In order to supplement my income when I was working in Santa Fe, I took a job as ‘kennel girl’ caring for the hounds of a local hunt club. Yes, there are hunt clubs in the wilds of New Mexico and they hunt not fox, but coyote. They still use fox hounds to follow the trail and are still spiffy in their little red coats. The bugle or horn or ukalele that they blow (or strum) incessantly is also around – spooking horses that are not used to it. I lived on the property where the hounds were housed and cared for them before and after my shift at the barn.
Now when I arrived first day I did so full of verve and pip, eager to please, like a retriever on amphetamines. A terrible coincidence to this attitude was the fact that for some reason some of the hounds were suffering from a skin condition. Since they did not have individual kennels and this condition was contagious ALL hounds had to be treated. The treatment was two pills, administered orally, once in the morning and once in the evening for a period of four days. This is not so remarkable when you think of this in terms of Fido at home, but that was not the case for me. At the time I arrived there were thirty-five hounds. Thirty-five. 35. Okay, class it is time for a word problem.
Problem: Bonnie has arrived at a facility with the inability to say no – and must administer or medication to thirty-five hounds, twice a day, for four days. How many pills must Bonnie shove down the throats of baying creatures at six in the morning and night?
Keep in mind that this was within my first few days of employment at the kennel and so the hounds were not “Spot” or “Peaches” to me, to me they became known as “One As Big As A Bear That Wants To Eat My Arm” and “One Who Has The Ability To Launch Himself Off My Chest In Escape”.
But, to be fair, I was not alone in my endeavors. Twice a senior member for of the hunt club came to assist. From what I gathered he was a very important person in hunt club hierarchy and so I tried my darnedest to be polite and demure. This quickly faded after the first few moments. We were about fifteen hounds in and he was insisting that it should be he to give the pills to the hounds. Because I am fairly thin, blonde and have lady parts a few men I have come across tend to think they should take control and I should step aside and read pie recipes or something. This was one of those men. On one side I do not blame him, after all he had been around these hounds for years and here I was in my first few days in the position. But on the other side I had already gotten off a ten hour shift at the barn and the freaking sun was setting.
What was so aggravating about this gentleman was the lack of immediacy or technique. When you are thinking hounds you are most likely thinking of something in the realm of a beagle. No, no, gentle reader, oh no. Many of these beasts weighed in at over a hundred pounds and were larger than a shepard. And THICK, SOLID animals. So amidst a tornado of excited hounds in the middle of a kennel I would grab by the collar, get dragged a few feet and then throw my leg over one side. Then this gentleman would saunter over and after I had opened the hound’s mouth, he would place a pill gently on the tip of said canine’s tongue. Flash to two seconds later when the pill is arcing through the air and landing somewhere in the straw a few feet away. One would think this would be due cause for you to change your strategy, but nay. He would shuffle around in the straw and finally retrieve the pill, come back and again place it perhaps two inches further in upon the hound’s tongue. Again it came winging out. Every time this happened he would chuckle to himself as though his grandson had just done something naughty-yet-charming. “Gosh darn it,” he would laugh, “got me again.” Now the camera pans back to me, rank and disheveled, with straw and muck in my hair, looking at him through slitted eyes.
Finally he realized this was not working and began placing the pill and then holding the hounds mouth gently shut. The hounds would wait patiently and when the man let go would let it dribble out the side.
“I think he swallowed it that time!”
I point the floor. “No. It is there.”
“Oh, hahah, got me again!”
At some point within this test of patience and character I snapped. Before then I had been uttering soft phrases of “Maybe I should try.” to no effect. I snatched to bottle from his hands and said, “Why don’t you let me do it a few times.” as a statement. Then I grabbed the nearest hound, straddled him, lifted his head to vertical and shoved that pill so far down his throat I could feel that morning’s kibble. This happened quickfire three times in a row until finally he said, “Wow, you are doing a good job.” and let me to my task. Oh sweet validation!
I can now say emphatically that I can give a pill to anything on four legs. Would you like to hear the key gentle reader? First in the mix is speed, most people are afraid of sticking their hands down animal’s throats and with good cause – that is where bites come from. But animals do not generally bite when there is something in their esophagus*.
The second piece is a smooth confident motion, not only going past the tongue but past the spot of muscle at the back of the throat that creates a gag reflex. Even if you get it past the tongue that bugger can push it back out. The necessity to economize time in my case actually created a better experience for the hounds. People open a dog’s mouth and then stare into it, trying to figure just what the heck to do. This gives the dogs time to decide that this whole being grabbed and held in a vulnerable position is not for them. In this case it is just like riding – do not look at it, just do it and feel it. Slide your hand down the roof of his mouth and back until you feel a very soft, slimy area. This is the throat itself, past the muscular point. Now BE CAREFUL! It is tender and the game is not scratch and inflame the tender points of your beloved pet’s throat. Just deposit the pill at that point and you will be good to go. For extra points I would recommend a rubber glove and lubricant. These tools work on many different areas of life.
Anyway, I left the pen at the end of these hounds with saliva up to my elbow, holding my arm out and away from me like a surgeon and staring grimly out at the last vestiges of sunset. This, my friends, is how one develops a thousand yard stare.
If the image were a pulp romance novel cover it would be me standing on a mountain with the wind blowing the hair about my grim-browed face, my arm held in the before-stated position, my clothes ripped in tatters and that older gentleman clinging to my knees and staring up at me with awe and terror. Such is the lot of the chosen one.
*Please do not start sticking your hands into strange animals’ maws because of this sentence.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy The Baying of The Hounds: Sharks Circling.