Brownie, 1953

Brownie, 1953 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I woke to an empty bedroom. The sky was clear and the morning sun was out, but there was still a chill to the summer air. I laid still and tried to listen to hear my brothers downstairs. I hated to wake to an empty room. Did the monster get them when they got up, was he still waiting for me? I felt confident that I was safe if I watched them get up and dress, but now, I didn’t know.

I stood up and backed up to the far corner of the old double bed. I had to bend over a little because of the slant of the roof on the side of the bedroom. After a deep breath, I ran and jumped, hit the floor on the dead run and made a rapid turn to the open staircase. I bounded down the stairs, taking 2 or 3 steps at a time. I didn’t look back until I was at the bottom. No monster, I opened the door and entered the kitchen as if nothing had happened. Both Larry and Gary were at the table eating breakfast. I huddled up to the wood stove, the only heat in the house. It felt good after my run down the stairs.

“You need to go get dressed and get back down here for breakfast,” Mom said. “Your brothers are planning to go swimming this morning but you guys have to clean the barn first.”

“We can ride Brownie to the river and back,” Gary said. “That way you won’t have to worry about the thistles in the field.”

I hurried back upstairs and dressed. Mom had a bowl of Wheat Hearts mush waiting for me when I got back to the kitchen. I didn’t like mush but Wheat Hearts were better that Oatmeal. The warm mush felt good on a cold morning, and the large glass of milk made it easier to swallow

With the three of us the barn cleaning went fast. Larry was the oldest, and he assigned the chores. Gary scrapped any manure on the flood into the gutter. I went along behind him and used the large barn broom and swept the loose dirt on the floor into the gutter. Larry cleaned the gutter, using the shovel to scrape long sections out the door onto the manure pile. With the job done we could head to river. No need for a bath today.

Back at the house we changed into our swim trunks and slipped on a pair of thongs (flip flops). I hated to cross the lower field in these things because of the thistles. There was no good way to avoid the stickers except when we could ride Brownie.  Gary headed to the pasture to get Brownie. With a couple of whistles he came running. He probably knew he would get the whole lower pasture to himself while we swam. 

Brownie was a Jersey cross steer, solid light brown in color with a pinkish nose. This was his second summer and he was starting to get extra grain every evening. We had raised him from a calf and he was very friendly. He came when Gary whistled. I couldn’t whistle yet but I was trying.

Gary had no trouble getting onto Brownie in the middle of the field. It was a little hard for me so I would wait at the gate. We didn’t need a bridle or rope. We just tapped him on the side of the neck with a switch to tell him where to go. I jumped on and he trotted down the lane. Larry was already across the highway and in the lower field but we would catch up with him now.

The grass in the lower field was knee high. The cows were not allowed in this field until we cut hay. Dad would be a little upset with Brownie being down here but we could tell him that we were just helping to fatten him up. 

When we got to the riverbank we slid off and Brownie ran to middle of field, bucking with joy.  The sand on the riverbank was warm from the morning sun. The river was probably still cold. Larry was already in the swimming hole. He had crossed the river and was ready to dive off the old log on the far bank. I was not supposed to go over to that log but with just us boys here today, I thought I would swim over to it.

The water was really cold. It took a slow walk to get into it. I swam a little up and back. I think I will wait until it is warmer before I swim across. A couple of times up and back was enough for me.  I got out and laid down in the warm sand. It wasn’t long and everyone was ready to go back to the house.

“You go get Brownie while I dry off,” Gary said.

I ran up the riverbank. Brownie was clear across the field with his head buried in the grass. I made my best attempt and out came a weak little whistle. Brownie raised his head and looked. He had heard my whistle. Here he came on the run. This was going to be a good ride home. He came to a stop in front of me. I nuzzled up to his belly for a little warmth. I would need some help getting on him here in the field. Pretty soon Gary came up and jumped up on him with no problem.  I jumped and Larry gave me a little boost and I was on also.

Brownie trotted toward the gate. His trot was a little rough, not like a horse, but we were used to it and had to no problem staying on his back. He stopped at the highway and waited for our heels to tell him to go. He gave a long look back to the lower field as he started up the lane toward the house.

We rode Brownie everyday that summer. He enjoyed the rides, we covered the hill on Brownie and went to river on all the good days. When we had company everyone wanted to see how well he was trained. As the summer worn on, I was able to get myself onto his back in the middle of the field. He was a better companion than a dog.

But fall came, and the second fall of all good steers would be their last. The day for Brownie’s slaughter finally came. We slaughtered on the farm. It was a common event that we were used to watching. We generally helped where we could. The steer was shot in the head and hung in the machine shed. He was gutted and skinned there. I had helped in this part in the past but today I waited in the house. Brownie was different than the other steers. After he was skinned and gutted, they would split his carcass with handsaw. Then cut him into quarters. The quarters were carried over and hung from the large cherry tree in the back yard. It would hang there in the cold fall air until the weekend when Uncle Ern would come and cut him up. Uncle Ern was an old man now but he had been a meat cutter in his younger days. He knew just how to do it.

It was hard to see Brownie hanging there in the back yard every day. In farm families, life revolves around the kitchen and the back yard. We never used the front door, and the front yard was seldom used. Finally Saturday came and with a lot of help for Uncle Ern, Brownie was in the freezer in a short time.

Dinnertime that winter became a challenge. With every meal, I would fiddle with the meat on my plate. I knew it was Brownie and I knew I had to eat it. It proved to be long, hard winter.

“Is this Brownie?” I would ask, almost every meal.

“Yes, this is Brownie,” was always the answer. “Now eat your dinner.”

“This meat is tough,” I would say.

Dad would answer, “It would be a damn sight tougher if you didn’t have it.”

Mrs. Rose

D. E. Larsen, DVM

                Mrs. Rose was our middle daughter’s first-grade teacher.  She was a little gray-haired lady who was very prim and proper. Mrs. Rose was adored by her students and by their parents.   She was an old-time teacher, very much into the three Rs. She kept a tight rein on her classroom, ruling it with a tender heart.

    Of our four kids, Amy took the most interest in the goings-on at the clinic. She liked the people and the animals and showed compassion for both. When I had an evening call for a basset hound in labor, Amy was ready to go to the clinic with me in a second.

    I took care of quite a few basset hounds for a large group of ladies who showed these dogs.  They were relatively valuable dogs, and the ladies wanted meticulous veterinary care.  This bitch (female dog) had been in labor for nearly 3 hours.  Her owner, Sandi, had been through this on multiple deliveries.  Three hours of contractions without a pup was cause for intervention, and with each passing minute, the puppies were more at risk.  The options, following an unremarkable vaginal exam, were to try some Oxytocin to stimulate contractions or to do a C-section.

    The Oxytocin injections could work magic, but it could also mean a long night.  When bassets had large litters, you could end up with a C-section for the last pup or two because the uterus ran out of strength for continued contractions.  With the extended time of labor, those remaining puppies were often lost.  I enjoyed working with Sandi on these deliveries because she would always be quick to elect a C-section. I agreed with her in most of the cases. It made for a shorter night for me and usually a more successful delivery.

    This evening was no exception.  The size of Betty’s belly said large litter. The vaginal exam was unremarkable, and no puppy was in the birth canal. I started talking about options, and Sandi cut me off short. 

    “Let’s not spend all night here.  Let’s just go to a C-section, and everyone will be better for it,” she said.

    I called Dixie, my right hand at the clinic, to come help. Sandi had a couple of friends in tow.  That would mean we had 4 gals to tend to the puppies, plus Amy.  Sounds okay, but my guess was over 10 pups, maybe 12 or 13.  We were going to be very busy for a few minutes when I started handing out puppies.

    While I was waiting for Dixie, I got the surgery room set up, drew up a dozen doses of Naloxone for morphine reversal on the pups and I was able to get Betty onto her back, so I could clip her abdomen and do a preliminary prep.  I got an IV catheter placed and started IV fluids at a slow drip. 

    As soon as Dixie arrived, we moved Betty into the surgery room and gave her a dose of IV Innovar, a morphine combination drug.  This provided strong sedation, and we secured her to the surgery table and did a surgical prep on the abdomen.  Then we used Lidocaine for local anesthesia at the incision line.  This would allow us to deliver the pups with the least depression from anesthesia and with a small dose of reversal agent they would wake rapidly.

    This all done, I prepped myself for surgery.  Speed was the keyword at this point.  After I scrubbed, gowned and gloved, I draped Betty’s abdomen.  There was going to be a lot of fluid, I sent Amy for towels to spread on the floor.  If she was excited, it did not show.  

    Starting an inch below the umbilicus, I made an incision about 5 inches long.  Then I dissected through the subcutaneous tissues and exposed the linea alba, that center line of connective tissues where all the abdominal muscles came together.  I incised through the linea alba and opened the abdomen.  Almost no blood is lost with this approach.  This abdomen is full, the very gravid uterus leaving little room for normal gut function.

    I started pulling the uterus out of the abdomen, one pup at a time.  I laid it out across the drape on moistened towels.  One puppy, then the next, and it kept coming.  Finally, I had it all out, twelve pups, 6 in each uterine horn.  This uterus, which is the size of a pencil in its non-pregnant state,  laid out on the drape and towels it was too large to stay up on the abdomen. Several puppy segments hung over the abdomen on each side, reaching the surface of the surgery table. Quite a remarkable organ, the uterus.

    The book talks about delivering pups through one incision in the body of the uterus. I always found it a better approach, and faster, to deliver pups through an incision in each uterine horn.  I made the first incision over the pup nearest the uterine body on the left uterine horn.  Then I would squeeze a pup through this incision, clamp the umbilical cord, severe the cord, clean the airway and hand the pup to Dixie.  Dixie would give a dose of reversal agent and hand the pup off to the waiting hands, Sandi was the first in line.  By this time, I had removed the placenta and pushed the next puppy out the incision.   Handing Dixie the next pup, the whole process repeated. This continues, and finally, Amy is the only set of hands, she catches the pup in a towel and follows the girls to puppy basket as if it is nothing out of the ordinary.  This was sort of an assembly line when a pup was revived and breathing there was the next pup to catch as I handed it off.  This is a rapid, chaotic time for a few minutes.  Amy was a real trooper through the whole process.  Finally, the last pup is delivered.  I double-checked the birth canal to make sure there is not a pup hiding somewhere. There was fluid covering the table, and the floor was soaked.  My tennis shoes will be retired to the work shoe shelf.  The towels that Amy laid on the floor have soaked up most of the fluid. At least nobody slipped on the floor, time to relax a little.  Twelve live pups, Sandi and her friends are pleased.

    I start Betty on some gas anesthesia via a mask, and then I change gloves.  I close the two uterine incisions with a Utrecht pattern using 00 Maxon.  Then I return the uterus to normal position in the abdomen.  Now we clean up, we remove the drapes and carefully prep the abdomen again.  I change my gown and gloves and open a new surgery pack.  I remove the drape and towels which are soaked with fluids, and then I drape the incision with a new drape. Now I can close the abdomen with as little contamination as possible. I suture the linea alba with interrupted sutures.  Once the linea alba is closed, we give Betty a dose of reversal drug, we are now on gas anesthesia only. This way, she will recover rapidly.  I finish closure of the subcutaneous tissues and skin.  We take her off the gas and clean her up the best we can.  We return her to the kennel, and she is awake before we know it.  She is an experienced mother, and she takes the pups as soon as we show them to her.

    We send Sandi, Betty, and pups home as soon and Betty can stand.  She and her puppies will do better at home under Sandi’s watchful eyes.  I relax a little and asked Amy what she thought of all of that commotion.  With a nonchalance that she probably got from me, she just shrugs it off.

