My heart warmed when I read the call out sheet for the day. I had finished small animal consults for the day, and there was no surgery in. I’d been working for about 9 months now in this mixed practice in Western Australia. The bosses wife and practice manager was a pit of gloom and misery, sitting behind the front desk, and finding ill in everything she saw. Nothing I ever did was good enough, I was never making enough money… In fact, nothing anyone, or anything ever did seemed to be good enough. The lines of misery were so deeply engraved, that the very rare smile that snuck onto her face was almost a shock. I couldn’t wait to get out of there!
I’d been to this farm before. I drove through the sandy, flat country side, up little side roads, to a farm tucked just in behind the sand dunes that bordered the ocean. I pulled in the gate, and a lean, lanky fellow unfolded himself from where he’d been squatting with one of his dogs. He gave me a wave, and opened the gate. I drove my work ute into the yard, and pulled up.
“G’day,” he said with a smile. “You keepin’ well?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied. “What do you need done today?”
“Well – It’s time for all the dogs to have their yearly check up and vaccinations and so on,” he explained. “So it’s an easy visit for you today, no cattle work, or horses…”
I looked around. It was one of those special days, not too hot, not too cool. The sun was shining in a blue sky flecked with clouds, and a gentle breeze whispered through the trees. There were cages scattered here and there, each with a lithe, happy border collie sitting in it, all obviously keen to be out and chasing something, anything. These little dogs lived to work, and he did a lot of competition with his dogs, travelling all over the place to sheep and cattle trials. The one dog of the nine that he had sat at his feet, wriggling with joy, wanting to come over and say hello, but at the same time waiting for his boss to give the command. He set him free, and a furry whirlwind of wags and shining eyes rushed over to me and wrapped herself around my legs. I squatted down and gave her a pat.
“She’s a lovely little dog, isn’t she,” I said.
His eyes warmed with pride as he replied. “Yes, she’s a special one, that one, but they all are, in their way.”
“And they’re all tri colours,” I said. “I haven’t ever seen a tri colour border collie before.”
“Yes,” he explained. “Not such a common colour, but you see them around.”
We had a good connection – conversation flowed easily, gentle jibes about the different codes of football, deep analysis of the weather, and a sharing of what we’d both been up to in our lives. So we chatted away for a quarter of an hour or so, before we both realised that we’d better get along with actually doing something!
One by one, he let the dogs out so I could examine them – running my hands over their whipcord lean bodies, listening to the rhythmic thump of their hearts, looking into their mouths, palpating their abdomens. I knew that if the slightest thing was wrong with any of his dogs, he always brought them straight into the clinic. I’ve seldom seen dogs better cared for, anywhere, but I still gave each a thorough examination, and then gave them their vaccination shots. I noticed even then (in the days well before I outgrew the brainwashing I received at Uni) that they all went very quiet after they had their injection, and it tickled away at my mind, a subconscious itch of not quite rightness.
“You’d better give them a quiet day today,” I told him. “It’s always a bit of a stress on their bodies to have these shots…”
“Yep, I know,” he said. “But it’s got to be better than watching them die from Parvo, too.”
I sat on my heels under the tree, chatting away for a few more minutes, before the pull of my remaining visits on the list became overwhelming, and I had to drag myself back into the truck and head off.