This week the wild animals of Hardin County, Kentucky lost their biggest supporter, and the world lost a wonderful person. My former boss, Monika Wilcox, died from injuries sustained from a fall in her home. I worked at her wildlife rehab from 2000 to 2002, and during that time, I learned more about animal poop than I could have ever imagined: raccoon, goose, deer, hawk, owl, possum, goat, kestrel, songbird, cat, dog, bear, cougar, woodchuck, and even bat poop. I could identify all of it before scooping it up.
In honor of Monika, here is a repost of one of my first stories: A Goose Or A Gander.
I have spent a great deal of my life working with animals. My favorite animal-related job was at a wildlife rehab center in Radcliff, Kentucky, where I spent two years learning the basics of rehabilitating songbirds, raptors, and mammals from a very talented woman named Monika. The rehab center (Monika's backyard) was a quarter of an acre surrounded by a slatted six-foot privacy fence. It was a maze of barns, flight cages, and mammal cages, where a female deer, a sheep, two goats, and a crotchety goose named Frank ran loose on the pathways between. Roughly two hundred birds and mammals were usually on hand. I spent almost every weekend there, in every type of weather, with doves sitting on my head or being chased by Frank as we played follow the leader. I did heavy-duty shit cleanup and lots and lots of critter KP.
Monika worked out of her large one-story home. There were two people who lived there, plus twenty-five cats and ten dogs. There was a single bathroom, in the back between the two bedrooms. The walls were just about hollow, so when I peed in the bathroom, Monika or her husband John or anyone in the living area or the bedroom could hear everything. There was no fan in the bathroom, so I grew to appreciate the courtesy flush -- as I'm sure they did, too.
I tried not to poop at work; but as my hours increased, it became very clear that my body would always insist on pooping in the morning. Sometime around 11 AM I would have to flit to the bathroom, hoping John was sleeping in. He usually was. John was a retired pilot, and he slept in until 11:30 every day. Lucky guy. If I played my cards right, I could poop and get back outside before he woke up.
I would poop as quiet as I could, which was very hard sometimes. Every fart would reverberate around that little room, announcing its arrival as a ricochet of flatulent, staccato discord, the noise bouncing off the peeling wallpaper and growing in volume before dying in an echoing, pathetic ripple. I hated farting in that room. The times I had to let out a particularly loud crap when John was making the bed were some of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
This led me to develop what I call Bell Curve of Shame. It's easier to be a Shameless Shitter among strangers and among close friends; among acquaintances, it is horribly embarrassing. The apex of the curve marks the height of Shame along the continuum of the relationship.
Yet I got along with very well with John and Monika, and I really grew to care for them. In this I was in the extreme minority, for John could be a real bastard. A retired major who flew helicopters with no pilot's license in 'Nam can be a scary, pent-up mess of a human being. They were very private people, and I was allowed into their very small, intimate circle of friends; but there were still times I felt as if I was on some sort of bathroom visit ration, like I'd be overstepping some invisible boundary by using the toilet.
One day in particular, I arrived at work feeling that I was soon going to take a dump of notable proportions. My stomach had been rumbling and my bowels were quite active. I knew I was going to crap, and crap big. The weather was right for such an event -- it was fall, so it was cool and dark, with a brisk breeze. The scene was set for some dramatic pooping.
I peed around 10 AM, and then had a cup of coffee out of sheer habit. The coffee wasn't a very good idea -- I had to pee an hour later. As I emerged from the bathroom, John came from the bedroom. I think he had been waiting for me to finish. I said good morning to him and went back to the yard; but by the time I stepped outside, a totally uncomfortable moving in my gut announced I needed to go back in. It was almost painful. In fact, I stood still until it was over.
I didn't have a big window of poop-holding opportunity. But I couldn't go back into the bathroom, because John had seen me come out minutes before. The situation was too embarrassing to handle. I suppose I could have run back in, but that bathroom ration loomed over me like a ticket with too many punch-holes. I was desperate!
Because of the ungodly amounts of hay and straw that had to be replaced daily, Monika kept dozens of big black garbage bags under the sink in the kitchen. I always had two or three in my pocket if I needed one on the spot. So that left absent only clean-up material. Thinking fast, I grabbed a very long piece of toilet paper from the bird room off the office -- Monika had toilet paper everywhere to use for disposable nests for orphaned baby birds. She saves over a thousand birds annually... that's a lot of toilet paper nests. Good thing for me.
Then I panicked. I had the TP and the garbage bag, but I didn't have the location. The owl and turkey vulture cage was out because there was little cover, the vultures ran around, and the owls had no sense of humor. The flight cages by the back door were the ones Monika was most likely to visit. The barn was a possibility, but there were so many holes in the latticework that I'm sure I could be seen squatting over the bag if someone came out the door. The only place in which I thought I might pull it off was in the furthermost corner of the yard -- the corner behind the tool shed. A space of three feet separated the fence and the shed, and old lattice sheets lay behind it. I would only be spotted if John or Monika came to the back three feet of the yard.
But those three feet of vulnerability ran the entire length of the backyard -- about 120 feet. At the other end of that fence wall was the only bare place in the yard, the only place not occupied by a cage. It was where the deer, the larger goat, and Frank the goose hung out.
Quietly walking behind the shed, I dropped my sweatpants and squatted over the open garbage bag. I realized I wasn't hidden, after all, because the slatted fence could be looked through in small diagonal spaces, and Monika's step-dad lived next door.
Monika's step-dad, Howard, had this dog that barked any time someone or something went near the fence separating the two properties; and like an idiot, Howard would reward the dog by calling it to the door to get a cookie every time it did this. I wished I could have bitch-slapped that old man every time I heard his straggly voice squeak out that damned phrase. "Come get a cookie!!"
Oh, fuck your cookie, Howard.
So, of course, as soon as I began to let loose (and did I let loose!), Howard's tri-colour charged the fence and began to bark. Hearing this, Frank the goose ran up to the fence and began to honk and peck at the space in between the planks. I wanted to die. I tried to poop as fast as I could, but how you do that, you know? It was wet and loud and made a funny splattering noise when it hit the bag. (I think Jackson Pollock would have been amused.)
As I peered through the slats toward the back door, waiting for Howard to start his stupid cackling about cookies, the dog and I made eye contact. It stopped barking for a second; then probably decided it wouldn't get its freaking cookie if it quit, so it resumed. Frank continued to peck at the fence, and then at my jacket. He was eyeing up my shoulders. Whenever I ate lunch outside, Frank would sit on my lap and then on try to get on my shoulders. Right now, I was in no position to push him off. I only had seconds to finish and wipe up.
As I pulled up my sweatpants, I heard a door open, and Howard began to crow about cookies. I withdrew as far away from the fence as I could, threw the used paper in the garbage bag, and then put that bag into another bag that contained soiled straw and rat pieces from the red tailed hawk cage. Frank followed me to the back gate, honking because I was ahead of him. I was winning. He hated that. I felt marvelous and about four pounds lighter.
I went back to the kitchen and had a second cup of coffee. John smiled at me, and Monika asked me to help her clip a hawk's talons, and nobody was the wiser except Frank.
Here is a picture of Monika from around 2006, with a giant possum who became too friendly to release back to nature. I am going to miss her terribly.