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Little Bat, Lost

Monday, September 11, 2017

Friday, September 1, was an awful day. I'd pushed through August 30 and 31 thinking, oh, this isn't so bad, I'm relieved, actually. I've got work to do. I got up that day and gathered up all the trappings of a dog's life: the two nice clean beds,  the funky bed, the food, the treats...couldn't touch the collars and leashes yet, so I left them in the drawers. I wanted to get all the obvious stuff, the countertop and living room and studio stuff, out of my sight. I buried my nose in the funky bed a couple times and carried it out to put with the trash. I mean, you don't save a giant dirty dog bed just so you can smell it...or do you? No. You don't. Stop it. Stop crying. Put it in the can.

It was like that. Awful. Fighting with  myself the whole way, I drove to town with cans of expensive dog food and a 30 pound bag of Fromm's kibble that I'd recently opened. The cans rolled around in the back of the car, thrashing like a thing alive, and I fought back tears as the frugal child of Depression-era parents rounded the curves, determinedly taking all that good food back to the stores. I prayed that the customer service person at Giant Eagle would be the nice woman with frosted hair, and she was. She didn't bat an eye, understanding instantly why a person would up and buy $64 worth of canned dog food the same week her dog died. Crazy, hopeful heart, swimming up De Nile, hedging against reality. He can't be dying. Look. I have all this food.

 This kind and lovely woman looked me in the eyes and told me a story about her two elderly pugs that both went blind and developed diabetes, requiring special food and two shots each per day. She had to leave work at 9 AM, rush home, shoot them both up and feed them, then rush back, all on her brief break. Same thing at dinnertime. Two and a half years of this, before she finally hit the wall and admitted to herself that it wasn't fair to the dogs or her; that it was nothing but a holding pattern against the inevitable.  And she had them both put down on the same day. Good Lord. Crass as it sounds, she made me feel, I don't know...lucky... that Chet had been holding his own, more or less, until he wasn't. And that it was all so clear. We bonded. Dogs, man. They can lift you so high, but they can, through no fault of their own, rip your heart out, too. You can substitute "People" and "Love" in that sentence. "Life," while you're at it.

I went to my favorite pet store (the kind that has only shelter animals for adoption) and got sad faces and hugs from lovely Christy and Ethan. They took back the enormous bag of Fromm's, even though it had been opened. I felt humbled and grateful and appreciated in this small town. I felt embraced, figuratively and literally. I could buy people food with the money they gave me, and I did. It felt right. I was grateful. I seriously didn't know how much longer I could keep throwing fistfuls of money at poor Bacon, trying to keep him among the living. It had been a hard year and a half.

Prompted by the kindness I'd been shown, I was losing it again. At that moment, Shila texted to ask where I was, whether I was in town. (She's a little witchy, that way, and others). 

Yes, I'm in a parking lot in Marietta, crying, why do you ask?

Come to my office, and I'll give you a session, she wrote.

 I think that's about the only thing I'd have said yes to at that moment--cranio-sacral and polarity therapy from my best friend. Yes. Oh, yes.

So I drove out to Wellness Unlimited in Reno, Ohio, and lay on the table while Shila worked her magic on me, settling my nervous system, letting me cry and fall asleep three different times from the sheer comfort of healing touch and pure kindness, saving me yet again. After the session, Shila said, "Let's go out and gather some acorns for Jemima. The jays have been going crazy in the oaks out back." So we walked out to look for acorns on the ground. We couldn't find any. What were there were still small and very green, and hanging on the branches. Shila walked over to a second tree and I followed her. 

I will say here that I wasn't exactly sure why Shila wanted to gather acorns for Jemima, she who eats so well on chicken and rice and sweet corn and pecans. But I knew enough to follow her out into the back lot behind her office.

Under the second tree, we were distracted by an enormous orange and yellow wasp darting back and forth just above the ground. "Ooh look, a cicada killer! What's it got?"

The wasp was making repeated sallies at something very odd looking, lying on the ground. 
"Oh my God!" we said in unison. "It's a red bat!!"

The bat was in defensive posture, wings spread, but when we knelt beside it it brought its wings in and covered its eyes.  My heart got a brand new crack in it. I mean, look at that little creature, legs spread wide, covering its eyes, so afraid, so helpless.

Oh, sweetie. How did you get yourself in this pickle, here on the ground?

