A Visit from Howard Hughes
Living in the woods as we did, we were accustomed to wild visitors in our yard. Raccoons and opossums raided the bird feeder every night, causing poor Lady to spend hours with her nose pressed against the plate glass door, anxious to chase them away. WIld deer came through the yard every day. Bunnies, squirrels, skunks, foxes, beavers, wild turkeys, ducks, and even coyotes were all frequent visitors.
Only a few of these visitors could make it into the fence. Dillie lived her life behind an eight foot fence, as required by Ohio law. She was not allowed to mingle with wild deer, nor were they allowed to enter the fence. This barrier also prevented predators like coyotes and stray dogs from endangering her.
Peaceful wild animals often did come in the fence, and Dillie showed a natural curiosity about them. She followed the animals around the yard, lazily chasing them, but not showing any fear. A nesting pair of mallards which used the pool cover as their private pond each spring became such frequent visitors that they no longer even scooted away from Dillie. She started to nuzzle them like she did her familiar cats. In the early evening, the cottontail rabbits grazed right next to her, completely unafraid. She paid them no attention whatsoever. She was content to share her space with any unthreatening critter.
In late July, however, Dillie had a visitor that set her tail afluff and her hooves stomping. That visitor was none other than Howard Hughes.
Dillie was enjoying a splash in her baby pool while I was in the main pool swimming laps. I noticed as I swam by that Dillie was staring at something near the garage. Dillie’s tail fluffed. Her hair stood straight up. She stomped her hoof.
“What’s wrong with you, Dillie?” I called from the pool.
Dillie remained with all four hooves in her baby pool, but at full fluffed-up attention. Hoof stomp!
Steve appeared at the back door. He looked over the same direction where Dillie’s gaze was fixated. He was puzzled.
“What’s that goat doing here?” he asked.
“What?” I answered from the pool, thinking I heard him wrong. “What do you mean?”
“There’s a goat over there,” he said, pointing toward the garage. “A big white goat. With horns. In the fence.”
From my vantage point in the deep end, I could not see what he and Dillie were seeing, despite my best effort. “You’re crazy,” I said. “How would a goat get in the fence? It’s eight feet tall!”
“There’s a goat-- right there.” He pointed again. “It has horns that curl around its head and a long white beard. He’s big.”
“Oh, come on,” I said, splashing water at him. “You are just trying to make me get out of the pool to look, and then you’re going to tell me it was a joke.”
“No, really! There is a goat right there. Look at Dillie, “ he said. Dillie was still at full fluff. “She sees it.”
“Ok, ok, “ I said. “I will get out. But there had better be a real goat there or you are going to be a goat.”
I swam back from the deep end, to the steps at the other end and got out of the pool.
“He just left,” Steve said.
“What?? I knew you were pranking me.” I didn’t believe a word he said. He was not going to get my goat!
Steve was adamant. “There was a goat, I swear.”
“Then what happened to it? Where is it? Or did he sprinkle pixie dust and fly back over that huge fence?” I wasn’t falling for another one of his jokes.
“He didn’t climb over the fence. He crawled under it.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head, and went back to the pool to finish my laps.
I had good reason to believe he was joking. He had a well-earned reputation as a prankster. One of his more memorable escapades was planting a tree in the middle of a friend’s concrete driveway– an elaborate event involving a concrete saw, construction cones, wheelbarrow, shovel, bag of Quickcrete®, and, of course, the six foot cherry tree. Another friend, Ray, made the mistake of telling Chevy man Steve that his Ford truck was better. When Steve said the only things Fords were good for was giving Chevy’s something to tow when the Ford broke down, Ray told him he was “full of BS,” using the actual term for stinky bull caca. Steve repaid him by running a classified in the local newspaper with Ray’s phone number advertising “Free bull manure, by the truckful.” Ray was subsequently inundated with callers asking if they could get their free truckful of bull dung.
