The characters of Rusty Metal Farm


You know how some people can talk for hours about their kids or grandkids? All the while showing photos or videos of them taken with their smartphones?

That’s not me. I don’t have children or grandchildren.

What I do have, however, are photos and stories of the critters — past and present — who live or have lived on Rusty Metal Farm.

A small dog wearing a red and black plaid jacket sniffs at the contents of a coffee mug.
Tiny farm dog Chiclet and I often start our day together with a cup of coffee at Rusty Metal Farm Pond. | Photo by Julia Bayly

So. Many. Critters.

Among the things my late husband Patrick and I had in common was a love of all creatures great and small.

When we moved on to Rusty Metal Farm, we brought with us an old husky named Nuk and a dimwitted cat named Darwin, who ironically fell victim to natural selection not long after the move. He just wandered off one day and never returned. We figure something larger and smarter ate him.

They were the first of a parade of dogs and cats who left their paw prints on the farm.

For 20 years, I was an active musher and, according to my count, there were 25 sled dogs in my kennel over the years. Not all at the same time, mind you. The most I ever had at once were 11 out in the dog yard,

After last sled dog passed away this past year, I retired from mushing.

But in reality, old mushers never really retire, we just continue to bore our non-mushing friends to death. I can still talk a person into a glassy-eyed trance with stories of mushing in Maine, the specific nutritional needs of every dog I ever had and the finer points of shoveling poop.

While there are no more sled dogs on Rusty Metal Farm, I am not lacking for canine companionship.

Three years ago I welcomed Chiclet, a rescue dog from Louisiana, into the fold.

Part chihuahua, part Yorkshire terrier she is five-and-a-half pounds of the tiniest farm dog you may ever meet.

Her farm dog skills are somewhat debatable — she has been known to herd my egg-laying hens from time to time — but there is no denying her ability to bring a smile to anyone she meets.

She is my constant companion and a source of great comfort those days when farm life, or life in general, seems a bit overwhelming.

As for cats, well there have been a lot of cats that have come and gone and who were expected to earn their keep by controlling the rodent population.

For the most part, it was a good system that worked well over the years.

Two cats and a very small dog share a single cat bed.
Clockwise from left, Miss Kitty Carlisle, Reggie and Chiclet spend some snuggle time — with room to spare. | Photo by Julia Bayly

Until the arrival two years ago of Reggie, Rusty Metal Farm’s curmudgeon-in-residence.

Like Chiclet, Reggie is a rescue. When I got him I was told he was around 15-years-old and suffering from organ failure due to years of neglect.

He was also partially deaf, his fur was falling out in patches, he was missing half his teeth and his digestive system was really messed up. All in all, this was a cat teetering on the edge of his ninth life.

So sickly was Reggie, he was deemed a “fospice” case, meaning he needed a home to live out what little time he had left.

Two years later he’s the healthiest dying cat I’ve ever seen. Still deaf and even more toothless, his fur has grown into a luxurious pelt and he has almost zero tummy troubles. As for those so-called failing organs? They seem to be doing just fine.

Reggie follows me around constantly, and talks almost non-stop. Forget curious, this is a cat who is just plain nosey. Whether it’s sniffing around each and every car that pulls in my driveway or inspecting the progress of my tenant’s garden, Reggie has a lot of opinions. And he’s not reticent about sharing them.

But he draws the line at mousing.

The most recent addition to the farm is a gorgeous long-haired cat I named Miss Kitty Carlisle. She, too, is a rescue, and given her youth — she’s around 2-years-old — and success at keeping herself fed as a feral cat, I had high hopes for her mousing abilities.

To her credit, she has caught a mouse or two — in fact, she delivered one to the feet of my tenant recently as he was hosting a small cookout. Apparently, Miss Kitty Carlilse prefers her mice grilled. 

But more often than not she can be found flirting with Reggie or simply staring at him with an “Isn’t he just dreamy?” expression. For his part, Reggie alternates between basking in her attention and outright ignoring her.

Age difference aside, It’s a complicated relationship between those two, but they seem to be making it work. And who am I to question true love?

The best part is Chiclet and the cats get along and it is not uncommon for all four of us to walk together to the pond for a morning cup of coffee. Sometimes we are even followed by several of my chickens in a sort of bucolic parade.

Is it any wonder I never run out of Rusty Metal Farm stories to tell or photos to share?

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