I woke up early this morning, and all the animals and pets who have touched my life paraded through my memory. I grew up on a cattle property in North Queensland, way out in the bush, 60 miles from the nearest town, so I have been surrounded by all sorts of animals all my life. Today I’m so deeply thankful for the richness and wonder they have blessed me with.
Snowy – A white kitten my mum and dad gave me when I was very small. He vanished not long after we got him, and days later, in the dark of the night, we could hear a faint meowing. I remember searching in a pool of torch light, and my dad finding him stuck down an old post hole, and gently lifting him out. It was my first encounter with illness, in a way; it struck deep. We put him in a box, and my dad took him away to the vet the next morning. He had rickets, lack of calcium, soft, deformed bones. He came back, and I must admit I persecuted him, as small boys will. We played! In the end he got a phobia of the dogs, and started crapping in the house. My dad took him away to the vet for the last time. Death was closer in that life on the land. Every month we would kill and butcher a cow, so it was familiar. It cut a lot closer when it was my pet though, deeper to the bones of my feelings.
A small rabbit, name lost in the mists of time. She lived in the bottom of the cupboard beside my bed, and left the floor strewn with little rabbit poos. So soft.
Rattles – a non descript house dog. Bits of this, bits of that, a real mongrel. A happy, friendly, somewhat flea ridden friend for me. My very first veterinary experimentation? If poo comes out, will a stick go back in?
Bluey – a terrible smelly old blue cattle dog. He loved rocks – fetching them, chewing on them, chasing them. He chewed every tooth out of his head on rocks, and then continued to gum them with ferocious abandon.
Tabby – a huge, massively fat cat who was the kitchen cat. He was twice as big as any other cat I ever saw, and as round as a barrel. Every now and then he’d go out across the night paddock and disappear into the bush. I followed him once, and marvelled ay how brave he was!
Sylvester – a little black piglet caught by one of the men, and adopted by Janey, a lady who worked on the property, and helped look after me as well. We used to take him for a walk down to the creek in the afternoons, where he would gruntle in the mud, and come out covered, glistening, happy as a pig could ever be. He got big, went to the sty with all the other pigs, and eventually ended up on the dinner table.
Fatty – my first pony, a little, round, grumpy shetland. He could be a right bastard, but he’d also let me catch him in the night paddock, and I’d clamber up, he’d gallop around until I slid off into the grass, and then we’d do it all again, for hours and hours. Then another time he’d try to bite me, evil piggy eyes gleaming.
Biscuit – the next pony, much more like a real horse. Tough as nails, and could outwalk nearly every horse on the place. A willing, wonderful, big hearted little fella. I loved that horse. He had to be put to sleep while I was at vet school, at a very grand old age. One of the older vet students was on prac, and told me about it. “He needed twice as much euthetal as a full sized horse would!” she told me. He was always as tough as nails. It was a sad thing to hear.
A procession of baby kangaroos, all taken from the pouch of mums hit by cars. We’d hang a man made pouch on the back of the door, and they’d go flying through the house and dive in, leaving just tail and legs sticking out! In those days we didn’t have the proper milk for them, so most got terrible scours and died. One lived to full size, so we put an ear tag in his ear (so no one would shoot him) and he lived around the house for years and years. Every now and then we’d see him.
Spotty – an old blue cattle dog bitch. She’d got in a fight with a pig, right outside our house one night, and gotten slashed and stabbed by his tusks. They shot the pig, and there was a little bullet hole in the corrugated iron wall after that. My dad took her into the vet, and he took out her spleen. She came back all stitched up, and recovered. Years later she got a strainer post dropped on her, and she got run over, too, but kept on going to a ripe old age.
Danny – a lovely, soft, absolutely stupid whippet the head stockman found wandering the streets. He was a real favourite, but his lack of intelligence was the end of him. He tried to jump into a moving ute, and got run over. I sat with him as he died, and cried.
The cattle – mobs of them! Mustering, working them through the yards in the dusty sun, in the mud, in the early morning, in the setting sun. The bellowing of weaners and cows for weeks after we separated them. Branding calves, the hiss and stink of the red hot iron. Mustering the bulls, huge, fighting, dangerous mountains of muscle.
So many horses – Musket, a hairy tall old chestnut gelding. No oil painting, but such a loyal horse. He’d pull like buggery out in the bush, but was a soft as butter when competing in a campdraft. I remember him peeling me off on a low branch one day, then looking back and laughing at me on the ground. Satin, the first I broke in – on our first ride out of the yard she shied at something in the bottom of the ditch as we were half way over, slipped me. I landed on my feet, and she trotted back and looked at me as if to say “What on earth are you doing down here?” F one eleven (we had a series named after planes) who was the utmost delight to break in, and then nearly cut his front leg right off on a barbed wire fence. We had to shoot him. It broke my heart. Too many more to write here, and all the ones we bush vetted – hosing wounds, trimming proud flesh, stitching them up and so on.
Tally. The first dog that was MY dog – I got her at Uni, she’d stay in a cage at the hospital while I was at work. a lovely irrepressible staffy. She deserted me to get throughly spoilt by my mum, then I had Tikka, her pup – the naughtiest, most wonderful dog ever. She chased thousands of animals, never caught a one, never did what she was told, loved me with all her soul. She died happy, chasing a wallaby into the path of a car.
And now Mr Patches, our cat, king of the house, and Pearl and Mitzi, our dogs, who all warm the heart of my life.
All the thousands of pets who have passed under my hands as a vet.
I thank and honour each and every one, they have shaped my life so deeply. Bless the animals!