Thursday, April 9, 2009

A True Story (Long and somewhat graphic)

We’re speeding down Route 62 heading toward the heart of the “city” of Johnstown, Ohio trying to make it to the local veterinarian before it’s too late. It probably already is.

“Dad is she still alive?”

I look down at the cold baby goat who is bundled in a bloody towel, lying on my chest, her eyes glassy but still fixed directly on me, her hair covered in dried blood. She’s still breathing, barely.

“Yeah, she’s alive.”

My eight year old daughter Ashley looks into the backseat of our beat up red ’98 Contour. Lying on the seat is a full grown female goat that is still in shock from the day’s events. She’s breathing heavy, her eyes wide open. She is otherwise completely silent.

My wife is driving, tears streaming down her face.

“Mom, this isn’t our fault,“ My daughter said in an attempt to comfort my wife. I remained silent and continued to cradle the now wheezing baby goat who was born a mere two hours ago but who had about three minutes left to live.

My wife was still in a mild state of shock herself and when I think back she should have been holding the weak baby goat and I should have been driving. She would later say she doesn’t even remember the car trip.


The day started like any other when our neighbors are out of town and we are responsible for taking care of their animals. This usually happens once or twice a year and we’re more than happy to do it. They have a slew of animals on their property; we live in the country so it’s not all that uncommon to have animals but our neighbors are basically playing Noah’s Ark without the flood.

The roster consists of five horses, four dogs, five goats, a cow, a mob of chickens and ducks, three cats, some fish, and a parakeet. We get up around 7 A.M. throw some old clothes on and some boots and tiredly stumble over to their house to feed the animals, let the horses out to pasture, and so on. In all it takes a little over an hour each morning and evening but it’s really no trouble – our neighbors would do the same for us, and they have on many occasion when we leave and have to leave our two dogs behind.

On this trip, we were told that one of the female goats was pregnant but wasn’t due until the week that they return. She had had babies (kids) before so if she does go into labor it shouldn’t be a problem. Most likely we’d come into the barn one morning or evening and see two little kids running around.

They left Saturday morning for spring break in Gatlinburg, TN.

Tuesday night we noticed that the pregnant goat was sitting still on a haystack and assumed that she was either about to go into labor or was just plain tired. We entered the barn Wednesday morning to do our usual routine and noticed that the female was in fact in labor. We could see a small head sticking out. It was motionless.

“That’s not good,” I said.

“We need to call Judy, now.” My wife grew up on a dairy farm and while she was no goat birthing expert she had seen stuff like this before. The kid was dead and we now needed to get the mom to a vet ASAP.

My wife called the owner and we were told to call a specific vet who would come out to the house to take after the goat. There are two vets in Johnstown, but she said this vet would make a house call.

Mary called the vet, who is about a 35 minute drive away, and was told the Dr. could not come out today – and that we had to come to them. My wife and I discussed this – should we go all the way out there or go to a local vet? Judy was very clear that this vet was the ‘horse and goat’ vet so we decided to load up the goat in our beater car – the red Contour-- and make the drive.

It was a decision I would deeply regret a great deal two hours from now.

The drive was uneventful other than we thought we were lost only to finally see a sign that eased our worries. We were driving into an area that we’d never been in – a half hour from my house in the country and into an area much deeper in the country. We were now out where the buses don’t run. But after about 40 minutes we arrived. The mother goat seemed fine, a little frazzled by the unexpected car ride but otherwise stable.

Upon arriving at the Feeder Creek Vet Clinic (Yes, Feeder Creek) things seemed amiss. Perhaps a bit too “casual” for my liking. We had called ahead and reported the situation so I only assumed someone would be waiting on us with some means of transferring the animal into the clinic. This isn’t a huge goat – but a pregnant one with a dead baby head sticking out of it. This wasn’t an annual checkup.

Mary went inside and I stayed outside with the goat and with Ashley, who wanted to stay and keep her company. . Mary was able to get a vet assistant to come out and help. She aggressively grabbed the goat by the horns and pulled her out of the car.

“Hey easy there,” I said. “Is she ok?”

“Yes, she’s fine, but I need to secure the horns,” said the woman.

The assistant then asked Mary to hold up her rear while she had the front and that they would carry her into the clinic together. Why she asked Mary I’m not sure, but Mary didn’t hesitate and lifted the mother along with the vet assistant and off they went with me and Ashley behind – Ashley repeatedly asking what was going to happen next.