I can't tell you. I just want to cover my eyes and forget about it. I want you to go away. But the big wasp is scaring me so.

For one of North America's larger bats, it was so, so tiny. What looks like its junk here--the pink protrusion--is actually the base of its tail, which extends down into the well-furred tail membrane. Examining these photos, I can see (in retrospect) that it's a female, probably a juvenile. The other hint to that is the heavy frosting of her fur. Males are more uniformly red. I was way too excited to do a proper evaluation of this little bat's junk. I was programmed to receive, and get this bat into Zick's Hotel, Spa and Hostel for whatever she might need. And she'd be able to check out whenever she was ready.

Shila ran to fetch a towel and lidded plastic shoebox from her office while I fought off the urge to pick it up with my bare hands (never! even after two rabies shot series). It was a cool, rainy afternoon and the poor craithur was cool to the touch, nearly torpid. I couldn't divine what on earth it was doing lying on the ground. Red bats occasionally roost on the ground in leaf litter, but this one had nowhere to hide. I didn't know what the cicada killer had in mind by circling around and darting at the bat, but I knew it was nothing good. Could the wasp have stung it, hoping to paralyze it and carve it up for food, the way they do cicadas? What an awful thought!  And: Not on my watch! Begone, wasp!

Using the towel, we gently folded the bat up and put it in the Tupperware with the lid on tight. It'd be fine for the ride home. I started thinking about what I had at home to feed it. I'd had to throw out all three bins of homegrown mealworms when they became infested with mites, what a bummer! Teeming with lovely tiny worms, and a moving gray mat of mites. Nope. Not in my basement. Out they'd gone.

I couldn't think of a better food for a compromised bat than wasp larvae. I've resorted to robbing paper wasp nests many times in the past when I've been suddenly caught with a creature needing live food. I can't even remember now how I hit on it, but paper wasp larvae are the bomb, and easily obtainable, if you have the guts. I remember now that I might have gone into the combs I knocked out of my greenhouse out of curiosity, just to see the larvae and pupae in different stages, and then it occurred to me that the baby box turtles I was raising might appreciate them, and I was off, feeding wasp grubs to animals.

Having done this more than a few times, I have noticed, while harvesting wasp grubs, that in the past four years or so there is a situation with parasitic larvae in the combs. Pictured below are three healthy wasp grubs--the three big fat ones. Also in the picture are three parasitized wasp grubs--the small round shriveled ones with black heads. And there are five predatory larvae in with them (the thinner ones with tiny brown heads).  I suspected these to be the larvae of another wasp or perhaps a fly, because structurally they are similar, if a lot slimmer and more mobile. Sharp eyes of entomologist Sam Jaffe spotted lepidopteran characteristics (the prolegs are a dead giveaway!) He suggested Chalcoela iphitalis, the Sooty-winged Chalcoela moth, as the parasite.

This is a healthy paper wasp nest--you can see eggs and grubs in the cells. Also, the cells with silken roofs are not perforated. There are healthy maturing wasp pupae in the roofed cells.

This me holding the healthy nest next to one that is badly parasitized. It's dirty and full of silk layers, and all the caps that should have pupae beneath them are perforated in many places. They've been chewed through, and there are predatory larvae in the cells that should hold healthy paper wasp pupae. Ut-oh.

A possible culprit is here in Jim McCormac's excellent blogpost about a moth that bedevils paper wasps. Many thanks to awesome entomologist Ted MacRae for helping me try to figure out what these larvae might be.  And to  similarly awesome Sam Jaffe for pointing me to Sooty-winged Chalcoela. And to Ohio's pride, all around naturalist Jim McCormac for writing it up. If I'd been smart I'd have let some mature to see what they pupated into. But I had a hungry bat!! 

Inquiry fell behind the need to feed this beastlet. Between the three nests I knocked down (all I could find), I got enough larvae, both paper wasp and parasite, to feed the bat for four sessions.

And now, the bat. Movie 1 is her first feeding. Oh, she's so slow and cold and sad. But she gets a little more gusto with each juicy grub I give her.

She's perking up!

I fear I frightened her a bit with my chuckles and snorts. Look how much more lively she is after only three larvae!

Truly, I'd been so sad that finding this little waif and seeing her come back to life was almost too much for me to take. It was too sweet. I had to laugh in delight.

