This has been an almost unbearably terrible week for those in the veterinary profession, and those who love animals. First the awful news that Dr. Sophia Yin had passed away, and then not one day later, we learned of the passing of another tremendous voice and educator, Dr. Lorie Huston.
Like many of you I considered Dr. Huston a friend. She was extremely well regarded for her work online as the Voice of Pet Care with the Pet Healthcare Gazette, her many contributions to various publications, and most recently her position as president of the Cat Writer’s Association. But I think even more than her fantastic work, she was admired for her kindness.
Her gentle manner and empathy were unrivaled, and a shining example of the compassion that veterinarians so often extend to animals but sometimes struggle to extend to each other. She never had an unkind word for anyone. I don’t know how she did it. She made me want to be more like her.
As a denizen of the online community, I have nothing tangible to offer in condolences, no casseroles to deliver, no walls to place a white flower upon. All I have are words, those intangible, ethereal ideas that seem so unremarkable in the face of such sadness, and my attempt to express them in the hopes that in some small way they help someone else understand what Dr. Lorie was all about. And because I cannot bear to cry any more today, I want to instead share a story that will maybe make those of you who knew her smile a little through your tears.
The Marble Room Incident
A couple of years ago, the AVMA national convention was in San Diego. I touched base with Dr. Huston and learned she would be attending, and made plans to meet up with her at the Winn Feline Foundation booth, where Dr. Huston was sharing the work the foundation is doing to advance the health and well-being of cats. Dr. Huston had six cats, six well-loved, adored felines.
“Shall we go get dinner?” I asked, and she said she thought that would be a good idea. We walked a little bit through the Gaslamp district, and as I was starting to get tired I saw the name of a restaurant I had been to before and said, “How about the Marble Room? They’re great.” Lorie agreed.
I had been to the Marble Room with my husband shortly after it opened, a throwback steak house type place with amazing truffle fries. That was how I remembered it. No one told me they had changed ownership.
We sat outside since it was a pleasant evening, which in retrospect was an error since had I gone in I would have seen the new theme: old timey bordello masquerading as a saloon. Within a minute, what I thought was a streetwalker but was instead an embarrassed-looking server in a too-tight corset and can-can skirt asked us what we would like to drink.
“Iced tea,” Lorie said with a pleasant smile, as I sat horrified. “Me too,” I squeaked out. “Are these uniforms new?”
The server nodded with a frown, trying not to catch the edge of the menus on her fishnets.
A quick Google search would have helped immensely in this situation.
So Lorie and I shared a pleasant meal of not-quite-as good as I remember truffle fries while we talked about the role social media played in the evolution of veterinary medicine.
As always happened when we spoke, I was blown away by how sharp she was- never mind her calm and quiet demeanor, her brain was always churning away a million miles an hour about what the next big step was in improving the human-animal bond. Her greatest gift, as many of you know, was in explaining these complicated health concepts in concise and clear language. She made medicine accessible, and to those like me who knew medicine, she made social media accessible too.
Midway though dinner, she excused herself to find the ladies room. When she returned, she assured me that she located it just fine. When I followed suit a moment later, wedging between red leather banquettes towards the back, I saw that the hall leading to the ladies room was hard to miss as it was covered in, uh, tasteful I guess, nudes. I paused a moment to dab my forehead with cold water, mortified that I took poor, sweet Dr. Lorie to the world’s tackiest themed restaurant for subpar potatoes.
Seriously, naked people everywhere.
When I returned, Lorie was talking to the server and quite kindly ignoring her attempts to hold her top up as she cleared the plates. “I am so sorry,” I said. “This is not the place I remember.”
“Oh no, it was delicious,” she said kindly, ignoring the rest of the situation. “The truffle fries were excellent. Thank you.”
And that was Dr. Lorie, always. Gracious to a fault. She was generous with her friendship, advice, and compliments, even when they were not deserved, even when her friend subjected her to an awkward, PG-13 rated evening out after a long day at the conference booth.
When I was in school, I accumulated a lot of textbooks. Books from the titans, the Nelsons and the Feldmans and the Fossums. I stood in line at the bookstore with these heavy tomes weighing me down, and noticed every other person in line with a tiny mahogany text balanced on top of their piles.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The Nerdbook,” they said. “I heard you can’t make it through vet school without it.”
