I Award You No Points. Seriously. No Points.

There is a scene from Billy Madison that always comes to mind when I sit for an exam in vet school:

We’re in the midst of our Animal Husbandry Welfare and Food Safety Exams. If you’ve been following my adventures through the proverbial Vet School Looking Glass, you’ll know that horses and I don’t always get on so well. Usually, they make me look like a complete idiot. However, at the end of the day, I’ve still got my opposable thumbs and I’m not a giant prey animal who poops in my water dish and can die from a tummy ache, so I feel like I come out on top.

Well, today, my valiant equine opponent bested me once again….although, I can’t entirely blame her.

The exam was off to a good start. I was happily answering questions and smiling at my assigned horse Rita over the box. Her demeanor told me she wasn’t altogether against the idea of being my partner in showing off my equestrian panache… However, she wasn’t too keen on the idea, either. My hands trembled slightly applying her head collar, but I led her out of the stall with the confidence of someone who spent all Christmas break hand-walking Thoroughbreds. Rita was not so intimidating.

One of the first tasks I was asked to do for the grader was pick up Rita’s front and hind leg. I took a moment to remember if my hand should run along the inside or the outside of the leg and with confidence, smoothly lifted her front leg in one motion.

“Ummm are you sure you want to face that way?”

I looked up, right into the eyes of the instructor, her eyebrow cocked slightly.

I sheepishly put down the leg and said, “I should be facing her back end.”

The instructor nodded and told me I could give it another go. I turned 180 degrees and facing the horses hindquarters, lifted her leg again, this time with the blood pumping hot and loud in my ears.

I’m not sure if this one mistake cost me my pass on the handling exam or not. It certainly cost me my pride. I tried to find a picture online of a person picking up a horse leg while facing the front of the horse instead of the back of the horse, but I couldn’t find one. I guess I’m the only person on earth to ever do it….like in the history of horses.

Ah, nothing like a hot steamy mug of humility to keep your Tuesday morning in check.

The moral of the story: Parents, if your young daughters beg you for a pony, just get them a freaking pony! On the off chance they decide to go to vet school, they’ll really appreciate having some horse handling skills in their back pocket. Can you guess who asked for a pony when she was young and was told, “no,” over and over again? I’ll give you a hint, she’s all thumbs and absolute crap with horses.

horse

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Just Us Barnyard Rejects Here….

Some people make farm stuff look easy. They hop over a gate effortlessly or toss a pitchfork full of straw across the barn like they are gently lobbing a wiffle ball (linked here as it was brought to my attention that wiffle ball is not an internationally recognized sport).

Anyway, I am not one of the people who makes farm stuff look easy. I actually make things look difficult, dangerous, or nearly impossible. I flop my legs over gates with the grace of a newborn foal and I swing a pitchfork around like a helicopter preparing for takeoff, which is usually followed by a disappointingly weak toss. Is it all in the wrist, like tennis? I don’t get it…

I don’t “zip” around on the quad, I death grip the handlebars and grimace through the full face shield of my helmet and get around slowly, arriving short of breath, my knuckles white.

atv

And I sure as hell don’t scramble around the hillside as surefooted as a mountain goat! Rather, my stride is reminiscent of a zombie from The Walking Dead, hobbling off kilter and succumbing to the merciless force of gravity, now and again.

But, possibly most humiliating of all, I can’t spray paint numbers on sheep:

Exhibit A

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Exhibit B:2014-04-16 11.49.59

Feeling a bit as if general farm life rejects me, is it any wonder I’ve a special bond with the reject baby lambs? Looking at my reflection in their eyes, I think we both know that neither one of us is really cut out to be on a farm, as much as we’d like to think otherwise.

My brood of reject lambs includes:

Snow Cone – found nearly frozen by a creek, dead after warming in the hot box (Unprofessional diagnosis: Watery Mouth Disease)

Twiggy – from the Fathead and Twiggy post, dead after fighting off two bouts of hypothermia in the hot box (Unprofessional diagnosis: Gross lack of a will to live)
I’m now considering calling the “hot box” the “hot box of death…”

Billy Corgan - named for the lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins because he was lost so we took him in and fed him, released him the next morning to see if he would find his mom, but marked his legs with bright orange paint so we could identify him quickly if he was a true reject. He was, so we collected him in again in the evening. I thought the orange paint made him look like he spent all his free time “smashing pumpkins.” I fed him last night and again this morning and he promptly died before lunch. My unprofessional diagnosis: he did it to spite me. Look at the smug look on his face the night before he died:

BillyCorgan

And that brings me to my last reject lamb, Spartan, the lamb formerly known as Sir Snuggle-luffagus (with all the death and destruction surrounding him, I figured he needed a stronger name).

I hate to tempt fate even writing about Spartan, especially since he started coughing and I gave him a shot of antibiotics today. He took the jab in the neck, like a warrior lamb. After giving him the shot, I expressly forbade him to die. I hope he listens to me.

He is my favourite, and it’s not because he is the only one still alive! He’s special.

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I could have just as easily called him “Hungry” since, every time I walk into the barn and say, “Who’s hungry?” He answers with a resounding, “Meeeeeeee!”

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Yeah, he’s certainly not allowed to die….yet…at least not until he is sold at market for a prime lamb price and sent off to be turned into someone’s Doner Kebab.

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Lambing hasn’t been all death and destruction. Most lambs are doing quite well and most ewes are good little mothers, except the blue 15 Blackface ewe. I found her lamb dead this afternoon. Scooping him up, I looked at her and sneered, “YOU HAD ONE JOB!!!!” I don’t have an unprofessional diagnosis for baby blue 15. In the words of my fellow student lamber, “He’s a perfectly fine lamb, except that he’s dead.”

But that’s the last dead lamb story I’m telling! Because, really, they are much cuter when they are alive….

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I guess it’s ok to be a barnyard reject. I’m in good company.

