My First Sick Cow

D. E. Larsen, DVM

My early memories from childhood are still vivid in my mind and go back to my third year, and maybe earlier. My older brother, who never seems to recall much of those days, will often disagree with my memory once I mention something. That said, this is my memory and my blog.

I stood at the window and watched the chicken coop up the hill from the house. Dad and the Uncles were in the coop, treating our cow. She was sick this morning. Of course, at four years of age, I knew nothing of the particulars. 

Dad picked up the earpiece on the wooden wall phone and cranked the hand crank several times. Then he told the woman on the phone who he was calling. I was never allowed to use this phone. You had to know our ring before you could answer the phone. Otherwise, I would be just like Mary down the road, listening to other people’s conversations.

“The cow was staggering this morning,” Dad had said into the wooden phone that hung on the wall. “I was able to run her into the chicken coop. She went down, and I can’t get her up. It looks like Milk Fever to me.”

We lived on a small acreage on Catching Creek at the time. It was not really a farm, but this cow was our family milk cow. There was a big concern about the cow in the house that morning. This was our sole source of milk.

It was not long after the phone call that Grandpa and Uncle Dutch arrived at the house. Mom poured them coffee as they waited for Uncle Duke and Rodney. Rodney was next to come.

“Duke is never on time,” Albert said.

They were waiting on Duke because he was the “cow doctor” for the group. Duke had been to college and was respected for his expertise. There was a lot of chatter at the table, about the cow, and about Duke.

When he arrived, everyone was up and out of the house. They all headed for the chicken coop.

I have no real recollection as to how long they were in the chicken coop. Mom was busy in the kitchen, dishing up some pie to go with the coffee. The men would be back when their work was done.

Finally, the first to exit the chicken coop was the cow. She must be well. Everyone in the house was happy. Then in a few minutes, the men filed out the door.

Mom served the pie with thick cream and coffee. All the men relaxed and talked about the treatment and the coming chores or the day. Rodney kidded my brothers and me. It was a happy event.

The mood around the table was almost jovial. It was more than the fact that the cow was well. It was the fact that it had been so easy and so fast. 

There was no way for me to know at the time, and I can only speculate today, but this could have been the first time that this group of men had treated a cow with milk fever with an injection of IV Calcium. 

Before the mid to late 1940s, milk fever was treated by inflating the udder with air to bring milk production for an immediate and temporary halt. Udder inflation was the first successful treatment for milk fever. It was used initially without a clear understanding as to why it worked.

In the mid-1930s, low blood calcium was found to be the cause. Routine treatment, on the farm, with IV calcium, was slow to replace udder inflation. But by the late 1940s, IV calcium had become the standard treatment.  

In the late 1940s, veterinarians were in short supply in Western Oregon, especially in Coos County. Duke’s skills were heavily relied upon in those years before Myrtle Point had a veterinarian.

This event provided me with an early awareness that we treated sick cows. And, perhaps, most importantly, the elation when everything was successful.

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One Twist Deserves Another

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I ran my hand into Rosie’s vagina a second time. It still ran into a blind pouch. Rosie was a prized Jersey cow that supplied milk to a lot of neighbors.

“What the heck is going on?” I asked myself. “I had never had a dystocia in a Jersey before unless it was associated with milk fever.”

I explored the pouch with my fingertips. Then the light finally flashed on. This was a full uterine torsion. Partial torsions were common. In fact, I sort of prided myself at being able to untwist a uterus that was half rotated. 

I used my left arm’s strength, I would rock the calf a little, and then, with a strong flip, I would turn it upright. The narrowed twisted vagina would open completely, and delivery would be a snap after the correction. This was a full 360-degree torsion. The vagina was twisted closed like the top of a plastic bag. I tried to advance my hand through the twisted vagina, to no avail.

My thought was to get my hand into the uterus with a detorsion rod and hook the feet to the rod. Then with a bar through the other end of the detorsion rod, I could untwist the uterus with a strong crank. But that wasn’t going to happen. I could not begin to advance my hand through the twisted vagina.

“Carol, there is full 360-degree uterine torsion,” I said. “I can’t get my hand through it. That means we are probably going to have to do a C-Section.”

