Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Harold and the Dogs

Harold and the Purple Crayon was one of my favorite childrens' books. I enjoyed it as a child and I enjoyed reading it to my own children. It is the story of a kid named Harold who literally draws his world around him with a purple crayon. He is able to change his reality with a stroke of color.

Our Harold is a lamb that was attacked by two dogs and left for dead. Unfortunately, he didn't have a purple crayon to escape the situation. However, two things initially worked in his favor. The dogs' absence was noticed and they were called back, and we had guests at the farm who decided to take one last walk in the woods before departure and found the poor lamb crumpled in the bushes. Nothing like a farm lesson up close!

I arrived home to find a note on the kitchen table. "Lamb in barn. May be dead. Dogs locked in house." It takes a moment to understand a note like that. What? How? My daughter and I went running over to the barn to find the lamb on a pile of straw in the sheep stall, damp with sweat and unable to hold its head up. I went out looking for Greg.

Slowly the story pieced itself together. Our daughter's dogs, that had been around the sheep as puppies, were bigger now and, left unsupervised, had acted as a pack and run down one of the smaller lambs. It's pretty gruesome what comes over dogs when they lose their domesticated minds. The only reason the lamb wasn't killed was probably because the dogs heard the call-back whistle and went loping off to the house.

Caitlin was upset at the sight and the damage her dogs had caused. She started to cry. How could her dogs have done this? Would punishing them now make any difference? After all, our dogs had been caught in a similar situation within the first week of being on the farm and had learned not to chase either sheep or chickens. But, we had caught them in the act and given them good reason to learn right from wrong. She called the dog trainer. No, it was too late to make the association. They would need to stay on leashes or wear a muzzle to be safe around the sheep from now on ... or until the lesson could be taught. I didn't want to think about how we would accomplish that.

We went back out with Greg to look at the lamb and he pointed out the broken leg I had failed to notice the first time around. The break went clear through, allowing the leg to twist in any direction. Ugh! Amazingly, the lamb made no noise in protest. I don't think sheep actually have the capacity to indicate pain, which may be a good thing for the humans involved.

I set to work, first with a splint made out of sticks and a clean rag, then with an antiseptic spray called Blue Lotion I kept in the barn medicine cabinet. I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed, even more when vet Liz came over and shaved the poor lamb so I could see wounds not obvious through all the wool. She looked at my splint job and said she would leave me a real splint at her office the next morning. Should we euthanize the lamb? She thought not as I had been able to bottle feed it some and the lamb was interested in eating. Surely a positive sign. The now-purple lamb breathed quietly.

Thus, Harold, acquired his name. Each day a little more purple spray was added as wounds became obvious or scabs fell off. Our purple lamb became a favorite of guests to feed and pet and learn about his will to live in the face of enormous injury. I have also taken the opportunity to pass on lessons learned.

One: dogs, even small ones, will lose their minds as a pack ... even farm dogs... and gang up on an animal with the intent to kill.

Two: when setting a break, it is important to immobilize both the joint above and the joint below the break to keep the bone from twisting. Of course, I learned this lesson after I decided the splint was too long and cut it off to fit below Harold's knee. Much to my horror, on completing my wrapping job, I watched the leg swing freely. I had to add my sticks back to provide the stability the splint needed. Made sense when I thought of my own broken leg in 7th grade and the leg-long caste I sported for three months.

There is one final, if unintentional, lesson that comes along with Harold these days. For those people who have never heard of Harold and the Purple Crayon, there is the opportunity to tell them about a wonderful book to read to their children or their grandchildren, the story of a little boy who could make up and draw his own reality. To be followed up by the story of a brave little lamb on a farm in the coast range of Oregon that spent his early life being purple!

Harold's head was quite swollen in this photo and it was only as he started to recover we realized the extent of the original injuries. PS He is doing well these days and if he weren't interested in being bottle fed I would have no way of catching him!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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