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Fat-Head and Twiggy

Two lambs came this morning; Fat-Head and Twiggy. Can you guess who was on the shallow side of the placenta?

Fat-Head was stuck for a bit. It took two of us to actually pull him out, one on each front leg. Lambs are supposed to “dive” out of their mums, to put things eloquently. Fat-Head belly flopped into a pool of fluids on the grass, making his grand entrance.

The farmer pulled Twiggy. She was moving out and then had a change of plans and decided it was not quite yet time to join her twin in the cold, windy real world, so she started moving back in. By the looks of things, she was hiding up near her mum’s tonsils before the farmer’s hand got a good hold of her and brought her out blinking into the sunshine.

This morning was a beautiful morning on which to be born. The skies were clear, and the wind although gusty and sharp, was not steadily blowing. Darker clouds are taking over the afternoon as the farm falls into a shadow of grayness. More rain, I’m guessing.

Later in the morning, we welcomed another set of twins onto the farm. I’m still amazed at the ability of a sheep to run around a field with a good chunk of offspring hanging out of her birth canal. I can’t imagine people doing that…running out of the hospital room with a baby’s head up to it’s ear’s poking out, shouting, “I’ve changed my mind, I don’t think I’ll be doing this just now…”

I was holding the ewe, smiling at the new little souls, when one of the lambs sneezed and shook it’s head, splashing amniotic fluid into my mouth. Rule #368: Don’t smile on farms.

I found a relatively clean spot on my arm on which to wipe my face and looked down in slight horror at the dried colostrum that had clumped in my eyebrow. It had been there for awhile. Le yuck.

After the fun fluid-filled morning, I was happy to spend some time mucking out stalls. Give me feces over fluids any day!

Sir Snuggle-luffagus got another bottle this morning. He took it with more enthusiasm than in the past few days. He is getting some milk off his foster mom, but not enough to thrive. He must be sneaking sips while she is sleeping. She’s horrible to him. Poor little reject lamb. I told the farmer that it is my goal to make him the fattest and brightest lamb in the flock. I looked at the other ewes, sizing up my competition, and the farmer shook his head, noting that they all had a bit of a head start. Still, if I can’t outsmart a ewe , I don’t know if I am in the right profession. Game on, mamas; Sir Snuggle-luffagus is going to be the biggest, fattest and brightest lamb in the bunch!

As he was finishing his bottle, Sir Snuggle-luffagus turned and started to nuzzle my neck. I laughed. It was adorable. Unless I get orf on my neck. Then, it was gross, really truly gross, as is Sir Snuggle-luffagus.

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Wee Little Lambies, Day 3

“Eeee-easy, Mama. I know, I’m sorry, you’re ok. Almost done.”

The words mumbled out of my mouth over and over again like a skipping record. The farmer laughed, possibly because of my uninterrupted repetitive monologue with the bleating ewe. Still, I didn’t feel right just poking my hand into her vagina without saying something.

I finally looked up, more out of concern than frustration, and asked, “At this point, is it dangerous for the lamb that I haven’t pulled him out yet? I really don’t want to kill him.”

The farmer smiled and got both front legs out, allowing me to gently pull the slimy gooey black ball of wool and legs into the grass. “Welcome to the world, little one,” I said as I helped clear the goop* from his nose.

*Goop is a technical term for mucus

Ah, the miracle of life. It’s nasty. Really. Newborn anything are gross. They are covered in fluids and mucus and blood. They are simultaneously slimy and sticky and there isn’t anything pleasant about the sight and smell of afterbirth (or the sight of farm dogs eating afterbirth). But after a bit of cleaning up and drying off, I’m not sure if there is anything on this planet more adorable than a newborn lamb…with the exception of a two day old lamb, sucking on a baby bottle.

I’m working on a farm in Perth for the next two weeks, helping out with lambing and just about anything else I am competent enough to handle…which as of right now, isn’t much.

The sheep live on a hillside. I ride up to check on them a few times a day in a trailer pulled by an ATV. Sometimes, I share the trailer with sheep or dogs. Most sheep don’t seem to mind making space for me in my mud-coated wellies and rubber pants, but some resent it a great deal. And there you have the source of my aversion to animals with horns…

So far, I’m really enjoying my extra mural studies. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any good at them. In my first few days here, I’ve shown complete ineptitude in several areas:

1.  Pulling a lamb out of a ewe. I think that will get better with practice. There really is no real way to prepare for it. Just imagine pulling a skinny bar of soap through a small rubber ring. It’s not as easy as it looks. On a slightly unrelated note: I don’t think I’m ever going to have kids. Seriously. Yuck.

2. General farm skills: I can’t drive an ATV, I get my legs caught up underneath me when I am climbing over fences and this morning I was outsmarted by a door. What can I say, I grew up in the suburbs.

3. Painting numbers on sheep. This is something farmers do to help reunite lost lambs with their mums. It’s quite practical, actually – a ewe with twins all get a number painted in red and a ewe with a single each get a number in blue. I was in charge of painting numbers on three sets of ewes and their lambs yesterdays. 8, 9, and 10. The farmer looked at my number 8 and quizzically, though not unkindly, asked,

“What number, is that, exactly?”

“Eight,” I replied, “Or infinity. However you want to look at it.”

When his daughter arrived and saw my number “10″ painted with a shaky hand on a horned Scottish Blackface ewe (reference my earlier comment about my aversion to animals with horns), she asked, “Wow, are we already up to 50?!”

“Nope. That’s 10,” I said. And with a smile, added, “obviously.”

I am, however, not a total lost cause. I drove a Landrover up a muddy “road” earlier today and only stalled out once. Not bad for shifting gears with my left hand! I also successfully bottle fed a lamb, even though I was told I probably wouldn’t be able to.

