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A Local Encounter that Changed my Perspective - For the Good of the Lamb

NEW ZEALAND | Tuesday, 9 April 2013 | Views [234] | Scholarship Entry

“COOOME ON,” Mike growled at a flock of sheep packed together as tightly as a new box of Q-tips.

“HAVE A LOOK,” his brother-in-law chimed in, “COME ON, HAVEALOOK!”

The sheep didn’t budge, so Mike changed strategies. “GET OVER HERE,” he snarled.

Almost immediately a long-limbed dog jumped the fence. It landed on top of the sheep, barking as it sank into crimped wool. Aside from being a weather hardened cowboy in short shorts, Mike was also one of the best dog trainers in New Zealand.

As the lambs scrambled forward I picked one up and placed it in a restraint that resembled a child’s car seat. Mike cut off the tail’s circulation with a Cheerio-sized rubber band while I clipped the lamb’s right ear.

The feel of the metal punch slicing through the skin made my suburban knees weak. My stomach fluttered but my hand was steady as a heart-shaped chunk of hairy confetti fell to the ground. Within a few seconds a small artery began spurting like a fountain of red embroidery threads.

Mike nodded in the direction of the lamb’s tail. “How about it?” He passed me a large knife with a white handle, each plastic pore clogged with blood and dirt. “Go on,” he encouraged, as nonchalantly as is if I were deciding whether or not to have another beer.

As I gripped the handle I thought about one summer in Las Vegas when my friend arrived on my doorstep, hysterical because of her pet rat.

“The cage is too small,” my father had concluded. “He’s just chewing his tail off to have more space to move.” To confirm his hypothesis he pinched the tip of the tail and gave it a soft tug. The skin slid off the bone as easily as if he had removed a sock.

“It’s for its own good,” my father had stated as he trimmed the tailbone with his favorite pair of nail clippers.

I had been absolutely horrified and, to be honest, if it had happened that morning I still would have been horrified. Yet here I was looming over a supine lamb with a bloody cleaver in my hand.

After a moment of hesitation I grabbed the tail and stretched it out; it was as limp as an old carrot.

“It’s for its own good.” Mike reminded me, his advice like a booster shot I needed every decade.

“Yeah,” I replied, pushing the blade into the tail, “it is.”

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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