I can’t really say I woke up to start a brand new day because I never really got to sleep in the first place. It wasn’t because I was afraid I’d start talking in my sleep and scare my roommate on our first night, although that was high on the top of my list at first. It started with the dogs. Any movement or perceived movement got one dog barking which woke the other dogs and got them barking. And since our dogs were barking, the neighbor dogs didn’t want to seem like they were slacking on the job so they got in on the percussive noise that pounded my eardrums.
Just as I started to slide into actual REM sleep, the roosters picked up where the dogs left off. Roosters do not give one fuck about what time it is. They feel the need to scream, they scream. When one rooster calls out, the rest of the roosters answer in turn. So the four cheeky buggers that were standing directly outside my open window would get going around 3am and you could track the telephone-like game of call-and-answer circumvent the island until it came right back around to the original roosters.
6:30am – I finally give up on the idea of sleep. I pad around the unfamiliar eating area and put the kettle on. While I take inventory of newly acquired bug bites, other pajama-clad zombies start to shuffle about, mumbling under their breath something about killing chickens. We’re due to begin at 7:55am for morning rounds so we slowly try to wake and come to life. But then the cars begin to pull into our front yard. Clients are now looking in our front window while we’re staring, wide-eyed, and shoveling cereal in our mouths. They don’t care. By the end of my time there, I had interacted with no less than 4 clients in my pajamas, flip flops and no bra. Oh, and don’t forget about me sporting a rather long, saggy looking ‘fro. Your standards for grooming dip drastically, you’ll see.
8am and we’re now entering a bit of chaos. While we should be going over cases for the day, half of us are handling the traffic of clients dropping off animals for scheduled surgeries. Making things a little more difficult, people begin to show up for unscheduled consultations, throwing the surgery schedule right out the window. But my personal favorite, people showing up for an appointment that was scheduled for last Tuesday. And that’s how they’ll announce they have priority, “I was scheduled to have his tail amputated last Tuesday.” Somehow, it does not register to them that their scheduled appointment was, in fact, not an open-ended invitation to have surgery anytime after last Tuesday. Just as you reach the point of grabbing the nearest chicken to throw at the client, you look at the sad, suffering animal and set up a cage for the poor thing.
Ok, so now we’re up and going, the schedule is well on its way of completely falling apart, half of us have missed morning rounds so we don’t know what’s going on and it’s time to man up and start cleaning cages. This is what we call the morning feed and clean. It’s nasty. It’s messy. It’s go time.
We break like a football team out of a huddle and head to our stations. For me, I always began with the kitten cages. Sounds fuzzy and cute, right? No. The kitten cage is one giant hutch subdivided into 4 smaller enclosures, each containing up to 5 kittens. I open the door to Cage 1 and discover the litterboxes have been pushed juuuust out of arm’s reach. I have to hoist myself up and into the cage and start crawling on chicken wire which hurts like the dickens. I grab one disgusting litter tray and discover I’ve just stuck my hand in a patch of diarrhea, meanwhile kittens start dropping on my back from above (what the hell?!) I’m on all fours, filthy tray in one hand and kittens crawling on my back, the others make a break for it by running between my knees and out the cage door. This became such a common ritual, any loose kittens were immediately attributed to “Cece’s in the cages again”. There’s a lot of panicked fluttering about as I grab the dirty litter trays, wipe the diarrhea off my hands, grab the soiled towels, flooring mats and dishes and toss them on the ground (careful not to throw them onto the escaped kittens). Then I leap into action trying to catch all the kittens that are now swarming the dog that lives below the kitten cages. Yes, we have a few dogs that are tethered to the kitten cages, no space goes unused. When the kittens jump out the cage door, they almost always land on either Cactus, a lovable stray, or Tipsy, a fish poisoning case that is chronically and comically shaky. Oh the joy on the dogs faces as they are showered with all those fuzzy kittens. Serious joy.
Cactus loves her kittens
Our adorably imperfect Tipsy
That’s the description of cleaning just one of the cages. Multiply that by four and then we are done with the kittens. Now we move to the monkey cage. The monkey cage houses older cats and gives them a lot more space to stretch out and nap. But they too enjoy in making me chase them down when they bolt out the cage door during feeding and cleaning. Mind you, no one is trying to run away. This is all a game to them. And I unwillingly obliged each and every day.
The monkey cage that holds no monkeys
Beautiful, terribly unphotogenic Belle
See, she can’t take a good photo
Kittens are done, monkey cage is done, now for the hospital patients. That’s a mixed bag. But when there are puppies involved, you can be assured it will be a horror where everything has to be scrubbed, including the puppies. And as soon as you stick them back in their cage, they do it all over again.
We lost count of how many times these pups got hosed down
The same intense clean and feed goes on with the large dog kennels with one person taking the dogs to the lawn, essentially begging, pleading, and bargaining with them to pee and poop. The other is left with the enviable job of gathering all the urine soaked bedding that more often than not contains hidden poops.
Cages and kennels are cleaned, blankets changed, everyone’s fed and watered and medications have been administered. The animals get to rest but the humans now have an entire hospital’s worth of dirty dishes and soiled blankets that need to be washed ASAP. Not to mention a wheelbarrow filled with all the soiled newspaper and old, uneaten food that we pulled from the cages. I had no idea chickens loved a good romp in soiled newspaper but there you go. Learned something new, didn’t you. They get in there and rip up all the newspaper which gets caught in the wind and blown across the yard. An unlucky soul gets to go chase down those pieces of filthy newspaper and then empty the wheelbarrow in the mother of nasty garbage pits where even more chickens await the morning deposit.
The wheelbarrow also known to chickens as “the buffet”
We’re not done with poop yet. Because another unlucky soul is out there with a bucket and a tiny toy shovel and their job is to inspect the lawns for poops. All of feed and clean is done as if walking in a landmine. In flip flops.
By now things are really hopping. Soiled bedding is being washed, dainty under things are being hung on the line (yes, all of Raro that visits the clinic also gets to peruse the drying panties of the volunteers), dishes are being washed, animals are being knocked out for surgery and clients continue to show up with a random assortment of pet maladies. We get the usual cases of itchy dogs and infected ears. One poor pet was brought in with the last three tail bones clearly visible. He had degloved his tail after being caught in some wire 5 days prior. The owner wasn’t sure if it was an emergency so she decided to bring him in once the weekend rolled around.
I see Paris, I see France….
3:30pm and it’s time to do the feed and clean dance once again. Clients still continue to bring animals but we’re on the phone trying to persuade clients to come pick up the animals ready to be discharged. Some clients pick them up by our 5pm closing time. Some enjoy strolling on over around 8pm. Some come a week or two later. Island time is far too strict a schedule for Rarotonga.
5pm. I’m goddamn done. My feet are burning, I’ve lost the ability to sweat, and I do not feel like wrestling with kittens anymore. Doesn’t matter, clients still continue to show up, only at a slower pace. It’s around this time we try to slow the pace a bit and grab something to eat, take an ice cold shower (remember, the hot water doesn’t work) and relax a bit. The phone continues to ring with such emergencies as, “My dog’s been itching really badly for about 6 months. Can I come right in?”. That is, if they do bother to phone first. One dude showed up at night with a kitten. That’s it. He found a kitten. And he wanted us to take it.
Public Service Announcement: Itchy dog, not an emergency. A limb that has gone missing in the last minute or two, an emergency.
The evening rolls in and we all start to drift to our rooms. We head towards the promise of sleep peppered with phone calls, late night emergencies, barking dogs, and screaming chickens.