Animals have a terrific sense of humour. Mine have just co-ordinated a mass outbreak of malingering.
Every single last one of them has gone down with a complicated illness or injury.
It all started a few weeks ago when Tara the chestnut mare ripped her lower eyelid open. The vet who came to stitch it then discovered that she was also lame, and had suspected Cushing’s disease.
She took a blood sample and it came back with a slight positive, too ambiguous to merit treatment. ‘It could just be because she is overweight,’ said the vet.
‘Then let’s go with that,’ I said, because I know full well that if a test comes back saying your horse might be dying but then again she might be being a bit fat and lazy and fancying a few weeks rest in a stable and so is somehow managing metabolically to mimic the symptoms of a growth on the pituitary gland, then it is probably the latter.
We put Tara on box rest, treated the eye with antibiotic drops four times a day, and started to reduce her hay intake until she was pretty much on starvation rations. ‘Ha, not so clever after all, eh?’ I said to her, as she gloomily surveyed her half-full hay net. ‘You didn’t think it might result in a diet, did you?’
But that didn’t break her. If she can’t eat all day, Tara is more than happy to sleep all day. She has been propped up on three legs, one back leg crossed over the other, with her eyes shut since 15 August and seems pretty pleased about it.
This would have been fine, had not Gracie the skewbald pony then started to cough. After a few days of coughing she sounded like an asthmatic aunt. And Gracie had been turned out in a field with my thoroughbred yearling, Darcy, so a few days later Darcy’s nose started to stream with snot.
As a few other horses on the yard were coughing and snotty too, the vet was called and the usual, deeply unhelpful initial diagnosis given. It could be a killer virus, or it could be that the hay’s a bit dry because it’s been left in the sun and the scratchy bits are irritating them.
Naturally, therefore, the owners had to commission expensive blood tests and nasal explorations with probes requiring sedation and all manner of complex veterinary shenanigans.
The results came back ambivalent, needless to say. It’s a virus, but not a bad one, although it doesn’t seem to be responding to antibiotics. It could be because they’ve got hay fever as well, but then again it could be that the virus has dangerously mutated into something terrifying.
Buckets of anti-bacterial foot dip were duly posted outside the stable doors.
Fine, I thought, I can cope with this. And to cheer myself up and clear my head I took my spaniel Cydney for a nice long walk.
It was a hot day and Cydney leapt ecstatically into the lake which runs alongside the A3 in Surrey by Wisley Common.
She swam and dived and frolicked for ten minutes or so but no sooner had she come out than she succumbed to the squits.
The next morning she was still ejecting lake water at the rate of knots and that afternoon she collapsed into her basket and was no longer able to move.
I gathered her up and ran for my car, which was parked a long way away as I’m refusing to pay Lambeth Council the extortionate rates it charges for a residential parking permit. (I call it conscientious objecting. Others might call it being a total moron.)
As I ran through the streets of Balham with the dog flopping about in my arms I rang ahead to the vet and explained what had happened. As I did so, a call came in from the vet treating my horses. I switched calls: ‘Have the new tests come back?…I see, hang on, just putting the dog in the car…oops, sorry, vet’s on the other line, no the other vet, dog vet…hi, yes, I’m coming now, yes, totally dehydrated…hello? Sorry, you were saying, it’s like Strangles but it’s not Strangles. Is that serious?…Hang on…Cydney, sit down…Ow! Sorry, I’ve just sat on a ball-thrower…do you need to do another probe? No…oo hang on, the dog’s being sick, I’ll have to call you back…’
Cydney has now been rehydrated via intravenous drip and the horses are all enjoying box rest, antibiotics and soaked hay.
As I sit here writing, Cydney lapping her specially prepared chicken broth, the tiny grey fluffball that passes for a rabbit which is sitting under the kitchen table has just let out the most enormous sneeze. I have told him, ‘Don’t even think about it, buster.’