September 19, 2013
Animal shelter workers have countless stories to tell. These may range from heartbreaking tales of animal neglect to hilarious anecdotes of animal behavior. My own experience dates back to college days when I drove an animal ambulance for a shelter that was staffed 24 hours a day by vets, volunteers, and veterinary students.
I worked a couple of nights a week, and would sleep in the clinic waiting for calls from the public to collect injured animals, and transport them safely back to the clinic where a vet would examine them. By today’s standards, this may seem a bit elaborate for just an animal shelter. But remember, these were the days when even doctors made house calls!
While we mostly rescued injured animals, we also responded to calls from people whose homes had been “invaded” by some unwelcome non-human visitor. So an assortment of dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, cattle, and native critters came our way. One of the most amusing rescues, at least in retrospect, came early one Sunday morning from a woman who had awoken to find a sheep trapped in her suburban backyard.
I arrived to find the woman and a group of her neighbors gathered in the yard, where they were musing over the large sheep that was lurking behind a row of bushes. Naturally, when I drove up, one cheeky neighbor couldn’t resist the wisecracks: “Hey Mary, lost your little lamb?”
But there was nothing lamb-like about this woolly beast. He was a full grown, 200-lb Merino ram and you didn’t have to be Little Bo-Peep to see that this fellow had lost his way and was not the least bit happy. Each time I approached the animal, he bolted, much to the amusement of the jeering onlookers.
I quickly became more than a little irritated at the ever-growing crowd of noisy spectators, none of whom offered the least bit of assistance. Oh sure, they did vocalize their encouragement, but it was mostly for the sheep.
After retrieving a length of rope, I stood before my adversary for some moments planning my next move. Having watched far too many Western movies as a child, I felt I was quite qualified to throw a rope around an old, fat sheep!
I soon realized that years of experience as a couch cowboy had, in fact, not provided me with the necessary practical skills to quickly construct, let alone operate, an effective lasso. My attempt yielded a rather limp and pathetic looking piece of twisted twine that more closely resembled a hangman’s noose. The mob of curious spectators probably wondered if I intended to capture the sheep or lynch it.
After many attempts, I managed to rope just about every object in the woman’s yard — several tree branches, the garbage can, the lawn mower, the most vocal and obnoxious neighbor (okay, I’ll admit that one was intentional) — everything, that is, except the darn sheep.
By now, the bystanders’ emotions were wavering between contempt and hysterics. My face was red from embarrassment and exhaustion, but patience eventually paid off. As the animal made yet another mad dash for freedom, I somehow managed to slip the rope over its head, before being knocked to the ground one last indignant time.
To my surprise, and relief, the ram became quite docile after that and was led towards the vehicle where it climbed into the back with a minimum of encouragement. From there, it was back to the vet for a checkup.
Although attempts to locate the owner failed, we were pleased when a family with plenty of acreage adopted the ram some weeks later. Although they were not vegetarians, they did promise he would not end up as lamb chops. But in the weeks that followed, I could never pass a butcher’s shop without wondering.
— Thomas’ features and columns have appeared in more than 320 magazines and newspapers. He can be reached at his blog: http://getnickt.blogspot.com.