Sunday, November 30, 2008

Apollo And The Greyhounds

Justa quick note before I tell you about my beloved Apollo.

The comments option has mysteriously disappeared from this blog. I've put in an urgent call to my blog mentor Jane to advise me on how to track it down and return it to its proper place. If you want to leave a comment please come back later.
Now about Apollo....

All my photos of Apollo are from pre-digital camera days and not very good quality. This photo of a Maremma is from
At one stage in our farming career we decided to go into breeding Maremma Shepherd dogs. Our reasons for breeding Maremmas was twofold. One: the dogs would guard the members of our then Angora Goat stud, and two: earn us some income through selling their pups at the considerably inflated prices Maremmas were going for back then. After three litters we’d managed to sell all but one of the offspring. We had more than re-couped the cost of Robbie and Apollo and with visions of having one dog left over from each litter we decided not to breed Maremmas anymore so we had Robbie and Apollo and their daughter Penny desexed.

There was a vet about half an hour from where we lived who desexed dogs for a greatly reduced fee, even though his specialisation was in Greyhound veterinary services. Robbie and Penny were spayed first as the vet could only fit two more in on this particular day. We then took Apollo there for his turn a few weeks later. We arrived at the vet's with Apollo in the back of the car spoiling for a fight. Being a Maremma, he wasn't impressed with being wrested from his goat flock and exposing them to who knew what dangers now that they were unprotected. He was in his prime back then and was a huge, muscular specimen that no human or dog would want to want to meet up a dark alley. As I always did when we took Apollo to the vet's, I left Graeme and Apollo in the car and set out on reconnaissance duty. I entered the surgery looking for other dogs and potential Apollo victims. As soon as I walked through the door my heart sank. Today was obviously Greyhound health-care day. The room was full, as far as the eye could see, there were people holding Greyhounds of all colours and sizes. There had to be around 16 of them - Greyhounds that is - there were a few less people because some were holding multiple Greyhounds.

I tottered to the receptionist and told her in hushed tones that I was bringing in a Maremma for de-sexing (as per appointment) and tried to impress upon her that this particular Maremma would consider all these scrawny dogs no more than a light snack. She was a bit of a battle-axe and took the line that she was an experienced vet nurse who could handle any doggy drama that might come her way. She wouldn't be told anything about dogs from a mere owner.
“Everything will be fine if you just keep hold of your dog and everyone here keeps hold of theirs,” she said.
I tried to point out that that would simply make the greyhounds easier for Apollo to catch, but she wouldn't listen.

The only thing I could do was turn around to the now quite interested audience, most of them sitting on the edge of their chairs so that they could better hear my conversation with the battle-axe, and say in my most take-me-seriously, concerned voice, "Whatever you do, HOLD ON TO YOUR DOGS!!!"

A few of them looked a little nervous, but every one of them clutched their skinny charge to their breasts. As I got to the door, I turned around again, and as a parting shot, said, "Make sure you hold on to them tightly." I then departed to get Apollo, with the air of the ancient Greek seer Cassandra after she’d foretold ensuing carnage only to be laughed at by the general populous.

Being seriously out-classed in the weight and strength department, I opted for Graeme to lead Apollo into the surgery. It was around this time that I regretted never thinking of buying a muzzle before. Apollo never left the property(this was his first excursion since he'd come to us a a four week old pup five years ago) and was a pussy cat in his dealings with family and friends. Graeme held tightly to Apollo’s lead and headed for the surgery. It took us less than two minutes from when I'd left the surgery to opening the door again. I was just about to go through my "Hold your dogs" spiel once more, when I looked around the room with disbelief.

Somehow in the space of about a minute and a half the many Greyhound owners had managed to empty the room! There wasn't a Greyhound or Greyhound owner to be seen. Apollo looked around the room, with a satisfied sneer on his face and pulled Graeme over to the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist, goggling at the site of this massive white dog who obviously felt nothing but ill-will towards all strangers, was now much more polite in her dealings with me. Keeping one eye on Apollo who was watching her intently with the steely gaze he reserved for his next victim, she slowly backed out of the room to call a vet to see to us immediately. I don’t know what she said to the vet but it apparently impressed him. He arrived with a sedative which he insisted on giving Apollo before he even weighed him. Apart from regular vengeful glares and the odd curled lip accompanied by his trademark low rumble, Apollo behaved himself very well. Admittledly he had Graeme holding on tight to the lead and me holding on tight to his jaws. I can't say he was the pussycat he is at home among friends and family, but he didn't actually bite anyone so that had to be a plus in his favour. He looked a bit vague with the sedative inside him but he was visibly mellowed out.

I never did find out what happened to the Greyhounds and their owners. I imagine that, after my earnest pleas to protect their dogs, one of them grew curious and looked out the window when six feet tall Graeme was being dragged to the building by Apollo. I suppose he or she then sounded the alarm for everyone to get out and get out quick! I've kept a vision of them all crammed into a cupboard somewhere, nursing their dogs, trying not to tread on each other's toes, whispering "Ouch!" when someone did, and hiding out until that huge dog with the pitiless eyes was well and truly under the anaesthetic.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How To Bathe With A Duck And Keep Your Extremities

After moving to 25 acres outside of Camdehj and realising I now had five times as many acres as I’d had at our old place, I began a new campaign to acquire more pets to fill the gaps. I've never found it difficult to add to my pet collection – I have a bigger problem not adding to it, so it wasn’t long before my menagerie was the better off by one large, white drake.

Bob was a poultry factory refugee. The local hatchery had a policy of incubating twice as many eggs as ducks needed to fill their orders. This quaint custom tended to produce a lot more ducklings than required - always causing surprise and consternation at management level. The result of this overpopulation problem resulted in a company policy of dispatching all excess ducklings to the great duck pond in the sky. Jan, one of my Year 1 students’ mother, worked at the poultry factory and was known to be a softy at heart who’d obviously got into the wrong line of work. She spent quite a bit of her spare time finding homes for the surplus hatchlings. I was also known far and wide as a softy or more likely a real sucker for a hard luck story. I agreed to take two ducklings and planned to tell Graeme about it later – much later. I began plotting and calculating how long I could keep two ducklings hidden before having to come clean.

Jan, as often happened when she was finding home for ducklings in peril, developed a severe mathematics problem and for two ducklings read seven. She delivered them in a box to my classroom veranda while I was too busy teaching to count duckbills, and shot through. This drop and run technique it seems was also part of her very effective strategy to find homes for all the excess ducklings. There was obviously no way I could hide seven quacking, squitting (as my Nana termed it) ducklings from Graeme’s sight even for a short while, so I owned up immediately Graeme arrived home that night. I was very relieved to hear only a few grumbles and finally resignation, before we moved onto safer subjects. Note to self: always spring new pets on Graeme at the end of a hard day’s work when he’s too tired to protest.

