Teaching young children about death and dying is not easy, but it’s easier if you’re surrounded by animals. I like the fact that The Kid is slowly being introduced to the concept in a gentle, measured way. He has seen dead snakes, rabbits, goannas and wallabies (road kill). He also knows that in the past 12 months three of our goats have met their end. I know he doesn’t truly understand what that means, but he can tell you that Dudley, Potsie and Scout have died.
Scout was the latest to go to goat heaven, just last week. He was only 12 months old and still a relatively small boer goat. The consolation with his passing is that I learned more this time, than any other time we’ve lost a goat. Scout had a bad dose of Barber’s Pole worms, a symptom of which is bottle jaw, where the goat’s under-jaw area swells badly. Scout’s face and jaw were fine though, so for a day or two he slipped under my radar. And then suddenly he was in the stable, down, unable to get up. He had acute anemia, another symptom of the worm. You could tell because the membrane under his eyes was white, when it should be pink. Up until now, we would had treated this by drenching the sick goat again, but having already done that I realised more was needed.
A local friend, Stacey (who also has goats, and who knows so much more than us – not hard mind you) came over to lend a hand and share some knowledge. She gave Scout an injection of vitamin C (used as an alternative to antibiotics) which is incredibly painful, and when he didn’t react, we both agreed that things weren’t looking good. She instructed me to give him regular injections of B12 along with an oral syringe of liquid iron to counter the anemia and sent me off to the local rural supplies store with a shopping list of supplements to add to the feed for all the goats to boost their copper levels. This will help create an environment the Barber’s Pole worms don’t like. With the incredibly wet summer we’ve just had, it’s party central in worm world. They love the conditions.
Equipped with my new knowledge I felt excited about the possibility of keeping Scout alive and of him making a full recovery. I checked on him regularly making sure he was drinking and eating and I administered his ‘medications’. Scout made it through that day and into the night.
I got up in the dark and scurried over to the stable, grateful that it’s not yet winter, with loaded oral syringe and needle in hand. In the torch light, I could make out the other goats peering at me with, in equal measure, both curiosity and concern. Boo Radley, Scout’s best mate stood close to me, sniffing at me and nudging my arm and shoulder and neck. He was trying to get a good look at what I was doing, seemingly looking out for his mate. I held Scout’s head and helped him drink, I supported his head while he nibbled on pellets and then I rested his head on one of my hands while I stroked his face with my other, for what I hoped was a moment of comfort and peace.
I liked to think that being in the stable he felt safe and somewhat protected. He wasn’t out in the paddock left to the mercy of the two wedge-tailed eagles that frequent our skies and paddocks. I hoped that he could sleep in peace and recover or in the early hours of the morning, take his last breath. If he was no better at daylight, I’d lined up our neighbour to come over with his gun. I know, horrible, but it was equally horrible watching him suffer.
As the sun finally began to rise and the clear night sky started to turn pink, I went to check on Scout. As I approached the stable I called out my customary greeting to reassure him it was me coming, but this time there was no response, no desperate bleating, just quiet. Thankfully he’d gone. I knelt down next to him, closed his eye and felt his still soft and limp body, bereft of life. Later, as Hubs picked Scout’s body up and carried him out of the stable, Boo watched on intently with a sad and inquisitive expression on his face. I know we don’t know what they think, perhaps they don’t think anything.., but my heart was crushed nonetheless and the tears welled in my eyes.
I broke the news to The Kid later that morning and he seemed to take it in his stride. He said “three goats have died now, Dudley, Potsie and Scout.. (a lengthy, considered pause). Claudia called Dudley Didi”. He’d already moved on. And then after another thoughtful pause he added, “but I’ll be staying alive.”
Which got me singing,
Whether you’re a brother
or whether you’re a mother
you’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the city breakin
and everybody shakin’
and were stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive
(Bee Gees, 1977)