As Good As We Can, by Step Gammy



When the snow disappears and the bright sun offers a bit more warmth as it hangs around the sky a little longer each day, we notice how our dogs adapt to the new season.

Cleopatra gets to dig her holes.

Casey gets to eat the grass (and immediately hack it back up).

UB gets to chase deer and butterflies.

Harry starts blowing his thick coat like only a Husky can.

And Loki.


Well, Loki gets some freedom back.

My step-grand-dog is blind because of hypermature cataracts in both eyes.

With the brighter days, though, Loki looks more and more confidant. I think she can see shapes and shadows because of how she moves outside, seeming to enjoy sniffing things and visiting with the other dogs more.

She even boldly goes on little running bursts, (which means I usually go on little running bursts behind her.)

She came to live with us a few years ago when her Mum, Whitney, realized she couldn’t spend enough time with her little love-bug of a Boston Terrier in Vancouver.

Loki has stayed with us many times over the years, pretty much growing up with Casey when they were youngsters so it was a natural fit for all of us.


Her Mum visits as much as she can and Loki lives the life of a full-fledged spoiled Fyfe dog.

We took her to a veterinary ophthalmologist to see about cataract surgery because she wasn’t completely blind when she first moved in.

Alistair (Gampy, as Loki calls him) and Loki hit the road and spent the night before their appointment in a hotel by the university in Spokane. He took her for a walk before bed where she decided to bark and growl at a rambling schizophrenic who was walking towards them. Luckily, Alistair got them out of there in a hurry. All they needed was for the guy to think Jesus was yelling at him through Loki.


The ophthalmologists didn’t want to touch her eyes. Loki isn’t a good surgical candidate with narrow filtration angles, “floaters” in both eyes and a high risk of developing glaucoma.

What vision she had back then has gradually disappeared and the silver in her eyes has gradually taken over.

And yet her quality of life is terrific.

She has her seeing-eye-dog, UB, who is very attentive to her needs (especially when she wants to cuddle.)

She has her memory, which is amazing when you watch her navigate furniture, sometimes within a few centimeters.

She has the cats, who she bonks into with a fair amount of regularity. (I kind of think she does that on purpose, though…  cheeky little thing.) They see her coming and generally get out of her way now instead of swatting at her with each ‘bonk’.

She has us; we use words to help guide her, like “step”, “no”, and “damnit, Loki, where are you?”


When the sky is bright and the ground is dry, Loki likes to go on ‘walkabout’.

I don’t like ‘walkabout’. Especially if she’s heading for the stallion pen. Or the creek. Or the driveway. Or the pasture when the grass is tall.

She was out on walkabout when Gampy forgot about her a couple of summers ago when he was driving back and forth getting hay bales from a nearby farm. He called me at work and I will admit to having a little sob session as I mopped my clinic floors.

I worried she would fall in the creek. I worried a big eagle would get her. I worried she would be injured and hurting and scared and shivering and that I wouldn’t see her again.

Somehow, this muscular little 13-pound snorty, bossy, piddles-in-the-house-when-she-doesn’t-want-to-go-out-in-the-snow dog has burrowed her way deep into my heart.


I honestly can not imagine life without her.

Who would bark at the coffee bean grinder or the hand-held vacuum if she was gone? Who would squeeze up against me under the covers at night, snoring her little heart out? Who would chuck her empty food dish around the kitchen when she’s hungry?

Who would take care of gimpy, crampy, grumpy Gampy if he breaks himself into pieces again?

Somehow that sunny afternoon two summers ago, Alistair found her, way off in one of our pastures. She was soaking wet and she coughed for days.

Boston Terriers are tough little farts.


Loki’s harelip and attitude have given her a personality and  unmistakable voice on the Fyfe Farm. It has changed through the years, too. Initially she ‘spoke’ like Billy Bob Thornton in that movie, Sling Blade with a classic “mmm-hmmmm”.

When she came to live with us that was hard on our vocal cords so it has become a gravelly, attitude-laden, sassy voice that changes words to suit her needs.

Like “chiddy pats” and “bull chit”. Or “Joo Bee” and “Dimadil”.