I had an earlier edition, because I’m old.
They were right. I spent many hours in rounds with my Nerdbook balanced on my lap, trying to look up answers to questions before the clinican called on me. It was unlike any other book I ever owned: concise, easy to navigate, organized by clinical signs to be completely usable. I heard it was written by a veterinary student, which made sense because it was so perfect for the way we used it, but also made no sense because who had time to write a book in vet school?
“Some gunner student a few years back,” I was told. “She was brilliant.” The author? Sophia Yin.
It was the only book I brought to the teaching hospital each and every day, taking it with me the following year into clinical practice: highlighted, scribbed on, well-loved. One time, I made a diagnosis that my clinician, a man who had been in practice for 167 years, said was impossible. “How did you know to put that on your differential diagnosis list?” he asked, before telling me I would be an amazing internal medicine resident. “Oh you know,” I said, but the answer was it was in the Nerdbook. Dr. Yin told me. The Nerdbook was everything. My techs used to hide it from me sometimes just to watch me panic for a few minutes.
Dr. Yin’s name popped up again soon after I began work, this time as a behavior expert. When she got into practice, she again sensed a void: a need for reasoned, science-based behavior approaches that would keep pets in homes and out of shelters. It’s hard to imagine now, but in the early 2000′s behavior was held in lower regard than specialties like neurology or internal medicine, a fluffball elective. “Nothing in life is free”, the foundation of positive reward based training, was in its infancy. Alpha rolling was still the norm in many circles, and training programs based on shock collars were being franchised left and right.
She helped lay the groundwork for what we now view as the best science-based approach to training, one of the most fundamental paradigm changes in our field in the last decade. Dr. Yin became a world-renowned behavior expert and fierce advocate for positive training, an amazing communicator whose lectures were always overflowing into the halls by an audience who finally recognized that her advice, when passed onto clients, was saving lives.
Though she was often known as a dog behaviorist, I remember her most for a series of cat lectures I attended at Western around the time Apollo was marking in the house. My husband was about to lock him permanently in the garage. In one hour, she gave me enough actionable tips to fix the problem, for me, and later on for clients and blog readers. Those tips keep animals out of shelters and in homes.
Dr. Sophia Yin- you are missed.
Dr. Yin’s latest work is, again, revolutionary. As a board member for Dr. Marty Becker’s Fear Free Practice movement, she is one of the key figures teaching us low-stress restraint techniques that change the way we practice medicine. It makes sense, right? Why do we just accept the fact that pets hate the vet? Why do we not try to make it better? Just this week I used a technique of hers I watched on video to help bring a frightened cat out from under the bed; he was already ill and the last thing he needed was more terror. Dr. Yin’s reach and her influence is everywhere, her touch felt every day in the way we practice modern medicine with compassion.
Dr. Yin was the best of what veterinary medicine is all about, a passionate veterinarian, a dedicated revolutionary, a person whose accomplishments knew no bounds, an inspirer of colleagues. Her unexpected passing has left so many saddened; I hope her family and friends know just how much she was beloved by so many people. Thank you Dr. Yin for everything. You will be sorely missed.
If you were awake at 7:50 this morning and happen to have been watching San Diego 6, you’d have seen me trying with varied success to get a very sweet and nervous Saint Bernard to eat some treats. You know what they say about pets and kids. But that’s OK, because Gabana was still a precious prop to our perhaps less entertaining but still very important topic, saving money on pet care. Here’s the tips I shared:
1. Don’t skimp on preventive care.
Pop quiz: what is more expensive-
Regular dental cleanings on healthy teeth once a year
One set of extractions on a majorly diseased mouth, complete with antibiotics and an echo to check out that heart murmur the bacteremia ended up causing over time.
I brought in some Minties as an example of a home care item you can use in between cleanings. Love them within caloric reason, but again- cleanings at the vet are just an important as cleanings at your dentist.
Early detection of problems like diabetes, kidney failure, and cancer results in lower vet bills, and more importantly, a healthier pet.
2. Ask for a written prescription
Yes, veterinarians often charge more for some meds than what you can get it for at Target or Wal-Mart. They pay more for them in the first place than the big pharmacies. The tradeoff is convenience, which is fine when you are getting one prescription but can add up if your pet needs regular medication. We all get that.
