Thursday, January 29, 2009

How To Have Your Photo Taken & Waste A Whole Day

An example of how difficult it is to take a photo of ferrets.

Years ago I had ambitions to publish a book about my life with my deranged pets. This book never saw the light of day sadly, but I read all the how to get published books I could find and tried to do all that they suggested. After reading the books of tips for new writers I decided that it would be a good idea to send the publishers a photo along with the manuscript (something else I learned from one of the books – a book isn’t a book until it’s published). Now I HATE having my photo taken. When someone requests a photo of me for one reason or another I have to delve into Bec’s or Joshua’s wedding photos to find one where the photographer actually snapped one with my mouth closed and eyes open (almost rare enough to be worth money!).

I was so relieved when Bec was married because the photos of me at Joshua’s and Frances’ wedding are of me in my canary suit. In case some of you are picturing me with a fake beak and feathered wings as the mother of the groom I had better digress here and tell you about the canary suite. The now famous canary suite was a big mistake. I decided to make my own clothes for the wedding and spent weeks trying to find just the right fabric for the suite pattern I had chosen. Finally, with only a few weeks to go, I was talked into buying a bright yellow linen fabric at an exorbitant cost. As soon as the fabric was washed and hanging on the line I knew I had made a huge mistake. I felt quite faint standing there, looking at acres and acres of bright yellow fabric, but I had spent more money than I should have and was committed to making that dress. The result was that there are just too many photos of me in that dress (three photos as far as I know and all teetering on the brink of the garbage bin). When Bec was married I chose a beige wool fabric and I was almost pleased to have my photo taken, just to have something of me in something other than the yellow horror.

Now, back to having my photo taken for the publishers. I thought that seeing my book -sorry, manuscript (I’m doing my best to get the terminology down pat) is all about my pets, it would be a good idea to have a few of them rally round and be photographed with me for moral support if nothing else. Now those of you who have been keeping up with my life at Marrar tales will know that Billy is non-compatible with most of the other livestock and the ferrets are non-compatible with any other life form at all, with the possible exception of me. Posing the ferrets with anyone, or Billy with the ferrets or the cats was just too traumatic to contemplate! No, it was obvious that a happy group photo was out of the question and I was going to have to have separate photos taken with various pets and choose the best.

I did contemplate taking photos of the pets and leaving the author out all together, but Justin provided wiser council, suggesting that the publisher might think Billy wrote the stories and send him a contract. So all that was left to do was get the camera, round up the various pets and start clicking. It was Justin’s job be photographer for the day (there was no way I was going to transport the sparring menagerie to Wagga for a professional photo session). I carefully made up my face and checked for Billy marks on the clothes I was wearing, found multiple evidence of St Bernard drool and changed into clean clothes. I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

Justin and I decided that photographing Billy first was the best idea because he was ever present and hard to get rid of. I held Billy by the collar and smiled for the camera. Then came the first problem. Billy is a large dog, but he’s not 5 feet 3 inches when standing on all fours and therefore his head was no-where near mine. The option of having Billy stand on his back legs and then tower above me was not at all appealing so I crouched down to Billy’s head level. Billy immediately saw this as an indication from me that I was now ready to play the “knock Rosemary to the ground, stand over her and distribute drool”, as described in an earlier story. I’m sad to report that Justin was of little help here. He tended to stand there holding the cameral and laughing before rushing to my aide. Each time I would fight my way to a crouching position and pose Billy for a photo, Justin had to stop laughing and return to his post before he could click the shutter. By the time he had focused the camera I was once again on my back and my clean clothes were looking decidedly drooled upon. This called for sterner measures. Justin and I decided that, 1. He would stop laughing at my plight, 2. He would stay exactly where he was with the camera focused and ready to click as soon as Billy and I were both upright at the same time. Finally the photo was taken. Billy looking particularly handsome and most of the drool on my shirt was hidden by his body. Most of the grass stains were on my back and therefore they too were camouflaged.

Next I decided that Shadow would be photographed. Shadow, I thought, would be a piece of cake. She is such a little dog that I could pick her up, pose her and have it all done in nothing flat. The first problem arose when I tried to move Shadow over to the small green patch in my garden. For some reason Shadow preferred to be recorded for posterity sitting under the spare carport, behind the bag of fertilizer and amongst all the bits and pieces stored there. I have always thought there was something suspect about Shadow. She is always suspicious of strangers and often acts like she is trying to avoid the authorities. I don’t know anything about her past before she came to live with us as a very pregnant stray, but I suspect links with The Mob. After much negotiating Shadow was dragged, I mean persuaded, to come over to the pretty bit of garden and smile for the camera.

Billy immediately moved into show dog mode (forgetting that he had eschewed that lifestyle forever) and recognised a photo opportunity when he saw one, or it could have been because I was once again close to the ground. Whatever the reason, there I was holding Shadow and trying to convince her to smile for the camera, while she did her best to hide her face in case the photo ended up on a police most wanted poster, when I heard the thundering sounds that indicates Billy is on his way somewhere. I removed my attention from Shadow just in time to take the full force of Billy in my midriff, at approximately the spot where Shadow was burrowing into me trying to avoid be photographed. There I lay clutching Shadow and trying to fend Billy off with the other hand. I knew if I let go of Shadow I’d have to start the negotiations all over again. Fending off Billy definitely takes more than one hand so once again Justin rushed to my aide. After a few more abortive attempts to photograph Shadow I got the brilliant idea to be photographed with both of them. The plan here was to get Billy looking at Shadow and persuade Shadow to remove her head from my midriff. In the end I manoeuvred Billy to a sideways position and quickly lifted Shadow from behind his back, yelled “Take the photo now!” to Justin and that was that. Shadow waddled off as fast as her four little legs could carry her and left me with no doubts that her photo session was now over unless I wanted a contract taken out on my life.

