Have you ever got exactly what you want for Christmas?
I was working the morning shift on Christmas Day with Simon Lamont and holding the FoK hotline when a call came through that would deliver that gift.
Kay Sherring (a past Care Centre Co-Ordinator) was walking through the Lismore Golf Course, when she saw a joey alone in a Forest Red Gum. Kay had been watching this joey and her mother for over a month, moving around the area. However, for the previous three days, the joey had been on its own (and in the same tree), with the mother moving further away each day. On Christmas Day, the mother was nowhere to be found. I drove to the Golf Course where I met Kay and her family. We decided to wait until early afternoon before trying to get the joey down.
Following our Christmas lunches, we regrouped back at the Golf Course. Simon and I were in the van and Paul O’Donnell and his sons came to lend a hand too. Thanks to Simon’s excellent flagging technique, we had the little girl in no time. Once we were able to see her up close, we could see she had mild Conjunctivitis (which she would have caught from her Mum). She was big enough that she would weigh more than a kilo.
After interrupting Pat’s Christmas lunch, it was confirmed – I was taking home my first joey.
I named her Dot (after my Aunt) and in no time she was displaying her cheeky, strong willed and mischievous behaviour. Luckily, Cheryl Cochran (of Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers) was able to furnish me with an excellent indoor tree and some milk. Dot immediately ran up the tree when it was offered to her and once perched, started eating the leaf I had picked.
I have spent a good couple of years observing home carers and asking endless questions but I was not prepared for the reality of rearing a joey at home. The cleaning, sanitising, washing and leaf picking that all needs to be done before you even think of your own needs – it seems endless.
In addition, koalas are quite active at night, so at best your sleep is interrupted, at worst non-existent. But I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier to be woken, than to the sounds and smells of little Dot. Once she had learnt how to climb my bed frame, I was visited many, many times each night.
The most fun thing in the world (according to Dot) was running full speed from her tree to my bed, climb the bed frame, jump on my face (preferably while I’m sleeping) then climb back down and run full speed back to the tree and climb the tree like someone was chasing her. The first dozen times she did this, I thought it was extremely cute (apart from the facial attack). But there were a few nights when she did it non-stop between 10pm and 4am. She had a lovely sleep during the day and was ready to go again by the time I was turning off the light the following evening.
It took three weeks to get her to feed properly. Thankfully, she ate heaps of leaf and continued to gain weight but I was continuously worried until the day she decided she quite liked milk.
Vet Bec at Keen Street saw Dot for all her check-ups and she behaved beautifully (so all my stories of her late night shenanigans were hard to believe). She recovered perfectly after her 21 days of antibiotics and we got into a routine. We would spend some time outside most days (weather permitting) walking the property or sitting in the sun and she was always wide eyed – taking in the sights, smells and sounds. At night, when our local male koala would bellow, she would run to my bed and sit on my tummy while looking out the window. I explained to her about boys but I don’t think she was listening.
She had a brief moment of fame, with her gorgeous face on the local TV news as well as making the cover of the Northern Star. She was very fussy about her leaf – “I know I loved that Tallow yesterday but today it’s disgusting and I can’t believe you expect me to eat it”. That’s what I interpreted from the looks she would give me. She gave me so many scratches that my doctor asked me if I was self-harming. She also reminded me of the terror that is a panic attack.
During it all, Pat provided calm advice and laughed with me at my over reactions. In retrospect, freaking out about Dot’s scats being small and crumbly or worrying that the way she threw her head back whenever she was unhappy was some sort of seizure or that when she bit me over and over that it meant she hated me, all seems crazy now, but I assure you at the time it was serious stuff.
Six weeks later (and several more grey hairs for me), Dot was nearly a half kilo heavier and completely free of Chlamydia. Time to move on!
Home-carers Sue Johnson and Jo Cabale kindly took Dot to live in their outdoor enclosure. They already had Leah and Lila, who were a bit older but close enough in size that we were hopeful Dot would fit in with them. She didn’t disappoint. After a day of settling in, Dot was found cuddling up to her new buddy Leah. Since then, Sue tells me Dot spends some of her time cuddling and some sitting alone.
As a foster Mum, there is nothing greater than watching Dot’s koala instincts kick in. She’s been given a second chance at a full life and I’m so honoured to have been part of it.
Susannah Keogh – Treetops March 2015