The lamb, we’ll just call Sir Snuggle-luffagus (not that I’m naming the lambs or anything, but I’ll have to keep them straight in my stories), was either lost, abandoned or stolen from his mum. Currently, he’s with a ewe who won’t let him near her udder. Lambs gotta eat to grow, so we tube fed him colostrum yesterday and this morning I took him a bottle.

I picked Sir Snuggle-luffagus up and set him on my knee. He squirmed a bit, but being a two-day old, slightly undernourished lamb, hardly put up a fight. I then, tried to talk him into taking the bottle. It took a few squirts of milk and some insistence on my part before he began to suck. But I did not give him much of a choice. I was going to feed this lamb. I was going to be good at something!

As he drank the milk, he eased back into my shoulder until I was cradling him more than holding him upright. I leaned against the side of the pen, watching intently to make sure he didn’t spit out the nipple or start choking on the milk. Sir Snuggle-luffagus fell into a rhythm and closed his eyes. As I watched him, my own eyelids grew heavy and I sank down into the straw.

I was momentary revived as soon as my bum touched down, as apparently, I was sitting in a sizable pile of sheep shit. I didn’t even bother moving, it was unavoidable.

The farmer came in to check on me just as I was dozing off and told me to go ahead and take a break until tea.

 

With a full belly, Sir Snuggle-luffagus curled up for a nap in the straw.

snuggles

I ran up to my room and grabbed my book, grateful for a break. Feeling tired and slightly disorientated, I checked the clock, expecting it to be around 2 p.m. It was 9:55 a.m.

A few hours later, we went to check on the sheep again. The rain was coming down hard enough to wash three days of mud, placenta, and dried dung off  my pants.

rain

Fortunately, none of the ewes were lambing, so it was a quick check. When we got back to the barn, the farmer said we’d be taking a ewe and her twins back to the hillside tonight. Then, he reached into a cupboard and pulled out the most amazing thing ever:

raincoats.jpg

We lambie raincoats!

Dear Scotland, I think I love you.

 

 

Posted in Academia, Adventure, Animals, Personal Favorites, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tidings of Great Joy!

It’s March. I can safely say all of my Christmas cards have been written, posted and received. I was way ahead of the game this year. One time, I sent my Christmas letters out in June. Do tidings of great joy ever get old? I think not.

So, now I can share an adventure I’ve wanted to write about since December (I didn’t want any Christmas Card spoilers):

card
It began:

I hiked up the Cairngorm Mountains during an ice storm with gale force winds to bring you joyful tidings this year and I almost died.

I then went on to explain that I didn’t actually almost die, but I did almost fall into a bog….which is true…however, it wasn’t all true…I actually did almost die in the Caringorm Mountains. The story would have just been a bit over the top for holiday greetings, so I kept it light and just made it sound like I only almost fell into a bog.

Far be it from me to be over the top….

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Caringorm Near Death Experience:

As I’m sure you can imagine, it wasn’t hard to find a willing pack of veterinary students to go pet and hand-feed Britain’s only reindeer herd. All I had to do was pull up the website and show them this picture of a baby reindeer:

After we read, “The reindeers’ soft velvet noses mean they are a delight to hand-feed,” we were sold. Six of us ventured from Edinburgh to Aviemore, eager to squeeze and nuzzle some velvet reindeer muzzles.

Upon arrival, we went to the pub across from the train station. Highland whisky and live music made the welcome to Aviemore warm as we prepared for the next day’s reindeer adventure. We were giddy with excitement, warm with laughter, and happy and dry in a bright pub. We had no idea what we were in for.

whisky

In the morning, we arrived at the reindeer center and checked in for our tour right on time. It was misty and cold out, but nothing we didn’t feel prepared to handle in our warm jackets and scarves. Since I knew I wanted pictures for a Christmas card, I decided to wear a skirt and green tights with my red jacket and white hat. It wasn’t the warmest outfit, but all I really cared about was cute pictures, so I dolled up and put on mascara. Plus, it was drizzly and cold, but not that cold.

We drove to the base of the hill where we were introduced to our reindeer guide: the last living decedent of Thor the Norse God. I was so happy I’d put on mascara and lipgloss.

His name was Zak. He was taller than any human I’d ever seen with long blonde hair and rosy cheeks. He was beautiful. He was strong. He was a reindeer herder. And I would have followed him anywhere; it was just a perk he was leading me to pet baby reindeer.

In Zak’s 5 minute briefing giving a general overview of the hike, the weather went from cold and misty to frigid and rainy. The winds began to roar and Zak said something about the weather enriching our experience. I couldn’t really hear him over the deafening gusts, but he smiled and I smiled and then it was time to start walking to see the herd.

The trail wasn’t difficult, but I was happy that I opted for sensible footwear. It’s always easy to crop your feet out of pictures, anyway. As we climbed up the mountain, the wind speed seemed to increase exponentially, pushing us sideways as we fought to stay on the trail.

aviemore

Zak stopped the group before we crossed a bridge, it was narrow and slick did not deter the 6 of us 20-something year olds (we’re still in our prime!) or the man carrying a baby in a backpack or the grandpa holding his grandson’s hand. Ok, so maybe the bridge wasn’t too scary.

We climbed up another hill as the rain started falling in what could only be described as freezing clumps of watery snow-like soup. There were no snow flakes. It was not snow. It was something else entirely. People in the group started to turn back, but not us, we were intrepid, we were motivated, and let’s face it, with the ratio of women to men at our school, we were all trying to impress Viking Zak!

At the top of the hill, only one obstacle stood between us and the reindeer paddock: a bog. Now, I’d heard of bogs before, specifically the Rattlin’ Bog Down In The Valley-O! But I can’t say I’d ever seen a real bog. A path of wooden 2×4′s and chicken wire lay ahead. In 100 feet, we’d be with the reindeer.