They carried her into what looked like a staging area – not really an operating room but a room for “staff only”. The goat looked relieved to be put down. The Doctor then asked Mary to grab the goat’s head – the assistant was now at the rear of the goat. The Dr. then put on gloves that went all the way up to his shoulder.

“Ashley, let’s go,” I said.

“Can I watch?” she asked.

”No, let’s get you out of here. Mary are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said.

As I said before Mary grew up on a dairy farm so this wasn’t a completely new thing for her, even though I found it incredibly strange that they asked her to help and didn’t grab another vet assistant. This was a country vet but it was fairly large and there were several people milling about.

I escorted Ashley out of the room via two double doors with a small window in the center. We looked around the office, walked over to pet the massively overweight “office dog” – a Golden Retriever that had to weigh at least 120 pounds, and then wandered over to the rabbit cages. I was talking to Ashley about the schooling you need to become a vet – which is currently her dream job, when I heard a noise that will stay with me for a long, long time.

The mother goat let out a wail that can only be described as torturous.

I told Ashley to stay put and walked over to the window on the door and I could see Mary, her face silk sheet white. She saw me and her mouth was agape.

“Keep Ashley out of here!” she insisted. Ashley had snuck up behind me and was trying to peek in and I grabbed her and took her back to the obese dog.

“Can someone help me out here?” A lot of the people by now had gone to lunch and the lady behind the desk was of no help whatsoever. I wanted to get Mary out of that room because things were obviously not going according to any plan we had anticipated.

About that time I heard Mary say, “Oh God no!”

“Ashley, do not move one muscle. Stay right here.” She knew I meant it and simply nodded at me, her eyes now concerned and wide.

I jogged over to the double doors and Mary came out, blood was on her shirt and she looked dazed.

“She’s going to die,” she said.

“What? Mary are you ok? What happened?”

Tears began forming in her eyes.

“The mom is going to die. Her uterus is ripped.”

“Oh no…”

She then stopped crying and started to get mad.

“Bill, it was brutal. That “doctor” had to have ripped it himself. It was the most sickening thing I have ever seen. First he cut the head off of the dead baby goat in order to pull out the body. I’ve seen some crazy shit but I wasn’t prepared for that. I told him this goat had had kids before but that her canal was small – he ignored me and he shoved his arm inside her in order to pull out the other baby. It was agonizing. The mother was writhing in pain and then he told me the uterus was ripped and that she would most likely not make it. My God, what do we tell Judy and Brian?”

“The truth,” I said.

About this time Dr. Mengele comes out of the room, and proceeds to tell us that the other baby goat is alive and that Ashley could go in and see her.

“What?” I said.

“Yes you have a baby goat – that’s her crying, “he said.

I can feel the blood rushing to my face but about that time Ashley tugs on my shirt and asks to go see the baby.

“Just stay here, let me take a look. Stay here with mom,“ I said.

The scene was macabre.

The baby goat was indeed alive, but still a bloody mess. The mother was basically passed out, her insides still in shock from what just happened and strewn about the table. I leave immediately and go back to Ashley and tell her it’s not safe to go in yet because the baby needs cleaned up.

At this point I have two options: confront this man, and allow it to get to the point where I possibly get arrested for assault, or allow myself to cool down, check on my family and get the fuck out of there. I’m already kicking myself for even allowing Mary to be in that murder room, but she’s a grown woman and has been in rooms during cow births and had no idea what was about to transpire. Still, I’m pissed at myself and am so mad at this vet quack that I know it will be very difficult for me to speak to him without flipping the hell out. So, I allow rationalization to win and I simply swallow it.

We are then told that we have to take care of this new baby and also to take the mother goat back to the barn with a bottle of Penicillin to stave off infection because there was still a chance she could live. We have told these people that this isn’t our animal and that we have no earthly idea how to take care of a baby goat that can’t get milk from the mother (she was in no condition for that). Of course, they don’t have the materials to do that there – I mean it’s only a VET CLINIC for God’s sake.

So we get a 5 minute crash course on how to take care of this baby goat. We need to feed her every 2 hours – for the next 48 hours. We have to stop at the local feed mill and get the proper milk substitute as well as small nipples, everything a growing baby goat needs.

I am handed the baby goat at this point. She’s tiny. She’s got dried blood all over her hair and she’s baying like crazy. She’s also cold.

“We need to get of here and get her some food,” said Mary.

The mother goat is then loaded up in the car, still in a massive state of shock, and I get in the passenger side with the baby goat in my arms, wrapped in a towel and cradled inside my Ohio State jacket. We speed off for the feed mill, leaving the death camp vet clinic in the rear view mirror.