Ask for a written prescription. The veterinarian should provide one on request. Sometimes they will price match, too. The primary concern of our office is to make sure your pet gets the care they need, and the price of meds is often the difference between getting treated and going without.
3. Make your own treats
I’ve covered this extensively, from cupcakes to donuts and jerky, but making your own treats can save money and be a ton of fun as well as give you lots of control over ingredients. Making dog treats is how I got my kids interested in cooking.
Words cannot express my deep love for Fido’s Frosting from K9 Cakery, which is how I made the donuts above. If you recall, Kekoa like to eat this straight from the bag.
There’s only so much you can fit in a quick segment so I didn’t get to cover other topics like pet insurance, but we just spoke about that here a couple of weeks ago anyway. If you have any other tips that’s helped you save without losing out on quality care for your pet, I’m always up for ideas!
I imagine you have noticed things have changed a bit for us in the last ten years or so. A decade ago, you could look in the “Help Wanted” section on VIN or AVMA classifieds and have your pick of positions. This is good, since most of us carried modest student debt we needed to pay off. Being a new grad was exhilarating, a little nerve-wracking, but thrilling. Now?
Vet school, you in danger, girl.
The Changing Landscape
Three things have happened that have dramatically changed the landscape for new grads, leaving them nervously optimistic at best and apprehensively regretful at worst:
1. The economy tanked.
Vet visits are down, and clinics are responding by tightening their belts. Job openings have dwindled.
2. Educational costs have skyrocketed.
I know we have all heard this, but have you really read the numbers? In-state tuition at my alma mater has doubled since I graduated. The average vet student now graduates about $150,000 in debt; some students are racking up debt as high as $500,000. To live comfortably- not extravagantly, I mean comfortably- your debt should not exceed an average starting year’s salary, which hovers around $64,000 in our field. We’re off by over double, and in many cases far more.
This is compounded by the fact that a change in student loan policies in 2007 allowed students in professional schools to borrow whatever amount they needed, no cap, assuming doctors and lawyers and dentists would earn enough in the future to make short work of the added debt. But in our field, the numbers just don’t add up.
3. Despite fewer jobs and higher debt, new veterinary schools continue to open.
Why? After a threatened lawsuit brought by Western University against the AVMA Council on Education in the early 2000s, the accreditation process was relaxed to allow new institutions to become accredited without the added expense of building a teaching hospital. Instead, schools could use local veterinarians to provide clinical experience, which made the cost of opening a new vet school suddenly doable. (Please note, I’m not presenting an opinion on whether or not the quality of education differs- the Western grads I know are fantastic- simply presenting the history.)
Given how much money prospective vet students are willing to pay, this is a very lucrative proposition for private institutions such as Lincoln Memorial, or Midwestern, two new schools opening this year. At some private institutions, expected costs of attendance are reaching over $300,000.
More grads, fewer job choices, more debt. Sounds great.
The New Law School
It is no secret to those paying attention that veterinary school is being viewed as the next law school, that horrible disaster we’ve all read about, except- ugh- worse. The market fixes itself, economists argue, when prospective students see new grads flail and sink and stop applying, like that happened with dental school. So, you know, sacrifice a generation or two and it’ll be ok.
Except vet students don’t do that, because there is an emotional pull to this field that dentistry and law simply don’t have. Knowing the debt, and knowing the fact that things will be hard, vet school applications are still up. Will they regret it ten years later when it’s too late to change their mind and they are still living in an apartment because they can only find a 30 hour a week job? I guess we’ll find out.
Can we do anything about it?
Other than the aforementioned ‘let a few drown’ approach, I mean. I have read many practitioners state, “Their fault, too bad, sucks to be them,” and I can’t tell you how sad that makes me. Don’t we want to do better by our future colleagues than shrugging?
VIN has tried, by attempting to educate prospective vet students on the costs of education. Life with that amount of debt is not sunshine and roses. There’s nothing wrong with telling someone the truth about what that can mean for your life; if they choose to take it on anyway, that’s fine, but at least we presented them with realistic scenarios.