All seven ducklings were soon ensconced in a large box fitted with a heat lamp. Unfortunately, no sooner had the ducklings arrived than they began to lie down in their box, take on a pale and interesting look and die. Our local vet declared that they had an incurable virus that he suspected came with them from the factory. This proved to be the case with the hatchery shutting down a week later. One by one the little yellow fluff balls weakened and died, except for one little fellow who just refused to give in. Bob the duckling soldiered on in the now scrubbed clean and much roomier box with only the heat lamp to keep him company. There he could be seen at all hours of the day, warming himself by his own private lamp, lifting his head every now and then to pass the time of day with any family member who happened by for a chat. All he needed for complete happiness was a beach towel, some sunnies, an esky and sand. Bob was a duck who was obviously made of strong stuff. He not only didn’t die, he didn’t even get sick. Bob became Super Bob in our minds and went from strength to strength.

His daily ablutions caused the family a great deal of trouble and discussion. Bob required regular bathing to keep his now adolescent white fluff clean and smell free. We were constantly worried about his catching cold - in retrospect a stupid thing to worry about, hadn’t he just survived in the face of the killer virus? At first we bathed him in the bathroom sink, giving him ample opportunity to exercise his little webbed feet and explore the possibilities of life on the water. When the tidal waves in the sink began flooding the bathroom floor, it was obvious that Bob was now too big to wash in the sink. Bob was still too young to be repatriated to the back yard, and still needed daily bathing to preserve his personal freshness. In the end the only solution was for Bob to graduate to showers. After many trials and errors I finally learned that the only way to successfully shower a duck is to shower with it. That’s when the family debates began. The discussions tended to centre around exactly with whom he’d have these showers. While the kids were prepared to try it once, I can’t say that the sport actually caught on amongst the younger crowd and Bob became my personal shower buddy.

Now showering with a duck is an experience I don’t really think I can recommend! If you’ve never had to fight a duck for your share of the water and the shower floor, I don’t suggest you try it. One isn’t at one’s best standing there dripping wet and naked, trying to protect the fleshier parts of one’s body while attempting to shoo a duck over to a neutral corner of the shower, especially when that duck is drunk with power and intent on getting the giant’s share of the water. All in all it was not a pretty sight. There I was, trying to command my share of the shower floor and there was Bob, determined to enjoy the experience to its utmost. Bob’s strategy was simple but effective. He’d waddle into the middle of the shower recess, regardless of any other feet that might have laid prior claim to the spot, and stood there with his beak pointing skywards allowing the water to drizzle down his body. His little ducky claws were very sharp when accompanied by the full weight of Bob (remember he was bred to grow big and heavy). I made many attempts to share the joy of showering with a duck with Rebecca, Joshua and Justin, but all three flatly refused to endanger their persons by showering with Bob ever again. I was therefore fated to be the only one who risked life, limb and dignity and I’m sad to report that Bob usually came out the victor of these shower sessions.

I was more than relieved when I was able to declare Bob all grown up and ready to face the rigors of living outside.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Help Whether I Want It Or Not

Lancelot helping me take a photo of a quilt block.
I doubt you realise the difficult circumstances under which I post my blog entry each day. The older stories are from a file of stories I've written over the years and I simply cut and paste them into the draft window. I then read and edit the story to make sure it's easily understood by all. Other entries, like this one are typed as I go. With both types of entry I have more help than I really need.

Take now for example. Lancelot is lying, draped over my lap, head as close to the keyboard as he can get and regularly stretching a paw up to suggest a better key for me to click. I've learned to type around cats and dexterously remove paws as I go without missing a beat. From time to time Lancelot tires of just lying there and stretches his whole body. This always results in his head and upper torso ending up on the keyboard. Lancelot tends to create damage proportional to the importance of the text - the more important the text the greater the damage done.
"Why don't you put him off your lap?" you ask? Because he'll just jump right back on. It's no good suggesting I put him out of the room either. Our house is the open plan style and apart from locking him in the bedroom, where Graeme is still sleeping, he can always make his way back to me. Now let's just consider what would happen if I locked him in the bedroom with Graeme for a minute ... no, best not to I think about it. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

Actually, Lancelot's presence on my lap isn't the worst that happens while I type. I can cope with the wayward paws and head. I'm used to them. One thing I've never been able to adjust to is when one of the other cats decides to challenge Lancelot for my lap. It begins with Lancelot looking far too comfortable and either Guinevere or Tristan deciding that my lap is the place to be. Guinevere will then jump on the lounge near the computer; hop onto the CPU which is just inches from my lap and to the left and then tentatively bat Lancelot with a paw. Depending on Lancelot's humour at the time, he will either ignore the subtle hint to give someone else a turn or he'll growl a warning that he's not in the mood for any funny business. Neither reaction makes the her back off.
Guinevere will slowly climb onto my lap (via the keyboard) and move in behind Lancelot. She'll then begin washing him. Guinevere's usual strategy to get rid of a cat that's where she wants to be is to wash its head. She will wash that head until it's quite soggy, if the offending cat is stubborn enough to try to hold his ground. If Lancelot doesn't take the hint and hop off my lap, leaving Guinevere the sole possessor, she will begin moving closer and closer to him until she's just about pushed him off my lap. This is when I intervene. Past experience has shown me that I'll be the one to come off worst in this battle, as Lancelot digs his claws into any fleshy part of my body that comes to hand, or rather to paw, in order to get a better hold on his territory. A battle then begins with Lancelot batting Guinevere with one paw while holding his ground with claws in my leg with the other. In case you're wondering, I've stopped trying to type anything by this time. Both cats are put on the floor and I'm able to get back to work for a few minutes. Guinevere usually manages to be the one to hop back up first. Lancelot contents himself with sitting next to my chair and glaring at Guinevere who is blissfully unaware of her brother's feelings.
If Tristan is the one who wants to depose Lancelot, I get up pretty quickly and head him off at the pass. Lancelot and Tristan are sworn enemies and have been ever since Tristan arrived as a cute little ball of orange fluff three years ago. While Lancelot will put up with quite a bit from his sister, he will not tolerate Tristan even looking like he's contemplating deposing him from my lap. A battle to the death (or at least that's what it sounds like) results when Lancelot jumps down from my lap and fires the first shot. Tristan is no angel in these matters either. He loves nothing better than to taunt Lancelot and has even been known to begin an attack when Lancelot is peacefully sleeping somewhere (usually, but not always, on my lap).
So, now you understand. It's pretty much a miracle that you get to read anything of the happenings at Spring Rock.
Tristan also helping. He might look like he's just sitting there but take special note of that paw near the corner of the block. He kept dragging the block out of shape each time I tried to photograph it. I think Tristan was aiming for the artistic, abstract effect.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Saving of Goldie (Well Temporarily Anyway)

I’ve been the owner of a large variety of pets. I’ve owned cats, dogs, galahs, horses, rats, rabbits, chooks and many other species of domesticated and some not so domesticated animals. One pet I’d never owned was a fish as a child. I can’t account for this sad deficiency in my pet owning experiences, but there it was – I’d never owned a fish and that was that. Consequently I knew very little about the care and maintenance of fish when I bought a black, goggled eyed fish and a common gold coloured fish from the pet shop to live in my garden pond at The Oaks. The fish spent their days swimming around, as fish do, and causing us no problems at all. They ate whatever nature provided and the little water fall kept their pond clean and fresh. They were the least bothersome pets I’ve ever owned.

