall, deeply bedded with straw over thick rubber mats. Cool and protected from biting flies in the summer; comfortably warm and dry in the winter; and she has always been allowed to graze free range in the yard, getting the best of the clover. In her last year and a half, she'd lost the vision in her left eye, then her right - but she still enjoyed a protected life. I did think, when she injured her right eye this past February, that she would not last much longer. In February, March and early April, I would hand walk Judy whilst I walked the dogs, so she would get some exercise without risks associated with being turned out with the other horses. In late April, May and early June, Judy was allowed 'free range' on the upper lawn, where regular mowing keeps the white clover happy. I believe that she suffered a stroke, or heart attack, Wednesday morning - and thus did not have to suffer the indignity of being 'put down' with some pharmaceutical preparation.
Managing Judy's remains was enough to take my mind off Miss Willie. A friend said he'd be by on Thursday, to help me remove Judy's remains. Wednesday evening, I was pretty tired, but it was still after midnight when I finally decided it was time to turn the pc off, and hit the shower, before hitting the hay. Well - just imagine my surprise, when I entered the bathroom, and flicked on the light. Who do you suppose was staring up at me, from the floor of the tub?? Miss Willie Whitefoot - looking as if she was completely nonplussed to find that her comfortable pied-à-terre had been demolished! I reached down and offered my open palm, and Miss Willie climbed on quickly, then scurried up my arm to my shoulder, then dove for shelter in my shirt! I walked to the kitchen, and got a walnut half from the bag I keep in the freezer. You never saw a mouse devour a walnut half so quickly! Poor Willie must have been famished! I also offered her some water from a pipette, which she took happily, although not with the desperation she displayed, dispatching the walnut. Miss Willie might have found the water dish in the den, or might have gotten some water from the puddles still left on the floor of the tub.
I let Miss Willie spend the wee hours of Thursday morning inside my shirt, as I slept. But, when I rose for the day, at around 7 a.m. on Thursday, I reassembled Miss Willie's bathtub habitat, then put an additional towel over the tub's edge, to give Miss Willie easy access, should she decide to go exploring again. Thursday was busy, what with dealing with removing Judy's remains, then working here on the farm. When I returned to the bathroom late Thursday afternoon, Miss Willie was gone again. I have not actually seen her, since - but I know she's returning to the tub at night, as I've been leaving blueberries, sunflower seeds, and a walnut half in the tub, each evening - and they're usually all gone by morning. I'll just bet the little miscreant mouse will be coming home some afternoon, 'in a family way'. Then, she'll probably be leaving the 'children' with their grandmother, whilst she, Miss Willie Whitefoot, goes exploring the wilds of the Elk River Ranch and Raccoon Refuge.
(see the top of this page for links to the first 3 pages of Miss Willie Whitefoot's Story ...)