Saturday, December 30, 2006

BeeBop Says Goodbye to Renny

One evening, I was called to a client's home to euthanize their dog. This dog was named Renny, 14 years old, and his health had been sinking steadily for the last few months to the point where he could not longer eat or get up. The clients led me into the kitchen where Renny was stretched out on a beautiful quilt. We all chatted for a bit about what was about to happen. There were many tears. BeeBop, a cat, circled the fringes of the group. I assembled my equipment: needle and syringe, tourniquet, and euthanasia solution. As I knelt on the floor, I noted to the clients how BeeBop was "right there", watching my every move. The clients said the dog and cat had grown up together, having arrived in the household at aproximately the same time and age, almost 14 years ago. So I began my preparations, BeeBop watching with the intensity of a student, trying to make sure he understood every move. Watching me attach needle to syringe. Watching me draw up the pink euthanasia solution into the syringe. Watching me attach the tourniquet at the elbow so the vein in the foreleg would "pop up". Watching me insert needle into the vein, draw back a bit of blood, then release the tourniquet and slowly inject the solution that would end Renny's life. BeeBop watched it all with the caring of a friend, then as Renny gave his last little sigh, BeeBop immediately turned and disappeared into the basement. Perhaps to mourn the death of his friend? It was so crystal clear that he knew what was happening.

A month or so later, I visited the same client to vaccinate the cats. As I drove up, I wondered if BeeBop would be angry with me. But as I climbed the porch stairs, he jumped out of his secret hiding place and rubbed up against my leg, asking to be petted. We understood.

Paper Clip

Paper clip.
Wire bent in
upon itself.
Metal pretzel.
Twisted inward
is a useful state.
Notice how the paper clip
holds important papers
Twisted inward.
A useful state.


Can You See Anything?

Stinky basement of my old house
Burial vault
Through debris
Appearing from the dust and mouse shit
Three black binders
I open the first.
Filled with poetry
Before computers
Who wrote this stuff?
As I flip pages
Spiders scurry away
Over mouse-chewed pages
Stained with urine
But alive, somehow

“can you see anything?”

“yes, wonderful things!”

As a kid
Wished I could discover a pharaoh’s tomb
Like Carter and Carnovan
But this
A treasure
Or a curse?

Today I see the three notebooks
On the bottom shelf
Waiting patiently
Until I have the courage to see the treasure

“Yes, wonderful things”

Does every tomb have a curse or should I just open the notebooks?

“can you see anything?


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Potato Chips Are Bad for Dogs: A Cautionary Tale

This is a true story. The names haven't even been changed. I've done my best to get the facts straight. If it saves just one other dog's life, it will be worth it. Most all of us know chocolate is bad for dogs, but potato chips........?

In the wee hours of the morning, last year, my friend Suzy couldn't sleep, so got up to go downstairs to make herself a cup of tea. On the way down the stairs, she heard a strange sound. It was a rhythmic crinkling, occurring at regular intervals. It didn't sound like her husband snoring, so she crept out to the living room to investigate. In the middle of the floor, she saw her beloved Corgi, Georgia, her head deep inside a now empty bag of potato chips, unconscious. Georgia has been known to enjoy food and in this case, she was going for the last delicious crumb in the bag when the carbon dioxide levels got so high, she passed out. Suzy pulled the bag from Georgia's head and in a few moments she sat up, shook her head and wandered off towards the kitchen, apparently ok.

So the moral of the story is: if your dog is addicted to chips, seek professional help, and don't leave bags of chips lying around. Remember, chip bags can kill your dog!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I had a woman call me a couple of years ago, while I was still doing my mobile small animal practice. She was quite distressed and asked that I come over as soon as possible and "put her dog to sleep". I asked why and she said "because its too fat!" I declined which pissed her off so I ever so politely hung up on her.

I don't believe in convenience euthanasia. If you take on the responsibility of an animal, they are not disposable because you are moving to Delaware, into a smaller apartment, or your girlfriend doesn't like dogs. Often, people who want their animals euthanized for spurious reasons refuse, when I suggest, to take their animals to the humane society for possible adoption. I've had people say, "well, I don't want him to suffer there all alone" or my personal favorite "I wouldn't want another family to be stuck with this animal's problems". Huh? I suspect that they are afraid to take their animal to the humane society because they would feel judged by a lot of people instead of just one vet trying to pay his bills.

