Column - Delightful critters 'star' in 'Keeping Watch'Like snowflakes, no two dogs or cats or any other animals are alike. Each has its own unique personality.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
Like snowflakes, no two dogs or cats or any other animals are alike. Each has its own unique personality.
Anyone who doubts that statement should read Kathy Sletto’s book, Keeping Watch. Hot off the press, it is a real hoot from first page to last.
Sletto and her husband, Terry, parents of three grown children, live on a hobby farm west of Alexandria by Lake Mina, For years she was a grant-writing specialist until, some years ago, she decided to become a shepherdess, raising sheep, carding the wool, spinning the wool and knitting the yarn and selling the yarn. Sletto still does grant writing part-time on a contract basis.
Keeping Watch is a lively – often hilarious, sometimes sad – account of her decision to become a full-time shepherdess, the difficulties she faced, the joys and pitfalls along the way and, most of all, it’s a story of the most entertaining menagerie of critters you’re likely to come across this side of Dr. Doolittle.
Besides Sletto’s star flock of sheep, there is a cast of supporting characters, such as Tony, the lonely alpaca who dotes on lambs; Steve, the possum-playing rabbit; Keeyla, the naughty-but-weirdly lovable dog that flunked every improvement course ever attempted; Elmo, the parakeet that died of a broken heart; Mack Dawg, the llama with berserk male syndrome; Rosie, the cranky-bossy sheep and her blind daughter, Rambling Rose; Whiplash, the orphaned lamb who figures out how to feed himself on the sly in the wee hours; and three hooligan house cats. There are also villains in the story; the sinister, unseen coyotes who can be heard sometimes howling in the night, prowling at the edges of the terrified flock.
A passionate animal-lover since birth, Kathy Sletto is the kind of woman strays will find, practically by instinct, from miles around. At first, she bought just two highly-prized sheep. She had inherited a spinning wheel, and, gee, wouldn’t it be interesting, she thought, to spin wool from her own sheep? When she broached the subject to her husband, he became – as usual – leery and defensive. He was used to hearing that crafty come-on: “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if…”
“No!” he would always insist. “No more animals!”
Days or weeks later, his resolve would – once again – fade and finally crumble.
“Well, OK, maybe just ONE more animal,” he’d concede. His heart, at bottom, just as soft for animals as his wife’s.
Well, long story short, the Slettos’ “flock” grew from two sheep to more than 30 within a couple of years. Life as a shepherdess is very hard work, income is slim and sometimes nonexistent, but Sletto’s undying passion triumphed over every sort of hardship.
The result is Keeping Watch, a finely written book by a woman who knows her subjects through and through. Like all people living in the country, Sletto is a keen observer of nature’s ways and seasonal changes, which she describes so vividly that you are “there” in the seasons, right with her and her animals.
That supreme novelist Leo Tolstoy had a knack for writing about animals, even just in a sentence or paragraph, that brought them as “alive” on the page as his human characters. Sletto has that same rare knack. Her many animals, even the minor “players,” are so vividly unique the reader is in constant suspense about what goofy, wonderful antics they’re going to surprise us with next. This is one of those rare books that have you grinning ear-to-ear as you’re reading it.
The book is brimming with quotable passages. Here is one about Lamb Chop the baseball hoofer who loved to join the game when Sletto’s youngest son, Chris, would bring his friends to the farm to play ball.
“After watching the first inning, she (Lamb Chop) was ready to take a turn. She stood beside the boy who was batting, and when he hit the ball and ran to first base, Lamb Chop followed him. She continued on to second base, then third, and she crossed home plate, touching each of the bases. She repeated this several times, but the boys were disappointed to find that Lamb Chop had no intention of taking her turn in the outfield.”
This book should come with a warning: After you read it, you’re likely never to order “lamb” for dinner ever again!
Keeping Watch can be purchased at Cherry Hill Books in Alexandria or online at amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.