A relative house-sat for us one time and said, ‘we don’t do anything with that one… she’s sick’.

That was his take on Loki’s blindness.

Granted, we don’t hike up to the falls at Holland Lake with her anymore and she can’t chase balls competitively with Casey but she has a wonderful quality of life.


I’ve had clients ask me to euthanize pets because they were going or were already blind. Why do we humans put such tremendous value on vision? I love to see as much as the next person but I wouldn’t say my life was over if I went blind.

Or I lost a limb. Or my hearing.

It never ceases to amaze me what people will consider as the end-point for wanting to care for their animals.

Which is why we have shared our home with so many animals over the years- I won’t euthanize healthy pets.

Being blind doesn’t mean Loki isn’t healthy. Larger health concerns are the occasional ‘reverse sneeze’ episode she breaks into now and then, her luxating patella and a knob of bone where some dimwit did a crappy job of removing a dew claw when she was a pup.


Meds for arthritis, illness, kidney disease, laryngeal paralysis, fights with bobcats, or heartworm prevention; carts and physical therapy when a pelvis broke and rear legs didn’t work; special care when tumors develop; special care and hand-feeding when a ferret ripped an eyeball out; special food for senior cats, dental health and bad allergies; and never moving the furniture around because they’re blind… we’ll make sure everyone gets what they need.

And they give us their unconditional love in return. Joyful leaps and barks and wagging tails when we come home. Head butts and purrs from the kitties when we pet them. Whistles and tweets from the guinea pigs as I walk past their bathroom. Cuddles and games of ‘chase’ from the ferrets when we play.


As good as we can for as long as we can.

That’s my promise.

We’ll even provide a seeing-eye dog.



The Life We Choose



Highway 200, a low-shouldered arrow across Montana has once again brought me to my other home.

Bismarck, North Dakota.

Where there is horizon as far as you can imagine and no mountains to be seen in any direction.

The trip is long but the company was perfect and the weather just right- not too hot, not too cold. The only potential glitch was the “sleeping” lady behind the wheel of her parked mini-van at the rest stop. She had her head back and her mouth gaping open, with the van still running.

Several of us rest-stoppers started to crowd around the van.

“Is she even alive?” one asked.

“I’m not sure,” my MD husband answered.

We continued to crowd. I was worried she would wake up and see us all standing around her, thinking it was a zombie apocalypse and end up dead from a heart attack.

“There- I saw her breathe,” Alistair told us and we all smiled at each other and went back to our own vehicles, to our own adventures, in our own directions.


Some might say this is a dreary trip to make but I actually enjoy it. I like the sleepy little towns of Circle and Jordan, the section lines, the supposedly-decommissioned missile silos, the random farmhouses that appear after the next rise, and the way the prairies open up once you can no longer see the Rockies behind you.

I like this time of year- the tawney tan hues of yesteryear’s fields, the sagebrush and tumbleweeds amidst brown soil that has finally shed its winter jacket, and the odd blade or patch of green grass that is peeking through.

Grass that is reaching up to the sun for warmth, nourishment… love.

The landscape right now is dotted with cow/calf pairs- Angus, Charolais, Herefords, “Oreo Cookie” cows….

There are a lot of great cow vets out there but I’m not one of them. I like cows. I did do some bovine calls when I first worked as a vet in Bismarck.

I don’t think the cattle farmers thought much of me showing up in the wee hours to pull a calf wearing makeup and my pink Carharts. And my red rubber boots that have bumblebees on them.


I tried to make the best of it but it wasn’t my thing.

Along the drive I got to watch antelope, sheep, horses and bison grazing in their wide open pastures. I watched farm dogs working with their farmers as we whizzed along highway 200, heading east as dark grey clouds headed north.

As always, I am spell-bound by the Badlands of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Along the Interstate is the south unit of the park where the buffalo roam and the deer & the antelope play. These rugged lands have been shaped over decades by the incredible forces of water and wind.

Lots of wind.


Wind that blows incessantly on the prairies. Wind that almost has a personality- its like another friend when you live here. When it isn’t blowing, everyone notices it.

Your friend isn’t there.


Its one of those friends you don’t always want to hang out with, but its still one of the constants of life out here.

