I’ve never bought a piece of Abercrombie and Fitch clothing in my life, so to say I’m not going to in the future wasn’t a big loss for me. I’m with everyone else who was disgusted with CEO Mike Jeffries’ recent statement about their painfully shallow approach to marketing:
“Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people,” he said. “We don’t market to anyone other than that.” And so on and so forth we only sell small sizes and hire models etc.
The reaction has been, unsurprisingly, not so positive for good old Jeffries. One man, in an attempt to damage Abercrombie’s reputation as much as possible, decided he would take them on with a YouTube stunt called “Abercrombie and Fitch get an attitude readjustment #Fitchthehomeless.” Having read all the “You GO GREG!” responses on the net, I checked it out. It was a video of a guy sticking it to Jeffries by giving Abercrombie & Fitch clothing away to homeless people.
I felt immediately uneasy.
These aren’t props, they are people
One of my first experiences working with the homeless was at Loyola Marymount University, volunteering at a soup kitchen in Venice called Bread and Roses. (I was shocked the first day to discover Martin Sheen, standing elbow deep in suds in the kitchen. He volunteered every Tuesday I was there, though you wouldn’t know it since he never advertised that fact.)
I loved talking to the men, women and children who were there. Many of them; most, really, weren’t up for chitchat, but those who wanted a conversation were a breath of fresh air from the silliness I was surrounded by at a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles. It’s a whole different world. It’s humbling.
Later on, at Davis, I learned of a student-run clinic called Mercer Clinic, which provided veterinary care for the homeless of Sacramento. Professors and local veterinarians donated their time alongside veterinary students to provide the dogs and cats with vaccinations and spay/neuter, free of charge. Without the rabies vaccine, the dogs could be confiscated. We provided the vaccine, but also required the sterilization.
People would walk for miles to come to the clinic, waiting patiently out in the cold and occasional rain, sometimes for hours. They were happy to volunteer their stories; women whose dogs protected them from assault on the streets, veterans whose small kittens were their best and only friends in life. “This one’s ^!@hole,” said a man with the salty humor you get used to pretty quickly. “And this one’s $@#%head.” The veterinarian that day laughed, gave the cats their vaccines, and watched as the man loaded them gently onto the pile of clothing that constituted his life’s possessions in his shopping cart.
Real cool kids recognize the value in keeping this going.
I learned basic exam room skills. I learned preventive care. And I learned, by example, compassion. It was the first time I really understood how much of a lifeline a pet can be, and how important my responsibility is to protect that. Many people I met there were more conscientious, more careful with their pets, than some of the wealthiest people I’ve since met over the years.
It was there, with the people our society has cast out, that I learned what it means to respect another human’s dignity.
And this is why that video bothers me, the use of the homeless as a gag, berating a man for his attempt to devalue a group of people by doing the exact same thing to another group. “Ha, if he thinks his clothes on THOSE people are bad, wait till he gets a load of his clothes on THESE GUYS!”
I’ve long ago given up on being a cool kid; those labels ceased to be interesting to me a long time ago. But I’m fine being thought of as a compassionate one. I ask anyone who was annoyed by Jeffries’ remarks to resist the urge to respond by throwing his clothing at homeless people on video, and instead show him how stupid and irrelevant he is by supporting something that might really make a difference.
Mercer Clinic has helped so many clients, pets, and future veterinarians. Now I’m off to BlogPaws and about to speak to people about what making a difference really means in life. I’d love for you to help me spread the word and help me #VetTheHomeless instead.
Hopefully, we’re kind to animals every week, but it’s good to have a reminder every now and then, and maybe a reason to go out of your way to do that thing you’ve been putting off. In last year’s post I listed 5 ways to go about this, such as the shelter drive-by (still love this idea! I’m due for another trip!)
But for today’s post, I would like to discuss something that’s been nagging at the back of my brain for a long time. It has to do with some pretty strong divides in the animal community.
On one side, the rescue community.
On the other, the breeder/fancy community.
The blame game can and does get nasty, sometimes. And that breaks my heart.
I’ve seen many posts- some from very well placed people in the dog community- arguing that until all dogs find homes, no dog should be allowed to breed. I disagree. It’s gotten so bad that many people I know are scared to admit on their blogs that they purchased their dog from a respected breeder because they don’t want to have people tell them how they’ve just killed a shelter dog.
I’ve also seen posts from some in the breeder community insinuating that the animal rescue community = animal rights activists who want to eventually eliminate all pet ownership. Ingrid Newkirk does not get to define what animal welfare means. Most animal rescue people I know are a lot like breeders I know- their lives revolve around the animals they love.