Before any more photos were taken, Justin and I formed a council of war to plan the assault. First we dragged Billy to the laundry and locked him in. Billy was having so much fun with our photo activities that he was extremely reluctant to leave the scene. He hunched down and indicated that he was going to stay put and no amount of gentle persuasion would shift him. He was perfectly correct. The persuasion we used was far from gentle. With Billy in the laundry, Shadow skulking in the carport muttering dark threats, and the cats nowhere to be seen, the ferrets were the obvious choice for next in front of the camera. Rounding Albus and Miette up was a piece of cake compared to getting Shadow front and centre. All I had to do was bang on the side of the ferret cage for ten minutes in an effort to wake Albus. I have long believed that Albus is manic-depressive. He divides his time between sleeping the sleep of the dead and ricocheting off the walls in a mad frenzy of activity – there is no half way for Albus. Needless to say I was more than happy for Albus to be in his depressed mode. A ferretty smile would have been nice, but taking the good with the bad, I preferred a subdued Albus to a smiling, manic one. I knew I could rely on Miette to sparkle for the camera. Miette trades on her cuteness at all times. With both ferrets firmly grasped I once again knelt down with their bottoms resting on my knee, the better to hold them. After a silent prayer of thanks that Billy wasn’t going to come crashing around the corner and mix it with the ferrets, Justin and I turned our attention to adding the ferrets to the photo count. Alas, we waited that second too long. Albus came out of his funk, looked around at the acres of grass and plants and did his level best to do “the ferret thing”, that frenzied happy dance I've mentioned in earlier posts, while firmly held in my grasp. There is absolutely no way the real “ferret thing” can be done while your tummy is encircled with a determined hand, so Albus squirmed and pushed with his front paws while doing his happy dance with his back paws, knowing that I was handicapped, with my other hand out of action holding Miette. He finally gained his freedom and headed for the undergrowth. Luckily he failed to include Justin’s presence in his escape plan.

Justin swooped down and gathered up the fleeing ferret. He handed Albus to me with stern words to hold onto Albus tighter this time. I countered with the fact that if I held onto Albus any tighter his little pink eyes would pop. Justin’s attitude by now was “Let them pop! I want to get out of here!” So many frayed nerves, and an entire film later, I have not one usable photo of myself with the pets. The girl at the photo lab knew which photos were mine as soon as I returned to pick them up. She made a few comments about the size of my dog, diplomatically refrained from mentioning those photos where I’m far from at my best, and politely suppressed her giggles until I was gone.

I am thinking of sending the whole lot to the publisher in the hope that they will prove the truth of my stories and possibly getting me some sympathy

Friday, January 23, 2009

Billy. Dressed up in his bib and ready to come inside

In case you haven’t heard me complaining loudly, the weather here has turned extremely hot! The temperature has hovered in the late 30’s and early 40’s for over two weeks now and it actually outdid itself last week reaching 45 degrees Celsius (that’s around 110 degrees Fahrenheit in real numbers). The weather forecasters are being coy about when the cooler change might be coming. We keep hearing about chances of showers, or even storms, but they're just empty promises designed to lower our morale, in much the same way that their predictions of immanent rain all through the drought rubs in the fact that there was really no chance of any such thing.

While all around me are finding ways to keep cool, get their outside jobs done before 6 a.m. (when the weather tends to turn nasty) and lie low for the duration, I become preoccupied with finding ways to keep the menagerie somewhere under melting point while maintaining peace and my normal pet quotient. With the diverse range and incompatible natures of the creatures under my care, that proves to be a real challenge. Last summer I solved the problem simply, by bringing Hedwig (the galah) into the house in her inside cage. I coaxed Shadow (the Silky Terrier type) into the kitchen and the ferrets had the run of the house while Graeme was elsewhere. For those times Graeme couldn’t be persuaded to brave the excessive heat out in the paddocks or sheds, I invented ferret air-conditioning. Ferret air-conditioning for the uninitiated consists of a bucket of water sitting on top of their cage which is located under a very old, very shady apricot tree, with a towel end placed in the bucket and the rest of the wet towel draped over the side to catch any friendly breeze, thus cooling the air as it goes into the cage. The ferrets also have a wet towel on the floor of their cage on which they can lay their hot little tummies. This arrangement worked well with all pets agreeing to live in harmony in the name of cooling down. Well, the ferrets didn’t actually agree to the living in harmony bit, but I kept a keen eye on them while they were inside to ensure that the cats, Hedwig and Shadow didn’t become Ferret treats.

Since Billy was added to the mix, things have become a tad more difficult. Billy has very few aims in life – to spread St. Bernard drool as far and wide as possible; to keep me cornered and patting him whenever the opportunity arises and to chew on any member of the pet brigade to see if it passes the Billy test for soft and fluffy on the gums. Added to these worthy ambitions is the fact that Billy is built for the Swiss Alps where temperatures of 40 degrees are unheard of except possibly in a sauna. I’ve tried various pet combinations in the kitchen on hot days and so far they have all been fraught with feelings of guilt on my part for the poor furry objects that are banished to the sweltering backyard while the chosen few bask under the air-conditioning duct.

Each time Billy enters the kitchen, his reaction is the same. As soon as he walks through the back door he has but one thought in his huge head – find the cats! He knows they’re in here somewhere and he takes it upon himself to sniff them out and get down to the serious business of cat chivvying. It took me a while to get the message across that he was a guest in the house and must demonstrate a guest’s good manners. While our human guests rarely harbour nefarious schemes towards the cats, and are therefore given free reign of the house, rule number one for Billy is that he is not allowed off the kitchen floor. The kitchen and dining room are in fact one big room and the lounge room runs off the dining room via an archway. This provides a dog who doesn’t play by the rules access to most of the house without the inconvenience of doors to barricade his way. After many discussions on the topic, with Billy trying to convince me it was just a slip of the foot, he eventually agreed to restrict his body and drool to the kitchen floor. He still maintains the option to wander further a-field should he think no-one is looking though. He has refined his agreement to the utmost, and usually sits with his body up against the demarcation line – the silver strip that hides the edge of the carpet where it meets the kitchen vinyl. He sits so close that if he takes a deep breath his rib-cage drifts over the line.

The cats at first chose to lie low in our bedroom where the air conditioner doesn’t reach, but after a few days of Billy infesting their kitchen, helping himself to their food, drink and cool air, the cats plotted revenge. It didn’t take long for them to realise that Billy was a virtual prisoner in the kitchen and they now take great pleasure in wandering up and down under the dining table just a few feet from the kitchen/dining room border line, in full view of one very agitated St. Bernard. Last night they got really brave and actually sat as close as they dared to the silver edging, only inches from Billy’s nose. For a while there I thought Billy was going to explode. He looked like a dog who had his feet nailed to the floor! The pain on his face and the whimpering sounds tugged at my heart strings, but the cats just smirked to themselves and rubbed up against my legs, while nodding at Billy in a supercilious way.

Billy’s drool causes certain problems of its own. Wandering into the kitchen in bare feet is fraught with danger both real and aesthetic. I had the bright idea of making Billy a bib out of an old towel tied around his neck with the length of the towel draped over his front. Billy took exception to this innovation and spent a great deal of time ridding himself of the unfashionable item. When he couldn't remove the towel he resorted to the sneaky ploy of getting himself tangled in it, thus making me come to his rescue. He now associates the bib with being allowed inside so his attitude has taken a swift turn for the better. Billy will wear his bib happily if it means he can be an inside dog.