Alistair lives and works here for half of every month before coming back to me and Montana to play for the other half.

We have a nice house here that we’ve lived in for about 15 years. Its not grand like our home in Montana but it has served us well.


It is where our broodmares live and where their foals were born and raised.


It is where Gareth came to spend his high school years with us.

Its where Whitney and Loki then joined us.

Its where I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science and eventually recieved the news I was accepted into vet school.

Its where we climb on top of our roof to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July with whatever friends and family are here to join us.

Its where I last worked as a full time skating coach, prepping my kids for competition, choeographing fun routines and helping them prepare for their moment in the spotlight.


Many of the furry Fyfes joined our family in our Bismarck home- Casey, Harry, Cleopatra, Mulder, Sport, Mouse, Georgia, Jockey and even Luigi.

So much is the same here- the expansive sky that we hot tub under at night sipping wine and scotch; the wooden stairs that Alistair nearly killed himself on 2 summers ago; the broodmares, with our arabians, Susie, Cocoa and petite Jessi, the former racehorse, Katie and reliable old Raven.


But a lot has changed in the 7 years I haven’t lived here.

We’re getting new neighbors again.

Four farms, all on 40 acres were all that was here when we came to town in the late ’90s. A few of us had kids who grew up together. We all helped each other put square bales up and into our barns. I’ve doctored a few pets and even said goodbye to 2 of our neighbors’ horses.

And now new folks are coming.

And the growth in Bismarck is unbelievable. You’d have to be a fool to not get work here. Every restaurant, hotel and business is hiring, with flashy billboards and fluorescent letters advertising their $12.40/hr starting wages and excellent benefits.

And my mares, Shadow, Willow, and Daisy aren’t here.


And there are no barn cats greeting me as I swipe at cobwebs when I climb up on the hay bales in our barn.

And one of the young neighbors who grew up with my stepkids is no longer part of the neighborhood- she was one of the ones who joined us on the rooftop. And in the hot tub.

And we are all getting older and more grey and now my North Dakota dentist tells me I need 2 crowns.

Crowns! I’m only 41!

Many things have changed in my home on the prairies.

I am enjoying the new restaurants and the happy feeling of being surrounded by people who have work. I am enjoying seeing my brother-in-law and other good friends & their pets. I have enjoyed the first set of new neighbors and met the ones who will replace them just today.


I am hopeful that many of our animal companions will journey with me back here when I need to handle these thankfully-painless dental issues. I hope that Loki and Casey will see the farm again, if only to sniff where they used to piddle and rub muzzles with the horses who like them.

I am a lucky woman who has the opportunity to know two very different lives. We choose this life because we aren’t quite ready to give either of them up- the employment and our land vs. the majestic mountains and our relaxation.


Breathing in the scent of sweet grass and alfalfa vs the pine trees that fill the air in western Montana.

Maybe someday it won’t be like this but for now we will appreciate what we do have, where we have it, and who we share it with.

With all that changes and all that remains the same.



He wasn’t a fireman afterall



The world of figure skating has been very good to me.

It got me to Japan a couple of times with the ice shows. Alistair was in the audience when I guest skated the night we met. And during my vet school interview, that’s all they wanted to talk about.

Seriously. I was all, “don’t you want to know about my horses or the ferret we had?” while the interviewing professors just wanted to hear about touring in Japan and what I thought about power skating.

Oh, sure, there’s the body image issues that I’m fairly certain most figure skaters have to deal with. That whole ‘puberty in spandex’ thing will make or break you in this sport.

It can be heartbreaking to see a young skater’s body change into something that shouldn’t be seen in spandex and sequins- particularly if they love the sport like I did. Its even more heartbreaking to be that skater but, thankfully, I was lucky.

I loved to skate. I loved it so much I moved away from home at the age of 12 for half of the year to train with my mentor, Dr.Hellmut May in Vancouver. I did that every year except for grade 12.

I wasn’t the most natural skater but I worked my ass off. I was graceful and I had excellent school figures. I loved the hour I spent 2 or 3 times a day working on “patch”, learning to lean and turn my body over and over in perfect angles around perfect figure-8’s. I eventually could stand on crystal clean ice, push off on one foot and complete a full circle, coming right back to the exact same spot I pushed-off from with my eyes closed. I knew my positioning that well.

