Just then, a farmer walked in with a tiny bundle in his arms.
‘This little guy is in bad shape,’ he said, placing down a precious fawn with sandy brown fur and white spots.
Flopping on the table, the deer’s legs sprawled out beside him.
One, two, three… I counted. But where’s his fourth?
Then I saw it – wrapped in silver tape, a tiny stump stuck out from his body.
The farmer had found the two-day-old deer on his property. It looked as though he’d been run over by a harvesting machine as his leg had been sliced right off.
‘The only option is to put this poor guy down,’ our head vet said. ‘He’ll never survive in the wild.’
My heart broke, he was only a baby.
‘Unless someone wants to foster him?’ the vet said, glancing around the room.
Instantly, the tiny fawn met my eyes.
‘I’ll take him,’ I blurted.
After he’d recovered from surgery to remove his stump, I wrapped him in blankets for the journey home.
‘I shall name you Rudie the Reindeer,’ I told him.
Twitching his adorable pointy ears, he gazed up at me with his big brown eyes.
I think he likes it! I giggled.
Back at my farm, I made sure Rudie felt right at home.
Making him a comfortable bed in the lounge room, he snuggled up and drifted off to sleep.
Every four hours I woke to bottle feed my little man and eventually he began to gobble down porridge.
During the day, I’d pop him in a washing basket and take him to work.
Afterwards we’d practise his three-legged walking.
‘Time to get you hopping around,’ I smiled.
Slipping him into a poodle harness I carried him outside.
Then I popped Rudie on the ground and, supporting his weight, I encouraged him to take his first steps.
Shaking, he put his front hoof forward and his back two slid along behind.
It doesn’t look like he’ll ever be able to walk, I worried.
But the next afternoon as we practised, my senior dog Keira, 10, and pup Shadow bounded over wagging their tails.
Feeling Rudie tug on the harness I released my grip... and off he went!
Hopping around the yard, he chased after Keira.
‘Go Rudie!’ I cheered.
Keira instantly doted on the latest addition to our family too, sniffing him and snuggling into him.
With Keira encouraging Rudie to use his legs, I put the harness down for good.
That wasn’t all.
Rudie would drift to sleep cuddled up in Keira’s fur and Keira even cleaned Rudie with her tongue!
She’s like his mum, I thought.
The pair were inseparable and the more time they spent together, the more Rudie started to act like a dog!
‘Go get it!’ I yelled, tossing a tennis ball across the yard.
Keira and Shadow took off after the ball as Rudie chased behind.
I barely noticed he had three legs the way he leapt about with ease.
Rubbing up against my leg, Rudie even enjoyed a belly scratch like a pup!
‘You’re a good dog-deer,’ I laughed.
In fact, Rudie brought me so much joy, I decided to take him to the local retirement village.
Scooping him out of his washing basket, I introduced him to the residents.
‘Aww!’ the room cooed, just as taken by him as I was.
It was adorable when Rudie played dog, cuddling up on their laps and begging to be petted!
Back home, Rudie ran straight to Keira and the pair drifted off to sleep.
But a few months later Keira sadly passed away from old age. I was broken and so was Rudie.
It tore my heart apart watching him search aimlessly for his dog mum.
Deciding to find him a new bud, I took him to my paddock.
‘Rudie meet Joey,’ I said, introducing him to my horse.
Touching noses, the duo soon started running together through the grass.
And the more time they spent with each other, the more attributes Rudie picked up.
Galloping through the paddock, nuzzling with his snout and chewing on hay were a few of his favourite things.
Rudie even decided to stay in the paddock with Joey and the two turned into snuggle buddies.
One day, I tossed a yellow tennis ball in the horse yard and Rudie ran after it.
‘Rudie – the gallop of a horse, the playfulness of a dog and the looks of a deer!’ I laughed.
I would never have thought the newest member of my family would be a cross-breed.
But he wouldn’t have the personality he does today without Keira or Joey.
Rudie is the best three-legged horse, dog, deer I have ever met!