Shadow’s role during all this was to sit on the floor by the kitchen sink grumbling her mantra, “Kitchens are for shelter from storms – there is no storm – nothing good can come of this.” While Shadow would throw her little body against the back door to get into the kitchen at the first peal of thunder, the only way to get her into the house on hot days was to pick her up, ignore her grumbling about disrespect for old ladies, and plonk her on the cool floor. Shadow wants it stated for the record that she is a lot tougher than that overgrown, namby-pamby excuse for a dog and she’ll show him what her generation and breed are made of. I fully believe that Shadow would sun bake in the hottest part of our yard if only she had a pair of sunnies and a beach towel. The word “heatstroke” means nothing to her.

Meanwhile with Billy, Shadow and the cats keeping cool in various parts of the house, my thoughts turned to the ferrets doing it tough out in their cage under our old apricot tree. I spend more time outside in the heat refreshing the ferret air-conditioning than is wise for a person. After ensuring that the ferrets are keeping relatively cool, my thoughts turn to TD and TOD (That Duck and That Other Duck), Russell Crow, Feather Duster and The Girls (our two roosters and six black hens). They all live up in the back yard under an enormous pine tree and possibly the coolest part of the yard. Now I know if, in the unlikely event I was able to catch them all, there’s no way Graeme would tolerate them becoming free range house poultry so all I can do for them is ensure they have plenty of water and add them to my worry list.

Hedwig no longer likes to come inside, preferring to remain in her shade cloth draped aviary. She welcomes visits from me providing I have a scoop of her favourite seeds to offer. To provide Hedwig with relief from the heat I put ice-cubes in her water dish and spray her with water until her feathers are soaked. Hedwig enjoys these little niceties and happily lifts each wing while I spray the water over her, unconcerned about the fact that we are on tank water and I’m standing out in the heat whiles she’s enjoying her ablutions. Once she is fully damp, I leave her to dip her beak into the ice water, and once again turn my worries to the ferrets. Today I brought the ferrets inside in their indoor cage. I placed a nice big bowl of ice water in one corner and their food dish in the other. Miette never loses an opportunity to over dramatise things. When I lifted her out of her cage this afternoon she immediately assumed the guise of a dehydrated, unloved and overheated ferret. There she lay in my hands – limp, looking like a melted ferret, appearing to gasp for every breath. This display of intense suffering might have been more effective if I hadn’t had to remove her and Albus from their quilted polar fleece sleeping bag to bring them inside. As soon as she realised that she was being taken inside, she forgot her role as the heat struck ferret and perked up amazingly.

Billy, who had braved the heat to supervise the removal of the ferrets from their cage, pushed past me as I headed for the back door. He assumed the role of welcoming committee and offered to help settle the ferrets in. Albus and Miette adopted their usual, highly successful strategy of totally ignoring Billy. I tried various manoeuvres to drop the ferrets into their cage while at the same time using my body to block Billy who was trying to get a taste of ferret.

Under the terms of the “Graeme – Ferret Treaty of 2003”, negotiated after Miette’s brush with death(see the entry entitled Miette is Going to Live), the ferrets must remain in their indoor cage while Graeme is inside. Despite my pleading the ferret’s case for a free run of the house, Graeme refuses to go and find outdoor jobs in 41 degree temperatures, just so that Miette and Albus can run around the house enjoying the coolness. For those of you who don’t know, no ferret can resist chewing on Graeme’s toes whenever the opportunity arises. What special quality Graeme’s toes have over the general population’s I don’t know, but I’ve never me a ferret who could walk past Graeme’s feet and resist the temptation to sample those ferret delicacies.

Both ferrets refuse to honour the treaty whenever possible, and immediately they were ensconced in their cage began testing it for weak spots with a view to a gaol break, all the while ignoring the unfolding drama of my futile attempts to de-Billy the kitchen. After various unsuccessful attempts Billy was finally put outside and began his campaign to get back inside or die trying. So, with the accompaniment of regular scratching sounds at the back door, everyone settled in to enjoying the coolness of the kitchen. It was then that Miette found a new use for her water dish.

At first I thought that Miette was indeed overheated and had decided to end it all in her water dish. She began by taking lady like sips, savouring the coolness of the ice water. Then, without warning, she plunged her head into the dish and, with her nose on the bottom settled in for what looked like a long stay! Now I don’t know what the world record for a ferret holding its breath underwater is, but I didn’t want Miette trying for the new record. I stood beside the cage tapping at the water dish and making concerned sounds while encouraging Albus to talk sense to Miette when she came up for air. With a little smile on her face and the air of one going for broke, she once again dived for the bottom of the dish causing water to flow over the rim and out onto the kitchen floor. I couldn’t convince Miette to cease her impersonation of deep sea diving ferret and I ultimately left her to it so I could focus on worrying about Billy and Shadow, banished to the laundry to keep cool while the ferrets had their turn with the air-conditioner.

One thing is for certain though … whichever member of the Small menagerie takes refuge in the kitchen during the heat wave, we’ll still need to navigate puddles on the kitchen floor. I think I need a pair of flippers!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sheep Drafting Spring Spring Rock Style

I recently promised I'd tell you more about our stud ram Farrer. We have quite a few stud rams, but Farrer stands out as an individual. I wrote this last September.

I seemed to have lost nearly a whole day. Yesterday we drove to Wagga for a very quick trip to post our sale catalogues and returned home straight way. Two hours accounted for there. Then there was the sheep work, my lie down to help my back recover from the sheep work and that seemed to be all there was to the day. Now don’t get me wrong, my lie down wasn’t one of my marathon, fall asleep and lose a couple of hours type lie downs. It was a very restrained hour and a half, just get the back on track again and get up type lie down. So where did the day go? I suspect Farrer ate up most of it.

We bought Farrer and his brother William from Farrer Agricultural High School in Tamworth a couple of years ago. They didn't have names when we bought them, just numbers, but I soon fixed that ommission. Graeme suspected that Farrer was going to be trouble from the moment Farrer and I first laid eyes on each other. Farrer took one look at me and seemed to recognize a kindred spirit. While all the other rams in their pens were attempting to keep as much distance between themselves and the humans as possible, Farrer was so eager to introduce himself to me that he tried to climb out of his pen to get closer. I of course responded with lots of head scratches for him and professions of undying love. I think it was fair to say that Graeme was appalled to realise that is was actually one of the rams on his list of those he wanted. Graeme was very relieved to see that Farrer’s brother William was a standard, stand offish ram. Bidding for both rams was very heated. There was no way my new love was going to another, most likely uncaring buyer and poor Graeme realised defeat from the outset. Farrer ended up being the second top priced ram at the sale, but both Farrer and I were thrilled when we met up again to load him and William into our trailer. Each stop along the way home to check on their welfare was a chance for us to get better acquainted and we made the most of it. Graeme was heard to ask the heaven’s why I always managed to find animals like this – even amongst so called “wild” sheep flocks.