I confidently stepped onto the wooden path. Mistake. I slid, squealed and caught myself just in time to save my dignity and my cute outfit from plunging into the soggy bog. My next step was less confident, more careful.

Entering into the reindeer paddock, we exchanged excited glances and giggles. We’d made it!

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I flashed a huge smile at Zak as he pulled out the reindeer food. He smiled back, but was probably too distracted  by the mascara pooling under my eyes to notice the winning smile for which my parents invested so much money and time in the orthodontist’s office. Eh, the why makes no difference, the important thing is, the last decedent of Thor smiled back!

Zak

Zak doled out reindeer food and we immediately began chasing the reindeer with our hands cupped together, spilling oats all over the place. It was a bit pathetic. We were practically screaming, “Reindeer, come to me, pick me, choose me, LOVE ME!!!”

Reindeer1

Initially, I had taken my gloves off so I could feel the softness of a reindeer snuzzling food out of my hands. Within seconds, my hands were completely numb, so I put the gloves back on.

Reindeer3

best reindeer

My wool coat weighed twice as much as it had when we were warm and dry at the reindeer center. My hair was shellacked to the sides of my face. Every bit of mascara had run down my cheeks and my skirt was plastered to my stockings which were heavy and sopping wet. My waterproof shoes had puddles of water inside them that couldn’t get out.

But, I was having a great time feeding the reindeer.

Reindeer BIG SMILE

People in the group began to drop like flies. It was so cold that nothing was making any sense. By the time we remembered to take a group photo, we’d already lost one of our own to the temptations of warmth and shelter.

Reindeer

As you can see from the look on the reindeer’s face in Julie‘s hands, they absolutely loved us!

Our group continued to thin, but I wasn’t about to leave. Being the girl foolishly dressed in a skirt (which, at this point, I argued was practically a kilt and ergo designed to weather the storm) I wasn’t about to go back “early.” Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more face time with the reindeer our 9 quid had bought us. So, I asked Zak how much longer we’d be staying on the hillside and he laughed and said that he would stay as long as we wanted and he just needed a cue from us as to when we were ready to go back. In a harmonious chorus we replied, “We’re ready!”

The walk back felt twice as long. At one point, hiking uphill off trail over dense wet grasses, I realized the wind and rain were creating a treadmill effect. I was walking but not actually making any ground. As a gust of wind nearly knocked me off my feet, I turned to Foxy and screamed at the top of my lungs, “WE COULD DIE!!!!” She replied, “I KNOW!” And we both began laughing hysterically. I have no idea how we made it back up the trail to the parking lot. We fought 96+ mph gusts of wind, ice shards of death and most likely hypothermia the whole way. I laughed the whole time, like an insane sopping wet clown girl. I laughed all the way back to the reindeer center. It wasn’t until I stopped laughing that I realized my teeth were chattering uncontrollably.

At that point, I didn’t want to laugh anymore. I wanted to sit by a fire and drink something hot.

We huddled in a miserable group waiting for the bus. Our chatter died out slowly as we got colder and more miserable and closer to dying from exposure.

Hot coco piled high with whipped cream revived us enough to survive the bus ride back into town where we changed into dry clothes and had lunch before taking the train back to Edinburgh.

Having all survived the trip, I’d say it was definitely worth the cold. We did get to see a baby reindeer, after all. How cool is that!?

baby reindeer

baby reindeer 2

Posted in Adventure, Animals, Good Places to Meet Guys, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

THERE IS NO VOMITING IN VET SCHOOL

Initially, I was overwhelmed by the warm softness of it all. Even through two gloves, I was keenly aware of just how squishy everything felt.  Blindly moving my fingers through the warmth and the squish, I felt lost. Everything was so dark.

I was in past to my wrist in my first bovine rectal exam, a landmark for my veterinary career and my eyes were tightly shut.

“OPEN YOUR EYES, DUMB-DUMB!” screamed the logical voice of my cerebrum.

I blinked and stared in disbelief. I was doing it! My full hand past my wrist was inside the rectum of a black and white Holstein Frieisan dairy cow. I started moving my cupped hand as we had been instructed to clear out the rectum. The softness, sight and smell of it all was initially overwhelming. I began to fixate on the exact point where my hand disappeared and the textures and the odors and….and I retched.

Always vigilant, my cerebrum chimed in again, “You are NOT allowed to vomit during a rectal exam. Ever.”

Panic stricken about the “dry heave heard ’round the world,” I looked to my left and my right at my classmates who appeared to be finding success inside their cows, or at least having more success clearing out their cows. Then, almost as if she could tell I was losing my focus, my cow began to push me out. She was gentle, but very firm in this endeavor and I started to lose control.

I whispered to Jersey Fresh, trying to hide my hysteria as more warmth and squish crept up along the underside of my arm, “Ummm I think she needs to, you know, poo? I can feel her pushing me out. Should I just take my hand out and let her go, you know to clear everything out?” Jersey said no, she told me to keep my hand in, that I was just stimulating the cow. But it was too late, all the pushing and motion got the best of me. I pulled my hand out and waited for my cow to clear her own rectum. Which didn’t happen. Actually, the only thing that happened was I immediately got fussed at for pulling my hand out. Terrible form on my part as I would be introducing more air into the cow when I put my hand back in. I nodded solemnly and told the instructor I wouldn’t remove my hand again….ever.

Pulling myself together, I re-entered with conviction and false confidence, my eyes wide open, my teeth gritted and my mouth closed tightly (just in case she attempted that rectal emptying tactic again…).

Deciding the rectum was clear enough, I shifted my focus to feeling around for anatomical landmarks rather than wasting any more time playing with poo.

I couldn’t believe just how much room there was for movement! It was easy to get lost in the cavernous space that was a cow and hard to keep focused on the details like, you’re standing right next to a 700 kg cow, watch out she doesn’t step on you! And, for the love of all that is clean and fresh in the world, keep a tight hold on that swinging dung-mat of a tail!

