North Idaho Sunset

You Must Always Put Yourself First

Winslow and I have a bad habit of being too helpful, of wanting to help too much. This happens with animals and people.

We go out of our way for people who have no intention of ever being there for us. Each time we come to this realization, typically when we find ourselves scrambling and the person in question is nowhere to be found, we tell ourselves we’re going to put ourselves first from then on.

It’s hard. You want to be helpful, kind, and generous. You want to do the right thing for people. But you also don’t want to become a martyr because you’re always helping others out of their troubles and your own situation is a mess. Most of all, you want to live your life—your happy and fulfilled dream life. You can’t do this if other people and other people’s problems take first place to you and your needs.

You can’t actually help others if you don’t help yourself first. Start by putting on your own oxygen mask, right? But it’s hard with some people—they seem to know you’re someone who would give up your oxygen mask and their intentions are not nearly as good as yours. And it’s hard with animals—because who is ever speaking up for them and how are they to understand how all this works? Your heart breaks for them because they need a caretaker, and this is hard for people with caretaker’s hearts.

We’re very pleased with our little homestead so far and the motley crew we’ve amassed. Our free goats, our Labrador rescued from a city life of neglect, a smattering of forgotten chickens added to our pure-bred ones, a half-dozen hungry rabbits now plump and fed. So far, the animals we’ve brought in have settled in with each other—and us—just right.

But this week we learned it’s one thing to rescue a couple goats or even a chocolate Lab, but it’s another to let your heart guide you into taking on three hounds.

The Pull of the Hounds

Recently, we adopted three beautiful Plott hounds—Rosie, Hunter, and Lucy, aged three, one, and one respectively. And before I go further, let me say that I have no issue with working dogs being strictly working dogs. We fully intended to keep the hounds outdoors 100% of the time, to keep them separated from each other in fenced and covered runs, and to treat them as animals with a job—not pets. We wanted, and still want, a pack of hunting dogs.

But even given all that, there were still red flags when we went to the owner’s house to first see the hounds. The dogs’ toenails were all far too long, meaning they hadn’t been run in some time, which can lead to anxiety and worse in hounds. The owner hinted that his neighbors were all annoyed with him regarding the dogs and we should have asked a lot more about why—if they were baying all night due to stress or boredom. The dogs also didn’t obey his basic commands when he tried to demonstrate them to us (and yes, I know, hounds aren’t into house manners, but they should still listen to their “hunter” when he tells them to get in the hunting rig, of all things).

We did see all these things, but we saw them with our hearts, not our brains. It made us want to take the dogs in, not to think about how they might not fit into our homestead.

I don’t think their owner is a bad guy, and I know he is actively looking to find them the right home—but I do hope the hounds find a new hunter soon so they can get out in the woods and do their thing, so they can sleep soundly at night and not be anxious in the day, so they can be the hounds that hounds are meant to be.

And I am sorry we won’t get to do all that with them, but it became frighteningly apparent we were not going to be able to train them when I had an incident with one of them—and I absolutely won’t tolerate an animal that’s aggressive toward people on this property, no matter how talented or sweet they might be in any other moment. Thankfully, both Frankie (our Labrador) and I both came away unscathed, but it was a close call.

Note: Before anyone posts a comment along the lines of, “You just don’t know hounds,” I have been around dogs my whole life. I know the difference between a working dog and a dangerous dog, between a head-strong dog and a liability.

The Breath of the Trees

I think hounds are awesome and we still want a pack, but we’re going to remember to put ourselves first when we make our second attempt. We’ll be shopping and researching breeders this winter, with the plan to purchase puppies in the spring and spend next summer training them ourselves from scratch.

By creating a scenario that is ideal for us as humans, we’ll create a scenario that is ideal for our hounds as well. We want our home to be a special place for every life that lives here or visits here—and we have to start with us.

We’ve been calling our homestead “Ravensloft” lately. We are at 3200 feet, along a ridge, and the ravens circle right above our property every single day. When the wind blows strong enough, which is almost always, they simply hover with their wings open, not even having to flap. They float there in their essence with hardly an effort because they are simply being them, in each moment, in each cell, in each inhalation. This is what I strive to be up here on our mountainside with our beloved animals, the breath of the trees, and near light of the moon. A little bit of my heart left with the hounds, but much more of it remains.