Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Island of Misfit Animals

So…about this goat.  To quote one of the best movies of all time:

Let me ‘splain….no, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

A family from Angola called Matt and Susie (Don’s parents) at their veterinary clinic and said “We have this baby sheep that hurt its eye, can you look at it for us?”  Of course they said yes.  So the family brought in their animal, and the conversation went roughly like this….
            Matt: Well, first of all, that’s a goat.  Not a sheep.  Second of all, its eye has to come out because it’s infected and its body is rejecting it.  So it will be about $x to do the surgery and remove the eye.
            Goat Owners: Well, we can’t really swing that much money.  Let’s just put her down.
            Matt: Well…if it’s all the same to you, I’ve got a granddaughter that would love to play with her.  Can I have her and I will see what I can do about saving her?
            Goat Owners: OK!

So Matt did the surgery, removed the eye, and she was doing fine.  But Matt and Susie had plans to go on vacation for a few days, and didn’t have anyone to bottle feed a baby goat every few hours that just had surgery.  Luckily, we are always on the lookout for some extra chores and responsibilities for Lucy.  We call them Character Building Opportunities.  She already is responsible for feeding Boss twice a day, giving him water, helping empty the dishwasher and load the dryer and make her own bed.  But we were looking for something a little…weirder.  Stinkier, if you will.  So, bottle feeding a goat every three hours and cleaning out its crate three times a day?


You see both the Zimmers and the Prentices have a long history of animal rescue and rehabilitation.  In Don’s family this certainly makes a lot of sense.  After all, his dad is a veterinarian and although they moved around a lot, they usually had some land; enough to accommodate the odd horse, calf, goat, etc.  And I do mean odd. 

Because Don’s families rescue pet stories read like Tales from the Island of Misfit Animals.  Here is the starring cast: a three legged calf named Stew.  A goat with a brain tumor and disfigured horns named Dink.  A tree squirrel that used to bury their house keys in the planters around the house.  A dachshund born with no anus they called Annie.  You know, the normal stuff.

Our family had a pretty normal parade of childhood pets as well, especially in Southern California.  A tarantula named Mr. T.  An iguana named Flash.  A red tailed boa we called Oliver and with whom I used to nap.  Two ground squirrels named Sparky and King (who was, as it turned out, a lady) who later turned into five squirrels.  A parade of rabbits (once again, it started out as two rabbits, until my brother let them out together in the backyard to “see what would happen.”).  And we always had a few Rottweilers, which was super popular with the neighbors in our cookie cutter suburban neighborhood.

So Don and I both come from families with a history of embracing the unknown variables in life, especially of
the animal variety.  I mean, you are talking about the family that saved an infant flying squirrel from certain death last summer by feeding it with an eye dropper and keeping it warm with heated water bottles every few hours.  I caught worms and flies to hand feed it when it got older!  Side note: we miss you Cubs.  We hope you are doing well at the squirrel rehabilitation ladies house down in Southern Indiana.

One eyed baby goat?  Bring it on.  My only caveat was that I get to rename the goat from Molly to Polyphemus.  I mean, if we are going to illegally house a one eyed goat in our city garage, we are going to at least be educational.

So on a random Tuesday we loaded the kids in the car and headed East to Angola.  We had some lunch, we did some chores, we made some dinner, everyone except Riley and me rode horses, and then we loaded up all of the kids (hah) in the car and headed back to South Bend.  Literally thirty seconds into the drive I looked over at Don, panic stricken and sure I had just made a grave error.  He put his hand on my arm.

            Don: You know, it is possible she will make that noise the entire drive home.
            Me: Oh my God.  Yes.  I just realized that…..how long are we looking at here?
            Don: Oh you know, not very long.  Just a few months.
            Me: Excuse me?
            Don: Hahahaha, ahhhh….just kidding.  Like a few weeks.
            Me: OK.  That is more like it.

Eventually Polly settled down and stopped screaming (you know, when goats are upset they bleat.  When goats are really upset, they bleat really loudly.  And when goats are riding in crates in the back of your car and you forget and turn really fast and they go rocketing about the crate, they scream like babies.  It’s super fun).  And we got home and got her settled in her crate lined with newspaper in the garage.  We fed her one last bottle, and we went to bed.
Well that's adorable.