Why do we allow ourselves to be defined by the extremes? I think the vast majority of people fall somewhere squarely in the middle of these extremes, with many crossing over; people who have both rescues and purchased purebreds. There are good reasons for both and very different aims.
With rare exceptions, we want the same thing: finding pets a lifelong home with the right family who values them.
It’s unfortunate that the game-changing people doing innovative work in the no-kill movement are so often dismissed as people with their heads in the clouds by those who confuse the animal welfare movement with animal rights.
It’s also unfortunate that the people who work tirelessly to keep their breed healthy, who grill potential owners up one side and down the other to make sure this is the right home, take the blame for all the irresponsible backyard breeders and for-profit puppy mills as the cause of so many ills by those who refuse to differentiate the many ways one might purchase a pet.
We have so much to learn from each other based on our own experiences. Being open minded has put me at a table with AKC leadership at a dog show one day, and sitting with Mike Arms the next learning about the way effective marketing saves lives.
So this is what I ask of you this week, because it really will improve the lives of animals: Be Kind to Animal Lovers, no matter what kind of animal lover they are. I know you will probably never agree on whether someone is a pet parent or a pet owner. I get it. As a vet, I see posts from both groups complaining about how clueless we are. But even if you don’t agree on some things or most things, you may gain a new perspective.
When it comes to making animals’ lives better, we are all in this together.
I’d love for the comment section to be your list of people with a strong voice that you admire. Hopefully I can find some new people to learn from.
If there’s one thing that’s harder to get a good picture of than a black dog, it’s a black cat. At least Kekoa was easily bribed. Apollo- well, let’s just say this was an all-hands on deck sort of mission.
For National Hairball Awareness Day- which is today, by the by- we were invited by Furminator to participate in their Cats with Moustaches Campaign. The concept was simple: Furminate your cat (cakewalk), glue the hair onto a cardboard moustache (Messy, but elementary), then get a photograph of said cat posing just right with the moustache in front of their face (Level 23 Difficulty), and oh yes the cat and the moustache are monochromatic and the lighting in the house is bad (Pick up the ring, go into Mordor).
This is why we wound up with this picture:
Because without Photoshop, this wasn’t going to happen.
Apollo’s opinion of the matter was somewhere along the lines of, “You will pay for this.” Those of you who follow me on Facebook saw my frantic post about the best pet urine removers this week? I’m convinced that’s payback. And this, my friends, is why he’s so rarely on the blog. He’s antisocial.
Brody, on the other hand, noticed a camera and treats and happily posed free of charge for 15 shots with Apollo’s fur huffed to his face. He liked it.
To see what the other 11 brave cat writers came up with for this campaign, check them out on People Pets. In return for these photos, Furminator generously donated 25 Furminator tools to a shelter of our choice for each participant, so it was worth every second.
I take the emergency exit row on a plane whenever I can get it. Who doesn’t, right? When the attendants come around and ask if you are willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency, I nod, but think to myself “My job ends once that door’s open then I’m outta here.” I’d like to think I would stick around and help carry out the elderly or infirm, but there is a deep and guilty part of me that thinks I wouldn’t. I would run away.
Running away is an easy way to deal with life. I run when I can because when the exit door’s open, it’s much easier than sticking around; trying to help, trying to change, trying to make things better. Easiest to leave and start over, when there’s a choice. And all I have to say to that is, I am not a good example of humanity and I know this.
When the horrific events of Boston unfolded today, I watched in dismay as did the rest of the world. Hours of “Who? Why?” over and over, 15 second Vine videos of the blast, screaming people running away. I turned it off after a bit. I, too, ran away. What were they going to say that made sense? Would someone step forward and say, “I did this, and this is why,” and that would somehow explain it? It was a horrific evil act regardless of the perpetrator’s identity or reasoning, and so I took a break from the nonstop onslaught of smoky images.
But I turned it back on later, to see if there was any new news. I saw that an eight year old died, a child the same age as my own, one who was likely there cheering on a loved one on a happy Patriot’s Day. And I held my head and turned away, but something in the images starting to come forward changed my mind, despite the despair, despite the urge to run from reality.
In the seconds after the blast, while confused runners and spectators were fleeing, I saw the first responders sprinting towards the victims. Knowing a second explosion had just hit and unsure if more explosions were coming, still, they ran towards those who needed them. I know a lot of these ‘Massholes’, as they call themselves. I grew up as one. I still drive like one. Massholes run towards.
I saw marathoners, who had planned this event for months and months, robbed in a moment of this happy journey, leave the course and continue running, towards the hospital to donate blood. Elite athletes are often accused of being selfish to the point of narcissism in their quest for glory. They, too, ran towards.
