DOGS

Someone once told me that one would rather not be an animal in Africa. And, indeed, one is continuously assailed with tales of barbarism and savagery. But dig deeper and you will find examples of care, love and companionship all around. Particularly related to dogs. Aren’t they the most wonderful creatures?
It was the afternoon after book-club. You know, that night once a month when your wife arrives home early the next morning full of bonhomie and camaraderie and tries to cuddle close because she is cold, tired and has had her full of Jackie Collins, Paulo Coelho and the likes. I arrived home from the farms to change before presenting myself for consulting at the hospital. My wife’s car was in the garage, which was kind-of unusual because, although she works from home, she leads a hectic life which involves quite a bit of travel. But I knew what was up this crisp winter’s day so I crept quietly inside and poked my head around our bedroom doorway. Her voice was soft and full of love. She was tucked up under the down quilt, last night’s novel on her chest, the pointer and the dachsie cuddled in beside her. The Labrador, last in the peck order and to whom the bed was a novelty, was being addressed in loving terms.
“Ed,” she crooned. “Please come and cuddle with the rest of us. It’s so nice and cosy. But don’t tell your dad!” Ed, to his credit, was obviously tempted but only had his one paw on the bed. I could not suppress a giggle and when they realized my presence all hell broke loose.
That was the end of their afternoon nap but I went to work with that rosy domestic glow in my insides and I retained that pleasant memory over the weekend.
I had been on call and had been privileged to have had a bevy of wonderful dogs to look after, not a snapper amongst them. Individuals who had obviously had been subjected to a similar pampered existence as our own canine crew.
Commissioner (their other dog was called President), had recovered from Parvo in our isolation ward and was bellowing for his release all weekend. His only quiet moments were when he was fed. His tail wagged as vigorously as his tongue moved.
Bonsai was a Peke with spina bifida who had recovered from a traumatic incident with another dog and who was the soprano to Commissioner’s baritone.
Both of them went home on Sunday evening and the hospital was quiet without them
Bhubesi cowered in his corner, intimidated by the noise but responsive to our touch. He had been savaged by another dog and had a drain dangling from his neck and enough stitches to remind one of a doggy Frankenstein. He had a jaundiced view of all things canine but a loving attitude to Homo sapiens.
Kim was a Pitbull pup with broken front and back legs. He, too, had recovered enough to go home. It was very difficult to keep him immobile during his exercises but was always available for a cuddle and was chilled enough in his heated kennel .
Scorpion was the extrovert and the practical joker. He was a young dog with a teenager mentality. He had had a pin inserted in a broken front leg and was recouperating. He had been with us for over a week now and was part of the scenery, demanding attention whenever we approached his kennel.
Jack was labouring with parvo but was still responsive enough to wag his tail in my presence. Not once did he complain during his lousy injections.
But perhaps my favourite was Menana. She was in labour when she was brought in on the Saturday, more dead than alive. She had given birth to 7 pups already. 5 had died and the two surviving were very weak Bloods revealed Biliary fever, a potentially fatal tick-borne disease. X Rays showed three more pups still inside. A Caesar was out of the question because of her debilitated state. Our challenge was to get her well and then worry about the remaining foetus’. She was given a blood transfusion and put on a drip with a multitude of injections which she bore with a solemn dignity and a thankful demeanour. She attempted to suckle her sick pups but appeared grateful when we assisted with a bottle. Despite our best efforts the two pups gradually succumbed to the disease and, when the mum was strong enough, we induced the remainders. All dead. She bore her loss with grace and we were relieved to see her recover.
7 dogs, all with a disposition that would have made cold hearts warm.
And all went home to enrich the humans who were privileged to be in their company.

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24 HECTIC HOURS

I twirled my remote to lock the car with a flourish and panache usually associated with d’Artagnan or the Caped Crusader and gave the dude on the BMW motorbike parked beside us a friendly grin. We were bullet proof. We were on holiday. The stressors associated with castrating cats and tweaking cows ovaries were filed in the memory bank. We had made our first stop on our journey to Mozambique at the Queen Nandi Drive petro-port for the obligatory cappuccino and emerged 10 minutes later with our caffeine stash, smiles on our faces and giggles in our hearts. Sitting ducks.

The time was 3.45 on a lovely winter’s afternoon.

