Thursday, 15 January 2009

27th July, 2005: Waiting for the Fall

I've had a request to re-post some of the stuff I wrote back when I first started working with animals and had a lot more to say about it. The following is one of my favourites.


I wish I were a painter. So I could paint a picture for you. A clearing in dappled light, under the canopy of a large twisted old bay tree. In the center of the clearing is a deer, standing very still, its nose just touching the ground. At the edges of the clearing there are several women, all standing very still, all watching the deer. It is very quiet. The woman in the background is crouching, sturdy-looking, middle aged with short graying hair. The woman standing just to the deer's left is wearing the same sensible khaki as the others, but her hair is blonde and curly, she has ear rings, she looks almost glamorous, she is glancing down at her watch. The two women in profile in the foreground look almost peaceful, and a little bit weary, their eyes fixed on the deer, who is looking back at them. If I were a painter, I could paint this with perfect detail. I would call it "Waiting for the fall."

We stood there so still and so quiet for what seemed like a very long time. I saw the vet shoot the dart, and then we closed in, and then we waited. She should have gone down then, but she just wouldn't. Its not her fault - in the wild, you have to hide your weaknesses as long as possible, especially when you are a prey animal. The vet. got two more doses of ketamine in her before it was all over. Then we tried to just drive her into the holding area, but she bolted the other way, and I was the one to cut her off that time. I should have just froze, then, with my arms out, making myself as big as possible. She was too far to drive through the door now, but I didn't think of that, so I just reached out and touched her on the nose, and she took off again. We cornered her again, and then the keeper said "everyone hold!" and we stopped, and we closed in. The vet. inched in painfully slow and got a pillow case over her head, and we helped her to the ground and into the net and that was the end of it.

There's something I just love about this part of it. Whether its cornering a deer or handling a fractious cat or finding that sneaky way to get a shot into a scared dog with the minimum of restraint. It takes a certain kind of skill that's so far removed from the technical side of the job, and it takes a kind of animal sense which can't really be taught. There was something particularly exciting about being part of this group of women working together to take down a deer. Though we weren't out to kill it, of course. We just wanted to trim its hooves, give it some medicine, and clean its teeth.

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