And what about the American Veterinary Medical Association, the “collective voice for its membership and for the profession”? Would it be a good idea for this organization to take a good hard look at the impact of these changes and attempt some proactivity in speaking out about the impact of these new schools?
The AVMA Council on Education is responsible for accrediting new schools. If you’ll remember our history lesson from Part 1, this whole debacle started when the Council hesitated to grant Western a reasonable letter of assurance for accreditation and they threatened to sue. The AVMA cannot act in a protectionist way because as an accrediting body, it’s a conflict of interest to their neutral evaluation of new schools.
But they should, dangit. They should protect this profession. Not from the influx of new grads. FOR the new grads.
And the only way to do that is to completely sever the tie between the COE and the AVMA so they can function independently.
Every five years, the US Department of Education reviews an accrediting program and decides whether or not to renew its status. If you are an AVMA member, you received an email this morning letting you know this is the year, and asking you to write a letter to the NACIQI stating your support for maintaining the status quo. But I have a different letter to present to you:
We know where we are headed in terms of the status quo. The scattered corpses of lawyers and dentists line the way. We can do better.
You can submit a different letter, one asking the NACIQI to seriously consider the relationship between the AVMA and the COE, here. For more information about what I’ve written, check out the Resources page.
Just another non-high-level-leadership peon who loves this field and wants the future to love it too
My first year of practice, I was talking to an owner in an exam room when I saw her eyes go wide and she yelled, “SPIDER!”
I looked down and saw a large arachnid crawling across the table towards her poodle. Without missing a beat, I grabbed a large drug compendium and put an end to the assault. The lady looked up, cocked her head, and said, “I guess you don’t love all the animals, then.”
I felt terrible, actually. My grandmother would not have approved. She would capture daddy longlegs in little glasses and transport them outside, or just as frequently, leave them alone. “They eat bugs,” she said. “It’s bad luck to kill them,” she said.
But I didn’t live with my grandmother, my dad’s mother. I lived with my mom, who learned from her mom that the best way to deal with a spider was a Dr. Scholl’s sandal, the one with the big wooden sole.
I think about that day, and how I would have to make up for it lest I be followed through my life by angry hordes of spiders. As you are about to see, I think I’m still paying.
Yesterday, the kids called me in to assess a spider situation in the guest bedroom. It was, they claimed, a huge spider, which could mean anything from “dime sized” on up. I went in, and yes, it was actually a huge spider. Probably an inch or two across, I didn’t get too close.
The good news was, it wasn’t a black widow or a recluse, and in the interest of being good to my grandmother’s memory I told the kids, “let’s just shoo it under the armoire. See? It’s as scared of you as you are of it.” I did not notice the tiny peals of laughter from the spider as it ran away. I did not realize she was simply approaching us with a familial sense of pride to show off her brood.
A couple of minutes later, my son came out again. “There’s a bunch more,” he said.
“What?” I asked. “Spiders?”
“Yes,” he said. “Like, 8.”
I went back into the office, a sense of disquiet taking over me. “Where?”
“On the bed,” he said.
And there, crawling all over the guest bed, was an army of teensy tiny baby spiders, which had apparently just hatched from whatever hellspawn was hiding under my armoire.
No. I do not love all the animals. This I can say now with great certainty.
Since I can’t find my flamethrower, I was stuck with simply tossing the entire set of bedding out into the courtyard with a scream and spending the next two hours vacuuming every nook and cranny in the room, stopping only long enough to call my husband on his work trip and freak out into the receiver. The mother spider, of course, was now nowhere to be found. Her work was done. For now, at least.
I was up until three in the morning startling at every shift of the bedsheet. If anyone can recommend a good pest control service in San Diego, I need one out stat. *shudder*
I remember this about September 11, 2001: I felt very lonely.
It was my senior year of veterinary school. My husband, who had only been my husband for about 2 months, was far away in San Diego. My mother was the one who called me, waking me up to tell me to turn on the news. She was alone too, as my father was on a rare business trip in Texas, one he ended up having to drive home from. We held the phones to our ears together until there was nothing more to do, so I said, well, I guess I ought to go to school.
I was doing a rotation in a lab that week, spending my day alone in a dark basement underneath the medical school looking at slides. Every few minutes I’d wander upstairs where I could get radio reception, and the other lab denizens would join me for a few minutes before we retreated back down to our holes.