I saw other marathoners, paused on the roadside with their shirts off, tearing them into pieces to apply tourniquets to the victims. The one time I ran a marathon I couldn’t even remember my name by mile 23 and here they were, at the end, applying first aid knee to knee with spectators. All labels gone, just humans in the thick of things, compelled to run towards.
You may think you have your life on track and then without warning, reason, or explanation, it can derail in a second’s time, and until it happens, you have no idea of what kind of person you will be. And while there will always be crazy people and awful psychopaths and run of the mill jerks, I’m reminded of the fact that the reason we consider them sociopaths and villains is because most of us, yes, the vast majority of us, even those we don’t like or agree with most of the time, are good and want to support our fellow man, not drown him.
Not one of those people stopped to ask a victim, Romney or Obama?
Do you feed raw food or kibble?
Did you rescue your dog or buy a purebred?
Perspective is a precious gift we can find in the most wretched of circumstances. And on this day, I hope that if I ever find myself faced with a choice, I choose to run towards my fellow man.
Today’s the day- 2013 Annual World Spay Day! I have to tell you, it doesn’t tickle the old joy centers quite the way, say, Ben and Jerry’s Free Ice Cream Cone Day does, but it’s here and I’m glad it exists.
Now, two things to note before I give my thoughts:
1. Although it’s called “Spay Day”, the event encompasses both spay and neuter. Nobody’s trying to leave the fellas out, I think it just rolls off the tongue better this way.
2. Yes, I know it’s a Humane Society of the United States initiative and that is making at least five of you raise your eyebrows. That being said, I do think it’s important to recognize and support good initiatives no matter where they originate, and this is one. Lots of other organizations, such as PetSmart Charities, Petfinder, and the ASPCA, agree enough to be an official part of the event.
This question of whether to spay and neuter has become somewhat controversial as of late. And to that I say, let’s talk about it. Politely, please. As long as it took me to perfect my gentle tissue handling skills I really take issue with being accused of ripping uteri out of unwitting pets willy-nilly for no good reason.
I am a spay/neuter advocate. Anyone who has worked even a little in a shelter environment becomes one really fast- because when you are faced with the reality:
Of 10,000 faces.
No, wait, that’s not 10,000.
No, wait. That’s not 10,000 either. THIS is 10,000:
10,000 faces A DAY euthanized in US shelters, makes it hard to argue against anything that will help reduce those numbers. Which is why I will support low cost spay/neuter clinics, even if it cuts into my own professional workload (though it never seemed to, even in my lower income area of practice.)
My clinic referred people all the time; our surgery protocol was absolutely top notch, but it came with an appropriate pricetag. Given the choice between a subsidized clinic down the road or no surgery at all, we knew what was the right thing to do. Money’s tight these days. I get that. I am glad there are resources around for those who need it.
Spay Day has an event locator for people to find local Spay Day events. As an example, here’s an event from my neck of the woods: $10 to fix any pet whose owners reside in a particular school district. I can’t compete with that, but truth be told, I probably never was in the running for most of the business to begin with. Whatever the outcome, one less litter in the Sweetwater shelter is OK by me.
But gonads are good! Don’t you deny it!
But WAIT! I know what you’re going to say. You are an educated, informed pet owner and you know all about the research showing that sex hormones do have health benefits and spaying and neutering may not always be 100% a positive thing. You’ve pored over the latest Golden Retriever neutering and cancer study (I did too. Putting 2 Goldens down in 6 months is not a fun thing.) And you ask:
Why must I be forced into this surgery for my pet? Why is no one admitting that testicles and ovaries have a purpose and are best left attached to the animal from whence they sprouted?
To this I say: I agree.
And to that I add: Will you at least concede, being an educated, informed pet owner, the sad truth that many, many people are not? And while I can say with utter sincerity that I believe you are not letting your pet run amuk impregnating the neighborhood, your less conscientious streetmates are?
We need to look at the conversation on two different levels: Individual health and population health.
I believe individual owners should have the right to decide when and if their pets are spayed and neutered. It’s my job to help you evaluate the risk/benefit analysis and decide for yourself what is right for you, what the consequences of that choices might be, and how to proceed. Should you make an informed decision not to spay and neuter, I will support you. I know you people exist. I’ve met you. However:
I also believe that from a population standpoint, in the absence of an owner who makes that level of commitment to understanding the complexity of the issue- or any issue regarding their dog, really- the default recommendation should be: spay and neuter. If you got your cryptorchid puppy off Craigslist and waited three months to bring him in for his first parvo vaccine, I’m going to recommend neutering him. If you are a local news personality and you Tweet me asking me whether you should buy a dog with an umbilical hernia if you intend to breed her….not that that happened…OK, it just happened…but do you see what I mean? There are a lot of people out there making, as I explain it to my children, “poor decisions.”