At my first job, my boss performed (and probably still performs) convenience euthanasia. He called me into the exam room one day, a robust-looking miniature schnauzer on the table, and handed me the syringe of euthanasia solution. I asked him what was wrong with the dog and he said he didn't know but that the owner wanted it euthanized. I said no, I couldn't do it and would call the owner. The owner said she'd recently changed her job schedule and the dog was urinating and defacating in the house. There were no health problems in this five year old dog and my boss was willing to kill it because, as he put it "if I don't do it, the guy down the road will get the money ($20 at the time). The man sold his ethics cheap. The owner refused to take it to the humane society because: "I wouldn't want another family to be stuck with this animal's problems". That was the first time I heard that "reason". But sadly, not the last time.

My boss allowed the dog to be kept and cared for at the clinic for a week while I and my wife at the time found a home for it. The day aftter it was adopted out, my boss called me into the conference room where all the staff were arrayed, solemnly, like the supreme court. My boss said "We all want to know your position on euthanasia because you upset our staff with your actions". I said that I would perform euthanasia on a suffering animal that had no hope of recovery. There was a silence and he told me that they were wondering because a client was bringing in two of his four cats tomorrow to be euthanized because he was moving into a smaller apartment. I told them I'd call the client and talk with him. The client said he couldn't take the two cats to the humane society "because he didn't want them to suffer there all alone". I said at least they would have a chance of a life, wouldn't they? He agreed, but later in the day I was told he had canceled his appointment for the next day. Did he take them to the humane society or did he take them to the "guy down the road". I'll never know. But I couldn't sleep at night if I were to do convenience euthanasia. Unfortunately, there are vets in this town and this area who sleep just fine, so long as the money is coming in. It is a shame and a blight on our profession that this is happening.

All Critters Great and Small

I've been a vet for 10 years. Started out as a large animal vet, mostly dairy cattle, just north of Madison, worked as an emergency vet, and most recently (about three years ago) worked for 10 months as a monkey vet, which was the low point of my career.

But in between, for six years, I ran a mobile small animal practice in Madison, WI and the surrounding area. I loved coming into people's homes. Usually, the people and the animals were more comfortable than they would be in the traditional veterinary office. I saw a wide variety of animals, but mostly dogs and cats, and often geriatric animals. I made a lot of friends, animal and human. I had alot of adventures during this six years, and with my other veterinary work. People (like my mom, in particular) often say I should write it down. I did this work right up until the time I started at the Primate Center here in Madison. A horrible place to work, to be, for animals and humans. I left after ten months for medical reasons and have not worked formally as a veterinarian and I miss it.

I'll run into former clients at the coop or in the park and they'll tell me of their animals. Its been a long enough time period, that many times they'll say something like: "Remember old Rex? We had to put him down a year ago." Then we'd reminisce about what old Rex did and how much fun it was for me to visit him, the way he would great me with his whole body wriggling barking with excitement, even though he knew I was going to do something unpleasant, like give a vaccination or express his anal glands!

Today I received an email from a former client telling me that her wonderful dog, Will, has lymphoma. She's seeing a vet who is a friend and an excellent practitioner. So Will is in the good hands of my vet friend and the loving hands of his owner. I remember Will the first time I met him. A large German Shepherd, I have to admit I found him a bit intimidating. He had that big bark and a posture that told me in no uncertain terms that this was his house and his yard. Over the years I watched him grow from a young dog to a middle-aged dog. We became, I think, friends. Now, he's an old dog. I haven't responded to my former client yet. She's doing some alternative treatments which I'd like to know about since I'm always looking for new ideas, new learning. But really what it's about is connecting with her and her dog, that timeline we all three shared for a good number of years. We'll see what happens. Maybe I'll go visit, if that seems appropriate. Pay respects to an old friend. I'm not sure. Right now I feel sad. Like I always do when a former client tells me their pet is dead or dying.