    That became almost a forgotten evening until we went to a parent-teacher conference some weeks later.  Mrs. Rose went over Amy’s progress, which was exceptional, and then looked at us with a wry smile.  

    “A few weeks ago, the whole class had quite a learning experience about where puppies come from and how they get here.  Amy was very excited about her experience and very descriptive to the class.  I don’t worry about discussing the birds and the bees in my classes.  Your daughter sort of changed all of that.”  She said.

Old Three Toes

D. E. Larsen, DVM

When I was growing up in Coos County one rarely encountered a Coyote, except on the high ridges. We didn’t think much about it at the time. That was just the way it was. I remember the first coyote I saw, on the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, on a cold morning Jeep ride with Uncle Robert.

    Twenty years later coyotes had moved into the valleys and were heard regularly and encountered with little effort if hunting them. They had become a significant problem to sheep ranchers, and an occasional brave one would come close enough to the barnyard to snatch a chicken.

    My Uncle Duke’s explanation for the change was probably the most accurate. I didn’t have a full understanding at the time but would later come to appreciate his wisdom.  In my younger years, 1940s and early 1950s, all the creeks in the area were full of spawning salmon and steelhead in the fall and winter. Dead, spawned out, fish were present on the riverbanks and all the creek banks. Later in the 1950s and 1960s, commercial fishing for salmon moved from the steams to the ocean.  Spawning fish numbers decreased and dead fish were only occasionally encountered on most streams.

    Duke’s opinion was that when the streams were chuck full of fish the coyotes would have easy access to salmon and would die from the disease. The only viable populations thus existed on the high ridges far removed from the spawning streams.

    Salmon Disease (or Poisoning) is a complex disease of all canines. It occurs approximately 7 days after a dog (or coyote) consumes infected raw salmon, trout or steelhead. The fish carry a larva of an intestinal fluke. The fluke causes only mild disease and can infect a number of species, but the fluke also carries a rickettsia. It is this rickettsia that makes all canines ill and is the cause of Salmon Disease.

    Salmon Disease is treatable if it is caught in time. Ninety percent of dogs (and coyotes) will die within 7 – 10 of becoming sick if they are not treated. Survivors may be immune for long periods if not for a lifetime although there are exceptions to this immunity.

    I was on a farm call, talking with Dick Rice. Dick owned a ranch on the Calapooia River. His ranch was one of the early pioneer ranches in the area. 

“Doc, I have been having a heck of a problem with coyotes the last couple of years,” Dick said. “It seems to be the same coyotes most of the time. He has only three toes on one foot.   He catches any lamb left out of the barn overnight. Can’t trap him, he is too wise.”

  Dick was at his wits end on how to deal with this bandit.  I related my Uncle Duke’s opinion on the shift of the coyote population into the Western Valleys. He listened with interest but just seemed to take it in as a story. I finished with the calf we were treating, loaded up and returned to the clinic. 

    I never gave the conversation much thought after that until I bumped into Dick outside of Thriftway one afternoon. Dick had hurried to catch up to me in the parking lot. It was apparent that he wanted to talk.

    “Hi Doc, how have you been?” he said, a little out of breath.  “I have wanted to talk to you about that Old Three Toes.”

    “Aw, yes, I remember you talking about him,” I replied.

    “You know, I got thinking about the story you told about Salmon Poisoning. One night after work, I stopped in here and bought a hunk of salmon tail. I have an old burn pit and garbage pile on the far side of the pasture behind the house. I took that salmon out there and put it on the edge of that pile.  It was gone the next morning.” 

    “And Doc, that was a couple of months ago. I have had no more coyote problems, and Old Three Toes is gone. I have not seen his tracks anywhere. Can’t thank you enough for that story.” 

    “I’m glad it helped you, Dick. You can thank the observation skills of an old farmer for the information. I am not sure that I would have ever put that information together to come up with that conclusion,” I replied.

Photo by DAVID NIETO on Unsplash

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