Fully aware of Steve’s practical jokester ways and the lengths he would go to stage a prank, I was not about to fall for the goat story. I had no doubt that, if necessary, he would import a goat from New Zealand, rent a helicopter, and drop it into the yard, just so one day he could make me get out of the pool to see his imaginary goat. I was not going to give him the satisfaction of falling for his little farce. So when my nephew Kyle came over to swim that day and said: ”Why is there a goat in your driveway?” I was convinced that Steve had put him up to it.
Steve was not giving up. Each day, over the next six days, while sitting down for dinner, he said nonchalantly: “I saw that goat again.”
“Right,” I said. “He must have a lot of pixie dust.”
On the seventh day, I ate humble pie. I was sitting on the wide front porch, reading a book, enjoying the warm summer day. Lady, as always, was right by my feet. Dillie was on the porch as well, licking Lady and trying to steal ice out of my iced tea. Once again, Dillie suddenly came to white fluffed attention. Lady stood up and growled, wagging her black pompom tail with the same excitement she had when a squirrel came into view. I looked up. On the front sidewalk, six feet away, was a goat. The goat. A big white goat with horns that curled around its ears.
I picked up my phone and called Steve who was tinkering in the garage.
“Steve, that goat is here, on the front sidewalk.”
He couldn’t resist. “What goat?”
Now that I was finally able to see the goat, I could see it was extremely unhealthy. His coat was ratty and he had weeping sores on his side. His wrists, knees, and ankles were swollen, and he limped on his back left leg when he walked. The horns curled around his ears in such a tight spiral that they were cutting his ears. From his little tail to his wattles he was downright filthy. Every bit a he, his prominent male package was in full display.
I called out to him. “Hey, goatie goat! Are you hungry?”
He looked up at me horizontally-slotted big brown eyes, jumped in place, and fearfully ran toward the garage.
Steve called me back. “I just saw him go under the garage. That’s were he is living.” Underneath one side of the garage, there was three foot crawl space. This had become the luxury accommodation of one very homely goat.
I walked down to the garage with Lady leading the way. Steve showed pointed out the goat penthouse suite. Lady sniffed around, peeked underneath, and growled.
“He’s way under there,” Steve said. “Now will you apologize for calling me crazy?”
“No way, “ I answered. “You are crazy. You just happened to be right about this goat, but you still are crazy.”
I looked in the crawl space, too, and could see those brown eyes peering back.
“Only we could have a goat show up in our yard,” I said. “As if life wasn’t weird enough around here.”
“I wonder where he came from,” Steve said.
“Beats me. He looks like he has been living feral forever. He is in horrible shape,” I told him. “We have to keep him away from Dillie. He could be carrying parasites and diseases that she could get from him.”
“Oh, don’t worry.” Steve was always Dillie’s Papa Protector. “If he gets within thirty feet of her, I will chase him away with a bottle of barbecue sauce.”
Steve and Lady ventured to the house to get provisions for our new subterranean guest. Soon, they returned with hay, sliced apples, and water. He placed the meal at the edge of the crawl space. Then they stood back and watched the hungry goat peek his nose out, take an apple slice, and retreat to his suite.
“I never saw a goat so afraid of people,” I said. Usually goats were gregarious, friendly creatures. “He’s a complete recluse. Like Howard Hughes.”
“Hey, Howie,” Steve called as he pushed the food tray further under the garage. “Come get your room service. Don’t forget to leave a big tip!”
Over the next few days, Howie became a little more adventuresome, and actually came out to eat his food, even if we were watching. If anyone tried to approach him, however, off he would go, back under the garage.
For our part, we began to accept Howie was part of our daily routine. Dillie had become more accustomed to seeing him, and didn’t hoof stomp or fluff when he joined her, at a respectable distance, in the fence. Lady stopped growling when he was near. Steve prepared food trays for him daily like he did for Dillie.