Later that afternoon, after I returned home, there was a knock on the door. It was two nicely dressed missionaries. “How are you?” they asked.
“Not so great,” I said.
“Why?” they asked, genuinely concerned. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” I asked. They shook their heads in confusion. I shut the door.
Behind me, Nuke gently pressed his head into my hip. I had adopted him the year before, thanks to my friend Dan. “I want a dog,” I had said. “A Golden, maybe, or a pug.”
“I have just the dog!” he said, before referring me to the radiology department and the 10 year old coonhound who had been getting irradiated on a weekly basis as the vet students learned how to take films.
“He’s not housebroken and doesn’t know what outside is, so he’s a little addled. If it doesn’t work out, it’s ok,” said the tech. “They were going to euthanize him so I figured, I’d give it a shot.” No pressure.
He was a little addled. He was the dumbest dog I’ve ever had. He was neurotic and howled if he was outside for more than 2 minutes because he was scared of open spaces. He refused to learn ‘sit’. I loved him.
In those long and sad days after September 11, he was my greatest comfort. He died of cancer shortly after I graduated the following year. I miss him.
This Sunday marks National Pet Memorial Day. I hope you’ll join me in thinking of those we lost, or sharing a memory below. They leave this earth but they never leave our hearts.
There is nothing that will make you gain an appreciation for a creative process more than attempting to do it yourself. You know, like those people who scoff at the museum and say, “A kid could do that!” and then go home and paint something absolutely horrid.
Or those people who look on Pinterest or food blogs for new recipes.
This is how I feel about writing a book. “I write a blog,” I said. “I have a command of basic English,” I said. This will be a piece of cake. James Patterson cranks out like 4 of these a year, surely I can do at least one in five years’ time.
Then I tried to do it. I sent to my agent a proposal that I thought might work, much the same way this sculptor thought his modern take on “a snake” might work.
These things are, clearly, subject to interpretation.
Much like the kindergartner who says, “I can do it MYSELF!!” before nearly running into the path of an oncoming school bus, my journey has required a good deal of handholding, gentle redirection, and tactful suggestions from people who have been doing this much longer than I have.
Today I sent off the second draft of All Dogs Go To Kevin to my editor. I don’t know how many drafts one normally goes through; enough to get it right, I suppose. It took forever. I did what all writers do and sat, paralyzed with indecision, for months before hitting the keys in a panic. I procrastinated. I took a short break to read Stephen King’s The Stand (not the best decision from a time management perspective, that one.) But we got there.
I’ve read that George R.R. Martin writes his manuscripts on a typewriter. I can’t even fathom how that works. Without word processors, I’d have been dealing with trying to make sense of something like this:
But it’s working! We have made progress! I have slogged through my favorite dogs’ deaths enough times now to count as official desensitization therapy. It’s actually, after lots and lots and lots and lots of work, starting to resemble an actual manuscript. It’s nuts.
We are on target for a summer 2015 release, which seemed like a long time away until that whole Hachette/Amazon debacle where Amazon is penalizing first time Hachette authors by burying their works and potentially ruining their fledgling careers before they even had a chance to get started.
Now, summer 2015 seems like “Plenty of time to get it figured out, right guys? RIGGGHT?” because if not, I’m going to be begging you all on hands and knees to put aside your Prime for just long enough to get my book at Barnes and Noble because yes, I am one of those Hachette authors affected by this, and it’s making my hair fall out.
In the meantime, my editor has been keeping me entertained by sending me photos of some of the dogs that may be featured on the book cover. Her job is to take the pictures I sent her of Taffy, Emmett, and Kekoa and come up with three reasonable stand-ins. It’s a tall order, at least so far as Taffy is concerned, seeing what they have to work with: “A slightly neurotic, half-shaved Lhasa with chronic skin issues who always looks like she wants to be anywhere other than with the two 80s relics who always insist on holding her, Joan Jett and Jeanette from the Chipettes.”
It’s National Dog Day, a day to celebrate the love and bond we share with our canine companions.
It’s hard to top. What could possibly be better than National Dog Day?
Having your birthday fall on National Dog Day. