While I was still at vet school, nearing the end of the marathon, I had to go and spend some time in various veterinary practices to gain ‘practical experience’. As soon as I had finished exams, and then had the obligatory celebratory beer(s) at the venerable pub which we all frequented whenever we had the cash to do so, I set off in my trusty old mazda station wagon, the most heroically underpowered vehicle ever designed by man. A couple of days driving later, I was there, at a huge specialist equine veterinary hospital. It was beyond busy, indescribably so. They had a couple of interns working there (i.e. poorly paid hard working slaves) – these young vets, super keen to be horse vets, worked some 70-80 hours + a week, a relentless treadmill of all day work, and then many night time checks on critical cases.
They had a donkey come in. It was a lovely, kind, well behaved, and biddable creature, a pleasure to work with. It was in for a few days, then had recovered enough to be sent off home again. I happened to be in the general area when the float was all set up, waiting.
“Ok then,” one of the senior vets said. “Let’s lead him up into the float.”
The donkey took one look at the float, and laid his ears back, as if there was a donkey eating tiger hiding in there, just waiting to pounce on him. The vet took his lead rope, and gently urged him forward. The donkey would quite happily walk right up to the base of the ramp, but refused, with the rock stubborn tenacity that only donkeys know, to place his foot on the ramp, at all.
“Has he been on a float before?” He asked the owner.
“Well, I think the first time he’d been on a float was when we brought him in here, but he loaded up just fine then, he was no trouble at all!” the owner replied.
The vet tried leading him around in circles, ever nearer to the ramp, and then turning him to step up. No dice! He tried getting a handful of delectable hay, and the donkey would stretch his neck out like a giraffe, but would not place a foot on the ramp. No way! I stood back a bit, and watched it all unfold. The first hints of frustration with the donkey were beginning to show- the owner had had a go, and was getting just a bit pink in the face. Gentle force was being applied to the lead rope, but the donkey simply wedged his feet under the lip of the ramp, and leaned back.
A blindfold was applied to the donkey, and he was walked around in circles, ever closer to the ramp, then turned gently towards it. He placed one foot on the ramp, then grabbed it back like it had been seared with a red hot iron, and wedged both feet under the lip of the ramp once more. He dug in.
By now, quite a crowd had gathered. There were 8 of us, and advice was flowing thick and fast. It was decided that the only way to get the donkey onto the float would be to physically urge him. So two people took the lead rope, and another two started at the donkey’s head, and gently eased a hand down each side, until the could link their hands behind his hind legs. Well – he thought this was a bit too personal, so he started to buck and kick out, all the while keeping those front feet glued to the earth, and leaning back on the lead rope while two strong men heaved on it for all they were worth. While his front feet were wedged under the ramp, the men behind lifted and heaved for all they were worth, lifting his hind quarters a good 2 feet off the ground. He gave a particularly vicious buck and kicked out, and the two men pushing from behind lost their grip and scattered in a cloud of dust.
“F***ing donkey!” one of them shouted, with feeling, shaking a hand that had been hurt in the melee.
There was a short time out, while everyone gathered in a gesticulating knot of animated discussion, and tried to agree on a plan of attack. It was hot, and their faces were red beaded with sweat. Strong words were uttered. The donkey stood there, blindfolded, uncaring.
Finally, three people took the lead rope, and 4 more worked on holding his body. they heaved him up holus bolus, and got his front feet on the ramp. The donkey immediately wedged his front feet against the slats that ridged across the ramp for the animals hooves to grip on, and braced himself once more, all the while bucking, kicking and struggling for all he was worth. The team heaved and struggled, grunting and sweating, with plenty of advice being flung hither and yon by all involved all the while.
Finally, the donkey was far enough in to gently close up the back ramp on his still backward leaning rump, and lock him in. The others emerged from the front of the float, and everyone stood around for a minute, chatting away nine to the dozen about that bloody donkey!
The owner of said donkey sheepishly climbed into the truck, and drove him away, and we were all sucked back into the ceaseless, super busy, chaotic maelstrom of this very busy equine hospital.