I loved the silence of patch. The work ethic required. The improvement you would see before your very eyes. I loved getting down to check if my brackets and rockers were clean, or if my edge didn’t go flat as I came back to center.

I loved it when Doc would smile during patch lessons, his coffee-in-hand, spilling onto my tracings as he would show me where he wanted my hands. His assistant coach, Faye, taught me ‘skating side up’ with my arms, which I have passed onto every single student I have coached over the years.


I also loved ice dance and competed at first with my brother, until he quit, and then with my friend, Matt. We never told Doc about this because Matt was well on his way to National medals and dancing would take away from that. Until I took Matt out doing the “Killian” one day and he couldn’t train his jumps. Ooops. We fessed up but both ended up pursuing singles careers.

I graduated high school at 16 realizing that I was a very good skater but not a great one. Canada produces so many thousands of skaters and I knew then that college would be a smarter choice.


I was an unlikely showgirl after 3 years of college. I had gained the suggested amount of weight one gains when living on their own and many shows just weren’t available for Canadians. A wonderful family friend (and my younger sister’s coach at that time) was the connection who helped get me on board with ‘American Ice Show’ in Japan.

We were a small company that stayed on-site in a little house on a fairground beneath the world’s 3rd largest Ferris wheel.

But talk about a fish out of water.

I was independent and full of confidence but I certainly wasn’t worldly. I was a heavy little girl surrounded by lanky Beautiful People, most of whom had years of show experience already. I was immediately self conscious of myself the moment I met the rest of the cast in Los Angeles.

My friend kept an eye on me. He knew my parents were kind of backwards about a lot of things so he cut me some slack. Even though I had the largest thighs and chest of the girls (the “boob girl” of our cast… nice), he never once said a peep during the twice-daily weigh-ins.

Yes. Twice daily. Because you can gain or lose so much weight in a day, right?


My friend told me I would be rooming with one of the guys. This shook me up a bit because I wasn’t so sure about having a guy for a room-mate. What would The Parents think? What if he came onto me? What if he didn’t?

When we got to our room, he started decorating his side. (We were there for 2 months, might as well make it feel like home). Even as he was putting up calendar pictures of all these different firemen I still didn’t quite get it. I just figured he had friends who were firemen. Or maybe he worked as one when he wasn’t on tour. Lets just say, he never hit on me and that was fine.

At least part of the theme of the show was ‘disco’. That gold getup in the first picture with the ostrich feathers on my head was performed to “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. Loved that routine. Didn’t love the fact that if you leaned too far to one side the weight of that head piece would tip you over but hey, learn to stand up straight.

The Japanese entertained the tall, blonde girls from California but I was usually invited out along with everyone because I’m so “genki”. The Japanese enjoyed my sense of humor, as did my cast mates, even if I wasn’t a Beautiful Person.

My second show in 1994 was on a different fairground in northern Japan, by Sapporo. My genki personality landed me the role of Sailor Moon during the character portion of the show. I signed a lot of autographs that tour but not as Tanya Koftinoff, like I had practiced as a kid. I cheerfully signed as Sailor Moon to a chorus of ‘domo arigatos.’ I was the “boob girl” in that show, too, but I had started to figure my body out by then.


I had also met Alistair just before going to Japan that time. I had found happiness and with that came a better attitude towards my own body. (Which is why those of you who have met me later in life are shaking your head, wondering where those boobs have gone.)

Like I say, skating has been good to me. I am still fairly connected and still do a bit of choreography now and then. I know that Doc would be proud to know that he taught me well- he taught me to enjoy this sport and to share it with friends & family. He taught me to work hard and focus, which helped get me into (and through) vet school. He was a leader to me and a close group of friends, some of whom became National champions and Olympians. And some of us who were just very good skaters. Whose lives were shaped by this sport. I cherish the friendships I have made through figure skating.

Even the ones with the Beautiful People.






Captain CrazyPants (or, the case for Casey)



The Fyfe dogs aren’t trained.

In fact, they’re all a bit on the crazy side.

The 5 of them are a rag-tag motley crew of misfits who ended up here by various means with questionable pasts.

Especially Casey.

If you’ve met him, you’re already nodding your head. Especially my brother and his 3 sons who were cheerfully mauled by our excited Labrador after they ignored my one request: Do not open the kennel door until I get home.

Physical and mental scars are what remain of Casey’s big chase of the 2 older boys. My only answer to them is: “Danny did it. Danny let the dogs out.”

We keep waiting for Casey to mature and ‘grow out of’ his insane need to be with us, on top of us, licking us, loving us. I think we waited too long, though, because its too late to train him to be anything other than what he is. Its endearing, as long as you’re not knocked over into a mud puddle, trying to whack him with your crutches after you just had ACL surgery (true story). (And kind of funny picturing Casey deftly deke each swipe Alistair took at him).

We cut Casey some slack, though.

I met him in vet school, as residents were parading this cute little 3 month-old black lab puppy around in their arms. He couldn’t walk on his own because his owner had beat the snot out of him, fracturing both of his femurs in several places.

One of the surgeons said it had to have been a baseball bat or something similar to create such fractures.

I watched my arm go up in the air as the residents said they could try to save this puppy only if someone volunteered to take him home when he was well.


After several months and several surgeries with hardware inserted into his limbs, happy young Casey came home to the Fyfe Farm. I have a bit of guilt over the fact I didn’t visit him that much during his surgeries and infections because I didn’t want to fall in love with him and have him end up breaking my heart if things “didn’t work out.”

They did work out and Casey hasn’t looked back.

I have learned a lot about forgiveness from this dog because he has never, ever shown any ill will towards people. The only time he’s ever shown any aggression was when he was protecting his Dad from a grizzly bear who stood 10 feet away. We didn’t know he could growl until then. One could say that’s because he’s not so smart but I choose to say that’s because he’s a good old boy.

He and Loki were young pups and besties together. Its amazing revisiting old pictures of them in their healthy young bodies, knowing they are very different bodies now.


Bodies that don’t jump as high as they used to. Bodies that need anti-inflammatories regularly to enable easy movement. Bodies that don’t see because the cataracts have taken over. Bodies that sound like Darth Vader because of a floppy laryngeal fold that could become life threatening at any time if the other fold decides to become paralyzed.

Casey’s larynx has been like this for a few  months. If it stays one-sided, he’s good to go as long as you don’t mind the raspy breathing. If he would settle down and move more slowly he might be able to breathe better but as I’ve said, he isn’t slowing down.

There is a surgery but it would essentially open up the passage to his trachea, allowing food or water to get into his lungs if he gulped it down (which he does). That leads to ‘aspiration pneumonia’, which isn’t cool for anyone and is also life-threatening. So we don’t do the surgery unless the paralysis becomes bilateral, or two-sided. Which would definitely lead to aspiration pneumonia.

So what do you do?

Alistair and I both know Casey has had a fabulous life as a Fyfe. We’ve figured out and learned to manage his terrible allergies to chicken and he’s been able to eat every body part or bone of every animal carcass he can find here in the forests of Montana. He’s been boating, “shed”-hunting, trail riding and hiking and he even has a trophy from an Agility Trial he ran with his Dad.


He’s more grey each year but then so am I. Part of my reluctance to accept that my companions are aging is that it means I am aging along with them.

I don’t jump as high as I used to. I take anti-inflammatories fairly regularly for my knees. Its just that they seem to age faster because a year for them is like six or seven for us. What happens gradually to my body is happening right before my eyes to Casey and Loki. And Boomer. And Harry. Fyfe’s Farm for Wayward Pets is becoming Fyfe’s Senior Citizen Central.

Which is why we don’t train our dogs to do anything but be themselves. My only rule is “donate your reproductive organs at the door and get along.” And they have, and they do.

I will do what is right by my old friends when it is time. Like I had to with Oscar. It will break my heart, as I always worried Casey would, but it won’t be about me at that point.