When we sold that property, I decided to pack up the fish and take them with us to our new home as I couldn’t be sure the new owners would prove to be responsible fish owners. For all I knew they might get the whim to drain the pond, leaving the fish high and dry, or take to over feeding them. Leaving the fish with these unknown new owners was definitely fraught with danger from the fish's perspective. My steadfast decision to take them with us caused not a little discussion between Graeme and me, but eventually our differences were resolved and the fish were to accompany us to our next home. I had to buy them a fish tank of course, because I’d put them straight from the plastic bag provided by the pet shop into the pond. I also had to buy a filter, aerator, water-weed and tank decorations. Graeme kept a tally of how much these fifty cent fish were going to cost us and I can tell you it was an impressive sum at the end! They’d not only been my least bothersome pets but also my least expensive ones, but that had all changed now without either of them even lifting a fin.

Once installed in our youngest son’s bedroom in our new home, life for the fish went on uneventfully for some while. Justin duly named them Blackie and Goldie for obvious reasons and I turned my attentions to things other than goldfish. After a time Blackie expired and Goldie was left in sole possession of the tank. Goldie was one of your average boring goldfish in every way except for one small quirk. Goldie was a thrill seeker – the Evil Keneval of the goldfish world. He had everything a goldfish could want to live a happy, fulfilled life. Why then he felt he needed to add excitement to his days by jumping out of his bowl and flopping on the floor until a family member rescued him, I don’t know, but jump out of his tank he did with alarming regularity. He must have enjoyed the sensation of the blood rushing to his little fishy brain, or the rush of adrenaline that followed finding himself in an inhospitable environment because he continued to jump out of his tank until steps were taken to make exiting his watery habitat impossible. The answer to curbing Goldie’s adventures was easy. We simply placed a thin piece of wood to act as a lid on top of his bowl. There was always the worry at the back of my mind that Goldie would give himself concussion by constantly hitting his little head against the lid, but that was the chance we had to take.

Justin, who was about four at the time, was officially Goldie’s owner. Goldie lived in Justin’s bedroom so he claimed the equivalent of a sort of reverse squatters’ rights and made himself personally responsible for Goldie’s welfare. It was Justin who fed Goldie each day or stopped for a chat with the fish every now then on his way in or out of his bedroom. Goldie accepted all these little attentions with calm good will and a swish of his tail, in between butting his head against his new tank lid.

And so our days rolled on with barely a thought by any of us about goldfish in general or Goldie in particular. Until one night when Justin had been up and down throughout the night with asthma. I staggered into his bedroom around 2 o’clock in the morning (I’m not a morning person at the best of times – 2.00 a.m. is in my opinion the worst of times!) to check on his latest bout of coughing. Justin was in fact improving and I began to think that with any luck I might just be able to get back to bed and stay there this time. As I began to gratefully return to my own bed Justin sat up in bed “What’s that on the floor?” he asked. “Nothing. Go to sleep,” I answered. I didn’t care if it was a tarantula (and I’m arachnophobic!), I was not going to be kept from my bed. Then I looked at the small, shiny figure lying on the floor and realised that bed was going to have to wait a little longer. I’d forgotten to replace Goldie’s tank lid when I had relieved the wheezing Justin of feeding duties and fed Goldie myself earlier that evening. Goldie was obviously up to his old tricks and thrill seeking again. Only tonight he’d mistimed his fishy equivalent of a Bungy Jump and leaped from his tank in the middle of the night. There he lay expiring before my eyes and worse still, before Justin’s eyes.

Not knowing how long Goldie had been lying on the floor (or how I’d managed not to step on him when I first came into the room); I approached the sad, flat little figure with real trepidation. Just as I was about to pick him up and begin my soothing speech about Goldie being in goldfish heaven, he gave a weak little flip of his tail. Goldie wasn’t dead!

“He’s alive Justin,” I said in my most reassuring voice. “I’ll just pop him back in the tank and everything will be fine.”

I duly popped him back in his tank but everything was far from fine. Goldie just sort of slowly sank to the bottom of the tank and lay on the gravel in much the same fading-fast look in his eyes as when I found him on the carpet – looking doomed and deflated. I lifted him out of the water quickly and tried poking him gently with my finger while my more rational self asked what I thought I was doing at this ungodly hour of the morning. In my sleep deprived mind I was administering external heart massage or some such thing and I didn't even know where a fish kept it's heart.

Poking unsurprisingly had no effect whatsoever. He continued to lie limply in my hand looking like the only thing I could do for him was administer his last rights. It was obvious that I was running out of time and ideas for saving Goldie – he was quite literally almost at his last gasp. In a last ditch effort I called on all my first aid training and began to administer mouth to gill resuscitation. After all what did I have to lose except my dignity and credibility, and at that time of the morning I doubted if I had either anyway. Graeme by this time had heard Justin’s and my desperate tones when we first found Goldie and he wondered what was going on. He wandered in to see what we were up to and came face to face with his wife desperately blowing in a fish’s gills.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked not unreasonably.
“I’m saving Goldie,” I replied between puffs.
“Do you honestly think that’s going to work?” Graeme said.
I hadn’t stopped to consider the odds of saving an oxygen-deprived fish by blowing in its gills, but I gamely replied, “It’s worth a try.”
“It’s 2 o’clock in the morning!” said Graeme as if giving mouth to gill resuscitation should only be carried out during office hours. There was no appropriate answer to this statement so I saved my breath to give to Goldie and continued goldfish C.P.R.

After blowing into Goldie’s gills every few puffs, I then dunked him in his tank and tried sort of swishing him round a bit with my finger, ignoring my brain which was desperate to shut down for the night. Finally I put Goldie back into his tank and prevented him from sinking by the simple expedient of placing two fingers under his middle. By guiding him back and forth through the water, accompanied by Graeme’s exasperated and disbelieving comments, I was able to get Goldie to first float and then to swim on his own. I’d saved Goldie and won Justin’s undying gratitude. Well, undying for the rest of that day anyway. I was able to get back to bed with a clear conscience. Before setting off for bed I made sure of one thing - the lid was firmly placed on Goldie’s cage.

It would be great if the story ended there. Unfortunately there was an unexpected sequel. After Goldie’s mid-night rambles I began to worry that he was too cramped in his little tank. I co-erced the family into helping me make a large garden pond so that Goldie could return to more spacious accommodation. Now if you think back to the beginning of this story you’ll find that I freely admitted to knowing very little about the care and maintenance of a gold fish. As soon as the pond was finished we plonked Goldie into the water, carefully allowing him to slowly adjust to the change inwater temperature by scooping him out of his tank and placing him a plastic bag with a generous amount of tank water (I knew that much at least!). What I didn’t know was that the water in the pond should have been left for a couple of weeks. Apparently something in the fresh concrete (that’s as technical as I can get) poisons fish, if said fish are plonked in by unsuspecting owners, straight after the concrete has set. Goldie and I found this out the hard way the next morning.

Even mouth to gill resuscitation was useless this time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Duties As Princess Tamara's Midwife

When we upgraded our home from one acre near Mittagong to five acres in the Camden area, we took stock of our livestock. The grand total was now two horses, two sheep, two dogs and four cats so we decided to venture into farming in a bigger way. When Graeme came into a small inheritance we decided to blow the lot on a small flock of Angora goats.

