‘The funny animal stories that peppered our past’

Jan 15, 2020
Heather recounts some of the memorable moments she and her family have had with animals, including a close encounter with a crocodile. Source: Getty Images

In 2018, my brother-in-law passed away after a short battle with illness. When I caught up with my sister to celebrate my 70th birthday, she disclosed that she’d been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. More sad news.

My sister is bitter that her husband has gone. Her moods swing. She often repeats herself, but on this day she asked to talk about him.

“Okay,” I said. “What do you want to talk about?”

My brother-in-law was born in Lithuania. On the ship coming to Australia, his mother had two other sons so they — for whatever reason — gave him to a childless couple on board the ship. This couple brought him up for 14 years until he was able to reunite with his birth parents.

He never showed any bitterness towards his parents regarding their decision and he treated both families equally.

My sister met him at the local pool. They fell in love, married and moved interstate, to Adelaide, South Australia.

With a young family in tow, they went to the zoo one afternoon. Passing the gorilla enclosure, my brother-in-law inspected the nameplate of the gorilla. He called to my sister that the gorilla had the same name as her. He started laughing, but as he turned to walk away he felt something hit him in the back of his head. It turns out the gorilla had thrown a large handful of its droppings at him.

We visited the zoo in Adelaide some years later with them. We wanted to see if there was still a gorilla exhibit and when we got their my brother-in-law was convinced the gorilla was the same one. Despite the warning signs for people to avoid getting too close, my brother-in-law went up and called her name.

Imagine our shock when a big hairy arm stretching out and grabbed the glasses off his face. She twisted the frames and pushed the lenses out. When she was done, she calmly handed the glasses back to him.

My brother-in-law didn’t have much luck with primates. Years later he was working with an oil company and was given the opportunity to go to an Asian country where monkeys of all kind were worshipped. Tourists could buy a bag of nuts and feed the monkeys.

Seeing a large monkey, my brother-in-law walked over with a nut in the palm of his hand. Reaching out, the monkey grabbed him on the crotch. Everyone was horrified, but the monkey held on until he’d finished eating all the nuts. Then he released his grip and walked away. A perfect imprint of the monkey’s hand was left on my brother-in-law’s white shorts.

In fact, my brother-in-law wasn’t fortunate with animals in general…

We recalled a time when he and my sister were camping. My sister was on the beach reading and her husband waded into the water to do some fishing. She heard a ‘splash’ and when she looked up she saw a crocodile scrambling off the bank and into the water.

Immediately jumping up she started waving at her husband to get his attention. He waved back. Of course! (He obviously made it out of the water safely though.)

Talking about these misadventures with animals brought back some great memories for my sister and me. I recalled an incident with a border collie that we had when my girls were little. My husband and I were renting at the time and the house had a big yard.

My husband had tied a rope with a tyre from a tree so the girls could swing. We heard them yelling at the dog. When I came outside to see what all the commotion was about I saw the dog with his legs through the tyre and his jaws were locked on the rope. He was swinging back and forth.

We moved to a house with a paling fence. One day the neighbour knocked and asked if she could see my big dog. I said he wasn’t big a border collie. He looked at us over the fence and she said, “Impossible!”

One afternoon I heard her stepping out her back door so I went outside. The dog raced toward the fence and then jumped, hooking one of his paws through the paling. I’m amazed he never had splinters.

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