THE EXCEPTION PROVES THE RULE

“There are a few great migrations in Africa.”

 Kallie surveyed his audience, and when he was sure he had our attention he continued.

“The Wildebeests of Serengeti, the Sardine run of the South Coast and of course the annual trek of Vrystaaters to the Zululand coast for the Easter Billfish Fishing Competition.”

The formalities had been concluded at this practice function and the staff settled back in anticipation of an interesting story.

“The other annual Easter event was our Good Friday SPCA Mutt Show.” he continued.

“I was in Practice in Zululand at the time and was always called upon to judge the local Best Dressed Dog and the Owner/Pet look-alike categories. The usual suspects were entered; the prop from the Rugby Club with his Staffie, a couple of Bulldogs presented by jowly English expats, farmers in khakis with their Boerbuls, and of course several purple-rinse ladies with Maltese’s fresh from the parlour.”

“My first client that following Saturday was one of the Vrystaat migrants.  Mev. Miems van Schalkwyk was bringing Tiekkie in for his annual vaccinations. While she was entering her details on our computer, my mind drifted back to yesterday’s competition. In dog/owner look-alikes the exception proves the rule. Weighing in at an impressive 3 kilograms, Tiekkie was a Miniature Pinscher and Miems was an enormous lady, the kind of woman that keeps the Grey College production line well stocked with rugby forwards”

 ““Ons trou nie met Barbie Dolls nie!” a Boer had confided once when I asked how it was that their kids were so large.”

Kallie now had a twinkle in his eye. He paused, sucked on his beverage, and continued.

“Tiekkie was a candidate for a double dose of Ritalin – a blur of testicles and teeth. Some of the time he was under the table, then behind the fridge. He peed on the dog food display before trying to disembowel the practice cat. Pound for pound, he was more vicious than lions or tigers or great white sharks. He was all over the place even when Mev Van S. eventually got him onto the table.  Part of the problem was that she could not hold him firmly enough without running the risk of crushing him so he avoided every attempt I made to inject him.  He finally ended up perched on her shoulder, which by now was beaded in sweat, as was the rest of her over exposed torso. And, as she lifted her arm to grab him he dived head first down into the crevasse that was Mev van Schalkwyk’s abundant, very impressive cleavage. Unperturbed, the redoubtable lady crossed her arms and clamped Tiekkie between the fleshy mounds.”

 ““Spuit maar, Dokterrr! Ek het hom!” she brayed triumphantly.”

Kallie had our attention now. Even those whose bladders were protesting after an over indulgence of cool drinks were reluctant to leave their seats.

“But Tiekkie wasn’t done yet,” he continued.

“As I approached, he dug in deeper until all that was exposed was one leg and a pair of oversized nuts. I don’t know what he was doing with his teeth in that deep, dark recess but I was very thankful that I was only presented with his blunt end”

“Now, when injecting, one hand has to stabilize the target while the other operates the syringe.”

Kallie was now out of his seat, using his hands to indicate his vaccinating technique.

“I admit, I prayed a silent prayer that Mnr. Van Schalkwyk didn’t walk through the door just then, as my left hand attempted to secure the patient. I realise that the Mnr. was unlikely to be a skinny little dwarf and that I would have been in significant trouble if he had appeared!”

Kallie sat down again.

 “In the end, sweating profusely and giggling a bit sheepishly, I inserted the needle. Mev. did not squeal so I guess I managed to inject the dog! ”

And, fortunately, the fishing was that good that the Mnr. was nowhere to be seen.

