Saturday, February 22, 2014

James Herriot meets Dr. Doolittle meets House

“Quick! Quick! Grab him!”

Like two wrestlers in a ring, the goat and I stared at each other across the tire feeder as I slowly crab-stepped left. Just one more step and I’ll have a clear shot...gahOOMPH!  I dove for the goat’s neck and bounced off his shoulder as the giant wether dropped his horns and hurtled through an opening in the shed wall.

“Run!! Run to other side and cut him off!” Dr. Mary, a large animal vet, threw out her arms as she stretched herself across the pen’s opening as a human gate. “If he charges, I don't know if I can hold him!” 

Obviously these are not goats. These are cows. I was rather occupied with the goats and was not taking photos...
I sprinted to the other side of the shed, where the chestnut goat eyed me from the corner, strands of hay falling out of his mouth. “It’s just a quick hoof trim and shot,” I attempted at conversation. “You’re a reasonable goat. Vaccines keep you healthy.”  He swallowed, turned (“NOW!” Mary shrieked!), and we both launched—him back through the opening and me skidding off his rump into the wall.

Gah! I stood up, brushing absently at the snow-manure-hay mix. More bruises for the collection. The goat went back to his lunch, smirking at me, as the rest of the herd watched eagerly from the adjacent pen. Goat: 8, Human: 0. This was obviously not working.

Time for plan C. Well, Mr. Goat, if you want to go through the hole, fine. Then you’ll go through the hole. I grabbed a blanket I had spotted earlier left crumpled in the corner and draped it over the hole (“Maybe he’ll think it’s solid?” “I doubt it—he’s a goat.”). Now if only...I tiptoed back to the snacking goat. “Time to run away, Mr. Goat! Time to go through the hole!”

Obligingly, he turned and plunged back through the wall—promptly catching the blanket over his horns and dragging it over his face. Faster than an Olympic downhill racer and with more aerial time than one of those crazy flipping snowboarders, I sailed over the second feeder and tackled the blinded goat, dodging horn and hoof until I had him firmly wedged against the shed wall.

“Okay, Mary.” I panted. “I got him.”

Virginia was gorgeous--and also had one of the largest
  snowfalls since 1912 while I was there...
It was Day 2 of a workshop on large animal veterinary techniques for third world countries, sponsored in part by the Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM), an organization that desires to share the love of Christ through veterinary medicine. In many places in the third world, access to veterinary medicine is limited, if not nonexistent, which can be devastating when a family’s or a village’s livelihood and nutrition depends on the health and longevity of their animals. CVM utilizes long-term veterinary missionaries, short-term vet teams, conferences, trainings like this workshop, and even chapters at local vet schools, to provide basic veterinary procedures and teach proper animal husbandry to people living in third world countries.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), animals  (such as beef and dairy cattle, goats, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, horses, and exotics) play a crucial role in the lives of both nationals and missionaries, including  such areas as income, business, food, protection, hunting, agricultural development, cultural status and ceremonies, as well as emotional, physical, and character development. My enjoyment of animal husbandry, thanks to my farm and 4-H background, has allowed me to serve as the primary medical adviser for our local horse herd (read stories about the horses here) among other critters. However, our access to a vet in PNG is quite limited, and while I was on home assignment in the United States, one of my goals was to receive more training so that I could better serve both my fellow missionaries and the villagers.

Waffles was our faithful mascot
And so, earlier this February, I found myself on a small farm in western Virginia suturing cardboard together, pretending Waffles the pug was actually a piglet, learning about dodging unhappy mama cows with giant horns, memorizing zoonotic diseases, floating teeth on a horse skull, and shoving a prolapsed uterus back into a cow (well, shoving a giant air-filled plastic bag back through a piece of leather hanging on the barn wall).

Veterinary medicine in the third world, I decided, was like applying the shot-in-the-dark, observational diagnostic process of the famous TV doctor Gregory House to James Herriot’s experiences, while tossing in some of Dr. Doolittle’s crazy creatures for good measure: challenging puzzles set in rough situations about (sometimes really odd) critters that you can only hope to solve by some prayer and diving in head first.

Kind of like catching a goat.

Check out the CVM website to learn more how you can get involved with their ministry!