Anyway, back to yesterday. I must admit that the sheep work was made just a bit more difficult by Farrer. Farrer doesn't believe that sheep work has any other purpose than to get him into the yards so he can have lots of head scratchings and love. Consequently as soon as he spots a likely person (me) he sidles up and presents his head for scratching. It's not wise to not scratch his head. Farrer weighs around 150kgs and has a solid bone head which he's not ashamed to use in the pursuit of getting it scratched. Don't get me wrong. He doesn't get violent at all. He just mossies up to you and pushes with that hard head and soon, you have 150kgs of ram deeply embedded into the more tender parts of you anatomy. Gives you pause to think I can tell you. When you add to this the fact that I am usually concentrating on not getting knocked over by all the other rams in front of me, none of whom unlike Farrer, have eschewed violence, when Farrer sneaks up from behind, it's always from behind (sigh), and begins his gentle hints I'm usually taken unawares.

Over the years I have developed a simple strategy. As soon as I feel pressure on some part of my rear, I reach out with one hand and scratch the head administering said pressure, while continuing to encourage the other rams to head for the race. I can’t say this is the most efficient way to draft, but it works for Farrer and me.

We have had to draft the rams a lot over the last couple of weeks and Farrer has had almost daily head scratches, which is fine by him, but has also led him to become addicted to them. He just can’t get enough love and attention anymore. So, while I have developed strategies to cope with Farrer’s requests for attention, Farrer has spent the last couple of weeks refining his techniques in an effort to maximise the amount of love and attention he gets. He has tried various strategic spots to place himself in the holding yard.

A short explanation of drafting here for the uninitiated – the sheep are mustered into a large holding yard in the sheep pens which feeds into a smaller, funnel shaped yard that ends in a corrugated iron race (the race yard). The race is wide enough for just one sheep at a time to pass through - in theory; it’s quite a comedy act when two sheep try to get through at once. At the end of the race is a three way gate that sends the sheep into different yards according to which sheep we are drafting off that day. Yesterday we were drafting off ram lambs.

Farrer’s strategic spots are always in the way of doing something more productive and really slow the drafting operation. Farrer has given this some thought over time and has tried various strategies. He has been very co-operative and run into the drafting race in the first few drafts, but found that limited his scratches, because once I’ve manoeuvred him into the race and he has been drafted by Graeme he runs the chance of being drafted into a yard where he can’t reach people. Even if he lands in the same yard as Graeme, push as he might, Graeme is not going to stop drafting to scratch a large white head.

What I am sure will be his most memorable strategy surfaced yesterday. He held back to one of the later drafts, insisting on scratches and love whenever I came out to the holding yard to get another lot of rams in the race yard, but declined to go in himself. Once he actually entered the race yard he then hung around me hinting that more attention would be very welcome, until I literally pushed him inch by slow inch to the front of the draft and out the race - well almost out the race. He stood half in and half out of the gateway, with his rump in the race and his head facing Graeme, ready for scratching. To say this caused a ram traffic jam is to understate the situation. Rams in a race want nothing more than to get out of the race. It takes a fair bit of encouragement to get them into the skinny race in the first place so I'm not inclined to let them out once they are in. Now with Farrer's huge rear end in the only exit there is and all these rams wanting to leave via that exit, the ensuing chaos is best not discussed. Graeme heaved and threatened and pleaded and growled. Farrer smiled and stood firm. I advised giving him a scratch and hoping for the best. Nothing worked. Farrer had a captive audience and wasn't going to give it up lightly. In the end Graeme pushed and pulled him as far out of the race as he could so only a little bit of Farrer’s rump was in there and he, Graeme, could manipulate the gates again. Of course it was the full grown rams who had to pass Farrer - the ram lambs were being drafted through the opposite gate, but very slowly the rams worked their way through while Farrer stood blissfully unaware of the trouble he was causing. Well I say “blissfully unaware”, Graeme is of the firm opinion that Farrer meant to cause all that chaos and the smile on his little sheepy face was one of revenge for all those missed scratches.

Ahhh, I think I’ve found my lost day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Busy Day

Today is going to be a busy day here at Spring Rock. Today is a sheep drafting day. We are going to ultrasound scan the ewes on Tuesday to see who is pregnant and who isn't. We will then be able to draft them off (yet again) into a paddock of pregnant ladies and a paddock of girls who didn't get into lamb on their last attempt and are going to be introduced to a ram for a second chance at motherhood.

It's going to be a hot day here so we had to start early. After breakfast Graeme mustered the ewes and put them in the sheep yards. I then went over to help draft them. My job in all this is very easy because of my back injury. Graeme does all the heavy work and leaves me the job of persuading hundreds of reluctant ewes into the race yard. Just a few words here for the non-farmers amongst us who might have never encountered races and sheep yards. The race yard is a triangular shaped yard that has a corrugated lined alley way at the front with gates leading off into three separate holding yards. Imagine a huge corrugated iron funnel and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about. Graeme stands at these swinging gates and swings them one way or another according to where the ewes need to go.

Ewes are easier to push through the race than rams because ewes are much less confident around humans. Rams will often stop and argue the point with me as to whether they will go down that race or not. Sometimes these arguments can take quite a bit of persuasion from my end to get the ram through the race. The ram will often not even turn to face me for our discussion, just plant his four feet firmly on the ground near the entrance of the race and say, "Make me!" So then it's up to me to make him. This often ends in me pointlessly tapping him on the rump and asking politely that me moves up. I don't like yelling at the sheep because they are nervous enough around us and I think raising our voices only makes them twittier. Graeme on the other hand is old school and raises his voice often. My useless tapping finally gets to Graeme and he comes down to us from his side of the fence and enters the argument. It doesn't last long after that. The ram realises he'd much rather join his friends who have gone down the race, but so as not to lose face he ambles slowly along the alley way and almost snears at me as he comes out the open gate. Farrer of course is a different matter. He is our very friendly ram and the reason he doesn't move is because he's reluctant to leave my company and the head scratches I give him when I pass by him moving the rest of the rams through. I'll tell you all about Farrer some other time though.

Back to the ewes. Ewes just need to take one look at me and realise that I have evil human intentions and run down the race to get away from me. They can't see much of Graeme because most of him is hidden behind the corrugated iron so his end of the race looks to be the safer bet to them. There is the odd old lady ewe who will stand her ground and argue the point with me, but her heart is rarely in it and it only takes a push or two on her rear end to make her decide that the other ewes might be right and run down the race after them.