First, to see if we actually liked goats, we bought ourselves an Angora wether who I named Pan. Pan arrived and stayed on his best behaviour just long enough to convince us that Angora goat farming would be easy, so we decided to go ahead and purchase breeding stock. With the price of Angoras going through the roof at that time all we could afford were three purebred does all in kid and an Appendix A doe kid that the breeders threw in free because it needed bottle raising and they didn’t want the bother. So Crispina, Violet, Crispina’s grown daughter Princess Tamara and Special Lady, the bottle baby, came to live on the five acres with us.

All three adult does were due to kid any day now so I delved into all I could find on goat breeding lore. I was soon to discover that these books were sadly lacking in essential advice on the care of an anxious doe in labour. All such learned texts recommended leaving the doe to it when her labour pains started and almost promised that on going out two hours later I’d see one or two sweet little kids all cleaned up and frisking around a very attentive mother. Well, Crispina and Violet had both read the same text books I had and their confinements went without a hitch or any involvement from me. Both got on with the business of giving birth with barely a murmur and the first thing I knew about it was that they presented themselves at dinner time accompanied by their cute little kids. Both does had twins and our Angora goat empire was beginning to look good. A few days later it was Princess Tamara’s turn to kid.

Tamara was a maiden doe, meaning that it was her first venture into giving birth, so I expected her to take the proceedings a little less matter of factly than the older and more experienced Crispina and Violet. She heralded the event with strident bleats from her labour room, a shed bedded down with fresh straw, and she kept on bleating pitifully until I went to investigate. Tamara lay on the straw complaining bitterly about her labour pains and bringing down curses on the head of the buck who had caused her all this grief. Having produced two babies of my own by that time, I immediately empathised with Tamara, almost feeling each labour pain with her. I assured her that every thing was going to be all right, quoted the more reassuring passages of the text books and turned to go back to the house. To use the text books’ technical jargon, I was “letting her get on with it”.

I'd left the labour ward and was half way back to the house when it seemed to me that the bleating was following me. I turned around and there was a very pregnant Tamara trying to climb over the fence to join me on my trek back to the house. Tamara clearly thought that if she was forced to have a home birth, she’d have it in said home with me standing by, boiling water and pacing the floor. I’m sure she intended to find the most comfortable bed in the house on which to produce her offspring and then demand room service at every opportunity. If I had anything to say (and boy, did I have a say!) this plan wouldn’t get off the ground. So with every intention of heading her off, I returned to Tamara’s yard, persuaded her to get down from the fence and return to her warm, comfy shed. Tamara was only too pleased to follow me – all she really wanted, she kept saying, was company during these trying times, and she settled herself in the straw once again.

Tamara continued to complain loudly when each labour pain gripped her, but she was content to lie there in the straw. Now was my chance to leave her to the job of producing the kids and sneak back to the house. Still talking to Tamara in reassuring tones I backed out of the shed very quietly and headed home once more – only to find that by the time I'd closed the goat yard gate Tamara was again trying to climb the fence and race me to the house. In the end my only option was to stay there with her, hold her hoof and massage her back with each labour pain. As a show of solidarity I joined her in her tirade against the unknown buck who did this to her. Finally the kids were born. A beautiful pair of does. All this bother had been worth it both in Tamara’s eyes and mine. I congratulated Tamara on a job well done, grabbed a handful of straw, and helped her clean them up.

I finally managed to get back to the house after a short celebration with the new mother, and girl-to-girl chat about labour, birth and the best way to raise a family as a single parent. What I didn’t know was that Princess Tamara wasn’t named Princess for nothing. There was no way that she intended to be a single parent and in the absence of the much-maligned buck living up to his parental responsibilities she needed to find just the right person to offer her support and experience in the art of raising kids. Tamara cast her eyes around the paddock in search of the likeliest candidate. Her mother, Crispina was busy with her own kids, Violet had never been known to offer a helping hoof to a new mother, Lady was far too young and inexperienced in the responsibilities of motherhood and you couldn’t possibly expect the bachelor Pan to understand the needs of motherhood. There was only one choice. Princess Tamara turned her thoughts to the one person who had supported her through her trials and the next thing I knew I was saddled with the job of co-parent.

My duties almost solely consisted of finding the kids. Each morning Tamara and her little family headed out to the paddock after spending the night in the shed. Her first port of call was always to tuck the kids out of sight behind a bush or rock and remind them to not to make a peep, before she moved off in search of a tasty morsel of grass. She then spent an hour or two chatting with her mum and the other three goats, munched on the odd blade of grass or branch of a tree and generally enjoyed her social engagements. As the hours passed by, Tamara would begin to feel that something was missing. By this time walking with a very full udder had become difficult and Tamara knew she needed to feed the kids. She’d raise her head, glance around the paddock and see no sign of them. Tamara had forgotten where she had put them and rather than mount a search for them herself, she’d head for the fence between the paddock and the house to summon her human servant. She then began to climb the fence - much more efficiently now that she had regained her pre-baby figure, although the full udder did present its own problems. She then bellowed at the top of her lungs for me to come and help find her offspring. My duties as mid-wife were no longer needed, but those of nanny (no pun intended here) were definitely required.

At first I tried suggesting that they were Tamara’s kids and she could just go out there and find them herself. This met with a blank stare from Tamara and renewed efforts to get on my side of the fence to better persuade me to my duties as protector of the little princesses. Having no other choice, I’d climb through the fence, usually getting tangled in the barbed wire, tearing my clothes and muttering threats of overthrowing a certain goat monarchy, and begin searching the yard. Tamara, happy in the knowledge that I was on the case, returned to her busy social engagements and, with her worries now offloaded to the servant, left me to it. Once I found the kids and returned them to their mum, Princess Tamara acknowledged my efforts with a regal nod of her head, fed the kids and wandered off in the general direction of the other goats. It was only after I returned to the house that she’d park them under another bush or behind a different rock ready for me to conduct another bush to rock search of the paddock next feed time.

Thus I whiled away the early weeks of Tamara’s ante natal. I was relieved when they grew old enough to follow their mum and join in frisky games with the other four kids. Tamara still called for my assistance if anything went wrong with her or her kids. If she came back and found the feed dish empty, or lost sight of the other mothers, her first port of call was the fence and her first action was to lodge a complaint and get me on the job to restore harmony to her life.

Princess Tamara lived to the ripe old age of seven and produced twin does each year. Each year we followed the same routine, sitting with her and massaging her back during her labour while helping her utter slanderous comments about the latest buck to get her into this situation, and once the kids were born, finding them for her half a dozen times per day and generally keeping myself available, ready to minister to her comfort whenever the need arose.

I had job security - my role as her private mid-wife cum nanny was permanent.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home At Last

We arrived home after 11 pm last night from an almost 1,000 kilometre round trip to Sydney. I didn't do the whole 1,000 kms. I was dropped off at Josh and Frances place while Graeme, Justin and Savannah proceeded to Lidcombe. Justin has been living there for a while now and is now moving back to the Riverina. I had a great time catching up with Josh, Frances and my granddaughters while Graeme and co slaved away packing all Justin's worldly possessions in the back of the car.

