We've all heard of WC Fields' advice which remains relevant today. He warned us all to 'never work with children or animals' but when you're a parent, the two parties seem to come together like Chaos and Theory; Ripped and Trousers; Poo and Shoe.
Not only do most kids have pets at home but school excursions, fete days, Sunday drives and parties seem to involve animals as well. Notwithstanding the importance of immersing children in nature and teaching them about the circle of life/where milk comes from/that fuzzy roo over there has stuff called 'leather' underneath his fur that most of your school shoes are made from and so forth; there's always the unexpected element when animals are presented 'live' on show to kids.
The giggles when the police horses dump a wheelbarrow load of manure on the street during the Christmas pageant, or the Victor Harbor Clydesdales release a few prisoners during their leisurely tram trek across to Granite Island - these never fail to encourage a few wicked giggles from children.
Goats may not be as commonly selected for keeping civil order or transporting tourists but they are a frequent choice for hobby farms and at petting zoos. This is despite the fact that they are renowned for their unpredictability and willingness to eat everything from paint off gates, the bottom of my jeans and plastic buckets. Goats have eyes that are really widely spaced which can give them a creepy - I could eat you too - kind of blank stare. They also have an ~ahem~ tendency to fornicate instantly when they are startled.
Sadly, I've been witness to this kind of reaction. My father-in-law breeds goats on an isolated property studded with salt-bush, mallee and limestone. His goats have a flock of chickens and half a dozen sheep for company and tend to enjoy a rather carefree life of free range foraging and the option to return to fresh hay and shelter at the end of each day.
During one of our stays with Rob, we were sitting out on his makeshift terrace enjoying a cup of billy tea, watching the sunset and surveying the goats grazing nearby. Something had suddenly spooked them and for the next two minutes we saw an orgy of gang-banging cloven-hoofed beasts bonking at satanic speeds. Even Malcolm, Rob's tame and fully grown sheep decided to participate which didn't look pretty.
The worst thing was that our daughter Sapphire was only four years old at the time and it had all happened so instantaneously and graphically before we could grab her hand and say, "Oh, let's go inside and make some damper," and thus shield her from the baseness of farm life. When the scenes of inter-species depravity ended as quickly as they had begun, we were all silent for a moment, struggling to find a way of explaining it to Sapphire in the most innocent of terms when she piped up with, "Why did they start fighting with each other like that?"
Perhaps having an annual Adelaide/Monarto zoo family membership wasn't the smartest idea for us either. The zebra, pictured here sitting down rather primly, seemed to be overly fond of flashing his, erm, 'dangle twang' every. single. time. we. visited. No joke - his pink fifth leg was always out and would cause Sapphire to double over with laughter and even remark, "Look Mum, it's bigger than a hose!" Er, quite.
Or take these monkeys. One minute they're peacefully hanging around together in earnest monkey conversation and the next they were insolently hanging alongside each other on a large branch, piddling large arcs of yellow rope down into the pond below. The boardwalk rang with peals of delighted, primary-school-aged laughter.
I guess I should be thankful that no dung was flung in our direction.
On the homefront, we've been extraordinarily lucky in our choice of animals. No, I'm not talking about Love Chunks or Sapphire, but Milly the dog, Skipper the rabbit and our three chooks Hermoine, Luna and Ginny.
We get entertainment, loyalty, unconditional love and the occasional warning bark to strangers from Milly; laps around the coffee table, athletic jumps onto the ottomon and soft cuddles from Skipper; and curiosity, contented clucks and eggs from the hens.A suburban paradise of three humans and five animals is enough for me. Bruce the turtle, Rocky the cat, Winston the guinea pig, Sugar Lips the horse, Arnie the Axolotyl, Barney the budgie, Reggie the rat, Minnie the mouse and the flock of homing pigeons can stay in the homes of Sapphire's school mates.
A tapir might be good for sniffing out a decent rockmelon and packet of coffee beans though.....