Still the unkempt recluse like his namesake, Howard Hughes would not allow us to get close enough to touch him. As a veterinarian, I desperately wanted to start antibiotics, wormers, and lice treatment . The complex goat digestive system greatly inactivates most oral medicines; therefore, the best way to treat him was with injectable and pour-on medications. Howie, though, was a long way from allowing us to touch him. Oral antibiotics seemed my only option. I hid a tablet within an apple in his food tray. He was too wily for that! He ate all the grain, berries, suckers, and greens. The only thing left on his entire food tray was a delicious-looking bright green Granny Smith apple, with a sulfa drug hidden in the center.
“Funny how he knows there’s something in there. He’s like a giant cat,” I remarked, knowing from my clinical experience that most dogs would take medicine easily if with a little peanut butter or Velveeta®, but fooling a cat was nearly impossible. A pet owner could put out an entire buffet of tuna, chicken, and Nine Lives® out, to hide one drop of pink Amoxidrops® within a morsel of the feline’s favorite food. Hungry Morris would run to the buffet, take one whiff, and turn away in a huff. Apparently, Howie had that same ability. No matter what I hid his tablet in, that was the one and only food item he left behind.
After two more solid weeks of spoiling Howie with delicious salads, fresh hay, and sweets, he finally allowed us close enough to him that I was at least able to apply a wormer to his back. Trying to give him an injection, however, was going to take a lot more restraint. I discussed the options with Steve.
Steve decided he was going to set a trap for him, so they could at least move h im into the barn. He wanted him caught, too, and not just to give him medication. An intact male goat has about as unpleasant of an odor as a skunk, and the noxious fumes were ruining his garage time. He and his garage buddies, The Garage Rats, as I affectionately called them, devised what they thought was a brilliant plan. They were going to set up fencing we had left over from trying to segregate the corral to keep the horses from bothering Dillie. The fencing was actually a six foot tall dog run with a gate in the front. The ragtag group of would-be engineers believed if they could lure Howie into the pen with some treats, they could then run up and close the door, catching him in the pen.
Not surprisingly, Howie was too crafty for the average gearhead.
Their first attempt at first seemed promising. The guys set up the pen next to the entrance to Howie’s suite under the garage and put the treats in the pen. However, Howie was no longer the starving waif he was when he had first appeared. His belly was always full now, and he had no need to venture into a pen to get more treats.
Steve instructed everyone to stop giving Howie any food, water, or treats except in the pen. During the day, Howie completely ignored the smorgasbord. At night, however, when no one was around to close the pen, he feasted greedily. In the morning, all the food was gone.
Steve was undaunted. “It’s just a matter of time,” he said, optimistically. “Sooner or later he is going to go in that pen while I am around and I will get him.”
Just a few days later, his decree came true. Howie did indeed venture in the pen and start nibbling his hay and grain. Steve ran out of the garage and tried to close the door. Howie saw him coming. Despite his arthritic joints and lameness, he scooted out of the pen and back under the garage before Steve could even reach the gate.
The Garage Rats regrouped.
The new plan was to tie a rope around the gate and pull it shut remotely, so Howie would not have time to run out. Once again, they set his meal in the pen. They tested the gate and rope remote control. It actually worked! Not only did the gate swing closed, but the latch caught.
They had him now!
Within just a few hours, they saw Howie go into the pen. Triumphantly, Steve pulled the rope and heard the gate clang shut. The guys all came running out of the garage to meet their quarry face to face. It was not Howie’s face, however, that greeted them. They arrived at the pen just in time to see Howie’s behind scurrying under the pen, back to his Plaza suite.
In the end, it was not human inventiveness that would catch the crafty old goat, but love.
The very next day, Howie was in the fence with Dillie, but being unusually friendly. Instead of keeping his usual respectable distance, he kept trying to approach her, as a mate.
Howard Hughes had found his Jane Russell.
Dillie was having none of it, and after scampering away from Howie’s advances several times, she ran into the house for the day. I closed the door behind her or the confused, lovesick goat may have just followed her right into the kitchen. Howie was only a few steps behind and peered longingly through the full length window of the back door.