Graeme is drafting today according to whether the ewe was mated a few months ago or if they have a lamb at foot courtesy of a ram lamb who managed to get through a few fences in order to meet the girls just before our last planned mating session. He had his own plans regarding mating and we have quite a few lambs we didn't really want. Once they are drafted into their respective holding yards we then let those we no longer need for the scanning out into their paddock again and hold the scanned ewes and larger lambs we are hoping to put to the rams this time in separate yards. The ewes will be put out into the paddock near the shed where the scanning is taking place next Tuesday and the lambs will be crutched to make the whole mating procedure go smoothly.

I'm sure the sheep must wonder about us. We regularly round them up, run them through a number of gates and yards then force them down a funnel into other yards and then more often than not, we let them go again. They must think we have strange ways to amuse ourselves.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ebony Is Sick

I'm sorry this post is two days late. Things have been a bit fraught here lately. Ebony, my four year old sable ferret is sick. She has been looking pale and interesting for a few days now and I've been keeping an anxious eye on her for more concrete symptoms. She is my granddaughter Hannah's favourite ferret because Hannah can hold her and Ebony will just continue her 23 hour nap in Hannah's arms. Hannah says that Ebony is quiet but the other ferrets are too jazzy for her liking. Ebony is far from Jazzy.

Being an unjazzy ferret means that it's hard to tell when she's feeling off colour. Most active ferrets slow down when they aren't feeling well, but if Ebony slowed down any further she'd be comatose. Ebony also suffers from hay fever so the odd sneeze or two isn't an indication of germs running rampant in that little body. A word here about Ebony's hay fever. Horton, by four year old white male ferret share's Ebony's delicate nasal tissues and suffers from hay fever as well. Both ferrets like nothing better than to embarras me in front of visitors who have wanted to meet them but diving under some piece of furniture and coming out with a large dustbunny on their nose and performing the most elaborate sneezing session you've ever seen! Both little ferrets are jet propelled backwards by the force of each sneeze, leaving the visitor in no doubt that 1. I'm a bad housekeeper and 2. My poor little ferrets are made to suffer because of it.

The first real indication that Ebony wasn't well came on Friday night. I took their dinner out to their cage and woke Ebony up to tell her dinner was served. Ebony usually makes her way to the feed dish in a somewhat sonabilist way, gives herself a littl shake to help her wake up properly, and tucks into dinner with the only show of energy we see all day. On Friday Ebony showed no interest in the feed dish and simply wanted to go back to bed. I placed some of the food on the spoon and offered it to Ebony so she wouldn't have to muscle in amongst the other ferrets getting their nightly calories, but Ebony only ate two little nibbles and then refused the rest. Ebony is normally a rotund little ferret so this was very unusual. I picked her up to have a good look at her and, after putting my reading glasses on, noticed she had a yucky nose to go with her loss of apetite. Like the good mother I am, I cleaned up her nose, felt it to see if she was running a temperature and the proceeded to worry about her for the rest of the night. It was too late to call the vet so I had to wait until morning.

Of course, Ebony had chosen the worse day to confirm her illness. Saturday was the day Graeme and I had two meetings about 100 kilometres apart to attend that day. After a night of intense worry that Ebony would prove too ill to make it through the night, giving her lots of cuddles and moral support (when I should have let her get some sleep to help in her recovery) and generally tossing and turning all night, Saturday morning shone bright and clear. Ebony was up and about - very, very unusual for her and champing at the bit to get at her food bowl. If it wasn't for her yucky nose again this morning I might have called the whole idea of the vet off, but the yucky nose was there, and no matter how hard she tried to convince me she was on the mend, little sneezes errupted every now and then.

Organising the vet visit was both complicated and time consuming. It involved dropping her off at the vet's, going to meeting number 1, Graeme leaving the meeting early and picking Ebony up and then taking her to Savannah and Justin's to be babysat until the meeting finished. Picking Ebony up from there and taking her home, then leaving for meeting number 2. It's a good thing she's such a gorgeous ferret I tell you!!!

Ebony is home and recovering now. She has to take the tiniest amount of antibiotic you've ever seen from the tiniest syringe you've ever seen. It's banana flavoured so Ebony is all in favour of being medicated. In fact she'd like to be medicated a bit more - she loves bananas.

So all in all things didn't go to badly for Ebony. We still hear little sneezes coming from the middle of the pile of blankets in the inside ferret cage and I still have the pleasure of nose cleaning a couple of times a day, but Ebony is over the worst and well and truly on the mend.

All I have to do is worry about Miette catching the dreaded respiratory infection now. Miette is a Prima Donna of the highest degree so won't that be fun?!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good Grooming Can Be A Health Hazard

You’d think that grooming an ex-show dog would be easy wouldn’t you? All you need to do is to get your dog and grooming brush together and the rest will almost take care of itself. Well let me tell you, it might be easy to groom the average show dog, but just let that average show dog come and live with me and all his good manners training flies out the window.

I am not new to the art of grooming dogs. Years ago, when we lived at Hill Top just outside of Mittagong, I owned an Old English Sheepdog named Aasta (actually her kennel name was Weeack Warm Welcome, but we tried not to hold that against her). We had no ambitions to show Aasta, but of course she needed daily grooming to keep her from looking like a birch broom in a fit, to use one of my grandmother’s favourite terms for describing me during my scruffier years.

There was little drama in grooming Aasta. She’d dutifully climb onto the grooming table, sit facing me for the ever essential grooming of her chest, stand quietly when asked so that I could groom first one side and then the other and finally lie on her back so that I could get to the tummy region. All this, as I said, took place without incident. Aasta loved being groomed but at all times she displayed impeccable manners, if at times a somewhat pained expression when I tackled a difficult knot. After Aasta’s grooming session had been completed Deci, my German Shepherd Labrador cross, rocked up for her fair share of the grooming brush. Needless to say Deci’s short, brown coat didn’t need grooming but I am an equal opportunity pet owner and Deci was entitled to equivalent time on the grooming table. Again Deci’s grooming was undertaken in almost a state of tedium on my part with Deci obediently going through the motions to allow me access to various regions of her body. Thus I whiled away my first few years as the owner of a long coated dog. It lulled me into a false sense of security I can tell you.

When Billy bounded into my life one of the first things I did was purchase a brand new, double sided grooming brush. Billy is a rough coated St. Bernard, so while his fur is nowhere near as long as Aasta’s was, he still possesses quite a bit of soft undercoat that is inclined to work itself into the odd knot or two if left to its own devices. Grooming Billy, I thought, would be a synch. He’d been bred to enter shows and of course that meant he had spent his formative years learning to love being groomed and assuming whatever position was required for his groomer to get to those less accessible body parts.

