Sunday, June 21, 2009
Ah the joys of summer. The flies, the heat, the lack of rain and top of my list … removing grass seeds from Billy’s toes.
As many of you may remember, grooming Billy is fraught with all sorts of dangers (for those of you who are new to my blog and don’t know about the ways not to groom a St Bernard, you can read all about it here http://lifeatspringrock.blogspot.com/2009/01/good-grooming-can-be-health-hazard.html ), and let me tell you de-grass seeding Billy is even more hazardous to my well being! Grass seeds have to be removed from Billy’s toes because the seeds will eventually work their way into the delicate skin between his toes or between the pads underneath and begin to work their way up his leg, forming abscesses on their way. This happened last year on Boxing Day and ended with an emergency dash to the vet’s where the vet, with me assisting, crawled around on the floor of the surgery removing numerous grass seeds from Billy’s legs and more delicate parts while Billy was under sedation. We crawled around the floor because the vet declared Billy just too darn big to lift onto the table. Even though I acted as vet nurse the procedure still cost us a couple of hundred dollars.
It all begins when Billy is found gently gnawing away at one of his massive paws. Billy is getting very sneaky, after numerous de-seeding sessions, and tries to munch surreptitiously while my attention is somewhere else. But eventually he’s discovered chewing away at one of his paws. He immediately tries to change the subject by jumping up and inviting me to play a game of Knock Rosemary Over but I won’t be distracted from my mission. With a huge sigh I gather my tools - my reading glasses, small scissors and tweezers and return to the back porch from where more often than not Billy has completely disappeared.
Billy is sadly handicapped when it comes to lying low. I usually come across him trying to be invisible in the shadows of some bushes or trying to blend in with the scenery somewhere. As soon as I spot him he hunkers down in an effort to shrink his bulk or better still disappear altogether. When neither miracle happens I wrestle, pull, push or anything else that works to get Billy back onto the porch for his pedicure. Once the porch is reached and I regain my breath and composure while keeping a firm hold on his collar, the next job is to turn Billy onto his side from a standing position. I am seriously out classed here. I’m 5’ 3” (heaven’s knows what that is in centimetres, but I bet it’s not much) while Billy is nearly 3’ tall on four legs and somewhere around 6’ tall on two. Not that big you say? Well you have to remember to pack 70kgs of muscle and fat around those vital statistics, and let me tell you, Billy has every gram well packed.
I approach this delicate task the same way with the same technique I used when turning sheep over back in my sheep turning over days. I kneel down, take hold of the two legs furthest from me and pull. Now this worked about 90% of the time with sheep. Sheep are dumb and when they find themselves slightly off balance they fall in a confused heap and wonder what the hell just happened. Billy on the other hand, while often giving the impression of having little more brain power than a sheep, is actually quite an intelligent dog. When I pull his legs in the time honoured fashion, he lowers his head into my shoulder and knocks me off balance. Then over I go in a confused heap wondering what the hell just happened while Billy stands nearby the picture of concerned drooly innocence, offering his back for me to lean on to help me up again. This goes on for a while until finally Billy takes pity on me and drops to the ground. Once he’s on the ground I once again regain my breath and composure before the next step in the proceedings.
Just because he’s feeling sorry for me doesn’t mean that Billy will actually co-operate in the removing of grass seeds. Oh no … Billy’s role in the entire process is to put as many spokes in my wheel as he can. I pick up the massive, soggy, chewed paw and try to hold it in my left hand. This paw is big enough for any full grown lion to be proud to call its own and holding onto it is made extremely difficult by Billy thinking I’m starting a game of tug-of-war. After an initial tussle where Billy wins most of the rounds, I end up sitting on as much of Billy as I can while holding my body at whatever uncomfortable angle is best for seeing the spot where the grass seeds might be. From time to time Billy will quickly draw his leg out of my hand to the safety of his body where he will do all he can to protect it from any more maltreatment on my part. Billy often stoops to manufacturing even more drool than normal and threatening to spread it as far over my person as he can reach while still protecting his foot. Sometimes he pretends that he needs the foot for some other vital job like having a scratch or covering his eyes, whatever he thinks I will believe. I don’t believe anything a wussey St Bernard says during de-seeding of paws, although the drool threat does give me pause for thought. When these ploys fail to stop the clean out operation, Billy becomes very helpful and constantly inserts his head between me and the paw in question. He assures me it’s just so he can get a closer look at my technique and show me where it hurts, but I have my doubts. Trying to work around a massive head with strings of drool hanging off each side of its jowls certainly puts a dent in my already pitiful enthusiasm for the job, but ever the masochist, I persevere.
As with any activity involving Billy getting the worst of the deal, the ferrets stand at the front of their cage offering advice and volunteering to help anytime I’d like to see the seeds removed with sharp little ferret teeth. I can almost hear the shouts from the ferret cage to allow audience participation. I really do believe this is the ferret’s favourite time of year.
Eventually I manage to clean out all the grass seeds between each toe and pad and move on to the next foot. Most of the actions described above are repeated three times at least. Thus after the better part of an entire day has passed, Billy ‘s feet are once more in pristine condition and ready to go out there and gather more seeds. Which is exactly what he does as soon as I set him free. The ferrets return to their naps or whatever they were doing pre de-seeding and I’m left with a pile of seeds big enough to sow a fair sized paddock (always given someone wants to sew a paddock down to weeds that is), clothes covered in St Bernard hair and drool and an aching back. There are possibly a few bruises to show for my efforts too, but out of loyalty to Billy I refuse to acknowledge them.
The only variation on this procedure occurs if Graeme hears me rousing on Billy (or pleading with Billy if I’ve been at it for a while) and comes along to help. He then takes over the de-seeding operation while I hold Billy’s head and distract him from what is going on down at his feet. Billy still offers some resistance, but with Graeme’s strength and my efforts to prevent his head getting between Graeme and the seeds, Billy is severely hampered in his efforts. This means that Graeme will get the job done in a disgustingly short space of time with minimal effort. Graeme doesn’t understand why I find the job, when practiced solo, so difficult.
And so Billy’s feet are once more seed free and I can rest up for a while … Excuse me, I have to go now, I just saw Billy chewing on his paw.