Thursday, January 14, 2010

daktari, or, we change/we stay the same

Something this morning sent my memory skipping back to childhood when one of my favorite TV shows, Daktari, prompted several years of major play. I and several neighborhood friends played "daktari" for hours on end. My back yard was Africa, and we had assorted neighborhood dogs and cats, as well as a collection of stuffed animals, who were treated for various ailments, protected from poachers, and generally adored.

There were numerous cardboard boxes that contained all the Daktari "stuff." I remember things like pecans in the shell being used as big "pills" and there were empty syringes and various makeshift surgical instruments, along with many things I can't remember. But I remember each time we played, the boxes were pulled out of the outside closet in our carport, and we would proceed to set up the main play area. We took pretend jeeps all over the neighborhood, on safari in search of animals needing help.

For most of the years of my childhood I wanted to be a veterinarian. I applied to and was accepted into a pre-vet degree program in my junior year of high school. I had volunteered at our personal veterinarian's office during two summers, loved animals, and felt I knew exactly where I was headed career-wise. With much consultation with my father, I designed a home/office scenario where my living room and office waiting room were on either side of a huge built-in saltwater aquarium wall. In my mind I wanted the place where I worked to be right where I lived, because even back then, with no models to influence me, I realized I would never want to leave animals in cages in an office while I went home for the nights and weekends.

In my freshman year though, I became discouraged with the coursework, which was mostly conducted in huge classes and had no direct relation to animal care. I realized I loved my English classes and stood out in those, while in the science classes I was one of several hundred and the material was dry and generic. So I changed majors.

Sometimes I wonder if our educational system had been different, and veterinary school was more of a "trade" school, would I have gone on to become a "daktari?"

It occurred to me today that in many ways where and how I live now, as an adult, is the fulfillment of that childhood dream and play. Yesterday was spent mostly outdoors, with horses and donkeys, monitoring Salina's progress, interacting with the equines, and then dealing with a yucky cat ear and later two territorial male felines drawing boundaries. It wasn't Clarence the cross-eyed lion or Judy the chimp, but Keats-meow and Dickens, Salina and the donkeys, Kyra the Corgi and all the rest of the gang.

Throughout the days I'm handling various syringes, medicinal herbal mixtures, checking for wounds and injuries, and administering a feed routine that rivals a chemistry lab. While there are no surgical instruments, there are muck rakes, pitchforks, harrows, and grooming tools galore. The hoof pick is reminiscent of some of those early toys we used in our pretend play.

It's funny how much we grow and change from child- to adulthood, and yet if you look beneath the surface just a bit, some things are very much the same.

For a very long time, my career goal was to be the official veterinarian for the U.S. Olympic Equestrian team. The very idea that I would be doing that now, treating injuries resulting from using horses in sport, for medals, makes me laugh. It never occurred to me as a young girl that a job like that would entail monitoring horses for abuse. But it probably explains my fascination today with equine advocacy, and with issues like equine deaths on eventing courses and rollkur in warm-up arenas.


Michelle said...

I loved this little window into your world, Billie. It sounds like you've led a fascinating life, which doesn't surprise me at all! I'm sure you would have made a great vet, but you also make a great advocate. It is very true that although the surface stuff might shift, a lot of the time the structure beneath remains solid and consistent.

Barbee' said...

This is a very interesting post.

Jane said...

What Michelle said. :)

Advocacy may be another form of Daktari, with the pen as both scalpel and suture. There are many forms of being a healer, mending what is broken, not leaving the animals alone.


jme said...

i love this post :-) you are so right about changing and staying the same. i also think you would have made a great vet, but it sounds as if you've found your true calling which encompasses all of your passions and talents in a way that doesn't compromise your sanity ;-)

i've often wondered how different life would be if i had done all the things i always imagined i would.... for most of my youth i dreamed of being a veterinarian also, but i'm glad my interests and instincts took me in different directions. i find the work i do with horses now much more satisfying, realizing how miserable i would have been as a vet for big show horses, etc... and being good horse/pet owner requires one to be something of an amateur veterinarian anyway ;-)

i've never seen 'daktari' but it sounds like my kind of show and my kind of game (for a while in college i even entertained the idea of going to africa for my anthropology program ;-) your story got me thinking about a tv show i used to watch with horsey friends at school (this was before i started riding myself) that we would enact on the playground or in our backyards called 'the adventures of black beauty.' we would concoct all sorts of horsey adventures and then would morph into centaurs - everything from the waist down was equine meant for cantering and jumping, and everything above the waist was rider (and the sad thing is that, to this day, i am still better at 'cantering' than i am at normal running ;-)

anyway, that bit of nostalgia prompted me to go on amazon and see if the series was on dvd. it was and i couldn't resist ordering it out of curiosity. so thanks not just for the thoughtful post but also the trip down memory lane :-)

Grey Horse Matters said...

Reading this glimpse into your younger years,I don't think you've veered too far from your Daktari days in childhood. Look at all the animals you're responsible for and how you advocate for abused animals. Isn't it wonderful that you also can pursue your writing and psychology careers.

I don't know what it says about me but my favorite TV shows as a child were The Lone Ranger, Rin Tin Tin, Annie Oakley and Sky King.

billie said...

Thanks, Michelle. I've had the opportunity to explore a lot of ideas over the course of my life, and although I know at times it drove my parents nuts, it has given me a lot to draw on when I look back. I suspect it's also why I am so content in my lifestyle now - I did most of the things I wanted to do, and now I'm "back to" that childhood dream of living with horses. But it's been improved exponentially with the addition of the donkeys, and the Corgis, and my wonderful mix of children and husband, who each adds his/her own colors to the landscape.

billie said...

Thank you Barbee - I did a quick visit to your gardening blog and it is beautiful! Will be back soon for a longer look!

billie said...

Jane, I love what you wrote here - thank you. I hadn't thought of it in such a lovely way until I read that!

billie said...

j, I'm not surprised to read that you entertained being a vet for awhile, nor that you played centaur, which is the perfect name for it.

Another favorite game in my neighborhood, at least for me and 2 other girls, was just that. We were horses and riders, and we also utilized the neighborhood dogs to be horses in training. (one day I should think back and write a post about all those great neighborhood dogs who played such huge roles in my daily play!)

I have looked for Daktari on DVD but as yet haven't found it. I bought the book years ago for my daughter, and we read some of it out loud when she was young. She recently found it on our shelf and has been reading it.

I remembered last night a correspondence I had with a master horseman when I was maybe 11 - I can't remember who he was or how in the world I managed to get his mailing address (this was before the internet!). But he was someone I must have read about and admired greatly. I wrote him bemoaning the fact that I wanted to be the veterinarian for the U.S. Olympic Equestrian team, but that I also wanted to be a top-notch rider/trainer, and I was not quite sure how I was going to do both.

You can see how many things about ME have not changed - balance then and now was the key issue in life, for me!

But he wrote back and said he was quite taken with how big my dreams were and that he felt sure I would find my way to what I truly wanted - but he wanted to urge me in the meantime to focus on enjoying the journey and letting things fall into place.

That was very likely the first time anyone ever advised me to allow for synchronicity! I was somewhat astonished, but also intrigued.

I so wish I could remember who it was, and that I still had the letters. I believe there were a few of them.

billie said...

Arlene, a lovely list of shows! I watched the Lone Ranger with my dad. What was Sky King? That's the only one that doesn't ring a bell.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Okay this is crazy but Sky King was a guy who flew a plane (out West) and he and his niece Penny found the bad guys and always saved the day. Sort of like the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I have no idea why I remembered this but we were once playing Trivial Pursuit and it was in one of the questions and I was very proud of myself for knowing it an astonishing everyone else with my memory. I'm sure you're finding all this fascinating.

billie said...

Actually, I do find it fascinating! I don't remember Sky King but from your description I would probably have liked it. I had a thing about Amelia Earhart and briefly wanted to learn to fly a plane. Flying around finding bad guys would have definitely appealed. :)

jme said...

that's too funny! i also turned my dogs into horses - our collie bonnie was quite the grand prix jumper by the time we were through, and she'd jump whole courses constructed from picnic tables and benches. ;-)

i also feel like i should clear up the bit about 'cantering' which i don't actually still do ;-) but my 4 year old niece sometimes likes to pretend she's a wild pony and naturally i had to demonstrate the correct for technique 2-legged galloping ;-) i was surprised to find how naturally it came after all these years!

that's amazing about the mystery horseman. hopefully one day you'll find the letters and consider posting on them...? i had a similar conversation with a veterinarian who had dreams of both riding/training and having a vet practice. when i asked why she no longer rode or had her own horses, she told me much the same thing - if you truly want to do both, you'll find a way, but that for her it became impossible to keep her own horses in a way that was fair to them and maintain the practice at the same time. she said she wasn't able to devote the time it required and enjoy it the way she had and she felt like the horses were suffering for it. for me, i know i'd always find a way to manage both if it killed me, but that might take all the enjoyment out of it. i think that was a wake-up call for me because even now i can't imagine a life without my own horses :-\

too bad the show isn't on dvd yet. i'll have to look for the books :-) in the meantime, i'm curious to see how well the black beauty shows hold up after all these years... maybe they are something my niece will enjoy :-)

billie said...

Funny again - one of the neighborhood dogs we utilized was a collie named Taffy!

I have a daughter who is part wild horse, and as recently as a few nights ago she still sets up jump courses inside the house sometimes.

And I admit that she and I regularly turn music on and do musical freestyles around the living room/dining room/kitchen. Amazing what one can do with only two legs! :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

Reading all the commentary between you and j. I can see why you get along so well, you are practically the same people! She was very impressed with Beryl Markham (West With the Night)and in college she took flying lessons and even soloed. I think there would be no end to interesting discussions between you two kids.

billie said...

I think so too! One day we have to make a get-together happen.

(I'm smiling at the "kid" thing - this year of all years it's especially nice to read... one of those milestone b-days forthcoming!)

jme said...

i'm up for a get-together one day :-) and i love the image of musical freestyle around the house! that would be a really fun way to learn dressage tests :-)

billie said...

We really need to figure out a get-together - you are welcome here anytime! :)