Our days settled into routine.  At night before bed I would mix up a huge OJ bottle of formula for Polly from the large bag of Calf Replacement Formula that we brought from Angola.  It smelled disturbingly like a vanilla milkshake, but did NOT taste that appealing.  As soon as one of us came down in the morning Polly would start bleating for her morning bottle.  The first few nights we kept her in the crate, but we soon started leaving her out in the garage at night to decrease the amount we had to change her crate paper.  You see, goat hooves are like sharp little stones.  As soon as we put Polly in her crate at any time she would immediately urinate on the paper.  And then, within an hour, she would have trampled all of the paper with her sharp little hooves and macerated it into newspaper/urine pulp.  And then Lucy would be unable to scrape it off the bottom of the crate, and I would have to change her paper.  Which did not accomplish any Character Development.  My character is developed enough – I don’t need this crap (pun intended)!

So everything went smoothly for the first week or so.  Lots of kids (human) came over to play with her and meet her.  We talked to them about her eye and how things heal and get better and Greek mythology.  We let them feed her a bottle.  She would chase them as they ran around the yard and everyone laughed when she jumped up in the air and frolicked.  She and Boss goat along very well.  Occasionally I gave her a bath in our kitchen sink, and had to wash the stitches in her eye off when she had some purulent oozing (google that, I dare you).

But then she started getting stronger.  Lucy had a harder time feeding her because when she is hungry she butts the bottle with her nose, an instinct that when nursing from a mother goat helps the milk let down.  But when nursing from a bottle, just sprays formula everywhere.  And she would pull on the nipple so hard the bottle would fly out of Lucy’s hands.  And then Lucy started getting lazy about it.  I would send her out to feed Polly a bottle and ten minutes later still hear her bleating.  Lucy would be in the yard riding her bike and the mostly full bottle would be sitting on the steps.

            Lucy: Well, um.  She wasn’t very hungry, so she took a break.

And then there was the poop.  Which was everywhere.  Not in the yard.  Not on the driveway.  It was everywhere in the garage.  Specifically on the steps into the house.  And her favorite place to pee was the welcome mat.  Morning when getting Lucy ready for school, I had mastered the ability to meet three needs in a timely manner.  I could feed and clothe Lucy for school, feed and clothe Riley, and make sure Boss was fed and let out before we left.  But I was unprepared for the fourth set of needs.  Perhaps it was just a matter of time before I mastered the juggling act, but in the morning when Riley was fussing to be nursed and Boss was dancing on my feet waiting to be fed and Lucy was writhing around her room begging that I not go downstairs and wait until she was dressed and then downstairs saying she didn’t want the eggs I had made her but only cereal and tomatoes the addition of the very loud bleating right outside the door into the garage was one need too many.

So tasty....
So, around the two week mark the cost: benefit ration began to turn, and not in Polly’s favor.  I think Don began to see the calculation in my eyes when I would look at her.  It was a look he recognized from the time we were in Africa together.  Every time I would see an antelope I would lick my lips a little bit, and try to calculate with my eyes how many delicious antelope chops and rolls of sausage it would make.  Especially the dik diks.  Tiny little walking chops.

That is the way I started looking at Polly.  Is she edible yet?  Is she worth the poop underfoot?  Is she worth the level of insanity I approach when hearing her bleat on top of all the other cacophony?  Is she really trying to hump my leg right now?  Did she really just head butt Boss?

He saw the crazy in my eye, and he knew it was time for Polly to seek greener pastures.  So, this past Sunday morning, Don loaded Polly back in the car and drove her back to the farm.  I assume she is now becoming accustomed to the life that other pygmy goats have enjoyed on the farm in Angola: limitless access to hay and grain stolen from the horses until their girth exceeds their height.

Good fortune to you, Polly.  Maybe you can come back one day, when Lucy's ability to follow through on her responsibilities exceeds my distaste for tracking your poop through my kitchen.  Until then, watch out for Duke.  You might really be a goat, but he is an Australian Shepherd, and I don't think your specific Genus matters to him.

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