Farm Dogs

Farm dogs are mostly breeds called working dogs and over the years I have known many lovely kelpies, collies, and heelers but there are other breeds who can and do pull their weight on the farm.

One of my best yard dogs was a Silky terrier. I knew he was accepted the day a truckie came to tell me he could not unload a four-deck semi-trailer of weaner sheep. It seemed that they panicked on seeing the wide open plain and could not be persuaded to leave the safety of the truck(and who could blame them) without their mamas.

The truckie carried my Silky up the side of the trailer and put him through the rails. It did not take long for him to assure the sheep that what they really wanted was fresh air and grass; and in a very short time there was an orderly procession down the loading ramp.

When he was still a puppy, this little dog saved me from almost certain death by a rogue bull that had broken every fence in the district and would charge on sight. The bull charged me from behind the shed and my dog leapt for his nose. With no sign of fear and the speed of a whirling dervish, he went from nose to heels, nipping both until the bull tired of running in circles, giving me time to get to safety.

Despite his penchant for chasing everything from bulls to snakes and goannas far larger than himself, my dog lived to the grand old age of sixteen.

I missed him terribly which is probably why, when I saw a half-sized Silky puppy in a cage at the Vet’s waiting for the inevitable, all I could see was my little dog. Her pitiful yelps and this uncanny resemblance made it impossible for me to leave her there.

Sucker: Apart from the usual terrier characteristics the resemblance was only silky-coat deep. When I describe her to people, they nod wisely. “Oh, yes,” they say. “A Manilla Terrier: I know.”

If you don’t happen to be acquainted with the Manilla Terrier, let me give you an overview: Though ranging widely in colour and style, having descended mainly from terriers like Silky and Maltese and toys such as Chihuahua and Pomeranian, they have several defining characteristics:

They are heart-wrenchingly, gregariously cute; entirely self-willed; and very small. They are also crazy. No doubt, you’ve heard that hackneyed old term ‘Pocket Rocket’? It was coined specifically to describe the Manilla Terrier.

They might be of a size known as ‘toy’ but try telling them that. All are genetically programmed with the unshakeable belief that they are bigger than a Great Dane, tougher than a Bull Terrier and braver than a lion. Add to that their conviction that their way is the only way and perhaps you begin to see where I made my mistake. And to compound the problem, this one has an insatiable penchant for travel.

Work sheep, did I say? Well, she might condescend to cut a swathe through the middle of the mob, scattering them to the four winds, but only if they stand in the way of her path to adventure.

My next farm dog is going to be a kelpie, a collie, or a blue heeler …

A 19th Century Mastectomy

Angelina Jolie’s recent brave decision to go ahead with a pre-emptive double mastectomy and her frank publication, calls to mind another brave decision made more than two hundred years ago.

Having to make life-changing decisions while you’re reeling from shock at a diagnosis is incredibly difficult. The physician sets before you the type and degree of aggression of your cancer, a five year percentage survival rate for each of the possible treatments and says, “You choose.”

It is not always as stark as that, but it can be. Ultimately, you have to make very difficult decisions. No-one can say, “This is the way. If you follow it, you will get well.”

This is one reason to be thankful for the support of other breast cancer survivors and groups like the Breast Cancer Network and the Cancer Council. They’ve been there. They know what you’re going through. They can help you fight your way through the fog.

If you already have warning of a time bomb ticking away in the form of a breast cancer gene, maybe before it happens is a better time to make a decision.

One thing is certain: the decision must be made by you. Gather all the information; add up the odds; make the decision. If you can afford it!

Medical Insurance regards pre-emptive breast surgery and reconstruction as cosmetic. Yes, girls, a double mastectomy is cosmetic! Where are these people coming from? Even in the 1920s they didn’t take fashion that far!

While researching capitalisation in letters and diaries, I came across a letter from the 18th and 19th century novelist and diarist, Frances Burney (Madame D’Arblay) to her sister. In it she describes her 1811 mastectomy conducted without anaesthetic in France by seven surgeons (one to perform the surgery, the other six to hold her down. Although she says she refused to be held).

She describes the procedure, her reactions and her agony in graphic detail. And, yes, she used capitals (Though not as many as she might!), ruining my theory that only nouns were capitalised. She used the adjective ‘Bright’.

Her experience traumatised her so much that she could not bring herself to write about it for nine months. If you have not already seen it, her unabridged letter can be found here.

Some people speculate that Fanny’s breast lump could not have been cancer, but I like to think that she was rewarded for her courage and fortitude because she lived another 29 years to the grand old age of 87. She published her most famous novel Evelina when she was 26, married at 41, had one son, and lived a full life after the shocking trauma of her surgery, her journal letters giving us great social insight into her life and times.

In our time, however hard our journey, at least, we can be thankful that we do not have to endure surgery without anaesthetic.

Bravo, Madame D’Arblay! We can all learn Something from your Courage.