There was a gathering crowd in this small backyard barn lot. It seemed that half of Crawfordsville was watching.

“Is that the only option,” John asked.

I started to reply, but the question had started the wheels turning in my memory bank.

“I am sort of short on tricks,” I said. “But there is one that we could try. I have never done it. In fact, I have never seen it done. It might be worth a try. I will need 2 by 12 plank, about 12 feet long.”

“We just happen to have one of those,” Carol said. “Over in that lumber pile.”

A couple of guys pulled the plank out of the lumber pile and had it beside Rosie in no time. I had everyone’s full attention now. Nobody had any idea what I was up to.

“This is the plan,” I explained. “We lay Rosie on her side, lay this plank across her belly, with the plank’s midpoint on her belly. Then we roll Rosie to her other side while some brave soul stands on the plank. The plank holds the calf while the Rosie turns, thus undoing the uterine torsion. The only trick is to make sure you roll her the right way.”

“And just how are you going to lay her down on her side?” Bill asked. “I suppose you just ask her.”

“That’s another trick that I use all the time,” I said. “It’s called the Flying W. If you haven’t seen it, you will be impressed.”

I got my large cotton rope and placed the middle of the rope over Rosie’s neck. I crossed the rope between her front legs and brought it up each side, crossing again in the middle of her back. Then I bring both ends out between her hind legs, on each side of her udder, the application was complete. A slight pull, and Rosie fell to her right side.

“I’ll be darned,” Bill said.

I positioned the plank across Rosie’s belly. With the midpoint in the middle of Rosie’s belly. This would be enough plank to make a full turn for Rosie. The plank was at about a 45-degree angle with the ground. It might take an agile person to ride it for the entire arc.

I looked around at the crowd.

“I can stand on the plank,” Carol said. “She is my cow, and there was a day that I was somewhat of a gymnast.”

I positioned Carol on the plank, about four feet up the plank from the ground. I had a couple of guys on each rope tied to both the front and hind feet.

“Now, we are going to go very slow,” I said. “I need to have my hand in her vagina to make sure we are turning the correct way. I tend to be a little dyslexic, and I have trouble figuring this out.”

With my hand in the vagina, I had the guys start lifting on the feet. Sure enough, the twist was tightening.

“Okay, all stop,” I said. “We are going the wrong way. We have to start all over with Rosie on her left side.”

It only took a couple of minutes to untie Rosie’s feet and remove the plank. I didn’t have to do much. The whole crew knew what was up and what needed to be done.

With Rosie on her feet, Bill quickly grabbed the ends of the ropes on the Flying W. He wanted to feel just how easy it worked.

“Now, we want her to fall on the left side,” I said. “So when you pull, you want to lean left and put all the pressure in that direction.”

Bill pulled, leaned left, and Rosie flopped to her left side. Bill had a big smile on his face.

“That was so easy, I can’t believe it,” Bill said.

“If you are throwing a big bull, or an ornery steer, it might take a couple of guys on each rope,” I said. “But I have never seen it fail.”

The rest of the crew had Rosie’s feet tied and the plank in place in no time. Carol jumped on the plank, and we rolled Rosie.

After standing Rosie up, I washed her up one more time. I ran my hand it into a normal birth canal. I didn’t let on, but I was almost as amazed as was the crowd watching. I grabbed both front feet of the calf and pulled them into the birth canal. As I turned to my bucket for my OB straps, Rosie strained, and out popped the head. One more strain, and both John and I caught the calf before it fell to the ground.

“That was easy,” John said.

“Jersey cows have the easiest deliveries of all the breeds,” I said.

We turned Rosie loose, and she turned her attentions to the little heifer calf, utterly oblivious to the crowd watching.

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Ageless Ida and Kitty

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Ida was sitting beside her daughter, waiting patiently, with Kitty nestled in her lap. Ida was my oldest client, a tiny, frail old lady with snow-white hair. She lived by herself, but her daughter, Lila, was close at hand. Lila was no spring chicken herself.

Ida drove until a couple of years ago. She had expressed her disappointment to me when they took her driver’s license away. She was fiercely independent, and she hated to have to impose herself on her daughter.

Kitty was an old tabby cat with a white blaze and a white chest. The record did not have a birth date for Kitty. That meant the girls probably disagreed with Ida’s guess. Maybe I should resolve that issue today.

Ida slapped at her daughter when Lila tried to help her stand up with Kitty. She also refused the helping hand offered by the girl showing her to the exam room. She ambled toward the exam room with measured steps and cradled Kitty in her arms.

“Kitty’s has not been feeling well for several days,” Ida said as she carefully positioned her on the exam table. “I had to crawl under my bed to get her this morning.”

I had to take a moment to process that statement. I am not sure I could crawl under a bed to retrieve a cat, and I am a young man. Imagining this frail little lady crawling under her bed was difficult to conjure up in my mind.

“Ida, you shouldn’t be doing that at your age,” I said. “You should get one of your grandsons to help.”

“They are always busy, and Lila is in worse shape than I am,” Ida said. “Besides, if you quit doing things for yourself, pretty soon, they stick you in one of those prisons that they call all sorts of fancy names today.”

“That’s pretty good advice,” I said. “Let’s look and see if I can find out what is wrong with Kitty.”

“Kitty is very old, she is 26 years old now,” Ida said.

“That is pretty old for a cat, are you sure of the date?” I asked.

“David, I got her as a kitten for my 70th birthday,” Ida said. “I should know her age. I named her Kitty because cats never pay attention to a name but always come when you call kitty.”

“I had no idea she was that old,” I said. “I don’t think I have seen another cat near that age. I did have a client who moved here from California with a 17-year-old cat. That cat aged 2 years every 3 months, according to the owner. It was 25 when he died a year later.”

“I have a picture of Kitty and myself at my birthday party,” Ida said. “That was the last birthday party I allowed Lila to give for me. They are sort of silly for old folks. They just use them as an excuse to take their picture with you. Just because you might not be around next year.”

Kitty was lying on the exam table, unmoving through all this discussion. I petted her head and then ran my hand down the length of her body. There was a bump when I cross her abdomen. I felt closer. It was a tumor, the size of an orange.

I looked at Ida, and she had a tear on her cheek.

“I felt it last week,” she said. “I prayed it would go away, but that didn’t help.”

“Sometimes, we can remove these with surgery,” I said. “That might be difficult at Kitty’s age.”

“No, I told her I wouldn’t let you do any of that to her,” Ida said, tears streaming down her cheeks now. “I don’t know what I am going to do without her, Doctor. She is all I have to talk with now, all my friends are long gone.”

Ida was purposely avoiding the discussion of euthanasia. I knew it had to be discussed, but I wanted her to bring it up. Maybe that wasn’t going to happen.

“You should get a new cat,” I said. “We could find you a kitten.”

“That wouldn’t be fair to the kitten, David,” Ida said. “I am not going to be around forever, you know.”

“You could have your Granddaughter help pick her out,” I said. “She could know that it would be her responsibility when the time came.”

“That might be a thought,” Ida said. “But what are we going to do with Kitty? I don’t want her to suffer.”

“Is she eating at all?” I asked.

“She has been under my bed for 3 days,” Ida said. “That is why I had to crawl under there to get her.”

“I think she waiting to die,” I said. “Maybe it is time we talk about making that an easy process for her.”

“Yes, I think that is what I thought when I called Lila this morning,” Ida said. “Then, I can take her home and bury her beside her favorite place in the back yard.”

“You should get one of your grandsons to help you with that chore,” I said.

“The ground is still soft, David,” Ida said. “I am not helpless. That is something I would like to do privately.”

“It will only take a moment for me to put her to sleep,” I said. “You can wait out front if you like, and we can bring her out in a small box.”

“I think she will like to be looking into my eyes when she goes, I will wait right here,” Ida said. “And I will take her home wrapped in her blanket. She would like it that way.”

And that is precisely how it was done. Ida carefully wrapped Kitty in her blanket and wiped a tear from her eye before gathering her into her arms.

“Thank you, David,” Ida said. “I will think about that kitten.”

I watched as Lila helped her mother out the door. Ida slapping at her as she tried to hold Kitty.