This was going to be easier than grooming our huge male Maremma, Apollo I thought. Apollo felt that submitting to being brushed or even tidied up in any way cast a slight on his masculinity. Apollo almost had to be hog-tied in his youth in order for me to attack his many matted regions, brought about when he began to shed his winter coat. With plenty of grumbling on Apollo’s part about being a tough guarding dog who had no time or patience with this sissy beauty parlour treatment, Apollo would endure a minimum of grooming before breaking free and stalking off back to his flock.

To say that Billy enjoys being groomed is to understate the emotions that run through my boisterous St Bernard. A\s soon as he sees me pick up his grooming brush he goes into full throttle delight, sidling up to me to offer his rear end as the most desirable grooming site first. Having the base of his tail groomed is absolute heaven to Billy. As soon as the bristles move to that tender area of his person he begins to buckle at the knees with a dopey, far away look of ecstasy in his eyes.

Now none of this would present a problem if that were all I had to endure while tidying Billy’s vast acreage. But Billy has a rival at grooming time in the shape of Shadow, our pint sized Silky type dog. Shadow is getting on in years now. We are not at all sure of her age because she was an adult dog when she wandered into our lives as a homeless waif about go give birth to a huge litter of pups. That was about nine or ten years ago now, so she is definitely an elderly dog. Shadow’s advancing years have brought with them the beginnings of cataracts, but apart from that she is a very spry old lady. Her less that perfect eyesight does mean that she is likely to blunder into any small object that crosses her path, and on bad days even large objects like Billy are at risk.

So, Billy’s daily grooming sessions usually go something like this: I’m inside, sitting down and quietly occupied – usually sewing, when the most unwelcome thought that I haven’t groomed Billy today occurs to me. I remember that when I saw him that morning his front half was coated in mud. How Billy manages to find this mud is a mystery to me. We are in the middle of a drought and I would dare anyone to find a puddle of water on the property – dams included, Billy regularly presents himself at the back door first thing in the morning with his obligatory mud caked forefront. Anyway, back to my musings … I might stop to recall the previous day’s grooming session, but I have found it is best if I don’t. The memory of the full on battle to groom one excited Billy and one jealous Shadow is enough to make even a professional groomer quake – and I’m far from a professional groomer! After giving myself a mental shake, I take a deep breath and head for the back porch. Sure enough, there’s Billy – often sitting with a treasured shoe between his paws while strings of drool fall into it. We have learned never to put on an outdoor shoe without first conducting a drool search of its interior. While Billy appears happily occupied fawning over a shoe, he is really waiting to ambush whoever comes out the back door in an effort to get just one more pat.

As soon as he sees my hand moving in the direction of the grooming brush, Billy leaps into action. This is better than getting a pat! This is what he lives for! He immediately sidles up to me moving in a crab like fashion, with his back end wagging from side to side as the force of his wagging tail carries the rest of his hind quarters with it. He manoeuvrers his bulk so as to present as much of his body to me as possible. At the last minute he executes a neat body twist, which means that his overlarge rump is now not only facing me, but also pushing up against me and driving me into the wall of the house. At this stage, I always seem to yell “Get out of it!” Why I say that I don’t know, but it’s what always seems to come out. I’m sure “Please don’t squash me against the house wall,” would make more sense, but it never occurs to me to try that approach. On second thoughts the polite approach would most probably fall on deaf doggy ears.

My rebuke usually has the effect of causing Billy to try to see what all the fuss is about by swinging his head around in my direction again, forming a St Bernard U shape because his bottom continues to pin me to the wall. When he sees that I’m still in one piece, but not brushing him yet, he gives me a very offended look and wiggles his bottom up closer to my body to give me a better chance of connecting brush and Billy together. When this doesn’t work either, Billy adjusts his getting ready to be groomed technique slightly. He quickly turns so that his head is now in my stomach with me still pinned against the wall. You might have noticed that no actual grooming has yet taken place. Shadow who can only vaguely make out what is happening, on the other hand, counts Billy’s grooming time from the time she sees me picking up the brush, so in her estimation I have now had enough time to spruce up the large dog and it’s now her turn at the beauty parlour.

Shadow might be our smallest dog, but she has a lot in common with our smaller ferret, Miette. They are both very pushy females. Shadow has maintained her position of top dog in the house yard by the simple expedient of refusing to recongnise any other dog’s claim to the alpha position. She didn’t get into those exhaustive battles that Billy and Apollo indulged in for a while. She was happy to let them fight it out and when the dust had settled she didn’t even bother to find out if there was a winner, she just went on about her daily routine and continued to treat each of the large male dogs with haughty tolerance. So when Shadow decides that it is her turn to be groomed she simply steps between Billy’s front legs and presents herself for her turn with the grooming brush.

Why this ploy always surprises Billy I don’t know. You’d think after three months of finding a small furry dog down there between his front legs early in every grooming session, he’d come to expect to see her there. But no, Billy is always taken unawares and has to halt briefly in his attempts to get his entire body closest to the brush to see what that funny feeling is around his front paws. This lull in the proceedings gives Shadow the opportunity for which she has been waiting. She then scampers out from under Billy and rolls onto her back, presenting a vast area of tummy to be brushed. While she is in this somewhat vulnerable position she tries to keep a wary eye on the large amount of dog just above her. I usually take a few well-meaning swipes at Shadow’s soft underbelly and assure her she has now had equal time with the grooming brush. Shadow is forced to accept this meagre offering because by now Billy has assured himself that whatever it was that was puzzlingly worrying his feet has now just as mysteriously left and he has turned his attentions back to getting his daily brushing.

After more gyrations on Billy’s behalf and defensive manoeuvres on mine, the brush finally makes contact with Billy’s body and the grooming officially begins. Eventually we reach the stage in proceedings where under his jaw and his chest needs my gentle ministrations. This is the time that a lesser woman would leave Billy’s mud caked body to set like concrete while she heads for the hills. The cleaning down of Billy’s front half is not difficult in itself, it’s the little dance that Billy and I perform each day just prior to me getting at his front that would make a strong woman wilt. Over the months I quickly learned that the easiest way to get at Billy’s grubby fore regions is to position him at the bottom of the steps with me sitting on the top step so that I am face to face with the vast expanse of muddy chest. While positioning Billy sounds easy, let me assure you it is far from it. I begin by taking Billy by the collar and descending the steps, releasing my hold on Billy and walking up the two steps to the top of the porch. A piece of cake I hear you say. Well, the only problem with this method is that Billy always beats me back to the top of the porch, ready to welcome me home as soon as I gain the porch again.