For the first few minutes, I was a bit too enthusiastic and looking for things elbow deep that were actually located within the first few inches of the pelvic cavity, but after a short eternity (for both the cow and me), internal organs started to fall into place.  I was very pleased with myself when I found the left kidney, and humbled when the instructor informed me that I was actually palpating a uterine horn folded over on itself. Eh, kidney, uterus, pish posh. They are basically in the same place.

Still, anatomical transgressions aside, peeling the elbow-length gloves down my arm afterwards, I felt like a champion. Too bad I can’t say the same for the cow. She probably felt like she should have kicked me when she had the chance and my eyes were closed.

Before leaving, I scrubbed my hands like a surgeon going into an operation, but as I boarded the bus home, it was clear that a distinct potent odor lingered around me, possibly in my hair. I stood near the doorway and didn’t make eye contact with anyone until the bus approached my stop. Not going to be meeting Prince Charming on the bus today….

Fortunately, I came home to a beagle who is absolutely mad about my new perfume and won’t stop nuzzling my arm.

Photo on 2014-02-27 at 19.56 #3

 

Posted in Academia, Adventure, Animals, Edinburgh, My Dog Loves Me, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Have To Pay 50 Pounds So I Don’t Get Deported

I’m on hold with the Edinburgh City Counsel.

I’ll probably get this whole post written before anyone answers. But I’ll wait patiently as I need to pay a fine so I don’t end up in Scottish prison and Huckleberry doesn’t end up at the Royal Animal Shelter.

On Friday night, I went to my old flat to pick up Huck’s crate and any last bits of mail that may have come through. To my surprise, there was an official letter from Edinburgh City Counsel. I opened it, half expecting it to be confirmation of the change of address notification I sent them (since it was sent to my old address).

I stared in disbelief at a notice of a “Fixed Penalty” (read: fine). I was accused of Fly-Tipping. No shame if you had to click on the link, I Googled it, too.

The letter explained that a cardboard box with my name and address on the label and a UPS delivery note were found sitting outside a full dumpster on Angle Park Terrace. The fine for my environmental misconduct was 50 pounds (about $75.)

Initially, I was humiliated. I knew I should have recycled the cardboard and felt bad throwing it away, but I was moving and there were not any recycling dumpsters in my neighborhood. I’m usually a better steward of the environment.

But, the ticket was not for recycling so my embarrassment quickly became rage: I THREW ALL OF MY RUBBISH IN THE BIN! I MAY NOT ALWAYS RECYCLE, BUT I SURE AS HELL NEVER LITTER!!!!! Safe to say, I was madder than a Doberman with the rabies virus infecting his limbic system.

The letter said there was no appeals process and that if I did not pay the fine, I could be charged with a criminal offense and sentenced to pay 40,000 pounds and spend up to 5 years in prison.

No appeals process? I take issue with that.

Monday morning, I called the number on the ticket to ask about appealing. I was passed off to three separate offices before reaching the environmental wardens responsible for issuing my ticket. The supervisor wasn’t available, so I spoke with a man named Cheeky Tom.

I explained to Cheeky that I had indeed disposed of my rubbish properly and that I didn’t know how it ended up outside the bin. I said maybe someone took my boxes out and put their garbage in. He patronizingly told me that sounded pretty far-fetched and that I could either take this as a learning lesson and pay the ticket or wait to see if the city pursues the criminal charges and takes me to court. A learning lesson? Seriously.

After getting off the phone with Cheeky, I was madder than a kitten who had just been baptized. Having been raised in a household where we used words and not fists and handled unsatisfactory customer service with a letter to the manager, I e-mailed the shop supervisor.

Good morning Ms. Dickson,

I just got off the phone with someone in your office (I believe his name was Tom, but I’m not sure, we didn’t have the best connection) and he recommended I write to you with my question about a fixed penalty I received in the mail.

The penalty is numbered 04488 and dated the 21st of January at my old address of 40 (2F3) Angle Park Terrace, Edinburgh, EH11 2JR.

I only received it this weekend when I went back to my old flat to collect mail.
I understand that somehow my rubbish must have ended up outside of the bin and this is why I was issued a fine. However, I moved out of the flat on the 18th of January and assure you that I properly disposed of my rubbish before leaving. The bins on Angle Park do get full, but all of my waste was placed inside.

From the letter I received, I understand there is no official appeals process for this penalty. I was told my options were to pay it and take it as a learning lesson or ignore it and see if charges are brought against me. I’m not from Edinburgh. I’m a student here and most certainly do not want to get into trouble, but I also don’t want to pay a fine for something I didn’t do.

I would appreciate any additional information in regards to this fine and my options for moving forward.

Thank you so much.

Respectfully,
Erin Dixon

She responded today with a forwarded e-mail from the issuing officer Russ:

On 21/01/14 I found cardboard domestic waste dumped next to 660l communal bin which was overflowing but there was space in 4 communal bins further along the street. I found x1 Amazon box with Erin Dixon, 40(2f3) Angle Park Terrace, Edinburgh EH11 2JR, I also found x1 UPS delivery note with same name and address. I visited address at the time but got no answer, card left. I re-visited on 23/01/2014 and still got no answer. I posted Fixed Penalty Notice to the accused with a covering letter explaining the offence.

I believe the evidence found relates to Ms Dixon and if she only moved out on the 18th January which was a Saturday it feasibly could have been lying there since Saturday. If she doesn’t want to pay then we will let the fiscal decide.

Regards
Russ

When I read the response from Officer Russ (assuming you call Environmental Wardens Officers), I was madder than a hornet stuck in a bottle of half empty Mountain Dew.

I called the Advice Place. I don’t know the burden of proof in Scotland. I don’t know much about the legal system and if I would be able to prove my innocence or if they would even get around to taking me to court before my visa expired in 2017.