I just want to say that when Shila and I get together, stuff like this happens. She suggests we walk out into a light rain under some oak trees to look for acorns??? and we find no acorns. No, we stumble upon this magic little animal my favorite bat of all favorite bats who might have died had we not been right there, at that spot, at that moment.

The little voice is strong in Shila, and it's strong in me, and when we get together, it fairly shouts. And we listen. We listen hard.


What a beautiful story and a lovely way to start my day! Sometimes from the depth of our despair, we find the ability, the need even, to do good for another living thing and that takes our minds of of ourselves and lifts us out of our sadness even for a moment. Peace to you. You are a gift to every living thing and I'm so grateful that our paths crossed in this life!

In my world God replaces what He takes...
So glad for red bat & that I've been careful to save pesky bats @ The Our House Tavern!

I, too, started my day reading this sweet account on you once again rescuing a creature in need.
Come to think of it, we have a planet in need of rescuing. Either we put you in charge or we clone you! Go, Julie!

I had to read the first half with breaks between paragraphs but I am so glad to hear about the little grub eating red bat from Instagram.

How fitting she is eating a relative of what tried to do her in. Wonderful that you were there and ready, as ever, to jump in to help.

God works in mysterious and wonderful ways. :-D

Beautiful things to lift us all up because you share them so well. Blessings in the form of a helpless bat. hugs, love, and thanks. I still have a few funky beds, must work on that. You are so courageous and real, earth goddess Julie.

Thank you for listening hard! I am here (up for 2 nights) worried about family still not heard from west of Miami. How nice to take a little break to remember Chet an watch you turn your sadness to joyful wonder.

Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for all you do.

God love you for connecting and for caring, you goodhearted creature.

I'm not one to comment online, ever. Too embarrassed to make a typo or repeat another's sentiment but less eloquently. Made it through Ellen, now Chet Baker. But the post-crisis interval is the cruelest and you capture it so beautifully. In your grief, you wonder how the rest of the world continues, seemingly unaware. At every turn is a memory that can't be extinguished, even if you wanted to. Yet the world does go on, mercifully, in a way, to remind us we are still a piece of a bigger picture. You need that Red Bat as much as she needs you. Godspeed, dear Julie.

Thank you, Julie. Beautiful story. Gives me hope.

Cher orchestrated it, I am sure.

Chet although I am sure Cher would have had she known.

I just melted when I saw the photo of her covering her eyes. Bless you and Shila both. I can't wait to see your next post and find out how she's doing. And to also hear how you are. Hugs to you.

Your heart might be broken but it still works just fine- thanks for spreading your great big love around to the little needy ones

What a difference you made in her life. You make us proud. Never stop saving the helpless creatures that come into your life. Sending wishes for her recovery and release, as well as for much heart healing for your and your family.

You are an amazing person. My heart is breaking with your loss of beautiful Chet Baker. Thank you for all that you do.

From tears of sadness to tears of joy--you pull 'em outta me.

The red bat story is heartwarming. I have not commented previously, but I wanted to as I was very affected by the passing of Chet Baker. I have actually been mulling how to comment since his passing was announced.

I actually first discovered your blog - and then Chet's Facebook page - 2 years ago when I did a search for living with aging dogs and came upon your post about realizing Chet had lost his hearing and then teaching him some hand signals. I have 2 senior French bulldogs, and I had been searching for blogs written by people living with and dealing with aging pets. It is easy to find blogs and Instagrams about cute puppies, but older dogs do not seem to inspire the same degree of social media. I was grateful to read about Chet's comings and goings during the last 2years, especially about his adjusting to the changes that come with age.

At the time I found your blog, I found it inspiring that you were able to get him to follow hand signals and that he resumed, from what I could tell from your posts, his normal life. It prompted me to start using hand signals with my dogs (who just turned 11 last month) who are not deaf, but I figured it might come in handy for them to know hand signals and would be easier to teach them if it could still be reinforced verbally. It was successful, and I am pleased to communicate with my pups nonverbally - I now think it is a good thing for any dog, even a young one, to know hand signals.

I have read your blog ever since, and especially liked when you wrote about Chet. Itt was meaningful to me to read about life with an aging pet. I did notice as time went on that he seemed to be aging fast. It's amazing and sad how fast dogs age and decline, but reading about Chet made me hopeful because he kept stepping up to the plate and rallying. I loved especially the comment about Chet thinking his pills were treats. I give my dogs pills as rewards or treats for some requested behavior too - they gobble them down without pause or thought if they perceive it to be a reward.

You created a very helpful and reassuring narrative of Chet's life and inevitable decline, and the penultimate post about knowing it was his time for him to go is something I will think about again and again. I teared up when I saw the blog post "the perfect day," because that title somehow seemed an omen of darker days to come. He was looking frailer and more gray. My interest in Chet made me go back and read your blog from the beginning last winter, and I was moved by many of your posts about pets and wildlife - especially the loss of the pet macaw that turned out to be female. I am impressed - inspired? Heartened? - at your emotional strength in dealing with the losses of these animals that have been a part of your life. I hope I can mimic some of this strength when I have to face the inevitable with my two dogs.

Out of curiosity, would you be able say which anti-tick medication you started using just before Chet's health began to slide?

Wow, reading over all these comments again has me all misty. I'm trying not to be, but it's tough. I've been running in the evening and at night, because I can, no Chet to worry about; and because I can pretend the shadows I see on the roadside are him. Anyway. Klaus. I completely feel for you with a brace of 11-year-old Frenchies you adore. They melt me. I went into this whole dog thing desperately wanting a French bulldog, but I couldn't afford one. Fate led me to Chet Baker and it was a beautiful thing. I'm so moved at your letter, for a letter it is. I'm honored that you have gone back and read the blog, all 12 years of it, for it started with Chet, really, and I'm very glad it hasn't ended with him, too. It could have, but as he aged I realized I needed to diversify even more, because much of what was happening with him made me sad, and I didn't want to make you sad, too.
The "medication" was Nexgard, and I believe it is poison. I would never again give a systemic tick/flea poison to a dog. Ever. The decline was too weird, too sudden, too rapid to have been a coincidence. Chet was the best damn 10-year-old dog you've ever seen. All muscle. Good for 10 miles in a day. Not even four months on Nexgard and he was a stack of dominoes falling. A veterinarian who saw Chet last May (not as a patient, but as a friend) said, "As the ticks get resistant to the medications, they make them stronger and stronger. Make no mistake, it's poison, and I think it harms the dog." So there are veterinarians who believe it's bad for dogs, just as there are those who will tell you systemics "have no side effects."And how is that possible, that we poison a dog's life blood, without side effects? Please explain this. I don't understand. It's up to us, the owners, to have the judgement to turn away the pet pharmaceutical companies that want us to buy their overpriced poisons and give them to our loved ones. I will never forgive myself for falling for the hype on that stuff, and making Chet's last year and a half such a miserable downward spiral. Those who tell me I should get another dog must understand that from where I stand, I do not feel worthy of one, and may never. Chet deserved better from me.

Thank you for the lengthy response and for naming Nexguard. My heart kind of sank, because my dogs were given Nexguard earlier this year - and a stark decline has set in with our boy that our vet calls neurological (the girl seems ok, but she already had a compromised spine and back legs due to a spinal cyst at age 8). In any case, quite by chance, we went back to frontguard which is topical. It will give us something to discuss with our vet when we go in for the autumn check up. Our vet is ok as vets go - how does one really know? - but from comments he's made about others I gather he fears many busy, suburbanites forget to give their pets monthly medicines. Last time we were in he was pushing an intravenously injected anti-tick med that was new and systemic and removed the variable of human error/neglect. Ticks are sadly legion in Westchester County, NY, but we've never had a problem keeping up with our dogs' various medical regimens and declined the shot.

I don't want to comment on whether or when you should get another dog, but It was sad to read you feel unworthy. Personally, I think one does the best one can, ethically and compassionately. If medical experts -- I.e. Vets -- advise something, it is hard as a non-expert to know what to question and when.

In any event, Chet was clearly loved and well taken care of. He had a really great life, which many unfortunate dogs in shelters or worse cannot say. Also, I believe we learn from our mistakes. If you eventually decide to bring another dog or other pet into your life, I am sure it will benefit from all your prior experience - even the mistakes. I certainly know there are things I would do differently with a new dog.

Apologies for the lengthy 2nd comment.

I believe Chet will send you somebody new to love when he thinks you are ready.

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