I have tried various amendments to the above procedure and all work about once. After that we are back to our little dance of Billy side stepping my move to block him from the steps and racing me for the prime position at the top of the steps. I have now taken to sitting on the top step while Billy prances around me trying to inveigle me to get on with the brushing. Billy employs very underhand tactics I’m sorry to say. He sits beside me with one huge paw around my shoulder and his very moist jaws resting on the top of my head and lately he has taken to licking my ear with his huge sloppy tongue. To make matters worse, yes this situation can actually get worse, Shadow sees this as her best opportunity to get some more brushing herself. She wriggles her way through any piece of daylight Billy leaves between my body and his, gaining a little more ground with each wiggle. When she has claimed enough of the top step for herself she once again presents the tummy for my attentions. To say that I am a bit distracted by Billy’s antics is an understatement. It takes all my attention and effort not to get pushed off the step while Billy is trying to get up close and personal with the grooming brush. Shadow’s subtle requests for a bit more brushing usually fall on deaf ears, or rather ears that are busily occupied trying not to be licked by a huge St Bernard tongue.

Now once Billy remembers that his overly friendly approach to me sitting on the top step never works, he docilely ambles to the bottom step to offer his front for grooming. Having his chest groomed is not his favourite part of the proceedings because I often find a few knots in the undergrowth. But Billy is a realist and resignedly takes the good with the bad.

By this time we have almost come to the end of our grooming session. I now give Billy’s back another brushing just to show there are no hard feelings. Billy responds by burying his head in my lap and making loud snoring noises. Unfortunately these snoring noises immediately galvanise Shadow into action. She comes skittering back from where ever she has retired to during the latter part of Billy’s and my skirmish and once again presents the tummy for grooming. She usually arrives with such force that I leap into action to prevent her sliding right off the steps and into the garden. This of course means that the Billy grooming hand is removed from Billy and used in conjunction with the other hand in rescuing Shadow from her fate. Billy once again begins his getting as close as possible manoeuvres, which often tip me over backwards as he climbs the steps and moves his head into my chest.

After I have fought my way clear of dogs both large and small, I pull myself up using Billy for leverage and totter into the house. Once I have returned to the relative safety of the kitchen, I make myself a cup of tea and then retire to the bathroom to see to my own grooming. Because if there’s one thing that Billy’s daily grooming session accomplishes it’s the ruination of my own personal neatness.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Mum-Puss Our New Landlady

After we bought our farm in Riverina but before we actually moved in, we travelled down here every second weekend to drop off bits of our farm equipment and allow Graeme extra chances to admire the country side. Each time we came down Iris and Henry, the about to retire couple who sold us the farm, invited us in for a cup of tea and a chat which usually centred on farming techniques in general, and farming “Spring Rock” in particular. During one of those chats Henry took Graeme out to show him something farmish, giving Mum-Puss, the one-eyed farm cat, the opportunity to sneak inside. I long ago realised that, given the opportunity, most animals make a bee-line for my lap as soon as they spot me. I’m sure that there is some secret sign on me that tells all animals that I’m a sure thing for a pat and some fussing over.

Mum-Puss apparently read the sign, headed straight for my lap, settled in and tried not to catch Iris’ eye. Mum-Puss sat on my lap there looking at me with her one, beautiful golden coloured eye and purring as if life didn't get much better than this. Apparently she'd gone out one night with two beautiful golden eyes and misplaced one of them sometime during the night - well that's how it sounded when Iris was telling me about it. Iris said Mum_Pusswas really an outside cat but she could stay inside this one time. Little did Mum-Puss or I know what a fateful deciscion that was going to be for both of us. We all settled down for a chat with Mum-Puss at the ready to contribute her mite to our tête-à-tête should the conversation turn to catching mice or the best way to wash yourself with your tongue. It didn't take long for the conversation to take a sinister turn from Mum-Puss' perspective.

Iris began to talk about Henry’s and her move to a house in town with a small back yard. She told me she’d have to have the two kelpies put down because working dogs don't take kindly to small back yards. I made a unilateral decision, took a deep breath, and told her not to worry about them, we'd keep them here and be grateful for their help with the sheep. While I was trying to figure out how to break the news to Graeme and stay happily married, Iris said that Mum-Puss was going to be put down because she, Iris, didn't think Mum-Puss, at her advanced age, would be happy in a small back yard and she was an outside cat. I took a seond deeper breath, gave Mum-Puss a pat for extra courage, looked into that one soulful eye (I swear she knew her life was on the line here!) and uttered the immortal words, "Don't worry about her either, I'll take her too."

Seeing that we already owned four dogs and two cats, I decided not to break the news of our increasing family to Graeme until he was driving home and therefore less likely to cry. Also with the main part of his concentration on driving it would be my best chance to introduce the fact that we were about to be three animals better off (or worse off if you looked at it from Graeme's point of view). I managed to tell Graeme about the pet population explosion and stay happily married, but it was a near thing. Graeme was at a disadvantage in any argument about our new farm, because he’d bought it without me seeing it . He hadn't noticed that it was one bedroom short and had a fuel stove for cooking and heating water, and we won't even discuss the outside toilet (it's on the back porch, but you do have to go outside to get to it!)

Being close to the Christmas holidays, Graeme and Rebecca moved in to set the farm up while Justin and I stayed in Picton with Joshua so we both could finish the year at our schools – Justin to complete Year 6 and me to finish my teaching year. Rebecca rang me. "Mum-Puss is looking very fat," she said. It seems that Mum-Puss was so relieved to find she still had a bright future that she’d gone out one night and celebrated. Despite her "advanced years", this resulted in her fuller figure and Bec's subsequent phone call a week or so later. "Mum-Puss has gone missing." And the phone call after that. "Mum-Puss is home and she's very thin." Her disappearance had lasted only a few days. Was her much sleeker figure due to Jenny Craig? Nope. Pussy Cat Pilates? Nope. A tummy full of kittens? Yep!

Stay tuned for part two of this story on Friday when I tell you how we managed to find the kittens.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Battle For The Laundry Floor

Ever since Billy came to live with us the most desirable piece of real-estate on the property has become the laundry floor. If only the dogs had a regular income – I could make an absolute killing by auctioning it off to the wealthiest bidder!

Before Apollo retired he lived with our ewes, guarding them and their offspring against all threats. He not only spent his days with the girls, he slept outdoors with them as well. When Apollo became too old to chase foxes and the like, he handed the mantle on to Penny, his daughter, and settled down to a life of easy retirement in our house yard. Being a Maremma, he knew that he needed to protect something from the evils of this world and as we humans insisted we didn’t need his protection in our own back yard, Apollo took the only course open to him and undertook to guard the toilet in the laundry.

From then on Apollo spent his time BB (Before Billy) divided between sleeping on the laundry floor, up close to the toilet when the weather was too hot for a large white dog to bear, and snoozing in the sun on cooler days. He slept most nights on the back porch eschewing the thick, warm blanket we had provided for his comfort (didn’t we know that Maremmas are used to living tough!?) and rising at dawn to meander off to have his morning exchange of insults with the working Kelpie types who live outside the house yard, before returning to the laundry toilet for guard duty.