Nowhere is the benefit of spay/neuter more apparent to me than in Granada, where World Vets started performing the surgeries half a decade ago. You might have walked through there in 2002 and marveled that the stray dogs all seemed so young and vibrant, but here’s the truth: that’s because they usually died, starving or in pain, by age 4.
Those people who live there will tell you, with awe in their voices, how much healthier the overall animal population is. How much nicer it is to walk down the street and not see a dead starved dog in a ditch. Those of you educated enough to appreciate the benefits of an intact pet are certainly educated enough to appreciate in the big picture, that might not apply. If not, come on down to Granada and I’ll show you a TVT.
You can’t evaluate the necessity of spay/neuter campaigns in a vacuum; so to sum up, here you go:
TLDR: If you choose not to spay or neuter your dog because you’re responsible and educated enough to have decided that is right for you, I’m here for you. And while I will support you in that I hope you will also acknowledge that for millions of animals out there, spay/neuter IS the best choice, so do me a solid and don’t undermine my efforts to alleviate significant suffering in spheres outside your own. Deal? Group hug.
When you hear the word “veterinarian”, there’s a pretty standard picture that jumps into most people’s heads. The woman or man in a white coat, stethoscope around their neck, patting a dog who’s perched on a metal exam table. Maybe, if you work with large animals, the vet is standing outside, in coveralls. But the idea is the same- vets go to work and serve the medical needs of clients and their pets. And that is a wonderful thing. It is what most of us do.
But the amazing thing about our profession, about people who choose to go into veterinary medicine, is this desire to take in the bigger picture and ask ourselves, what more can we be doing? What needs are out there that we can help fulfill?
Vets are, if you didn’t know, really good at that too. I knew a good percentage of the field indulged an altruistic streak here and there, but I didn’t know just how big it was until I started looking. Those vets tend to be pretty modest about advertising the work they are doing- a flaw, in my view. So I’m going to talk about some of them today.
The Heska Corporation is a provider of veterinary supplies; if you work in the field you’re probably familiar with some of their products. As a way to give back to the community they launched the Inspiration in Action contest to help veterinarians with a really cool idea to get it off the ground, because as I can tell you firsthand, we are a group with amazing ideas but we seem to fall flat when it comes to fundraising. In the first year of the competition, World Vets came in second place, winning seed money that helped the organization become what it is today.
This year, I was invited to attend the awards ceremony honoring this year’s winners as a World Vets representative. What a great way to start the day, by being reminded of the many good deeds out there and my field’s commitment to stepping up and volunteering in the world to make it a better place.
The $25,000 top award was accepted by Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, DABVP. As you can tell by the number of titles after his name, Dr. Bellows is incredibly accomplished. As a world expert in veterinary dentistry, no one would blame him for just trying to stay on top of his game and fulfilling the many expectations of a field expert.
Yet here he is, volunteering his time to help the mission “to provide life improving advanced veterinary dental care and treatment to exotic animals located in US (and in the future, overseas) captive animal facilities and animal sanctuaries, which are under funded and/or understaffed from a veterinary perspective.” Volunteers travel all over the country to cash-strapped sanctuaries to provide state of the art dental care they never would be able to afford on their own. Dr. Bellows is just one of the many veterinarians and veterinary staff who make this work possible.
I know from my time with Lions, Tigers, and Bears that the vast majority of the animals entering their sanctuary need extensive dental work, fixing problems both painful and debilitating. PEI VDF is helping these forgotten animals live longer and pain free.
Service animals make life better for persons with disabilities in more ways we can ever truly comprehend. But who helps these animals live their lives in their best health? Oftentimes the act of taking the service animal to the vet can be a challenging obstacle for the housebound, the elderly, or the disabled. Inspired by a family member’s own experience, Dr. Joyce Gerardi has created a mobile veterinary clinic to address this vital need. The $10,000 second place prize will help her accomplish this mission.
With the $5,000 award money, the Christian Veterinary Mission’s Navajo Nation Veterinary Shuttle will provide veterinary services to the underserved (or should we say unserved) areas of the Navajo Nation. For the last 10 years, teams of veterinarians and students have travelled to what volunteer Dr. Page Waters describes as “a different world.” In one of the most inspiring moments of the award ceremony, Dr. Waters showed a picture of a young Navajo woman who has been observing the mission trips since she was a child, and is now a veterinary student at Tufts.
Told you my profession was cool. Thank you to my colleagues for remembering what it’s all about and to Heska, for helping ensure these projects continue.
On Saturday, I’m boarding a plane yet again and jetting off- strangely enough- right back to Orlando, the last place I went on a trip. The last quarter of 2012 was a blur, and then I had a break the last few weeks. If you consider moving and unpacking a break, that is (it’s about as restful as sleeping on a bed of nails, for reference.)
Back in the saddle again- off to the NAVC conference. Will I EVER get to Harry Potter land?
I’m not exactly ramping up again, not quite. It’s just a wee side trip to the North American Veterinary Conference to man the World Vets booth, one of the perks of going on trips and not embarrassing the organization over a multiple month period. I’m a voluntevangelist. A purveyor of the World Vets experience.
As you know, World Vets launched the veterinary textbook drive last year, and to date they have a good 50 or so books sent in, which is excellent.
I want more. I KNOW all you vets out there have at least 20 apiece collecting dust in your library, or your garage, or a storage unit. You have one or two or three you still use on occasion and then you rely on VIN for everything else. So send them in! Our colleagues in Central and South America have nothing except the notes they managed to take down in school. That old Fossum could- would, I guarantee it- save lives.
Or do you still need them? Dr. Roark and I investigated the topic last month, with the gracious help of Dr. Chris Hoolihan and his staff at Pacific Beach Veterinary Clinic.
It’s not too late! Never too late to lose a few unwanted pounds! So send those books in- your colleagues will thank you. And if you’re not a vet, tell them about the drive next time you’re in- I bet they have at least one or two books World Vets could really use.
Anyone going to NAVC? Give me a shout! I’d love to meet up.
Being set up in the house with all my computer equipment finally reassembled means I can do what I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while: fill you in on more of the disaster response trip I did with World Vets in Nicaragua. I think the last time I had left it, we had just spent a day in the classroom learning disaster response techniques and were about to put our skills to the test.
Day 2 was the water course. I’m not the strongest swimmer, so this was the part I was a wee bit nervous about. As you will see, this was with good reason. The universe does not think I should do a lot of things in the water. But first, a lovely picture from our tour of Granada on the first day to set the stage for calm:
You can see why Granada was a favorite sacking locale for centuries of marauding pirates.
But I digress! We spent our water day at Laguna de Apoyo, a blessedly warm and quiescent lake in the crater of a volcano. Many disaster response training sessions focus on swift water rescue, which adds layers upon layers of difficulty when you are dealing with the mechanics of walls of water moving at different rates down a riverbed. Before you get there, you need to know the basics, such as how to put on a life jacket. You’d be surprised at what a complex piece of equipment a professional quality life preserver is. It’s like strapping into an extremely padded corset.
“Double check everything,” stressed our instructor Kim. “Make someone else check it. ALWAYS. SAFETY FIRST.” And I agreed, so I did just that, the first time.
By the third time I took the jacket off and on, sharing it with another participant, I was confident in my buckling abilities so I bypassed the check mechanism in order to get to the good stuff. Like how to throw a rescue rope.
You can throw it overhand, underhand, or sidearm, depending on your strength and accuracy. We were lobbing those ropes like pros in no time.
Having satisfied himself that we weren’t going to strangle ourselves accidentally, Kim divided us into teams. While one team got on a boat to practice rescuing a pet from the boat, the remaining group would stay on shore and take turns being a victim, throwing the rope, and swimming out to the victim to swim him or her back in. The person doing the swimming would do it both unassisted (you’re on your own) and assisted (meaning you are attached by a rope to someone on shore, who pulls you back in.)
First, I swam out to my victim and pulled her back in. Being a kind person she decided not to feign being panicked, hitting me, or trying to crawl on my back, which I guess isn’t that uncommon. We made it back in safely.
Next, I hooked the rope up to the carabiner on the back of my vest, and we re-set the stage for me to have an assisted rescue.
I reached my victim.
I waited for the reassuring pull of the rope.
“Man, they’re lagging,” I said. We floated about for a minute or two. I heard yelling.
“WHAT?” I said to the people on shore.
“This is the part where you both die,” they said. It was at this time I noticed the carabiner, with rope still attached, floating about 20 feet away, nowhere near me or my life vest. Again, good thing we were in a lake, right? As you can see, it was fortunate we were a) in 5 feet of still water and b) within rowing distance of Team B, had this been an actual emergency.
I swam sheepishly into shore on my own power, wondering what sort of defective piece of equipment I had been handed.
And of course, when I got to shore and assessed the breakdown, it turns out my dumb self had neglected to insert Tab A into Slot B on the waist belt buckle, meaning as soon as there was any tension, it popped right open, pulling the threaded carabiner with it.