That was the last time I saw Ida. Her obituary was in the paper a few months later.

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The Coffee Shop Doctors

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“I ain’t doing so good this morning, Guys,” Floyd said as he positioned himself at the table in Mollie’s Bakery. “Tiger is over at the Vet Clinic.”

Tiger is Floyd’s sole companion since Ella died from bladder cancer a few years ago. Floyd is in his early 80s, and his nickname of Red doesn’t fit well with thinning hair that is more grey than red nowadays.

“What’s up with Tiger?” Ed asked. Everyone at the table knew Tiger was a constant companion for Floyd.

“Doc says he has a herniated disk,” Floyd says. “He can’t use his hind legs right now. Doc says that if we give him a few days, he might get better.”

“Floyd, don’t let them send you to some specialist,” Bob said. “They will charge you thousands of dollars, and he will still never walk.”

“Yes, that is what happened to my sister’s dog,” George said. “She lives in Portland. Took her little wiener dog to see a specialist, and he told her he could fix the little dog. Cost $6000, and the damn dog never walked again. Then they fixed her up with one of those carts. Worst thing ever, my sister spent most of her time picking up poop behind the dog. Finally, she had her put to sleep. She would have saved herself a lot of money and grief if she had done that at the start.”

“I think George is right,” Ed said. “Tiger is no spring chicken, you know. They will slice him up, put him through misery, spend a lot of your money, and he will never be the old Tiger. Hard as it may be, I think you should put him sleep now.”

“Well, Doc isn’t sending me to a specialist,” Floyd said. “I am not one of those public employee guys with a big pension. My Social Security will only pay for the basics.”

“The dollar amount don’t matter,” Bob said. “If he takes all you have, you are still broke. Then you end up with a dog who can’t walk and no money. You will be far better off to put him to sleep and get a cat. Cats don’t tie you down. You can throw them outside and leave them for a week or two.”

“Ah, you guys don’t understand,” Floyd said. “Tiger is all I have, except for you bunch of jokers. He sleeps on my bed, and he talks to me while I eat breakfast. I mean, sometimes I think he is a better friend than Ella was. He sure doesn’t complain about anything.”

“Sleeping on the bed is probably his problem,” George said. “That is what they told my sister. Little dog jumps off a high bed and bam, there goes his back.”

“You got to think about what you are going be putting him through,” Ed said. “Everything is an adjustment at our age, but we adjust. Make the decision, and you will feel better for it next week.”

“I think that you should listen to Ed,” George said.

“I have listened to you guys long enough,” Floyd said. “I going to go over and check on Tiger and talk with Doc for a change of pace.”

I watched as Floyd came through the door with a bit of a frown on his face.

“Did you come to see Tiger this morning?” I asked. “He is doing better this morning.”

“I need to ask a few questions, Doc,” Floyd says, almost in tears now. “They were giving me a real hard time this morning over at Mollie’s. Most of the guys at coffee think I should have put Tiger to sleep.” Floyd explains. “Darn, I hate to lose him.”

Floyd had brought Tiger in yesterday. Tiger, an older Dachshund, had hind leg paralysis present when Floyd woke up in the morning. The good things were the time since injury was short, and Tiger still had deep pain in his hind legs. The presence of deep pain is a favorable sign, indicating an injured but intact spinal cord.

“Tiger has made significant improvement overnight, Floyd,” I said. “I think any discussion of euthanasia would be way premature.”

“Doc, I can’t afford a lot of treatment, and I can’t afford surgery,” Floyd said.

“Tiger is not a candidate for surgery at this point,” I said. “His back looks like a minefield on x-ray. But we don’t have to talk about surgery at this point. We do have to talk about some lifestyle changes.”

“The guys said that sleeping on the bed is what did this to him,” Floyd said.

“Let me get the x-rays and show you a couple of things,” I said.

With the x-rays on the viewer, I could show Floyd the multiple calcified disk spaces between his vertebra. There was one narrowed space in the middle of his back.

“This space is the culprit this time,” I said, pointing to the narrowed space. “These other spots are sort like a gun held to his head. There is a surgery to reduce the risk, but changing the way Tiger lives his life will be helpful. That means a bed on the floor. No up and down off the furniture. No standing on his hind legs for treats.”

“So is all of that what caused this?” Floyd asked.

“Not really, but now that it is here, we need to reduce the risk,” I said. “All of this sort of reflects on his mother. It is the way Dachshunds are put together, that coupled with their attitude. You know, they are the toughest dog on the block.”

“You don’t think I should put him to sleep, Doctor, do you?” Floyd asks, seeking reassurance.

“No, definitely not at this time. Tiger is on his feet today,” I say. “We need to keep him on some anti-inflammatory medication for a few more days and keep him on cage rest while he is on that medication. That is something you can do at home if you want. The expense is not much. We can loan you a large kennel. You just have to use it. He needs to be in the kennel all the time. You can carry him outside on a leash so he can potty a couple of times a day. Then when he passes his recheck next week, make him a bed on the floor and keep his four feet on the ground at all times. Make him a ramp, so he doesn’t have to go down stairs and keep him skinny.”

“That all sounds like stuff that I can do,” Floyd says. “So, I guess I can take him home.”

“Listen, Floyd, don’t pay any attention to that bunch over at Mollie’s. None of them are so tough when they are over here with a pet.” I assure him. “The truth is they are not the one who has to go home to an empty house. They don’t have to be eighty years old and get out of bed in the morning and have nothing to do. It’s easy for them to talk tough over coffee and embarrass a guy.”

“I know, Doc,” Floyd said. “But, I have to talk with somebody.”

“Tiger is no spring chicken,” I said. “There will come a day when we will have to say goodby. But hopefully, that day is a few years from now.”

“I hope you’re correct,” Floyd says.

“Life doesn’t come with many guarantees, Floyd,” I said. “But there is an excellent chance Tiger will return completely to normal in a couple of weeks. We can always put him to sleep tomorrow, whenever tomorrow comes. Once we do it, there is no going back.”

Tiger went on to live out his life with no additional back problems. He didn’t outlive Floyd, and saying goodbye was difficult. But that is the nature of most of our pets.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels

What’s in a Name

D. E. Larsen, DVM

When I was a young boy, my great uncle, Ern Davenport, called me “Goliath.” I never knew why he assigned me that name. My name being David gave an obvious connection, but what event prompted it has been forever lost.  

My grandparents had 10 children, and there were 29 of us grandchildren. I always fancied myself as his favorite, and his daily journal entries (found years after his passing) support that idea. I am mentioned far more than any of the other kids. I am always referred to as Goliath in his journals.  

As he was reverently referred to by virtually everybody in my world at the time, Uncle Ern had been through some rough times in his life. Times that would destroy many people. He was born in Grizzly Bluff, California. His parents had five children, Dee, Vern, Ern, Mary, and Albert (Bert). They lived on a dairy farm there and built a creamery to make butter from their milk and other farms’ milk. They would ship their butter to San Francisco on one of many lumber schooners sailing up and down the coast. 

In 1904 the family sold out in California and moved to Coos County, Oregon. They bought 4 ranches in Coos County, two in Coquille, and two on Catching Creek outside of Myrtle Point. Ern is reported to have driven the family’s entire cow herd from Grizzly Bluff to Coos county.

Ern was married and had two boys, Delos and Ross. Delos was born in 1894 and Ross in 1896. Both boys were great kids, farm boys who loved life, and loved to fish in the streams and hunt in the hills. Both were athletes and were well-liked in school and in the community. 

Early in the summer of 1913, Ross fell ill shortly after a swim in the river. The diagnosis was Polio. Before the day of the iron lung, the disease was devastatingly rapid. Ross was gone in a short time.

This loss weighed heavy on the hearts of the entire family. Then early in 1914, Delos became the first person to die in an automobile accident in Coos County. Ern’s marriage did not survive. Lillian left Myrtle Point shortly after Delos’ death. Later that year, Ern’s mother died and then in early 1915, his father. In 2 short years, Ern had lost everything dear to him. He survived by immersing himself in work and embracing the extended families of sister Dee and brother Bert.  