The girl I chatted with on the phone empathized as her flatmate once received a fine for the exact same thing. She couldn’t advise me to ignore the fine as being charged with a criminal offense could endanger my visa status, so we decided my best course of action would be to cough up the 50 quid and henceforth incinerate any identifying information in a pot on my stove-top prior to throwing it away, since, apparently, in Scotland, you can be held responsible for what other people do to your rubbish after you’ve abandoned it to the bin.

I waited on hold 77 minutes. I enjoyed a glass of wine and started writing this blog post. I was not going to be madder than a spoiled American Ex-Pat who grew up in a justice system where you are innocent until proven guilty when I talked to the Council rep on the phone. They just get paid to take my information, not my attitude. While I was on hold, the office closed and I was unable to pay the fine tonight. I’ll try again tomorrow, that is if they don’t send a warden to raid my flat and arrest in the middle of the night tonight, anyway.

While I was on hold, I also decided to send an e-mail response to let them know I would be paying the fine.

This is what I wanted to write:

Dear Ms. Dickson,

Thank you for your response to my e-mail. I do standby my innocence in this situation and will happily explain to any judge that I deposited my rubbish properly in the bin when I was moving flats last month.

Frankly, I find it insulting to be treated as a guilty party in a crime that I was not even seen committing. For all you know, one of my neighbors pulled my boxes out of the bin to place their rubbish inside. I don’t know who would do that, but maybe check your records and see if anyone on Angle Park Terrace has gotten in trouble for fly tipping before. I know after this experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to remove someone else’s garbage from the dumpster to ensure my own was securely inside.

But, I jest. I would never really take anyone’s garbage out of the bin. I am an environmental science major and care too much about our planet to contribute to the discarded garbage I find all over the fair city of Edinburgh. Plus, I believe in karma and hope that whoever removed my cardboard boxes is repaid tenfold for the trouble they have caused me.

Ms. Dickson, I feel bullied right now. For all I know, Officer Russ could have removed my rubbish from the bin himself, taken pictures of it, and written the fine. Do Environmental Wardens get a commission?

What if I had given those boxes to someone else who needed to use them to move and then that person hadn’t disposed of them properly.

What if the boxes were removed from the bin by a strong wind. Would you recommend I attach bricks to all of my rubbish before disposing of it to make sure wind can’t pick it up and remove it from the bin?

Lastly, adding insult to injury, this bogus fine was sent to my old address several days after I had updated the council with my new mailing address. I would like an apology from the City Council for willfully neglecting my change of address and sending this fine to my old flat.

Ms. Dickson, I understand improper rubbish disposal is a huge issue in this city. Never in my life have I lived anywhere with so much trash in the streets, and I have lived in Tijuana, Mexico, so that’s really saying something. If you insist on taking my 50 pounds, may I suggest it go towards an additional bin on Angle Park Terrace? They really are always overflowing. Also, I’d like an environmental warden to regularly patrol my current neighborhood as, over the weekend, I had to step around a half eaten sandwich, what appeared to be a chunk of black pudding, some plastic cutlery, various cigarette butts, dog feces, and three puddles of vomit on the sidewalk. Also, someone (probably drunk or homeless) relieved themselves in my entry way and it still smells like urine.

In the end, this is what I wrote:

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly, Gail.

I’ll just pay the fine. I certainly don’t want to get into any serious trouble over this.

And then, since I just couldn’t help myself, I added:

 

By the by, would your office take reports for complaints about garbage being left on the street? It does seem to be a problem around here. If so, I took a few pictures while I was walking my dog this evening and would like to report Lothian Road, Home Street and Tarvit Street  as areas in need of enforcement. Unfortunately, there were no address labels on the sofa or cushions. Thanks again for your help.

Have a good day.

Erin

I attached the below pictures:2014-02-03 17.21.30 2014-02-03 17.23.56 2014-02-03 17.24.07 2014-02-03 17.27.23 2014-02-03 18.06.31 2014-02-03 18.08.47 2014-02-03 18.09.00

I received an automated response.

 from: mailsweeper@edinburgh.gov.uk

to: me

It is Council policy to check emails for:
- large attachments
- pictures that may be inappropriate for business use
- content that may indicate unsolicited mail
- video files

You attempted to send an email on Tue, 4 Feb 2014 18:37:00 +0000 to:
REDACTED
that may fall into one or more of these categories and it has been stopped.

The email will be stored in the system for 15 days and can be released if authorised; thereafter it will be deleted.
Please contact the intended recipient by email to ask them to arrange its release and specify when you sent the email and what the nature of it is.

Thank you
{C015a – qfs14IboJn023774}

Sigh. I’m just going to pour another glass of wine and figure out how I can get my 50 quid back in the form of free health care. Maybe I’ll ask for a dental cleaning and two pap smears next month.
And I was serious about the burning my address labels on the stovetop. Or at least ripping them into tiny pieces and mixing them into the cat litter before I throw them away.

Posted in Advice of the Solicited and Un Kind, Apartment Living, Edinburgh, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

At Times, Shows Questionable Judgment

Growing up, my mom would often look at me quizzically and say, “Do you just not think sometimes, honey?” Let me tell you, there is no right answer to that question, as usually, it was immediately preceded by a slight lapse in my general good judgment.

For example, when I was 17, I put the wrong soap in the dishwasher and flooded the entire kitchen with bubbles. Mom shook her head and asked, “Do you just not think sometimes, honey?” That same year, I also put tin foil in the microwave and forgot to put oil in my truck for such a long time that my engine seized up. Let’s just say 17 was rough…

Although I am 4,449 miles away from home, I can still hear my mom’s voice anytime I do something stupid: “Do you just not think sometimes, honey?” Saturday, that phrase was reverberating in my ears as I spiraled down the side of one of the Pentland hills, wildly out of control, hoping a soft mud puddle would stop me before a tree did.