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COOL, CLEAR WATER

Water is the favourite tipple of non-human animals. Pure, unadulterated H2O, squeezed from the clouds and filtered through bedrock, sandstone and wetlands. The fresher the better. No lab-inspired additives – sweeteners, stimulants, happy-makers -nothing. We often get this wrong when we manage our animals. How many farm animals are expected to drink from troughs or dams crusted with algae or other contaminants? Most. Not only are these a source of diseases like liver-fluke, algal toxicity, e-coli septicaemia or the drain-offs of potentially toxic chemicals but mostly, it just tastes lousy. Fortunately for us, K.Z.N. is a relatively water-rich province and the quality of our water is generally great. My dad, may God bless his soul, loved the taste of our bon aqua with a passion, a fact that he regularly repeated, with the innocence of the aged, to all who would listen. Long may our water quality last. Susan Shabangu, our current Minister of Mineral Affairs, has, however, granted permits for the exploration for shale gas in the form of “fracking” in the Drakensberg foot-hills, amongst other locations which, if found to be financially viable, will result in contamination of our aquifers. The days of cool, clear water may be numbered. But that story is for another day.
Our pets often come off second best as well. Come on, own up. How many farmers dogs enjoy a saucer of sweetened tea with their masters at the break of day? How many bird cages have their water refreshed daily and how many households ensure fresh water for their dogs and cats? Not too many, I guess. Lots of dogs drink out of the pool or bird bath. Or toilet.
The human animal is a different creature. We do not usually enjoy drinking water on it’s own. We add all sorts of things to it to disguise its original taste. Watch reality TV. Check out how many chubby American kids are constantly sucking on Coke or Pepsi. Ask them what their favourite drink is. Very few will say water,
“Russia” (not his real name ) will argue that water is very low on his list of priorities. His favourite tipple is Famous Grouse, itself comprising a significant quantity of water but dominated by the fermentation of grain mash. Not following the recommendations of the purists, he mixes it with Sprite, a soft drink containing some water but overshadowed by liberal quantities of sugar, taste enhancers and preservatives and carbonated with carbon dioxide. So, during a boys-only fishing trip a while ago, he retired to the lodge to enjoy his favourite mix after a long, hard day slaughtering those beautiful Mozambican rock fish . “Grog”, (also not his real name, but it is occasionally quite descriptive), the host of this particular fishing party, decided to test the taste buds of his friend and surreptitiously substituted the contents of the whiskey bottle with cold tea. The rest of the party were in on the secret and were consequently amused when “Russia” announced that the first drink tasted like mothers milk so he helped himself to a second. A couple of hours later and he was halfway through his bottle. His fishing mates were getting progressively more rowdy whilst he, to his astonishment, was as sober as a judge-fish. It was about that time, when the party had reached its climax, that “Grog” seized the half empty bottle of Famous Grouse and, announcing to his attentive audience (as well as a nonplussed “Russia”) that he had a constitution like Arnie Swartznegger, Shauwn Mpisane, and Shabby Sheik combined and to prove it he would drink this half bottle of very fine whiskey clasped close to his chest, in one smooth swallow. And with that he held the bottle to his lips and with one fluid movement, and a couple of loud gulps for effect, he downed the lot. “Russia’s” eyes were on stalks. Not only was his holiday stock of whiskey well and truly depleted but Grog did not appear to suffer any immediate consequences of this action. In actual fact, he appeared to regain a bit more composure and sensibility.
I am not sure of the details of the rest of the holiday. I did hear that “Grog” was reluctant to divulge the secret for fear of violent reprisal and elected, instead, to share the substituted contents of the bottle with his mates.
And “Russia” was seen making off toward the local shebeen sometime that next day.
My advice to “Russia.” Two things, in actual fact.
Watch your fishing mates very carefully in future and – drink water.

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THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