I have a back injury that causes me quite a bit of pain and I was a bit of a mess when we arrived home. I crawled into bed and left, Graeme, Justin and Savannah to sort everything out. Not that there was a lot of things to get in last night. Billy recognised my signature hobble and escorted me to the back porch personally. He has assumed the role of assistance dog (chanelling his Swis Alps ancestors I reckon) and last night he stood beside me and helped me up the stairs by giving me a strong back to lean on. I was so sorry to have to disappoint him a few minutes later when, he started to hint that something was missing. Billy turned on the charm and tried all sorts of subtle (well, subtle for an over grown St Bernard) hints to make me aware that he hadn't had his tinned dog food - I told him there wouldn't be any tonight as I didn't have the strength to use the can opener. He continued to try and charm some tinned food out of me, even offering to work the can opener himself. I pointed out the lack of oposable thumbs problem and he said he'd chew through the can if necessary. Poor Billy was doomed to disappointment.

The cats on the other hand dispensed with the niceties, complained bitterly about being put outside early in the morning and not let in until some ungodly hour of the night. They then placed themselves besides their bowls, ignoring the bowl full of dry cat food and pointed out that there was not tinned cat food and it had better arrive pretty smartly. They too were disappointed and consoled themselves by lashing their tails and bashing each other up for a while.

The ferrets were already tucked up in bed when we arrived home. I winkled them out of their hammock and sleeping bag, and Savannah and I carried them into the house. I had to head Savannah off at the pass though. She was getting ready for a good play session with the ferrets despite the time of night. I had to read the Graeme/Ferret Treaty of 1998 to her so she understood that when Graeme is inside the ferrets aren't and if they are they are in their inside cage. Savannah wanted to take them all to bed with her and play with them there. This too was sadly vetoed because I doubted anyone in the house would get any sleep if ferrets were roaming free, so Savannah sadly put her share of the ferrets in their cage to join Miette and Ebony, who were already in there and claiming the best sleeping spots.

Savannah is very pro-ferrets (I divide the world up into two classes - pro and anti ferrets). I can see I'm going to love this girl.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spring Rock Roll Call Part 2

OK, If you've all managed to recover from yesterday's marathon pet and family list, here are the rest of the Spring Rock inhabitants.

Miette,Horton, Ebony and Jocie (Miette is whispering, "I am the boss" in Jocie's ear.

The Ferrets.
If you stick with my blog long enough these little characters will feature strongly in coming stories:
Theodore - (deceased) ancient ferret and partner of
Isabella - (deceased) female ferret and gorgeous person
Miette (nee Twinkle) - pint sized female ferret and prima donna. Miette intends to rule the world and I'm not betting she won't. Miette doesn't realise that a seven year old ferret is considered very old and likely to expire any minute. Miette is eight and a half. I'm trying to keep her from finding out that she's really very ancient.
Albus (nee Umina) (deceased) - giant albino ferret and friend of Miette (Twinkle and Umina were names given to them by the NSW Ferret Welfare Society- yep there is a NSW Ferret Welfare Society- I'm not kidding!!)
Ebony - Beautiful sable ferret who lives by the peace among all (except for St Bernards) policy. Spends more time sleeping than anything else.
Horton - Large white ferret. Ebony's friend. Both came from The Ferret Welfare Society to keep Miette company when Albus died.
Jocie - young sable ferret who makes a tornado look slow. Jocie belonged to Erin and Troy, friends of Justin who have since moved to Queensland.

Shadow (deceased) - Australian Silky rescued by my kids and me from a shopping centre when we lived near Camden and 4 weeks later presented us with 9 pups to show her appreciation. Shadow lived to a minimum of 18 years old and spent her latter years partly deaf with cattaracts, she settled into a comfortable, grumpy old age and ruled the back porch and much larger dogs with an iron paw.
Apollo - (deceased) Maremma and dedicated to guarding the toilet in the laundry
Robbie - (deceased) his mate
Penny - 10, daughter of Apollo and Robbie (deceased). Neurotic Maremma and guardian of the sheep Digger - (deceased) Kelpie type almost useful sheep dog.
Dione - daughter of Tiger and Trixie (both deceased) Kelpie type and totally useless sheep dog

Billy & Shadow
A very unflattering photo of Shadow, but the only one I can find. Taking photos of Shadow was just about impossible unless you wanted one of her nose pressed against the camera lens.

Juno - sister of Dione and equally useless and neurotic to boot!
Billy modelling his bib and ready to come inside now.

Billy - St Bernard. A failed show dog who was expected to win championships with one small flaw - he hates going to shows. When taken to shows Billy would respond by impersonating a depressed and unloved St Bernard and refused to smile at the judges thus failing win any sort of prize at all. So he came to live here and now has a wonderful life terrorising the cats, befriending Shadow whether she likes it or not and helping me up after he's knocked me over.
Chasca & Chocha - Axolotyls. I took pity on Bec and her over stuffed fish tank and offered to share custody, but only two!!! I had to get these two past Graeme who has mild stress attacks when counting heads amongst the pets and coming up with a bigger number than he was expecting (it happens all too often for Graeme's peace of mind)

Poultry of Various Descriptions
Russell Crow - (deceased) White rooster who lived in the garden.
Harley - (deceased) one of Justin's roosters who lived with us on Razorback and came with us when we moved to Spring Rock even though it appeared to be bad for his health.
Feather Duster - Red rooster hatched by Justin as an Agriculture assignment. Lives in the chook pen with chooks, named that way to remind him that he could soon be put to another use if he didn't improve his attitude. Recognises this as an empty threat. Very bad disposition which has greatly improved with age much to the girls' relief.
Various brown hens known as The Girls - harem of Feather.
Pepper a small black Chinese Silky who adores Feather Duster.
Bob (deceased) a Poultry factory refugee who had serious identity problems throughout his life and had an unrequited love affair with a bantam frilly hen.
Jemima (deceased) - female duck given to me to spark an appropriate love affair with Bob and distract him from the chooks. A firm friendship only began to blossom just before Jemima was bitten by a snake.
TD (short for That Duck) (Deceased) - purchased to (unsuccessfully ) be Bob's new friend. TD also lied about his sex (pretended to be female so he could leave the School Ag. plot and come and live with us)
TOD (short for That Other Duck) (deceased) - Christmas gift 2001 as a new friend and mate for TD. Took this role seriously even though TD turned out to be a male - the less said about that episode the better!

Rams of Note
Stumpy (deceased) - White Suffolk ram and all round beautiful person. Main purpose in life was to eat everything that didn't move - the girls came second.
Dinoysisus - Suffolk ram - Very friendly ram who forgets he's not a pet and embarrasses us regularly by coming up for a chat and a pat when we are trying to impress ram buying customers.
Allen the Suffolk ram and Adonis, Wally and Arnie - White Suffolk rams, but lacking in personality.
Farrer - White Suffolk ram with loads of personality (possibly too much actually), who believes he was put on earth to build a bond between humans and sheep. Drafting rams with Farrer in the mix is fraught with difficulty.
A number of vasectomised rams - no I'm not kidding we really did take them to the vet for vasectomies - it has to do with getting the girls in the mood for the A Team (our un-vasectomised rams).
Approximately 400 - 500 unnamed ewes and lambs. I reserve the right to mention any one of these in particular and expecting you to know which one I mean. I suggest that should a sheep be mentioned by number (i.e. ear tag number) you just nod wisely and say, "Oh yes, I know the one you mean."
So there you are. A relatively complete cast of characters. I hope it isn't all to confusing for you. Many friends have had to go and have a good lie down to cure an aching head after being exposed to the list of my pets on mass. You might like to do the same just to be on the safe side.

Spring Rock Roll Call Part 1

Del has asked for a roll call of all the Spring Rock pets and photos. So I thought I'd include the humans who will appear at some stage in my stories and then start from the beginning at that little flat in Cabramatta when Graeme was so young and innocent and didn't realise that his hither to pet free life was about to change to drastically and forever. I've included photos of the present day animals, taken in the days of digital cameras. The earlier pets photos are small and blurry (I lacke photography skills in a big way). I'll dig some out one day and post them for you to see.

This is a very long list so I am going to post half today and half tomorrow. Still, go get yourself a cup of tea or coffee and be prepared to lose quite a bit of your day.

Graeme - Husband of 35 years and pet tolerater (that's the best he can do), except for ferrets, a species he's totally against.

Rosemary - Me!!! Pet lover supreme and the cause of Graeme's sufferings (well pet-wise anyway)

Rebecca (aka Bec) - Oldest child and only daughter. Fellow ferret owner. Bec is another pet lover and once distiguished herself by hatching and caring for 20 baby axolotlys even though she knew they'd be trouble. Following in her mother's footsteps Bec bought two Axolotyls as pets for her Kindergarten class. The Axolotyls became very friendly and millions of eggs resulted. Bec, who has far too many of her mother's genes couldn't leave them to die so spent a fortune on providing them just the right environment resulting in about 20 viable Axolotyl babies all in need of constant attention and feeding.

Grant - son in law and Graeme sympathiser. Also anti-ferret.

Michael(aged 4), Ethan (aged 2) and Liam (aged 5 weeks) -grandsons of mine and sons of Bec and Grant

Joshua -second child and elder son. Computer wiz and master tinkerer. It's Josh's fault that I own ferrets, but I've been careful not to point this out to Graeme.

Frances - the world's best daughter in law. Frances has been brainwashed by me and is now a quiter just like her mother in law.

Hannah (aged 5), Erin aged (4) and Claire (aged 1). Also brainwashed from a very early age and love to sew. (My grandchildren tally balances nicely doesn't it?)

Justin- youngest child and younger son, computer aficionado and Goth. Justin is as yet unmarried but has a new girlfriend, Savannah. Justin is responsible for the presence of a number of neutotic roosters coming into my life at different times. Why Justin specialised in roosters I'll never know.

Savannah - Justin's new girlfriend and a fellow ferret lover. I'm sure Savannah will feature in some of my future stories. My pet adventures tend to suck innocent bystanders in all the time.That's it for the human population.

Now for the pets. This list goes back 35 years remember so there are a lot of deceased pets in the roll call. This is not a complete list of my pets. Just the ones who feature in stories. I promise to update this list from time to time to keep you all abreast of who's who at Spring Rock.

Christie (deceased) - Pinto Pony I took possession of when I was 16 and she was 18 months old. Christie lived to the ripe old age of 36 and enjoyed a rich full life. Christie's favourite foods included bamboo blinds and cups of coffee or chocolate milkshakes.

Mahala - (deceased) Pinto pony (half Arab) and daughter of Christie.

Deci (deceased) - a german shepherd/labrador cross. She was the runt of the litter so of course I chose her. A devoted, concientious dog who spent my early years of motherhood trying to convince me to hand over the baby because she'd do a better job.

Aasta (deceased) - Old English Sheepdog. Gorgeous clown with a general lack of brains. Luckily she had Deci to look after her.

Sapphire, Topaz and Ophelia (deceased) - my cats who came to live with me in the flat. They were joined towards the end of our living in a little flat years by Michaelangelo a street wise tabby who taught these little ladies some very bad manners.

Mum-Puss - ( deceased) a one eyed cat we inherited with the farm. Mum-Puss constantly reminds us that we owe her. She let us move into her home without a protest and has tolerated and even at times welcomed our existence in her world. If only we would do something about ...
Lancelot - son of Mum-Puss and intellectually challenged cat. Lives to eat and currently weighs far too much

Guinevere showing her distain for the photographer

Guinevere - daughter of Mum-Puss and reformed human hater. Now loves to share my toast and marmalade with each morning. Tristan - young marmalade cat born on my neighbour's property and came to live with me when said neighbour brought him over because I'd told her I love ginger cats. Favourite past-time is hob nobbing with rabbits and coming home with his ears covered in rabbit fleas.

Hedwig - Galah rescued from a disastrous meeting with a grain truck. Nova Perris Kneebone - A retired racing pigeon who sought political asylum here at Spring Rock after being blown way off course during storm in a long distance race. Her previous owner didn't want to travel the many, many miles from his house to Spring Rock to pick her up and Pigeons being notoriously difficult to post, I opted to keep her here.

Tomorrow I start on the ferrets and dogs. See you then.

Christie & Tiffany - A Love Story

As is the case with most young girls, I spent my days yearning for a horse. Every year birthdays and Christmases came and went without me finding a horse at the end of my bed or under our Christmas tree. The excuses I heard were many and varied, but the one that was dragged out every time was that there was no room in our suburban back yard. Then when I was 16 Christie entered my life. Christie was a Pinto pony, then 18 months old and not yet broken in. We bought her from a friend in Leichhardt (an inner Sydney suburb) where she had virtually no space to move and only a small park up the road for exercise, and moved her to Canley Vale (an outer Sydney suburb) with only a bit more room to move and a vacant block up the road on which to exercise. I broke Christie in myself, with a few minor injuries to my person, a great deal of angst and loads of help from Mrs Shaw, a neighbour well versed in horse lore.

Two years after I married Graeme we moved into a house on an acre of land near Mittagong, specifically bought to accommodate Christie. We were out driving one day when I saw a "Sheep For Sale” sign. Seeing that I had very recently acquired Aasta, an Old English Sheepdog as a friend for Deci our German Shepheard/Labrador pup. It just made sense to me to get a sheep for Aasta to round up. Being reasonably newly married and not yet twigging to the way I could acquire vast numbers of animals – Graeme made no demur and Tiffany came home to stay. When we got home we tethered Tiffany next to Christie in the back yard. We hadn't put up any fences yet and as the weeks rolled by we moved Christie and Tiffany from each eaten out spot to a new lush, grassy spot, while we continued to slowly put up fences.

A month or so after buying Tiffany we happened to put her in a different spot in the yard to where Christie was dining. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began to go down hill. We drenched her for worms and injected her with all sorts of goodies recommended by the vet, but she wouldn't eat. Finally, when Tiffany looked to be on her last legs, we decided to let her off her tether to see if she could find something in the yard to tempt her appetite. Tiffany immediately tottered over to Christie as fast as her weak, skinny little legs could carry her. She parked herself underneath Christie's belly and began to munch grass as if there was no tomorrow. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Whenever Christie and I went for a ride Tiffany was always waiting at the gate to greet Christie's return.