Last week, I made plans with Ma Poulette and Catwoman to go for a hike in the Pentlands to introduce Huckleberry to Poulette’s dog Coffee. Saturday morning rolled in drizzly and gray, but we decided that we couldn’t let a little rain keep us in and we’d just layer up like real adventurers.

As Catwoman and I stood at the bus stop, the drizzle progressed to a monsoon and we briefly considered calling the trip a wash, but Poulette was on her way and the bus was due and inertia took over and BOOM we were on our way!

We were a fashionable group, all in wellies and me sporting my waterproof plastic pants over sweatpants over leggings. After I almost  died of exposure in the Caringorm Mountains on my quest to feed the reindeer last month (full story to come, that’s just an awesome teaser to keep you coming back), I was not about to get cold and wet on this trip.

This picture was taken at the base of the hill. We had been hiking for less than 20 minutes and were already cold…and wet.

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Initially, the hike was just muddy with a constant drizzle. We were a bit spread out on the path and I think Huckleberry ate something dead and rotting, but I’ll never know for sure. Since he was too busy loading his gut with a likely chunk of parasite-infested carrion to listen to me when I called to him, he lost his off-leash privileges until we were further away from such temptations and distractions.

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As we climbed the hill, the rain turned into snow. Not just snow, but epically large flakes of snow. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing it all in our faces at such high speeds, we were effectively blinded and not able to fully imbibe the beauty and serenity of the snow-covered Scottish hillside.

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But, it was beautiful, I could just feel it, even with my eyes closed.

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From that angle, the hill doesn’t look too formidable, does it? Well, believe me, it was a tough climb! So tough in fact we didn’t make it to the top and started walking down after an hour of battling the wind and snow and rain.

Catwoman was the first to fall on the way down. She took one wrong step and slid about 6 feet. Poulette and I laughed so hard, it took us a few minutes to catch our breath and ask, “are you ok?” Feeling inspired, Poulette pulled a plastic grocery bag out of her pocket and used it as a sled to go down the hill.

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If only I was so graceful.

While Catwoman only slid about 6 feet and Poulette maintained a very controlled speed and trajectory, Yours Truly lost her footing and tumbled down the hill head over feet, spinning around in circles and sliding on my back and stomach and side, headfirst, feet first and at such a breakneck speed, I expected to break the sound barrier before coming to a stop. As I accelerated to terminal velocity, I was keenly aware of Huckleberry chasing me down, howling at the top of his lungs, my friend’s laughter way up the hill in the distance and the rhetorical echo of my mom, “Do you just not think sometimes, honey?”

Fortunately, the hillside was grassy and muddy. There were no trees and just a few rocks in my path. I laughed so hard, tears froze on my cheeks and Catwoman laughed so hard, she lost her footing again.

Down on the path, we reminisced about the snow days of our youth and vowed to go sledding should Edinburgh ever get a proper snowfall. As we got closer to the bus stop, numbness began to take over our appendages and talking and laughing faded. It was as if Cold declared war on Fun. Cold was winning.

We needed more layers. We needed thicker gloves. I needed a proper hat. We survived. We learned. We lived to layer another day and test the Scottish elements.

I also learned a truly valuable lesson: should I ever fall and break my leg in the wilderness with Huckleberry, he will not run to find help or attempt in anyway to actually save my life. He will, however, bark in my face as loud as he can until I muster up the rage to stand again…or die. What a good dog.

2014-01-25 20.02.15

Posted in Adventure, Animals, Edinburgh, My Dog Loves Me, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ding Dong Merrily On High!

This Christmas, I had the pleasure of watching my 4-year-old nephew tear through wrapping paper the way T-Rex tore through the goat on  Jurassic Park. Then, my family and I drove to Steamboat Springs, Colorado where we got to share the experience of watching my 82-year old Poppie dissecting open his presents with his pocket knife, the same knife he always carries on him and has had to consequently surrender to many an airport security official in recent years. And it was joyful.

Almost as joyful as this:

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Ha. That makes me smile, every time!

I’m home from Scotland for Christmas break, but it hasn’t all been a vacation. I’ve worked at an equine rehab center since the day after I arrived from my 22 hour long journey through Christmas Eve. I will say, the jet lag has me waking up bright and early, and ready for my equine husbandry chores every day. It is a part of the required Extra Mural Studies for my program, and anyone who remembers the epic fake pregnancy blunder from August, knows I need the experience…desperately.

Working with the horses has taught me a lot and I am really starting to enjoy them. We have these little inside jokes now, like when I get complimented for how quick I’ve become at cleaning stalls and the Dutch Warmblood (Z) decides to urinate all over the clean, bare floor, right before I return with a wheelbarrow full of fresh shavings to put down. When I ask him why he walked back into his stall to pee, when he could have just stayed outside, he just looks at me, like a giant guinea pig. He’s the same horse who defecated in his watering dish the day after I learned how to clean them all by myself. I love that guy.

Z is actually the first horse I was trusted to work with, aside from the 32-year old Chestnut who just needs a person to escort him between his stall and the paddock as a formality; he pretty much puts his head collar on himself and hands me the lead rope. Z isn’t quite that well-trained, but he’s even-tempered and responsive. Probably because 1. He is a dressage horse (he does fancy tricks in a ring and has to pay close attention to his rider) and 2. His owner/rider is a kid. If only all horses could be as well-behaved and gentle as a child’s dressage horse…

Which brings me to another one of my favorites,  a Thoroughbred, relatively fresh off the racing tracks on the East Coast. He got his leg caught in a fence he was jumping and is undergoing a lot of physical therapy. Being in so much pain, he can be a little prickly about doing his exercises, but so far, we’ve come to an understanding. I talk to him constantly about how much stronger he is getting and how I’m going to let him take a break and graze on the wildly appetizing dry Colorado grasses as soon as he is done with each set. He plugs through, probably because he knows I’ll stop talking when he is all done and I’ll let him eat grass. When I told the other volunteer how much more responsive this horse has been lately, she said it’s because I’m more confident and he feels it. I winked at her and said, “It’s because I whisper to him. That’s like a thing with horses, right?” She just told me I’m going to make a great vet and sent me out to pick some paddocks (scoop poop).