An hour later and the girls were feeling the effects of the coffee so we, once again, parked at the petrol station on the N2 near Empangeni. Anyway, I was ready for a change of driver. I was reading “Africa, a bibliography of the continent” by John Reader and had reached chapter 53, “Spoils of war”, which promised to be an interesting account so was keen to settle into the passenger seat and resume my African adventure. The others alighted but I stayed in the car as I wanted to make a couple of calls on my cell. Only problem is I couldn’t find it. Neither could I find my wife’s handbag, nor my briefcase in which was my laptop ( I was going to do some work on it whilst on holiday), Samsung tablet, binoculars, diary, my book, our passports and papers to get the car over the border as well as other bits and pieces, All gone, stolen from the vehicle at the previous stop. No forcible entry, obviously a remote jamming devise.

We were stunned. Not only was my entire record and communication system gone but also our documentation required to get ourselves and our vehicle over the border. We were meeting the other members of our party in Hluhluwe so we continued our journey with a heavy heart, making frantic calls to the relevant institutions that might be accessed by the thieves through my phone and computers, blacklisting all future transactions. And facing the realization that our holiday was over before it began.

At Hluhluwe we reported the theft at the local police station, an impressive building populated by officials to whom we were an unnecessary distraction between eating K.F.C. and reading the newspaper. The Constable who eventually recorded the story, borrowed my pen and took an hour and a half to fulfill her statutory obligations with a toothpick wedged between her lips that never deviated nor moved, even when she spoke. I wondered if it had become permanently embedded. At times my companions would appear at my side, their agitation expressed by a knee to my lower back and disgruntled sighs whilst outside two other police people were peering under the bonnet of a patrol vehicle, which was reluctant to start. That evening bank robbers could have a field day. The cavalry horse was lame.

It was late when we finished and we eventually joined the rest of our party at Hluhluwe River lodge, our rendezvous where we would be staying the night before passing through the border the following morning. At least, the rest of the party would be departing without us. What a bummer! The Baby Boks were giving the Aussies a hiding on the TV at the end of the bar. At least someone was getting a klap.

6 o’clock the next morning and Ryan Munien was relaxed behind the steering wheel of the big blue and white Durban Solid Waste truck. They had been at it since before sunrise, collecting refuse from the Glenwood area south of Durban, some 270 km from where we had spent the night, when one of his men handed him a brown handbag that they had found in a wheelie bin. Inside was a pair of old spectacles, a vanity case sans cosmetics, a book (“Africa, a biography of the continent”), two passports, and a number of papers authorizing the transit of a vehicle across the Mozambique border. And in a pocket on the side of the bag a couple of old bank deposit slips. On the rear of one was a cell number. He phoned it.

It was 6.45 a.m. on a crisp winter’s morning when my wife’s cell phone rang.

We were 4 hours behind the rest of the party when we eventually crossed the border. My son-in-law had picked up the bag from Ryan near the landfill site the other side of Umgeni Rd, Durban, and we had met him at eNyoni, about half way between Hluhluwe and Durban.

And, when we caught our first glance of Lake Piti near Ponta Milibangala, I turned to the next page in my book. Chapter 54, “ First dance of Freedom”.

It seemed appropriate.

The time was 3.45 on a lovely winters afternoon.

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SANTA’S GIFT

It was Christmas Eve.
The Grandkids were asleep, cradled in the excitement of what morning would bring.
Their parents had also just retired and my wife and I were busy tidying up when there was an urgent rapping at the front door
A short, round, bearded fellow, adorned in a ludicrous red outfit, his face moist in the summer heat, stood in front of me. The dogs ignored him. There were more interesting adventures on the lawn behind him. A huge sleigh was parked between the Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas, packed to the rafters with presents of all shapes and sizes, attached to which was a covey of reindeers. The dogs had never seen animals like these before. Cows, yes, and horses, but nothing as strange as these creatures.
“Lilly,” I shouted. “Leave those antlers alone. They’re not chew-toys!”
“Santa”, I exclaimed. “You’re early, but do come in.”
“Thanks, Doc,” he said, mopping his perspiring brow. “This Southern hemisphere weather sucks. I can’t wait for the return journey,” he grumbled.
“How is that fish I saw a couple of years ago?” I ask, suddenly remembering. “You know, the one that was having seizures?”
“He is quite well but he is posing some problems for his owner. Turns out he was actually a small whale, and not a fish after all. Now he has outgrown the glass bowl and also their swimming pool. They are thinking of releasing him in Midmar dam.”
“I will get to the point,“ he continued. “There is a busy evening ahead of me and we seem to have picked up some problems with my labour force that I hope you can sort out for me.”
“Sure,” I said, “what is the problem?”
“It’s them,” he peered over his shoulder and pointed at the crew behind him.
“Rudolf has hay fever, Dasher is lame on her near fore, Dancer has tooth ache and Prancer has the squirts.”
“In addition, Cupid won’t talk to Comet because, you see, she is in love with him but, quite frankly, he is on another planet.”
“And then Blitzen bliksemmed Vixen and Donner donnered Blitzen.”
“Try and say that quickly,“ he said with a wry smile. “I had quite a lot of free time to practice whilst flying over the Sahara but I am still struggling.”
So I got out my medicine box and gave Rudolf an anti-histamine jab, Dasher an anti-inflammatory, Dancer an anti-biotic and Prancer an anti-spasmodic.
Comet sunk a bottle of Red Bull and Cupid a Valium tab.
I finally had a stern word with the 3 quarrelling deers’. They settled down when I told them that they were now in South Africa, and with that sort of attitude they could easily end up as a trophy on someone’s wall.
“Thanks, Doc,” Santa said when I was finally complete. ”Now, how can I repay you for your assistance?”
“What about giving presents to all the kids in Maritzburg?”
“That’s already in my job description. What else?”
“Then” (after some thought), “please grant the leaders of our ruling party wisdom?”
“Listen, Doc,“ came the retort, “You have got the wrong guy. I do presents, not miracles.” “What about something personal for you?”
“OK.” (after some more thought).
“How about making me happy, wise and handsome.”
So he reached into his sack and pulled out a bottle of Scotch.

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INTEGRATED CONTROL

I have this surprisingly vivid memory of a discussion that took place in a dusty classroom during an Entomology lecture at Rhodes University in the early 1970’s. The issue was how to effectively control the threat posed by aphid pests on citrus orchards.
It is surprising, not only because I often cannot remember what happened yesterday and yet have perfect clarity of some events in the way distant past, but also because the principles that we discussed have not changed and yet we still often ignore the logic.
Rachel Carson had published her ground-breaking book “Silent Spring” about the effects of pollutants and the conversation took place in a class-room environment that was sympathetic to the controversies around this topic.
The chemical industry was in full flight promoting overzealous use of all sorts of noxious chemicals including Dieldrin, Malathion and DDT, with serious detrimental effects on our environment and the academic boffins were expressing concern and advocating a more integrated approach. They warned that reliance on chemicals alone would only be a short term remedy and would create bigger problems down the line if the control did not also include two other very important strategies.
Firstly, trees that were inherently more resistant to aphids had to be selected and propagated and secondly more natural control measures needed to be included. So, amongst other procedures, more resilient trees were planted, they were spaced further apart and were surrounded by indigenous hedgerows which would be a refuge for the natural predators of aphids, like ladybirds. The chemicals, then, would only be used to reduce the aphid numbers and sensible management of the orchards would do the rest. The control would not be chemical-centric but would integrate all other sensible tools available.
I have often thought about that lecture and its application to all aspects of agriculture.
Goats and sheep, for example, in the valleys of Nquthu or on the rocky crags of Tugela Ferry, have survived there by virtue of their innate resistance but put them on pastures at Eston and they will need regular deworming and treatment for conditions to which they are not accustomed. Creative pasture management would also need to be implemented, and, if it is to be a long term enterprise, future breeding stock should be selected from the more resilient individuals and a number of systems have been developed to assist the farmer to make this selection.
The commercial beef farmers have also realised the importance of hardy stock and after many years of domination by imported seed stock, the Africaner, Nguni and Boran and other African breeds have become more prominent. But they, too, still need to be managed correctly and treated appropriately.
The dairy industry, in my opinion, lags behind, with a mind-set dominated by the sellers of imported semen. Dairy-cow progeny have limited innate immunity and the farmers are successful only as a result of diligent and careful management and an over-reliance of chemicals. I tell purchasers of dairy bull calves to expect half of their animals to die. With astute management this figure can be reduced but the people who purchase bull calves often do not have this ability.
Our natural heritage, (our wildlife), will be the latest casualty in this imbalance. They have survived through natural selection but now golden wildebeest, black impala, white lions and buffalo with unnaturally big horns are realising ludicrous prices. This will put more pressure on management and treatment strategies. I hope we can rise to the challenge.
Homo sapiens is also not left out. It should come as no surprise to those of you who have not fallen asleep during this sermon, that we who have lived in a certain area for a long period of time are better adjusted than new-comers. Those of us who survive are descendants of survivors and are more resistant to endemic diseases and more understanding of social and cultural situations. All we need then is an adequate health and education system and the security of our environment and all should be well.

Do we pass the test?

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A LOAD OF BULL

A LOAD OF BULL

Feliciano was an impressive Limousin bull. Close on a ton of quivering, testosterone fueled energy, he was the product of diligent and enlightened breeding. Angie had high hopes for him at the upcoming bull sale. And to ensure that prospective buyers would pay a premium price for him, I had to certify that he was ready and able to impregnate any cow that was presented to him. This examination procedure involves much fiddling and measuring and testing and culminates in the collection and analysis of a specimen of ejaculate.

Feliciano was more than willing and very soon I had an ample sample. 10 cc’s of creamy virility, collected and stored in a glass vial. I performed the preliminary semen examination on the farm and packed the specimen for further analysis in our practice laboratory.

It is customary to transport semen specimens in a temperature-controlled water bath but, this time, I was in a hurry. I had a dental appointment and time was slipping bye so I employed a technique that I had successfully used in the past. I stuck the specimen, safely entombed in its glass casing, in my underpants. At my age, I am content to acknowledge, there seems to be more space in my jockeys than before and the temperature is ideal for the survival of bull semen.

I hit some traffic on my way back to Maritzburg and was running late for the dentist. There was no time for changing and cleaning up. It is bad politics to keep your dentist waiting. He has the distinct advantage when it comes to exacting revenge. So I waddled into his surgery, reeking of farmyard debris. It was Wednesday afternoon and, I suspect, I was the last patient of the day so I was immediately seated on his reclining seat. It was around this time, as I lent backwards, that I felt an unfamiliar lump in the seat of my pants and remembered the semen specimen. And, as the seat was progressively tilted backwards, so my overall tightened and now, as I bent my head upward towards my feet, not only could I feel the specimen but I could also clearly see the outline. And if it was visible to me, then it would not possibly escape the gaze of the good doctor and his nurse.

I was now in unfamiliar territory. Not only was I embarrassed by the unusual, eye-catching lump on the inside of my thigh, but I was concerned what would happen when the seat completed the tilt and more pressure was placed on the rubber bung holding the contents of the glass vial inside. How would the over-active tadpoles within react to being asked to swim upside down? I hoped they would not try and escape. How could I explain a moist patch suddenly appearing on my overalls?

So I waited until the nurse had left the room and put up my hand to confide in the doctor. It is also not good politics to interrupt the dentist mid-stream but I needed to tell him the story. I explained that if he hurt me, and there was a sudden tension in my abdominal muscles, a residue might appear on his nice leather seat the origins of which he might have difficulty explaining to the following patient.

So, how did things end up?

I am happy to report that the good doctor was extra-careful and gentle and he eventually gave my mouth a clean bill of health.

And Feliciano’s gene pool survived the expedition.

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INTEGRATED CONTROL

I have this surprisingly vivid memory of a discussion that took place in a dusty classroom during an Entomology lecture at Rhodes University in the early 1970’s. The issue was how to effectively control the threat posed by aphid pests on citrus orchards.
It is surprising, not only because I often cannot remember what happened yesterday and yet have perfect clarity of some events in the way distant past, but also because the principles that we discussed have not changed and yet we still often ignore the logic.
Rachel Carson had published her ground-breaking book “Silent Spring” about the effects of pollutants and the conversation took place in a class-room environment that was sympathetic to the controversies around this topic.
The chemical industry was in full flight promoting overzealous use of all sorts of noxious chemicals including Dieldrin, Malathion and DDT, with serious detrimental effects on our environment and the academic boffins were expressing concern and advocating a more integrated approach. They warned that reliance on chemicals alone would only be a short term remedy and would create bigger problems down the line if the control did not also include two other very important strategies.
Firstly, trees that were inherently more resistant to aphids had to be selected and propagated and secondly more natural control measures needed to be included. So, amongst other procedures, more resilient trees were planted, they were spaced further apart and were surrounded by indigenous hedgerows which would be a refuge for the natural predators of aphids, like ladybirds. The chemicals, then, would only be used to reduce the aphid numbers and sensible management of the orchards would do the rest. The control would not be chemical-centric but would integrate all other sensible tools available.
I have often thought about that lecture and its application to all aspects of agriculture.
Goats and sheep, for example, in the valleys of Nquthu or on the rocky crags of Tugela Ferry, have survived there by virtue of their innate resistance but put them on pastures at Eston and they will need regular deworming and treatment for conditions to which they are not accustomed. Creative pasture management would also need to be implemented, and, if it is to be a long term enterprise, future breeding stock should be selected from the more resilient individuals and a number of systems have been developed to assist the farmer to make this selection.
The commercial beef farmers have also realised the importance of hardy stock and after many years of domination by imported seed stock, the Africaner, Nguni and Boran and other African breeds have become more prominent. But they, too, still need to be managed correctly and treated appropriately.
The dairy industry, in my opinion, lags behind, with a mind-set dominated by the sellers of imported semen. Dairy-cow progeny have limited innate immunity and the farmers are successful only as a result of diligent and careful management and an over-reliance of chemicals. I tell purchasers of dairy bull calves to expect half of their animals to die. With astute management this figure can be reduced but the people who purchase bull calves often do not have this ability.
Our natural heritage, (our wildlife), will be the latest casualty in this imbalance. They have survived through natural selection but now golden wildebeest, black impala, white lions and buffalo with unnaturally big horns are realising ludicrous prices. This will put more pressure on management and treatment strategies. I hope we can rise to the challenge.
Homo sapiens is also not left out. It should come as no surprise to those of you who have not fallen asleep during this sermon, that we who have lived in a certain area for a long period of time are better adjusted than new-comers. Those of us who survive are descendants of survivors and are more resistant to endemic diseases and more understanding of social and cultural situations. All we need then is an adequate health and education system and the security of our environment and all should be well.

Do we pass the test?

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MAC AND THE GOATS

Tertiary education is not only about academics. Sure, the fundamental objective is to learn but the student ends up studying his/her chosen subjects with like-minded people and it this interaction, networking and experience-sharing with these peers that have a great impact on the students future. So, the learner that gets the balance right benefits the most out of his/her university career.
Mac is one such person. He is consistently in the top academic tier but is also socially very active. In other words, he learns hard and he parties full tilt.
It was after one such Jol that he returned to his room in the Faculty residence to find it occupied by a family of goats. This was, of course, unexpected but not altogether unusual because he, himself, had been the instigator of many practical jokes. The goats had been there for quite a while and had left their personal imprint on his room. Dung pellets everywhere, books nibbled and, of course, the all-pervading odour. But Mac, being a Vet student, a caring soul and in that benevolent frame of mind which is the inevitable consequence of a liberal quantity of Charles Glass’s finest, was more concerned with the welfare of the goats than for household hygiene. He knew from his studies that the ruminant’s digestion was based on fermentation and for this to occur they needed a constant supply of green feed and that the text books upon which the goats had chewed were unlikely to supply them with their requirements. Then, he remembered, there was a girl in the women’s res., a colleague and an acquaintance, who was the proud owner of an ornamental tree, a healthy, green leafed and much loved botanical specimen, a meal, he reasoned, which was fit for a family of goats. And she was not at home.
The mechanisms of how he managed to get into her room is quite vague in the memory but, a while later, he returned to his room with the tree. The activity in the meanwhile had attracted the attention of another returnee from the late nigh revelry and the two of them sat watching the goats demolish the tree. This entertainment was enhanced by the imbibition of further bottles of wisdom. As I was not present, I can only surmise that the topic of conversation between the two of them, being diligent students, revolved around ruminant physiology and that they regarded their present situation as practical experience on the topic. I do know, however, that as the evening progressed and as the tree started looking decidedly second hand, they proceeded to water it with the by-products of copious amounts of Castle Lager filtered through their respective urinary tracts.
At a stage in the evening they tired of their practical. The goats were released to who knows where and the tree was returned to its rightful room, a pale shadow of it erstwhile magnificence, its plumage denuded and smelling like Crowded House after a big night.
And, the next morning, there was a very confused female student wondering why her Ficus had moulted and now smelt very strongly of wee, testosterone and goat.

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