He came to live at Bert and Amy’s farm in 1938. He was a constant fixture for me in the early years of my life. The family farm is a perfect place to grow up. Even better is a whole group of family farms. By the time I came along, four uncles had farms near Bert and Amy’s farm. My parents moved to a small farm in Broadbent before I was 5.  

These farms, along with several neighboring farms, shared equipment and labor. Hay hauling, silo filling, and spring planting became like family holidays to the kids tagging along and trying to stay out of the way while we learned by observation. The kitchens were also in a holiday mode. All the wives would come to help, and lunch was always a virtual feast. The men would lay in the shade and talk following lunch. Then jump up together to return to work. 

Ern was in his seventies during those years. Past the time of heavy labor, he was always there doing what he could. Staying busy was important to him, “retirement was the hardest work I ever did,” he would say. His favorite saying to me was, “the lazy man works the hardest.”  

The place where I remember him the most was the lower barn on Grandpa’s farm. The upper barn was used to milk the cows. The lower barn was for horses and the young stock. It was always full of chickens, and one chore the grandkids could help with was gathering eggs. This was a dangerous duty because the hens were nested everywhere, and roosters patrolled the barn’s far reaches. They could send even the toughest kid running for his life.  

Ern spent many hours resting in the open door of the barn. He was not a large man, but as strong as anyone I knew. His face was weathered as the boards on the barn. I always remember him sitting on the floor with his legs hanging out the doorway, usually with his legs crossed at his ankles and smoking his pipe. I never thought about it then, but I would guess that was the only place in the barn he allowed himself to smoke. I enjoyed the smell of the pipe smoke. I probably enjoyed the scent of his tobacco better. He would talk to us as we gathered around his feet. Telling stories of herding hogs from Powers to Myrtle Point for slaughter.  

“The Indian trails were the best route. Those trails ran along the tops of the ridges”, he would say. I would try to imagine herding 200 hogs along the tops of the ridges. 

He would tell of resting along a stream for lunch and watching the trout take Chittum berries. He put some on his hook and caught a mess of trout. Years later, in a similar situation, along the upper Coquille River, I pulled a few Chittum berries from a tree overhanging the stream bed and threaded them on my hook. Sure enough, they were readily taken by the fish in the stream.

The lower barn also housed Ern’s workshop. This was a wonderful place, full of things to get into and invent stories about. There was the large sharping stone wheel with a foot pedal. A kid could pump on the pedal, and the wheel would spin at an ever-increasing speed. There were no bearings in this wheel, and Ern would scurry everyone out of the shop when he found us spinning this wheel. The workbench was as old as the barn, weathered and soaked with oil. It was always loaded with tools, many from yesteryear. There was still a corn knife or two, large machete-like knives used for harvesting corn stocks for silo filling only a few years before my time.  

And then there was the bullwhip. A long, black bullwhip hung from a spike driven in a broad beam above the bench. It was an adventure to get that whip down. We would have to climb up on the cluttered workbench and find something to stand on, reach as far as our tippy-toes would allow, and push the whip off of the nail.  

It would have made an excellent video to watch us trying to crack that whip. It was a chore to swing it back and then forward, all the time telling stories of Uncle Ern herding cows or hogs along a dusty trail, keeping them in line by using the crack of the whip. In all the times we pulled that whip off the spike, I never once heard it crack. Thinking back, I’m not sure I knew what it meant to crack the whip. 

I think Ern would disappear just so we had the time to get his whip down and try to crack it. He would always show up, smile a little as he collected his whip, and carefully coil it again.  

“One day, Goliath, you will crack this thing. That is if you don’t break your neck getting it down first”. He would pull a step out from under his workbench, stand on it, and loop the whip back on its spike.

In the fall of 1955, my tenth year, Uncle Ern became ill. He was no longer in his place at the lower barn. Then after Thanksgiving, they moved him to the rest home in town. At my insistence, I was allowed a bedside visit. He was really old and laid flat on his back. When I came in, they elevated the head of his bed. He smiled and shook my hand.  

“Goliath, it is nice to see you,” he said as if nothing was wrong. “You will do fine” is about the last words I remember him saying to me. The visit was very brief. The next day or two, Uncle Ern was dead. This was the first time I experienced the death of someone very close. I begged to go to his funeral, begged and begged. My father was adamant, funerals were no place for kids. That is the last time I remember crying. I cried for my loss, and I cried because I could not say a final goodbye. The loss weighed heavy on my heart, and that weight is still felt today when my memories drift to Uncle Ern.   