“This baby has to survive, “said Mary. “Above all else we need this baby to live.” I can already tell Mary is blaming herself for all of this. None of which is true – this isn’t our fault but the fact that this has happened on our watch is something Mary is going to have a tough time dealing with. I try to console her with empty words like “we didn’t do this” but I know my wife. The baby needs to live.

We can’t find the feed mill. We’re still in unfamiliar waters and it’s not where the guy said it was supposed to be. A call to 411 is made to get the number of the feed mill in Johnstown – we need to get back to friendly territory – fast.

Ashley takes all of this in stride, asking very point blank questions and statements like, “Are they alive?” and “I hope they live.” But so far there is no crying or any sort or trauma on Ashley’s face. I start to thank the heavens that I took her out of that room.

We get to the Johnstown Feed Mill and try to find what the baby goat needs. We secure all of the powder, a nipple, a small bottle and mix it up on the spot. She won’t eat. She’s baying, but she’s weak and she refuses to even take the nipple.

“We need to go – right now,” I said. “Let’s take her to our vet here in town.”

Mary agrees and we speed off again. Johnstown being a small village with a population of about 4,000 people getting from one end to the other doesn’t take too much time and we’re at our vet in a matter of about 5 minutes.

We all race inside with the mother goat about half conscious in the backseat of the Contour. Our vet immediately tells us, “She’s too cold. “

She won’t feed because her temperature needs to be raised – she’s deathly cold and we need to heat her up. We recount the story of the clinic to my vet and she almost starts to cry. “Report him, “she tells us. “Report him to the OVMA. (Ohio Veterinary Medical Association). That seems like sage advice and a much better way to get back at this guy than me kicking his teeth in but right now we need to get back to the house and take care of the goats.

We get back to our house and leave the mother in the car and give her some water which she eagerly starts to drink. Mary grabs the small space heater from the closet and we put the goat in front of it – trying to get it warmed up without actually hurting it. It bays every once in a while but still will not feed. Mary is starting to panic and runs out of the room and comes back with a bowl with a few drops of milk in it

“Mary…did you get this..”

“Yes from the mother.”

I say nothing. I know when to shut up and this was one of those times. Mary tries to get the baby to at least taste the mother’s milk but it’s not working. She’s not reacting to any of this even though she is starting to warm up a bit.

I then decide to call Judy – she needs to know what’s going on with her goat. She takes the news, seemingly anyway, in stride and tells us to go to the other local vet – she has so many animals that she knows every vet within a 20 mile radius. We call ahead and tell this vet that we‘re coming.

And off we go again, racing down Route 62 with a dying mother in the backseat and a slowly dying baby goat in my arms.

We arrive in a matter of minutes, and I start thinking: “Why didn’t we go here in the first place?” Before we can get out of the car – the baby is dead. I could feel its life just…leave. This was a first for me. And while not nearly as shockingly traumatic as what Mary went through back at the clinic, it its own way this was just as stunning. The goat literally rested in my arms, staring at me, and then wilted.

The atmosphere at this vet was a complete 180 from what we experienced at Feeder Creek. They actually seem to – well – care about the animal. The fact that we all look like hell at this point likely helps to get the point across that we’re in no mood for bullshit.

The Dr looks at the mother and immediately tells us that we should put her down.

We need to call Brian and Judy before making that decision, though, and Mary by now was in no state of mind to talk to them. Both babies were dead and the mother had only moments to live.

The phone call went better than expected. Brian apologized to me over and over again for putting us through this (not to mention the goat) and that he wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news to their daughter, Sammy. But that we had done all we could. It was of no consolation for Mary. The vets and the assistants again told us to report the Dr. from Feeder Creek. They were all equally shocked at how he treated both the goat – and us.

We slowly drove home, a blood stained backseat as a reminder of what had happened in the past two hours. I spent the next 30 minutes cleaning up the stains. They’re not all gone.

My wife is still a mess. It’s unclear to me if it’s because of what happened – or how it happened. Being in that room with the sadist vet is something that would affect anyone – even a farm girl like Mary. Of all of us, it’s Ashley who has already put it behind her. It’s odd.

Later that night, when Ashley and Mary were upstairs watching a movie on DVD and I was downstairs alone, trying to get that little goat’s face out of my mind, Billy Baroo calls wanting to play Left 4 Dead. I call Todd – he’s not home. Mike is online playing Rock Band 2 and doesn’t answer my request. Inside I’m sort of happy for that. I’ve seen enough real blood today and seeing more, even of the fake zombie kind, isn’t the best medicine. I need to sleep.

And hopefully not dream.