Incidentally, going through my old pictures, I found one of a very young Oscar with a very young Whitney. It makes my heart happy and sad at the same time, which is fine by me. 013

So, if you visit us, know that you will be leapt upon by Casey and his merry band of buddies. You might get muddy and you have to listen to his croaking bark as he yelps for whatever reason he’s yelping. Expect cheerful, non-trained behavior and feel free to leap and jump along with them. Love and be loved, don’t open the kennel door without me, and get along.


Vegetarian Finger Painter Mummy (and other things my dogs call me)


155Here I am- blogging.

It kind of feels like writing in my journal but this won’t get the juicy bits that ‘dear Diary’ gets. This will, however, deliver the gist of what goes on in my sometimes-silly mind.

Much of what goes on in there is based on my early years as a competitive figure skater. YOU go through puberty in spandex and see what it does to you.

Some of what goes on in there is based on an overactive imagination- one that led me to write mystery novels and plays in grade 3 (the play even had a choreographed disco-dance section in the middle- do the Hustle!), spend most of my non-classroom time on stage at school and produce newspapers for my classmates in professional school.

Which is also what frames my thoughts- I am a practicing veterinarian in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I started my own clinic a few years ago and it thrived, briefly. I just closed it for various reasons (many of which will come out in my blogs, I’m sure) and that certainly colors my world.

A large part of what will find its way through my fingers & keyboard onto the blog is courtesy of my animal companions. I’m with them more than anyone as my devoted hubby lives and works in North Dakota for 2 weeks of every month. Then he’s here for the next 2 weeks. It sucks but it pays the bills and allows us our lovely home here. Which is in the middle of nowhere, Montana.

These animals are insane. They run this house. I’m merely their care-taker but at times I do believe they love me. Somehow they have all developed personalities, voices, issues…. some are veterinary issues (Boomer, the cat, is on meds for her thyroid and I worry about her renal disease; Casey, the lab, has unilateral laryngeal paralysis on top of his aging bionic body; Loki, my grand-step-dog, is blind with mature cataracts- the silver eyes compliment her harelip quite nicely; Frankie, the paint horse, who tore ‘something’ in his chest last summer and was 3 legged lame for awhile; Cadbury, the guinea pig, has one eye thanks to Calypso, the ferret, who somehow recovered from a fractured pelvis) and some are more mental health issues (Cooper, the cat, chattering away behind my chair, is on the far side of a mental health crisis after losing the feline love of her life, Oscar, back in January; we also have a Phantom Piddler among the feline population that didn’t cease when we lost poor Oscar- you can imagine what damage a PP’s pee pee does to a house & the relationships within it). I could go on but that’s what the blog is for.

I realized, in December, when I was losing dear Oscar, a grey and white fuzzball who’d been a well-loved Fyfe for 18 years, that I was a bad patient. Maybe a good veterinarian, but a bad patient. You have to understand, some people would come to visit us just to hang out with Oscar. He was that kind of a cat/spirit.

I didn’t want him to go. I didn’t want to rub his back one final time and say one last “I love you”. I didn’t want to wake up in a house without Oscar. I didn’t want to look in the various cat beds where he would lay with any combination of his 3 girlfriends, knowing he wouldn’t be there. I didn’t know if I would be able to hold his paw and inject what I had to while holding it together for his sake. I wanted to blog about the feelings I had as his ‘Mummy’ and his doctor but I wasn’t strong enough to do it then. I think there is a place for these thoughts, though. So here I am.

I’ll share my love of animals and red wine & my new found enjoyment of the game of golf. We would have taken this game up years ago had I known there was so much accessorizing involved! I also love makeup and sparkly things. And figure skating. And my husband, who is just as bad at bringing more animals into the house as I am.

Incidentally, it was our springer spaniel, Cleopatra, with her southern drawl and slight lisp, sharing outrageous stories of her supposed past (who can verify them- she was a stray) who dubbed me the vegetarian finger painter. Which is what the new ferret, Luigi, assumed I was. Until he saw me cook. He was confused but he’s young and the most recent addition so lots of things confuse him right now.

Feel free to share my tales- I’m hoping some of my veterinary insight will be helpful in situations you all may face from time to time. And ask anything about the world of figure skating. I’m still connected. I just don’t do much spandex anymore.