There are routines you do because you’re trained to do them- counting sponges after surgery, for example, or double checking stumps for hemostasis before closure. Or in this case, make someone check all 15 buckles on your life preserver, every time. Because it’s not about making sure your chest is comfortably contained- it’s the difference between getting pulled to shore and screaming in frustration as you and your victim swirl off the waterfall downstream. Which is the stuff of my nightmares. Actually it should more appropriately be the stuff of anyone else’s nightmares, should they find themselves drowning and see me headed in to save them.
Lesson: learned. Don’t worry. It won’t happen again.
I admit, sometimes I feel like a lone wolf out here in the veterinary world, wandering aimlessly in the backwoods of Facebook while my more distinguished colleagues do things like invent CPR simulator dogs and dart rhinos and perfect orthopedic surgeries. I, on the other hand, put aside the glory of a specialty and focused on becoming the best GP I could be. I did it quite well. I treated untold ear infections, spayed I don’t know how many dogs, and saved too many carpets to count from the ravages of an upset stomach. I saved lives. I said goodbyes. It is an intense career.
It is an excellent career. But sometimes life catches us in its inexorable current and drags us downstream from where we thought we were going ashore; sometimes it’s by design, other times kicking and screaming, and sometimes we are just cluelessly looking at the sky without realizing we’ve gone off course, but wouldn’t you know it, this new place is pretty cool too so we go with it.
I’ve found myself in the latter category this past few years. Writing was an itch I tried to scratch, but instead of making it go away the itching has gotten more and more pronounced until it’s taken over everything else. Yes, this blog is like a bad rash I can’t stop scratching, and I like it.
It is hard to explain to your colleagues in a room full of tie wearing suits that yes, I spend a lot of time on Facebook and blogging and I Instagram dogs for a good part of the day but it’s all done in the service of the veterinary community. What can I say? I like what I like. I’ve honed my strengths, and unfortunately they’re not what, in the context of a professional medical organization might be considered high minded or perhaps even respectable, but they are what they are. Sometimes I write to entertain myself, and sometimes I write to serve a cause, but I always do it because I love it.
Some see me this way.
And others see me this way:
But I’ve had a hard time convincing my colleagues that no, really, I’m one of you! Like it or not!
I’ve gotten used to being politely ignored by veterinarians who just don’t know how to process what this is that I do and find it easier to excuse themselves than to try and understand what a blog is. I get it. I expect it, actually. Which is why I was a little alarmed when Dr. Andy Roark, a well known and well respected speaker on the topic of veterinary practice management, suggested we meet up over coffee at AVMA in August.
Panic set in. What am I going to say to this guy? I don’t know anything about practice management. Is he going to lecture me about the need to do more educational videos highlighting proper application techniques for topical flea medication? Is he going to ask me about monetizing a blog? Is he just looking for recommendations for a good place to go to dinner in San Diego? I went, because, well, it’s coffee and I never turn down coffee, but I was nervous. Intimidated.
What could a veterinarian who writes about professional and business strategies possibly have in common with me? Other than the DVM, I mean.
Well, plenty, actually. Mea culpa. After I figured out this wasn’t a secret “you need to be more serious” intervention attended by four of my closest veterinary friends holding a pair of khakis and a white coat, I realized that Dr. Roark was actually a really cool guy. There’s a point to this, I promise.
Sadly, I am less likely to take myself seriously with each passing year, in diametric opposition to how I am supposed to act.
The point is this: This led to more conversations about social media strategies and the relative merits of vimeo versus YouTube, and of course once the hamster wheel started spinning I also started with the whole “OMG have you ever heard of World Vets” because that is sort of my thing these days. One thing led to another and before you can say “three french hens” I was sitting with Dr. Roark and Dr. Dave Nicol, another amazing veterinarian and practice owner from Australia, in the lobby of the Marriot shooting a video to promote the World Vets Veterinary Textbook Drive. Dr. Roark came up with the video concepts, recruited Dr. Nicol, and donated his time at the CVC conference this weekend in San Diego.
Any vet who will draft a script, trust me to edit it and allow me to drag him all over a strange town to help a relative stranger with their own pet project is, in my book, aces. And I haven’t even shown you the other video yet – a THIRD veterinarian, Dr. Hoolihan over at Pacific Beach Veterinary Clinic graciously allowed me to shoot in his hospital without even having met me before that day. That video will be up after the holidays. It’s even better than this one.
I have to give my colleagues credit. I really thought there I was the only veterinarian out there who would do something like this. Publicly, at least.
Who knew my fellow vets were so awesome? See what the world would have missed out on had I been too Alan-like to want to meet a new friend over a latte? Tonight, we make a toast!