I’ve had a fantastic time working with the rehabilitation horses so far. The people I work with are both patient in explaining things to me and liberal with sharing real responsibilities, which makes me feel like a quick learner and a competent adult. In addition to all the basic horse care (feeding, cleaning, grooming…) I’ve also given medicine, wrapped legs and talked to….equestrians. Horse people are notoriously difficult to work with at times (if you are not a horse person) but, I’ve found enthusiastically jumping into the steep learning curve, keeping a good sense of humor and gently reminding them that everything they learned to do when they were 5, I’m learning now….and I could probably kick any 5-year-old’s butt when it comes to mucking out stalls and scrubbing the auto-waters.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Adventure, Animals, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wait, You Can’t Eat Lederhosen?!

So, I didn’t fall off the edge of the earth or run out of stranger-than-fiction true stories of my life to share with you, I just ran out of hours in the day.

Literally.

I think Scotland is down to about 7 hours of daylight now, and of  those hours, the sun may or may not decide to make an appearance. Which, reminds me: Mom, for Christmas, I’d like some Vitamin D supplements in my stocking, please.

Things have been busy and crazy and beautiful. Mostly crazy. We just had our second round of exams for the Animal Body 2 module (Parasitology, Immunology, Bacteriology, Virology….a few more -ology’s….you get the idea). Revising so much material before the exams was a bit….tense…Ok, so I seriously stressed my brains out and was a total emotional slop.

I cried. A lot. Over stupid.little.things…like getting lost.

One day, I was meeting up with ma Poulette to study in a place I’d never been before. I walked around the area for 30 minutes, emailing back and forth with her, trying to cross paths before I wrote one last desperate sounding e-mail: I don’t know how to find you.

I hit send and my instincts took over: I sat down on a step and started to cry. Like a little girl. I don’t know how I thought that would solve anything, but it was all I could do. And it worked. As if on cue, ma Poulette walked up and said, “Erin, is that you!?”

I looked up, my face red and blotchy, my eyes puffy and my nose running, and I smiled. Ma Poulette asked, “Are you crying?”

As I explained to her why I was crying, we both started laughing. She gave me an empathetic nod and said, “It’s the stress.”  Together, we began a 5-day-long study marathon revolving around short breaks for Indian food, pizza, chips, chocolate and soda. We briefly hated ourselves for eating so much junk food, but decided to graciously forgive our calorie transgressions – it was just the stress, after all.

As exam week continued, I stopped feeling stressed and started feeling defeated. I kept dreaming of writing I don’t know on my answer sheet as I flipped through an impossible question set. The night before our short answer exam, I had the same dream, except, instead of writing, I don’t know, I wrote, I hate you.

Fortunately, exam week came to a close and I found myself boarding a plane to Germany with my kindred spirit Jersey Fresh. We decided to get away from all things vet school for a weekend and were bound for Dusseldorf. Our goals were to drink good beer, eat good food and walk around the Christmas market. Simple goals, still, we kept our expectations low since neither one of us spoke a word of German, and life has taught us that relying solely on charm and wit doesn’t always work out as planned.

Be it charm, wit, or (no matter what the exam results say) super-human brain power, we successfully navigated Germany. We figured out buses and trains and how to politely order beer, zwei bier bitte.

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We feasted on delicious meats cooked in their own fats (Germany is not for vegetarians unless you are really into whipped potatoes and cabbage) and drank gallons of beer, light beer, dark beer, all the beers – we actually never figured out how to ask for water.

Then, being masters of public transport, we gained some confidence and decided to take a train to Cologne. It was a daring endeavor, especially since we hadn’t had breakfast and no one makes good decisions when their blood glucose levels are crashing, but when Jersey Fresh figured out Köln was likely the German spelling for Cologne, we bought tickets and were on our way to Köln/Cologne. I told you we had super-human brain powers….

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In Cologne, we visited Kölner Dom, the most amazing cathedral I have ever seen. I couldn’t get a good picture of it because it was too big and grand and you really should just go see it in person, but I did snap a photos of this beautiful wooden nativity:

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I guess I focused more on getting a picture of all the wooden animals in the nativity rather than getting a good shot of the Holy Family, but isn’t that a fantastic wooden cow!?

Cologne also had a nice Christmas market, which meant lots of steaming mulled wine to keep us warm:

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At the Christmas market, I bought gloves. As magical as Germany is at Christmastime (the Germans invented Christmas, right?), it is wildly cold. That’s why you have to maintain a constant supply of hot Glühwein into your body. And wear gloves. This picture was taken prior to me purchasing the life-saving gloves. Look how cold my thumb is.

Our last night in Dusseldorf, we ate dinner overlooking the Rhine and talked about boats. Boats? Yeah. We talked about boats. There are a lot of boats on the Rhine. I might have waxed a bit nostalgic about being underway with the Coast Guard and we may have made plans to go on a scientific expedition to Antarctica. Or, I might have totally made that up. Either way, watch out Jersey Fresh, we’re going to Antarctica sometime, I’m planning on it!

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This trip to Germany was a blast. I even started to feel fully acclimated to my Scottish lifestyle since the cars driving on the right side of the road in Germany threw me for a loop and I almost got run over. Coming back to Edinburgh, I watched the city from the plane window and I felt truly at home. Then, after I got home and threw in a load of laundry, I ran to the post office where I tried to top off my gas card with a 10 Euro note and was hardcore denied, and possibly judged for being a bit of a dimwit. Curse colorful currencies!

Posted in Academia, Adventure, Edinburgh, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment