Friday, April 23, 2010

High Rise Syndrome- The science of the nine-lived feline.

A young Jack Russel of my acquaintance is now newly christened Kamikaze Jack.When Jack presented at Kildare Vet yesterday he had some bruises and a shoulder injury. While I xrayed Jack to reveal nothing more sinister than a bad sprain his owner told a tale of derring-do and a death-defying leap.

Home alone while his owner shopped, Jack was locked in the kitchen as a regular routine. This recent fine day his owner returned home to find his dog in the garden at play. Doors remained locked. No other family member had been home. How did Jack get out?

A neighbour solved the mystery by reporting that he had watched while Jack poked his nose out an upstairs window,tentatively placed first one paw on the windowsill, then squarely positioned the other paw for take-off, until with ears cocked confidently forward, Jack had launched himself groundward off the upstairs windowsill.

Jack landed with nose, teeth and shoulders all a muddle. Like a tangled canine Wilbur Wright. True also to my son Daniel's favourite Buzz lightyear catchphrase " flying is falling with style"!

The solution for this owner now is to obtain a travel crate which is a type of collapsible cage large enough for a dog bed. Kamikaze Jack will now be cage bound in his owner's absence to curb further flights of fancy.

This behaviour is indeed strange in a dog. And of course in this case our patient was lucky not to sustain serious injury. Cases of falling cats are altogether more common however and a myriad of injuries are seen in association with cats falling from buildings.

Veterinary hospitals in New York first reported high-rise fall injuries in felines in Manhattan in the sixties. Appropriately they termed these cases " High Rise Syndrome". What made these cases news worthy was the surprisingly high survival rate in those cats who made it as far as the veterinary hospital after an often shocked and traumatised owner had peeled their pussy off the pavement.

This catalogue ( if you'll pardon the pun)of feline falls reveals the following; Two or three storey falls are more likely to be fatal than a five to ten storey fall. Survival rates were optimal for six storey falls as cats have time to right themselves to extend all four limbs ground-first but not time to reach terminal velocity. Having reached terminal velocity all is not lost as the cat will sprawl all four to extend body area in order to dissipate its force of impact. Their lower ratio of body mass to surface area is also an advantage cats have over many other species including of course the hapless human jumper.

The "record" is reportedly held by Sabrina ( not a teenage witch) who lived to meow the tale of her 32 storey fall off a frosty Manhattan window ledge. Incidentally the sorts of injuries these falling cats sustained were often no more serious than a few broken ribs, cracked jaw or chipped teeth.Of course critically serious injuries can also occur. But the good doctors of Happy Vet 5th Avenue can and will save one of your proverbial squashed cats nine lives IF your credit card can bear the pain. Strong Coffee and plush waiting rooms come as standard.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Irish Wolfhounds- echoes of a proud past.

Journeying the other day back up onto the Curragh from Naas to the junction 12 roundabout I met the new imposing ironcast sculptures now filling the eye at the gateway to the Curragh plains. I took three spins around the roundabout to admire Fionn MacCumhaill flanked either side by his impressive hunting hounds Bran and Sceolain.

Kildare people often think themselves to be living in a bland modern and almost suburbanised landscape. We assume perhaps that words like tradition and heritage fit Connemara,Dingle, Lisdoonvarna or the Giants Causeway. A reminder of the pagan, celtic and rebellious history of our own townlands might incite a bit more civic pride in the people, place and history of Kildare perhaps.

I was saddened to hear one of Kildare's county councillors on the radio complaining that Fionn MacCumhaill's aculpture shouldnt have been paid for out of Newbridge town council's parking funds.I disagree and believe in fact that cultural pride, identity and a sense of dreaming the possible can lift people to think above the everyday and believe themselves capable of better.

Civic Leadership needs to excite again. People need to be asked to believe in themselves and their country, to strive for a noble cause again and to rise above the mundane. Leadership is effective when it incites to what Maslow, an early psychologist, called "self-actualisation".

The presence of Fionn MacCumhaill, Bran and Sceolain towering over that motorway junction is an echo of Ireland's mythology and awakens in me a sense of patriotism. And a sense of identity that allows us as an Irish people to define ourselves apart from the euro-mush and globalised Americana that dominate our lives now.

Legend has it that Fionn MacCumhaill was a Kildare man. His grandfather Tadhg the Druid had a fortress and lands on the Hill of Allen. Fionn was the lovechild of Tadhg's daughter Muireann and Cumhaill, the leader of the Fianna. Fionn was reared in the Slieve Blooms but returned to Allen to claim his grandfathers lands.The title of leader of the Fianna was bestowed on him in Tara as his father's legacy.

His two favourite hunting hounds were bewitched warriors imprisoned in animal form.The theme of humans bewitched into animal form was a common part of Irish celtic mythology. My view is that these stories educated people to have respect for nature.The closeness of the link between man's fortunes and the cycle of nature was a core belief of celtic druidism.

Bran and Sceolain were Irish wolfhounds. However the early writers often termed this breed of huge dog a wardog or deerhound/wolfhound.They were fit for purpose and could kill a wolf by snapping its neck. A pair could bring down a bear of which there were many in the Irish iron age forests. The Fianna were footsoldiers who went into battle with their hounds at heel and as the dog would fight to the death with his master and guard the homestead at night they were a revered and treasured possession.

Roman historians of the second and third century AD write of these hounds being brought in cages to be exhibited in Rome and to fight in the Collosseum. The ship that brought a young St Patrick out of Ireland carried a cargo of hounds to Britannia. There is evidence that there was a thriving trade in the export of the Irish wardog to the continent.

We believe that the Romans never came to Ireland. However it is more accurate to say that they never established an occupational presence in Ireland. They certainly traded with the iron age Irish and pre christian celts. A Roman temple and baths in Gloucester today has a life size statue of an Irish Wolfhound which dates to 365AD. I would like to think that the fearsome indigenous footsoldiers of Celtic Ireland who went into battle with their loyal and savage wardogs at heel provided a strong deterrent against Roman invaders.

The Fianna disbanded within a few hundred years of St Patrick's christianisation of Ireland. The land lay open to Viking, Norman and then British invasion as the millenia passed and the landscape, culture and genepools of Ireland were altered and diluted over time. Fionn, Bran and Sceolain on the roundabout are an echo of what Irishness might once have looked like.

When you next drive by there picture Fionn, leader of the Fianna standing on the Hill of Allen, watching his favourite hounds Bran and Sceolain as they hunt the Curragh plains below.