My husband asks me this every time I go to Nicaragua (OK, it’s only been twice, but still.) He asks because the State Department brief on Nicaragua mentions armed robberies along the highways at night, and he is worried that this will happen to me. And I appreciate his concern, I do, but I sometimes wonder what the State Department would say if it were telling travelers what to do when travelling out of LAX, an airport I lived by for 5 years, or what he would have said had he known I was hopping into a taxi by myself at 1 am in Nairobi, something he didn’t think twice about when I mentioned it after the fact but everyone who has actually BEEN to Nairobi thought was a particularly gutsy stupid thing to do.
The point is, you take calculated risks all the time in life, and do the best you can to protect yourself, because at the end of the day the coolest things in life require that tiny element of risk. Why did the chicken cross the road and all of that. Despite wanting to be able to talk about my mad danger cred, I have to be honest: not all countries in Central and South America can say the same, but Nicaragua was not a worrisome destination for me. At all.
For those who don’t recall why I am talking about Nicaragua, I was there a few weeks ago as part of the Inaugural Technical Animal Rescue course with World Vets. I didn’t talk about it too much beforehand for the simple fact that I really didn’t know what we were going to be doing, other than ‘learning technical animal rescue’ and that I would need a life preserver, but the element of surprise is what makes these adventures so great. And because I ended the course with a test, you get one too. That’s how we roll here. That’s how you LEARN, people.
True or false: Most travelers to Nicaragua end up robbed, jailed, or otherwise victimized.
The area of Nicaragua we were in (Granada) feels very safe. Violent crime is certainly more rare than it is here in San Diego, and the only assault I had was on my dignity during that awkward massage (but I digress). All that stuff you hear about the terrible Nicaraguan jails on Locked Up Abroad? Told by people who were smuggling drugs. Don’t do that. This place is crawling with tourists, who come with money to spend, and the community doesn’t want to jeopardize that by showing people a bad time.
True or false: Granada is ugly.
Granada is gorgeous. It is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, founded in 1542. That means there are lots of old, old churches;
Strange incongruous city blocks whose architecture depends on what century it was built in and which pirate burned it down;
And walls stretching to the horizon, punctuated by doors that lead into the unknown; could be a pharmacy. Could be a pile of rubble. Or it could be a beautifully manicured courtyard, such as that at Casa la Merced, where we were fortunate enough to stay.
I opened my bedroom door to this every day. Hideous.
True or false: World Vets hired some random bozo to teach the course as a front because we all just wanted to go to Granada.
On the first day of the course, we met our instructor, Kim Little from Rescue 3. The first thing we learned about him is that he has been teaching rescue courses professionally for three decades.
The second thing I learned is that he is teaching us the same material taught to the HSUS Disaster Response team and all the other big players you see on the news when disasters happen domestically. So we learned the real deal, FEMA certified, official course. By the way, if you ever invite Kim over for dinner, which you should, ask him to tell you stories from his rescue work during Hurricane Katrina. There’s a story with a tiger, and another story involving a massive pig, a crate, and a film crew.
And the third thing I learned was:
This is important, as I will get to when I talk about how during lake practice I accidentally demonstrated how one might accidentally kill both oneself and one’s victim during a water rescue, if one forgets this cardinal law.
True or false: Technical Animal Rescue involves the most complicated and expensive elaborate machinery that exists.
After our first day doing classwork, reviewing the hydrodynamics of swift water rescue and me getting to gleefully nerd out on vectors and flow diagrams, we sat down with the meat and potatoes of any rescue team: bags of ropes and carabiners.
It’s amazing what you can do with rope. No, really.
We spent more time doing knots than anything else in this course. Knots, and knots, and more knots. Knots that swivel and knots that pull and knots with two loops and knots that lay flat.
Those who have done climbing fared better than the others, but we all got it eventually. Dr. Augusto Barragan from Panama, seen here with Dr. Lester Tapia from Granada, was particularly adept. He spent a lot of time sitting opposite me trying to explain in his non-native language what I was doing wrong.
Answer: taking too many pictures.
Jen, having quickly mastered the lessons due to her climbing experience, started to freestyle.
Kim had but three precious days to whip this motley bunch of veterinary do-gooders into cool, calm rescue pros who could grab a duffle bag of ropes and clips, look over the edge of a ravine at a dog and human in distress, and figure out how to magically transform those tools into a successful rescue. After that first day of tumbled knots, things were looking grim, but we persevered.
Day One: The newly formed team gathers at the defunct Granada train station, wondering what we had in store.