For the first few days AB (After Billy), Apollo saw no reason to alter his routine. It then dawned on him that while he was whiling away his hours in the sun and indulging in a well earned snooze, that upstart Billy was indulging in his own, less well deserved snooze on Apollo’s laundry floor! Within half a metre of the vulnerable, unguarded toilet!! Apollo considered his options.

Option 1. He could ignore the blatant grab for this prime piece of real estate and tell everyone (especially Billy) that the weather had cooled down enough for him, Apollo to leave the laundry and spend his days and nights under the stars – it wasn’t as big an imposition to him as it might be for a certain, less civic minded, pampered dog who’d never guarded a sheep in his whole worthless life, naming no names (but it begins with B and rhymes with silly).

Option 2. He could stand his ground and insist on possession of what was rightfully his and therefore be required to participate in a number of possibly bloody skirmishes.


Option 3. (and Apollo’s favourite) Give his humans that long suffering look he’d developed and taken to an art form, sigh heavily and then limp painfully down the back porch to try to find a comfortable spot in the whole uncomfortable back yard (making sure his martyrish behaviour was keenly watched by his human family).

Not only was this option Apollo’s favourite, it was also his most effective for gaining possession of the coveted laundry floor. No sooner did I see Apollo limping uncomplainingly away from the laundry after slowly climbing up the back steps, hobbling towards the laundry only to gaze disconsolately at Bill sprawled out in the laundry doorway (Billy tends to overflow the laundry – he just can’t fit all of him inside when he lies down), than I turfed Billy out of the laundry and invited Apollo to enter paradise.

Apollo walked regally into the laundry, stopping first to sneer at Billy, who was being held back by his collar to prevent the inevitable skirmish for possession of the floor. Apollo took his time finding just the right spot to lie down, greeted Shadow as a welcome guest (Shadow had sole possession of the laundry before Apollo’s retirement), shut his eyes on Billy’s indignant face and indulged in the sleep of the victorious. From that day on Billy vowed to make the laundry his own. Shadow didn’t really care who thought they had the deeds to the laundry, because both Apollo and Billy magnanimously allowed her to take out a tenancy agreement for her little patch of the floor (complete with her own quilt, dog dish and water dish). I have a sneaking suspicion that both large boys know there’s no way they are going to be allowed to turf the Silky type out of the laundry, and that she wouldn’t go quietly anyway.

The ensuing battles were quick and decisive. Each morning as Apollo left the laundry for his morning constitutional and insult swap with the Kelpies, Billy would be waiting at the door ready to claim the coveted prize. Apollo, on his return, curled his lip, slinging an insult or two at Billy. Billy, who couldn't believe his ears, retaliated by going for Apollo’s throat. Apollo in turn snapped and snarled and bit any piece of Billy he could reach and a tournament to the death was in play. This of course brought all humans present, to the scene of the battle with plenty of yelling, tugging and not a little in-fighting between the assembled humans. In the end, the canine combatants were separated; Billy removed from the battlefield and given a strict talking to about appropriate behaviour towards one's elders. Billy always adjusted his features to register a combination of regret that such an incident had happened, shame that he had given in to his baser instinct and just a touch of, “I could have taken him down if you hadn’t interfered”. He then stalked off and found some other, less desirable spot for his morning snooze. Thankfully no real injuries were incurred by either dog during these tussles for supreme rights to the laundry. I wish I could say the same for one of the poor human referees.

It was during one of these heated exchanges, when I was the only human for miles around that I sustained the worst war wound to date. I was trying to come between the two combatants (I can’t haul either of these large boys off each other) when Apollo’s canine tooth connected with my arm instead of Billy’s body, producing a deep hole that penetrated right into the muscle of my forearm. After the dogs were persuaded to go their separate ways, though still swearing under their breath at each other, I retired to the house to tend my wound. The next day my arm was sore and swollen, but I had expected that. What I didn’t expect was what happened that night. All I needed was an anchor tattoo for my left arm to look exactly like Popeye’s! The brilliant red colour didn’t seem right either so Graeme drove me to the hospital where I was given a tetanus injection and antibiotics for a particularly nasty infection. My arm mended nicely and each day saw the swelling go down little by little.

It was after this that Billy found the most blatant racist law ever had been invoked at Spring Rock! The laundry was hence forth off limits at all times to St. Bernards. While Maremmas and Silky types were free to come and go as they pleased, St. Bernards were totally banned. Why wasn’t the United Nations informed!? Where were the economic sanctions against these cruel, racist people and their modi-coddled dogs? Billy wasn’t going to take this lying down (if you’ll excuse the pun). He’d fight the good fight (and if the occasion called for it – the not so good fight too). He’d never let an opportunity pass that he didn’t try to claim his rights of equality and make a stand for all St. Bernards wherever they were, and get into that laundry!

The one good thing that seemed to have come out of my pain and injury is that Apollo and Billy seem to have lost the taste for battle. Neither has ceded rights to the other where the laundry floor’s concerned, but they have agreed to find another way to sort out their differences. At the moment studiously ignoring each other seems to be the tactic of choice. Miette has lodged a protest because she enjoyed watching the battles, now sadly a thing of the past. Miette’s philosophy on life is “You can never have too much strife or violence!”

Apollo, now assured of sole possession of the laundry if you don’t count Shadow’s portion (and he doesn’t) has returned to his BB routine and enjoys quiet days of soaking up the sun and warm, comfortable nights sleeping in his laundry to the sounds of Billy’s snores on the other side of the door (and oh sweet victory, not in the laundry). Billy is welcome to Apollo’s shunned blanket on the porch because we bought Apollo two fluffy bath mats with rubber backing so that his old legs have no trouble with slipping on the tiles. Billy refuses to take Apollo’s cast offs and once again the blanket lies ignored on the porch floor.

Billy now claims the front veranda as his very own and spends a good part of every day dozing on the cold concrete in the overly cool shade. The front of the house doesn’t catch much sun, so while it’s a desirable location in the summer, it’s far from a sought-after spot in the cooler weather. Billy, if you were to ask him, would tell you that his ancestors are from Switzerland and Riverina winters are no more than a nice summer’s day in the land of his ancestors.

While the battles have ceased and Apollo and Billy have learned to studiously ignore one another (I think Apollo took lessons from the ferrets here). They are never to be found in the same part of the yard at the same time. Billy hasn’t given up his quest for the laundry floor although there has been a hiatus in the push for possession. One day he’ll arise the victor of oppression and again lie in the laundry (or all of him that will fit anyway) and claim the tiles, for all St. Bernards everywhere!!