That is where my thoughts were drifting as I drove up Ames Creek road. I was on a farm call to see Goliath. Goliath was a large Bactrian camel belonging to Frank. Frank owned a ranch at the end of Ames Creek Road. I had often visited this farm to see a host of exotic animals. Frank had llamas, sika deer, elk, antelope, wallabies, cattle, and horses. Goliath was relatively new to the farm. Frank had been walking the Pacific Crest Trail with his daughter this summer, and Goliath was with them every step of the way, carrying his load and theirs.

Today Goliath was not well. He truly fits the name. Goliath was a massive animal, and the guy’s sure size was an unexpected surprise for me. He was probably over 2400 pounds and much taller than I would expect. To look him in the eye took a small step ladder. Looking in that eye, I could see more than I wanted to see. The white of his eye was yellow. I crawled back down the ladder without trying to look in his mouth. Standing back and looking at this guy from a little distance, there was edema along his ventral abdomen. His legs were somewhat swollen also.

Drawing blood was a snap. Goliath’s neck was the size of my body’s trunk, and the jugular veins nearly the size of my daughter’s wrist. Goliath didn’t flinch at the needle poke. I made a habit of drawing blood on all exotics that I saw for Frank. We needed as much of a database as possible.

Explaining my findings was a little difficult for Frank. He was not only proud of Goliath, but he had also grown close to him over the long summer of hiking.

“His chances are not good,” I explained. Pointing to the findings, the yellowed membranes, the ventral edema, and Goliath was not eating, not feeling well. “The blood will tell the story, but we are probably dealing with advanced liver disease. It could be from an infection, like Leptospirosis. But more likely it is from a toxin, like Tansy Ragwort. He may die, Frank. He may be dead before we get the blood results.”

“I don’t want him to suffer,” Frank said, looking at Goliath as he said the words as if he didn’t want me to see the feeling in his eyes.

“Let’s give him a big dose of antibiotics, just in case they will do some good. Then we will see what the blood results say in the morning,” I said as I was drawing up a dose of tetracycline and mixing it with a bottle of glucose. We ran the IV quickly and packed things back into the truck. Morning would not come any too soon. Hopefully, he will still be with us, I thought, as I pulled out the ranch gate.

Tansy ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, was introduced into Oregon in the early 1920s. It is widespread in western Oregon. It contains toxic alkaloids that cause irreversible liver damage to cattle and horses and many other animals. It is often consumed in the hay, but some animals will develop a taste for the weed and seek it out while grazing. Obviously, that practice does not last long.  

When the blood results came in the morning, the diagnosis was confirmed. The call to Frank was not easy. He wanted me to come up and put Goliath to sleep.  

The euthanasia solution comes in 100 ml bottles. The dose is 1 cc per 10 pounds body weight, one bottle does 1000 pounds. The stuff is pretty rapid in its action. Getting an adequate amount into Goliath before his falling over will be a challenge. Having a 2400 pound camel fall on you is not something that brings good thoughts.

When I arrived, Goliath was far worse. He was laying down, his head was still up, but even this stoic camel was not going to last very long. I quickly clipped a patch of hair over the jugular vein and placed a 12 gauge, 2-inch needle into the vein. No head restraint was needed, Goliath sort of looked away, like someone having blood drawn in the lab, he did not flinch, even with the large needle. Four 60 cc syringes filled with euthanasia solution are rapidly injected. Goliath stays immobile for a brief moment then lowers his head to the ground. He is gone.  

Frank has difficulty talking, obviously upset. I pack up and prepare to leave. “What are you going to do with him?” I ask.  

“He has earned his spot right here under this tree,” Frank said. “I just have to get the backhoe.”

As I drive back to the clinic, my thoughts again drift back to Catching Creek and Uncle Ern. Goliath is a memorable name for me. The old lump in the throat makes the drive a little uncomfortable. Perhaps the rest of the day will be better.

Photo by Alessio Cesario from Pexels

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