We, the collective animal loving internet, have done a great job of telling people to “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” We do it so much that people say it without thinking, assume without asking, and demand without discourse. Now, don’t get me wrong: I absolutely support the concept, and this is why I am here writing a post today in honor of Petside’s Pet Net Adoption Week. It’s why I’ve adopted lots of pets over the years. But this is only half the equation.
We tell people they should adopt, and why they should adopt, and then do nothing to support people during the transition. Here’s the reality: pets do get returned to shelters and the rescues, usually for reasons that could have been avoided with a little owner education and preparation. In the rush to get pets out into homes, we sometimes neglect to make sure those homes are ready and willing to take on the challenges, which are rewarding beyond measure once you get past them- as long as you know they are coming.
1. Be honest with adopters about the pet’s behavioral issues that need to be worked on.
Nuke, the 10 year old coonhound I adopted from UC Davis, was a moderately neurotic agoraphobic hound dog who had never been housetrained. Translation: I left him outside when I was gone, as the well meaning person at the school had recommended, only to have him howl inconsolably because he was scared of being outdoors. I got a notice from the neighbors within 36 hours.
6 months, three adopted pets: for a vet student, pretty typical.
I wouldn’t say crate training an elderly, set in his ways dog was an easy task, but I did it, only because I had access to professionals who reassured me that with patience, it was possible. He never did learn to sit on command, but he ended up housetrained, and we had three lovely years together before he passed away.
Koa has terrible separation anxiety that leads her to howl like a banshee- one currently in a state of torture- when she is left alone. It’s why she was returned to the rescue twice. Unfortunately I didn’t know this until I got home and reviewed the paperwork in detail and found the note from the previous owner. Luckily, I can keep her inside where she doesn’t bother anyone, and I have Thundershirts and all that good stuff.
We make do. But some people couldn’t in that situation, and it’s better to give them fair warning and let them find the right pet for them than to make them return a pet later, which is stressful for everyone- and might even turn them off rescue entirely. Some people can’t handle a cat who sprays or a dog who doesn’t like other dogs, and that is part and parcel of having a pet, yes, but this is also a great opportunity for us: all pets have their quirks. The difference between a puppy and a senior is that with the senior, those quirks are known ahead of time, and for that I am grateful.
2. Put all dogs, no matter the age, in an obedience class.
Some rescue dogs will have had oodles of training. Most haven’t. Regardless of their age or training status, a basic adult obedience course is the perfect way for new owners and pets to get to know one another better, work through their kinks under the care of a professional, and most importantly, develop a clear understanding of each other’s place in the developing relationship.
Nuke was a sweet dog, but in 8 weeks he never did learn how to sit. He just wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t motivated by anything. Needless to say, he never learned down, either. No matter. We had a structured hour each week to work on his socialization, his manners, and for him to learn to trust me. It was worth every dime.
3. Remind new owners to be patient.
I have yet to take a rescued pet home and NOT have a day when I seriously regretted it. It happens. The dog eats something expensive. The cat has diarrhea in your shoe. You discover your new pet hates all men with grey beards and baseball caps, which just happens to be 85% of your neighborhood. The key is to acknowledge that these bumps are normal and expected and to provide support for owners to work through them, rather than just give up.
Here’s the good news: that regret is always gone within a few days, once I have a plan in place for dealing with whatever it is that was frustrating me. And the only regret I have now is that my husband won’t let me go our and adopt just one more.
This post is part of Petside.com’s 5th Pet Net Adoption Event. Petside will be donating $5000 to a shelter in one lucky community in honor of the event- click the link for details! Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this post.
So before I left for Nicaragua, I wanted to make sure I got my shelter drive-by done and set in honor of our Shelter Appreciation Week Blog Hop. If you missed the post talking about why we are doing it, click here- please consider featuring your own local shelter this week so Blog Paws can make a $2000 donation! Get your posts done this week and then join the Blog Hop!
The whole point of the shelter drive by is to keep it simple. Simple is doable and unobtrusive and repeatable. I brought a bag of food to Helen Woodward Animal Center.
Helen Woodward, if you didn’t know, is the birthplace of the Iams Home 4 the Holidays campaign, so I can’t think of a more fitting place to do my shelter drive by. They do all sorts of amazing things with the community like animal assisted therapy, therapeutic horse riding, and humane education for kids in addition to their adoption program. I donated to the Meals on Wheels bin, where the food will be distributed to elderly pet owners who need assistance from Meals on Wheels.
It took about two seconds.
And the benefits!
I got to see Mike Arms, the man who initiated this whole campaign. Lucky me!
AND I got to snorgle, smooch and otherwise love on Present, the most adorable little smoochy puggy chihuahua mix that ever existed.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I love doing these.
Please consider joining me in this great and easy way to support your local shelter!