Someone came through Hill Top one night stealing horses. We woke up in the morning to find that Christie and Tiffany were gone, along with our neighbour's two horses. The gate to Christie’s yard was wide open and her horse blanket was on the ground. Why the horse thieves removed the blanket I don't know (a small streak of honesty maybe?). Graeme and I were inclined to think something was wrong with the scene before us. We couldn't see how anyone but a blind horse thief would take Tiffany as well. I mean surely he/she would have noticed the wool. We looked around our yard and found fresh horse and sheep tracks heading into the bush behind our block, and sure enough, deep in the bush, we found Christie and Tiffany waiting for us to show up. It seems that Christie had simply refused to be stolen and had taken her sheep to a safer location until the coast was clear of horse thieves.

After rescuing the pair Ken, our neighbour borrowed Christie to try and find some trace of his horses which had really been stolen. Tiffany tried to go along too. After the night’s adventures she wasn’t going to let Christie out of her sight. Ken’s wife Lynn and I ended up having to tackle Tiffany to the ground and lock her up so that Christie could travel more than a kilometre (Tiffany's trekking limit) in the search for the lost horses. When Christie returned, Tiffany ran over to greet her baaing little joyful baas only to be met with an irate friend. Christie had a tantrum, grabbed Tiffany by the neck and shook her, while she neighed at the top of her voice. Their first argument. After the initial outburst, things settled down and the friendship didn't seem to suffer at all.

Two years after Christie met Tiffany, Christie was sent to stud to meet a very handsome Arab stallion named Demetri. We told Ray and Sheila, the owners of Demetri, that Tiffany would have to come too or she’d starve to death in the two months it took to be sure that Christie was successfully mated. Sheila gave us a funny look (I'm used to funny looks where my animals are concerned) and agreed. If only we'd known.

Christie was given a roomy stable near the stallion's yard so that there was room for Tiffany too. As Sheila told us later, this was fine by Demetri who lived in the stable next door and had access to the adjacent horse yard shared by both stables. During the third week of Christie’s visit Demetri wandered over and obligingly opened Christie's door then waited for her to come out and play. Christie was tucking into some very tasty hay at the time and nothing, but nothing gets in the way of Christie getting her daily rations. Tiffany on the other hand thought the open door was an invitation to explore new territory. She slipped past the stallion unnoticed and walked under the spacious horse fences to explore the farm and meet new friends. Tiffany eventually arrived at the foals' food trough. This was more like it! A full trough of the most delicious mix a sheep could ask for! Tiffany lost no time in tucking into it.

It was about this time that the fun started. Christie, having finished her meal, looked around for Tiffany (to have a post snack chat I suppose). Tiffany was nowhere to be seen. All Christie saw in place of her best friend was a stallion standing in the doorway with a silly grin on his face (to be honest I added the silly grin bit). Well Christie knew what to think ... this stallion, no longer dignified by being given his name, had obviously done something with her sheep and Christie was inclined to think whatever he’d done wasn't good! She charged out of the stable, grabbed a hunk of Demetri’s neck between her teeth and shook as hard as she could, screaming abuse with every shake and demanding to know what he’d done with her sheep!

Then Demetri, caught off guard, let out a yell as if he was being killed. He was too much of a gentleman to fight back so he limited himself to calling for help to get this mad mare off him. Ray and Sheila heard what sounded like death and carnage among their horses and rushed to the scene. Tiffany, hearing the ruckus too, and always keen to see a fight rushed into the middle of this one ready to come to Christie’s aid should a small woolly duelling second be required. Tiffany arrived at the scene of the battle long before Sheila or Ray by running under all those horse fences again. Tiffany arrived to see her beloved Christie engaged in battle with a stallion and immediately threw herself into the fray in defence of her horse. Tiffany was seriously outclassed in size and kicking action but this didn’t prevent her trying her best to come to Christie’s aid. Unfortunately she was soon kicked in one of her back legs for her troubles and retired, limping to the edge of the yard where she continued to offer support and advice to Christie in the form of anxious sounding baas. Ray eventually pried Christie off Demetri and restored order. The vet was called to look at Tiffany's leg, but no real damage had been done. We heard none of this until we arrived to pick the girls up to take them home. On saying their farewells, Sheila added that while the sheep was always welcome they never wanted to see Christie again!!

This love affair lasted all of Tiffany's life. When Tiffany died at the ripe old age of 12, Christie lost interest in life and almost died too. She stopped eating and just moped around, even though she had her eight-year-old filly, Mahala (daughter of the much maligned Demetri), for company. By constantly drenching Christie with glucose, pestering her on and off all day every day and generally making dying an unattractive option, I managed to convince Christie that life was worth continuing. She’s lived to be a spy 36-year-old pony. Towards the end of her life Christie settled into a happy retirementand wandered around the farm with Mahala. Her only problem was horsy Alzheimer’s. She didn't know any of us any more and ran away if we got too close. Or maybe she was just avoiding me, knowing that when her time finally did arrive, I'd do my best once again to make dying an unattractive option.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Six Into One Kitchen Cupboard Won't Go

Two weeks before my wedding my total pet roll call consisted of my pinto pony Christie, Topaz a tortoiseshell, Sooty an ancient black cat, Penny an equally ancient German Shepherd Airedale cross and a crippled galah named Rosie O’Grady. Only Topaz was to come and live with me after my marriage. The aged or infirm pets were not going to be uprooted in the winter of their lives from the only home they’d ever known to start life anew in a small flat. Christie’s presence in the pet tally didn’t cause a problem. She was remaining a resident at my mother’s place until Graeme and I could afford a house and enough land to cater for Christie’s dietary needs.

Topaz, on the other hand, was coming to live with us straight after our honeymoon, so we needed to find accommodation owned by a broadminded landlord not opposed to tenants with livestock. I left Graeme to find a place for us to live while I got on with the serious job of preparing a wedding in the six weeks remaining. Graeme had firm instructions to only rent a unit where we were allowed to bring Topaz with us, or I wasn’t going to live there either. With this incentive Graeme searched high and low until he found just the right landlord who said one cat was OK as long as it slept in the laundry out the back of the units.

Two days before I was married my pets experienced a population explosion. I now had three cats who were going to live with us in the flat; Topaz, Sapphire, an almost pure white cat except for the odd patch of grey here and there - a wedding gift from a sneaky friend looking to offload a litter of stray kittens on unsuspecting friends, and Ophelia, an undersized black and white cat who had been understandably neurotic ever since my mother’s dog brought her home in his mouth.

The three cats, Graeme and I moved into the flat, but while I spent far too much time for my liking in the laundry washing our clothes, not one of the cats ever saw the inside of it. They much preferred to spend their days with me in the flat, waging war against the vacuum cleaner, getting underfoot during general cleaning duties, spreading their kitty litter far and wide around the bathroom floor or, after a hard day’s helping out with the chores, sleeping on our lounge.