“Now, we have to catch him,” I told Steve. “We are going to have to knock him out and neuter him as soon as possible. We can’t have him chasing Dillie around like that.”
Fortunately, that very night, Howie himself made other plans. At ten o’clock, I received a phone call from a friend, Sean, that lived about a half mile through the woods. Sean had three pet female goats penned behind his house.
“Hey, Mel,” Sean began, “did you and Steve put that goat in my pen?” I had run into Sean a few weeks ago and told him about Howard Hughes, the goat recluse.
“Put him in your pen? We can’t even get near that goat.”
“Well, he’s in there. Chasing my does around.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty horny, excuse the pun,” I said. I told him that Howie had been chasing Dillie around that day.
“If I can get him in a stall, do you think you can come over tomorrow and knock him out and neuter him?” Sean’s house was right behind my clinic, so the plan was to sedate him in the stall and put an end to his hormone-related problems. “If you can do that,” Sean continued, “I will keep him.”
“He’s pretty sickly,” I warned.
“We’ll get him back in shape,” he promised.
After successfully completing our plan the next morning, Sean said that he thought he knew who owned Howie. He gave me a name and phone number.
Later that day, I made the call. It was a conversation that left me shaking my head for the rest of time.
A pleasant enough lady answered the phone and I explained that Sean thought this goat is hers. “He is at Sean’s now, but he was living under my husband’s garage for weeks. He’s very wild and sick.”
A simple start, but then the conversation turned just plain baffling.
“He’s not really ours,” the lady said. “He was given to us by a friend, but he keeps running away, so he’s not ours.”
“Did you have him in a pen?” I asked.
“No, but if he were ours he wouldn’t leave the yard.”
I couldn’t believe what I had heard. What planet is this woman from? Can she really think any animal, especially hoofstock, especially a male, will just stay in a yard without a fence? No one could be that clueless!
Then it got worse.
Despite working with the animal-owning public for over two decades, and hearing every dumfounding statement that ever existed, or so I thought, I could not believe what she said next.
“The only reason we got him was because my doctor told me my baby was allergic to cow’s milk.”
Huh? I was speechless. This goat was a ram! A male! She got a male goat because her baby needed goat’s milk?
“But it didn’t work,” the lady continued. “My son’s still allergic.”
Two groups of people inhabit the blue planet. The first group is comprised of people that could be dropped by an airplane into a jungle with nothing but a pocket knife and a pack of chewing gum, and come out three days later, five pounds heavier, with a nice suntan. The second group, however, was made up instead of those lost souls that could be dropped into a Super Walmart with a twenty dollar bill and would never make it out alive. Their skeletalized remains would be found right in the potato chip aisle years later. These are the people that have such startling little common sense, such exquisitely diminutive ability to reason, such infinitesimally developed problem-solving skills, that their brains collapse in upon themselves. What remains is an intellectual black hole that will not allow a single thought to escape and will greedily suck in pieces of good brains around it.
I knew I had to end this conversation quickly or I was in danger of having my own brain sucked out of its calvarium crypt.
After hanging up, I told Steve that Howie was better off with Sean and his girl goats. There was no way he is going back to that home. I replayed for him the baffling conversation I had just had.
“You’re kidding,” he said.
“No, I wish I were. I swear to God that is what she said.”
“You mean she was trying to milk that boy?”
“Either that or she thinks just by having a goat, any goat, her son would no longer be allergic.” Either way, the explanation defied logic.
“What was she trying to milk anyway?” Steve thought about it and squirmed. “Geez. No wonder he ran away.”
(A side note: later that year, Steve had a friend with at GTO car that needed some work. I came home and found the GTO parked in the yard. I said to Steve: "What's that goat doing there?"
If you are not a gearhead or a Garage Widow, this explains the joke: http://www.ehow.com/about_6659054_gto-called-goat_.html
It's amazing how much car stuff I have absorbed by being married to a Gearhead. MRB)