It is Christmas Eve and I am the only person on this planet not in holiday mode. The practice is quiet, in stark contrast to the hectic build up over the last couple of days. At 2.30 pm, one of the staff members brings out a bottle of champagne and as toasts are drunk the phone rings. A grey gelding needs to be put to sleep. He has cancer of the eye that has spread into the surrounding facial bones and after weeks of agonising over the decision, the family have decided that the time has arrived. Although I acknowledge that it is my professional responsibility to relieve pain and euthenasia is one of the tools that I must use, I find the procedure emotionally draining, particularly when it is a favourite member of the family and the humans in his life are visibly affected. I return home in a sombre mood, ready for a quiet evening. The sun is collapsing over the hills of Hilton as I pull into the driveway of my home. A shrill ring from my cell disturbs my reverie. A cat has been hit by a motor vehicle. They are from out of town and I suggest they bring the cat in. There is some discussion in the background after which they decide that they would phone me back.11.10 pm and a phone call drags me out of bed. They are ready to bring the cat in – 5 hours later! I meet them at the hospital just before midnight. Shortly thereafter, I put the cat to sleep. He had a broken back. I return home, but I am too wound up to sleep.
It is Christmas day and calls start early. These include a bull with heartwater on a farm near Thornville and a lady in a large silver S.U.V., who proudly confesses that the only reason she was bringing her ailing toy-pom to me was because the S.P.C.A. was closed. She was appalled to be charged a call-out fee and was critical of every Vet she had ever heard of, from James Herriot to St Francis of Assisi.
The last straw was an urgent request to see a dog hit by a car. I rush to the hospital and wait. In fact, I am still waiting!
Eventually I return home as lunch time approaches and the family starts arriving for the Christmas celebration. I am not in the mood.
During lunch I get another call-out for a dog with a badly swollen mouth – possibly bitten by a snake. They would have to organise transport and would meet me at the practice in one hour. I don’t hold my breath. By this stage, I have a seriously negative perception of all two-legged creatures and an escalating self-pity.
Exactly one hour later and a yellow taxi arrives in our hospital car park. Two frail figures emerge, one of whom is clutching a couple of grubby bank notes in one hand and carrying a scruffy but much -loved cross-bred Alsatian pup in the other, its happy countenance distorted by a grossly swollen tongue protruding from its mouth. The examination suggests that the swelling was probably caused by a sting and the recovery was likely to be rapid. Of importance, though is the aura of love and concern and grace that emanates from their little triad, elements that are often camouflaged by the trappings of materialism. They embodied the true spirit of Christmas and gradually my negativity dissolved in their presence. By the time I was complete, their pup had been treated, vaccinated, de-wormed and de-flea’d and they left, clutching a hamper of food and accompaniments, still with some notes in their fists and smiles on their faces. And I was positively beaming.
That’s all it takes.

Postscript: So happy was I, that I collected my young nephew from home and together we spent the better part of the afternoon stitching the crop of a dove fledgling that had been the unwilling sparring partner of a cat .Free, gratis, for the love of the game.
Also, I assume everyone received their Christmas gifts timeously, as I never attended to any reindeer over this period.

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THE LUCKY ONES

Barak is confined in a cage which is bolted to a wall on one side and which is attached to sturdy poles deeply embedded in the shale. It is a construction designed with creativity by Malcolm for whom farming is a sideline and who actually makes a living staring at the teeth in the mouths of clients with a sugar fetish. If truth be told, the structure actually does resemble the brace he expertly inserts to captivate errant teenage teeth. And about as sturdy. It is just fortunate that Barak has a temperament reminiscent of a valium addict. He was enticed into the structure with a plateful of carrots, an offer he would not refuse even under the most disturbing circumstances. Had he wanted to he could easily heave his mighty 1 ton frame out of its constraints like an elephant in a match-wood boma. Instead he munches contentedly on his unexpected windfall, only moving idly as I plunge the syringe into his rump.
He is one of the lucky ones. He is a bull-calf born from a well bred Holstein mother who was a member of a profession whose sole objective was producing milk. As for Barak, being of a gender not involved in this process, his ultimate destiny was likely to be the tasty part of a steak and kidney pie. Instead he and his brother, Keifer (the name being an adolescent perve. for the father, Donald Sutherland, subsequently transferred to the son and displaced to the calf – if that makes sense) were given a home on this lovely estate deep in a local game ranch and have been reared as pets and much loved members of a family comprising a multitude of animals sharing similar backgrounds.
12 dogs romp in carefree abandon, not a pedigree paper in sight. Each one has a rescue tale to tell. There is, for example, a little scruffy mongrel which runs with a limp if one watches very carefully. He has suffered a multitude of broken bones at the hands of abusive owners, has avoided euthanasia in the animal shelters only as a result of the fickle finger of fate and has eventually been nursed back to health with love and care. And a mother dog and her puppies who, subjected to starvation and neglect had, according to Shesh (the human matriarch, as energetic and effervescent as the up-market bubbly she prefers) been plucked from the jaws of death because she had been promised a home by Shesh if she survived. She is eternally grateful and has been a stabilising and maternal influence in a riotous canine family.
A gaggle of Peking ducks strut around the farmyard. They are young survivors of a motor vehicle accident, on their way to a fattening farm in Mauritius via Oribi when the truck overturned and they were rescued to see out their days in freedom.
A speckled indigenous goat and her two unruly offspring are confined to a section of the garden. The mother had also survived being hit by a car. Shesh had dodged the wrath of an angry mob who had seen the opportunity as an excuse for a feast. Battered Shisenyama.
Wobbling free is a three legged goat, herself a product of trauma in the distant past.
And all around the farmyard are vervets, some skittish and shy but others tame. Some are confined as part of their rehabilitation whilst many are free to roam. Most are healthy and physically sound but others are disfigured. All have a traumatic past and have suffered either physical or mental abuse. Like Dulux, a very well-endowed male who was presented with third degree burns inflicted by an intolerant monkey-hater. They now live a life far removed from their beginnings.
Barak is the picture of health and contentment. He has survived “snotsiekte” a serious disease carried within the wildebeest herd which graze nearby and which killed his brother. With care and attention, he has grown into a rare oddity, a very large, middle aged Holstein steer. In his early days he would come into the kitchen and demand food and do outrageous things like sitting on the Ottoman and attempting to eat the grass off the nativity scene at Christmas. But now his sheer bulk and demanding manner preclude such activities. He has been joined by a mate, Sir Loin, who is maturing nicely but who, I feel , will always be dwarfed by the enormous Barak. They will both be survivors who will spend the rest of their days in contentment.
Shesh pours me a glass of water. I notice a tattoo featuring the numbers 269 on the inside of her wrist. She tells me the story.
Calf No 269 was a bull-calf rescued from slaughter by animal activists in Israel in 2012 and an animal rights movement ,”269life”, has evolved in response to this action. Some ardent activists have had the numbers 269 burnt into their bodies with a branding iron. Most make do with tattoos.
I ask her if Barak is going to appear on the other wrist.
It is a possibility, she says.
Watch this space.

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THE VAST DIVIDE

He was a big, brown dog. Lean, athletic and with a physique honed through chasing all creatures great and small but with a kind, stoic expression in his eyes that showed no malice to anyone and lots of love for his owner. He was of that Greyhound variety that plied their trade hunting ( or poaching – the definition is open to philosophical interpretation). He was also dying. His body was covered in large, ulcerated, leaking sores. Gangrene had set in and his right hind leg was a dead and smelling mess. He had diarrhoea and a life-threatening temperature. We estimated he would die a slow, painful death within a week. It was too late for treatment.

We were a last resort. He had arrived last week in a sleek, metallic twin cab. The wounds had been layered with a greasy mixture, the composition of which was not divulged by the owner and, possibly, was unknown by him. I saw the writing on the wall then, but had relented to his persistence, sending him home with a fist-full of high powered antibiotics and a miscellany of other medicines. Intensive treatment was out of the question. The odds were too great, the willingness to pay non-existent. He had been in with the dog for another condition the previous year and we eventually handed him over to lawyers to collect outstanding debt. Not a happy scenario.

I expected him to return and he did with the expectations of immediate resolution of the condition before payment would be forthcoming. Positive results might eventually be rewarded, the time and expense incurred were not in the equation.

I had walked into the practice to find my colleague in a stand-off with the owner, who was not prepared to consider her prognosis. She (the Vet) cornered me, and with tears of concern for the ailing dog misting her eyes, asked me for an opinion, an intervention. The verdict was obvious and unanimous. Euthanasia was the only result for the long-suffering dog but it was an alternative that the owner would never consider. It was a recipe for conflict, this clash of philosophies. Both parties wanted the best for the dog but would never agree on how to achieve it. From our corner, for the dog’s own welfare, he had to go to heaven. Anything less would result in unacceptable suffering. For the owner this was not an option.

I looked across at him. He was as concerned as I was about the dog, who responded to the touch of his hand with a look of devotion and a faint wag of his tail. Not for the first time in my career did I feel hopelessly inadequate. My only certainty was that there was no treatment that would be effective. But the gulf between this reality and the acceptance thereof was too wide.

I was frustrated on many levels and my emotions vacillated between rage and understanding.

For one, my inability to cure was a great personal disappointment. Over the years I have come to accept that some things are irreparable, but that does not make the realisation easier. Euthanasia is the logical and responsible mechanism to relieve suffering when all other avenues have failed. I use this as a privilege and as a last resort. I am aware that some people have convictions that preclude euthanasia and I, of course, react with appropriate understanding. But mother nature and a misguided owner can be a cruel combination.

Another frustration was my short-coming in communication skills. I was unable to get the owner to understand that the animal would be subjected to unacceptable suffering. But, I guess, this is also a result of an unbridgeable gap between my way of thinking and his, a gulf created by differences in ideology, background, education, spiritual awareness, personal philosophy, culture and no doubt much more. For example, I find it unacceptable to kill for recreation, to use dogs to tear other animals apart, to denude our wildlife, to poach. He has no problem with this, seeing it as his cultural right. I wanted to tell him that cannibalism was at one stage seen by some people as being culturally acceptable but now it is universally regarded as an abhorrent practice. But I was not sure if he would understand my argument.

I also felt inadequate that I could not offer him comfort. He, I am sure, is not a bad person. He cared for his dog. The impasse was a consequence of a difference in perspective.

My colleague also needed consolation. It is inculcated in us that the welfare of our charges is paramount. She was suffering, too.

I failed.

After endless discussion involving reason, pleading, the offer of pro-bono euthanasia, and much silence, he turned tail and dragged his limping dog out the door, his ears ringing with my frustrated rage.

I hope the end came quickly.

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THE 250 MILLION YEAR OLD NYMPHOMANIAC

THE GREAT MAGNIFICENCE OF TIME AND BEAUTY


“This is so nice,” said Alan.
I thought this comment was somewhat understated as he was slouched in a deck chair with an ice cold frostie in his hand, a plate of oysters at his side, looking out over the Indian ocean from an isolated vantage point towards the Brazen Head buttress, the sun setting on a vintage march Wild Coast day.
“This really is nice, ” he added.
I said nothing but noted that I would make an alternative list of adjectives for him to use when he felt the need arise. Words like “wonderful,” “spectacular,” “marvelous,” “bakgat,” and others straight out of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary came to mind.
But I kept my council, content, and unwilling to disturb the beauty with negative thoughts.
He obviously, though, was on a different wavelength.
“All we need now,” he concluded, “is for a bakkie load of nymphomaniacs to rock up.”
I was quiet for a while as I analysed this profound philosophical snippet.
Eventually, though, I felt the need to respond.
“Alan,” I began, trying to compose my thoughts in the face of such intellectual wisdom.
“I vaguely remember the word that you use from my mis-spent youth but I think I have long forgotten what it means. I, quite frankly, also doubt that you know its true meaning as well but even if you did, I am sure you will agree that it is inappropriate to think of instant gratification in this place of such grandeur.”
( I do tend to speak like this when my tail goes up and I slip into lecturing mode)
“Let me tell you something that will change your perception and will enable you to see things in a less blinkered way.”
” Down there, just to the left of that point ( I moved my left arm lazily over the vista in front of us, pausing slightly to take a slug of the icy brew and to ensure that my audience was attentive) are some flat rocks from which we often fish.”
“Some years ago, I stubbed my toe on an elevation and, looking down, was surprised to see that it was different from the sandstone in which it was embedded and was shaped roughly in the form of a pelvis. Smaller than a human, maybe like an impala.”
He was quiet, now, intent on my story.
“I was intrigued and investigated further, finding at least 3 other suspected pelvises, a skull, some fragments of long bone and some other unidentified bones.”
“I took some pics, chipped off a sliver and sent these to “Veld Focus.” You know, that long running TV programme.”
“A while later, I got a reply from one Bruce Rubidge, the well-known paleontologist.”
Another pause, for effect now, as I knew I had him, hook, line and sinker.
“Down there in those rocks are the remnants of Dicynodon, a mammal-like reptile that lived in this area in the time when the southern continents were joined in one huge land mass, Gondwanaland. According to Bruce their fossils are quite common and are also found in Australia and Antarctica as well.”
“And, let me tell you, this all occurred some 250 million years ago!”
” Now here’s the thing, Alan. We, sitting here in this most lovely place, are only the very last in line of a whole cascade of events that have been happening since time began. Doesn’t it make you feel humble, Alan? Insignificant? Less inclined to think about the present and, instead, do you not feel focused on the great magnificence of time and beauty?”
Alan was quiet for a while, deep in thought, and then:
“I wonder if there were nymphomaniac Dicynodons in those days?” he concluded.
I give up.
Time to go home to our wives

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THE CHANGING FACE OF FASHION


Fashion, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, but trends do occur that last for variable periods of time. We have a hardwood kist, for example, which, I think, started off life as a receptacle for the storage of foodstuffs. We inherited it from my wife’s side of the family and, in its infancy, it resided in its naked magnificence in our pantry. Then, I vaguely remember returning home from work one day to find it painted virginal white. This theme did not last for too long and I recall spending a weekend deflowering the piece. Soon thereafter our second child, a daughter, arrived and the Kist was again transformed overnight into a bright pink toy box. Inevitably, kids grow up and it was my job, once again, to scrape it down and now faint flecks of pink and white are only visible in hidden crevices to very voyeuristic eyes. I understand, however, that I will return home again in the future to find the hue once again changed but I have finally realised that eventual retirement was invented to provide us ballies with lots of time to keep up with the changing fashion trends.

Decoration of the human body, like furniture, also has its trends and the current theme, the tattoo, has taken on a life of its own.
In Veterinary Science, there are some definite functional advantages of tattoos. For example, we can pigment the pink noses of some cats and dogs to help prevent sunlight induced skin cancer. And we sometimes stamp identification numbers in the ears of livestock and some purebred dogs.
But we don’t often use the tattoo for decorative purposes. I guess it is possible that some precocious Hollywood starlet would want a cryptic message cut into her Mexican Hairless but that would be a rarity.

It’s not that I have a problem with discreet body art. Not at all. In various guises it has been used to attempt to add attraction to the ugly since the days of Cheops. But it seems that humans, with their competitive inclination to outdo thy neighbour, are not content with functionality, or even subtlety. Check out some of those brawny sportsmen. They often have so much colour cut into their torso’s that shirts are virtually redundant. What are they going to do when their wives decide that the fashion has changed? Paint remover and sandpaper? I don’t think so.

So, being semi human myself, on the 19 March some years ago ( the day of my 60th birthday), I found myself reclining on the padded chair in Kevin’s Kustom Tattoo Parlour , a middle age crisis averted with a theme in mind.

I eventually emerged sans five hundred South African rands, having endured an agonising hour trying to make small talk with Kevin’s sidekick whilst a jack-hammer ground a picture into the thin skin covering the thick fat over my right shoulder blade. My mandate to him had been simple. I wanted a picture of a smiley face constructed from my favourite mantra, so that when I eventually become that grumpy old fart dribbling into his soup, my grandkids will be able to turn me around and get a glimpse of my previously sunny disposition.

So, it’s not decor, its functional. Kind of. Except that it would be nice if it had some sort of artistic flair, don’t you agree? Let’s face it, Da Vinci would not be in a rush to claim the masterpiece attached to my shoulder as his own. So, it was my intention that, when the first grand-kid arrives, I would find myself in Kevin’s retrenched dentist’s chair once again. I felt that I needed some art in my message, perhaps a little rouge on the cheeks, some colour in the eyes, a blush to the lips.

Only problem is, three grandkids later and I still have not had the guts to do it.

Self mutilation is not part of the make-up of ballies.

Or maybe cowardice is.

What do you think?

What do you think?

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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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