Two years after moving into the flat we bought an acre of land just outside Mittagong with room to spare for all my current and future pets, Christie included. About three weeks before we moved out, I came across a bedraggled, mucky nosed, foul smelling young grey tabby cat while out shopping - so of course I took him home. In celebration of the day I found him being that renowned artist’s birthday, I named him Michelangelo. The new, feline Michelangelo had a definite lack of aesthetic qualities, but then from what I have read of the artist, so did the original, human Michelangelo. Around the time of Michelangelo’s inclusion in our family, my mother's Labrador bitch had a clandestine liaison with the German Shepherd across the road, resulting in a litter of ten pups. These pups reached their six weeks birthday and began to sicken and die. Ever the ministering angel, I took all the survivors back to the flat and nursed them back to health. I might add, not one of these pups convalesced in the laundry. When they achieved a full recovery I returned them to my mother’s tender care, except for the runt of the litter I named Deci. Deci soon settle into the rather cramped life of a flat dwelling dog while Graeme and I looked forward to moving into our new home where we could disperse the pet population a little. So in this tiny, one bedroom flat, the total animal inhabitants were now four cats and a pup, none of whom even knew where the laundry was, let alone lived in it.

It was imperative that the landlord didn’t find out about my burgeoning menagerie. We’d paid a sizable bond when we moved in and if the landlord got wind of the four legged brigade, we could kiss the entire bond good-bye. I told Graeme not to give the real estate agent notice until the very last minute. The chances of the agent wanting to bring prospective new tenants in to look at the flat were pretty high in my opinion. Once in they’d see not only the flat but all four cats and a now fully recovered, very boisterous pup. I could just see the five contraband pets milling around trying to make friends with the newcomers, thereby giving the agent an excellent chance to count heads do the maths and realise the flat contained three cats and one pup too many. The animals were all house trained, but I didn't doubt for a second that we would never see the bond money again.

Graeme, bless his little cotton socks, sees things differently to the rest of the world and couldn't see why the agent would want to show people through the flat while we were still in it. So he duly gave notice two weeks before we were due to move out. Sure enough, one morning while I was sitting in the lounge room with all my pets gathered round me, the landlord came to the door with two people in tow. Luckily the Venetian blinds were positioned so that he couldn't see in from where he stood on the doorstep, but if he moved to the left, there we were for all to see and very hard to miss.

I gathered an armful of cats and dog and, bending almost double, made my way to the kitchen, with only cafe curtains on the window and an opened pair at that. I crawled along the floor as best I could with all these animals tucked under my arms and hid under the sink. The first problem that raised its ugly head was that the cats, realising exactly who was responsible for these cramped and uncomfortable conditions set about making Deci pay for it. Deci reacted by whimpering and seeking shelter closer to my body. The cats, in an effort to get a paw free from my hold, the better to deal with the pup, also had a few choice words to say. I clamped my hand over Deci’s mouth and vainly tried to quieten the vengeful felines. I was severely hampered in my efforts to control and quieten the pets, only possessing two arms while possessing five pets. I also had some difficulty in not letting anyone venture out from under the sink and into full view of the agent and his entourage! Trying to keep hold of four slightly cheesed-off, squirming cats and a very bouncy, offended pup isn’t an easy task at the best of times. It becomes almost impossible when attempted under a sink and in silence.

I kept praying the agent wouldn't open the door with his own key and find me crouched under the sink with my illicit pets. Could I act innocent? "What pets? These? Never seen them before in my life! Are you sure they didn't follow you in here?" I practised this in whispers while struggling with my arms overflowing full of pets, trying to get that note of sincerity with just a touch of accusation into my whisper. I don’t think I even managed to persuade Deci, the youngest and naivest of us all.

After what felt like an eternity, the landlord left with the prospective tenants and calm was restored to my little world. After a good hot cup of tea and some very stern thoughts about Graeme, I closed all the blinds and curtains, left the flat and headed for town with little puffs of steam escaping from my ears every now and then. I couldn't drive in those days so I walked around town until after 5 o'clock in case the landlord returned. After 5 p.m. I felt that any self respecting agent would have gone home for the day, and it was safe to return to the flat and my brood. When Graeme came home that night I apprised him of most of my earlier stern thoughts.

From then until we finally moved out I had to organise a number of schemes to keep me out of the flat during working hours. Let me tell you, it’s very difficult for a non-driver to occupy her day every weekday in one modest sized shopping centre. I spent some of the time lurking around the shops until finally shop attendants began looking suspiciously at this woman who came every day, wandered around and bought nothing. Some days were more profitably spent in the local library researching animal obedience training. Various friends were press-ganged into entertaining me for part of their days and thus my out of flat hours were filled.

Graeme should have considered himself very lucky that I didn't find another stray during my enforced rambles.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting To Know Me

I’ve lived with pets all of my life, and for most of that time I’ve had the dubious honour of attracting pets with seriously warped personalities. It’s as if there is some big pet clearing house somewhere where, the head clerk says, “I know just where to send that one,” when confronted with a more than usually eccentric animal, and in the twinkling of an eye this deranged animal has moved in with me. Their eccentricities range from simple irrational behaviour, to phobias and even full-blown neuroses. There are members of my family who say that every one of my pets was as sane as the next animal until it came to live with me. This sounds far too much to me like my nearest and dearest are attributing my pets’ peculiarities on my influence. I refuse to dignify their comments with a response.

For the past 12 years my husband Graeme and I have lived on a 1,000 acre wheat/sheep farm in the Riverina. We moved here just in time for the worst drought in 100 years. Since moving onto this considerably larger acreage, my pet numbers have sky-rocketed. No, no, no, I don’t count the sheep as pets – although I could tell you a story or two about quite a few stud sheep with funny quirks. My days are divided between keeping my pets happy, healthy and separated from one another. This need for separation is due to their tendency to look on each other as potential light snacks. I’ve failed to imbue even the merest drop of animal kindness and tolerance for other species in a large number of my pets. At times they are even inclined to attack their own species and, I’m sorry to have to admit this Mum-Puss, even their own families. All my pets live by the simple rule that they are the dominant species on the farm and it’s their God-given right to rid the farm of every other animal, humans excepted – after all humans have proved themselves extremely dexterous with can openers.
Everything I write here has actually happened - really, they have! I don’t need to make anything up. With the pets I attract, my life is filled to the brim with crazy animal adventures. 

 In the coming posts you’ll meet many of the animals with whom I’ve shared my life and home, as well as the members of my family (the ones who made those comments about my questionable influence on otherwise sane animals if you remember). My family have learned to live with animals behaving strangely and have become so accustomed to seeing cats trying to catch birds by banging their heads against the wrong side of a window pane or jumping in the air to try and swat them out of the sky, dogs guarding toilets, horses and sheep falling deeply in love with one another and all the other things my pets get up to, that they often think other people have dull pets.

I hope you enjoy reading about my quirky, but adorable menagerie and that you sometimes stop to think of us – with me more than likely knee deep in trouble with at least one of my pets and valiantly trying to find my way out of the chaos. If you are so inclined, I’d also appreciate a little prayer or two. Heaven’s knows I can use all the help I can get!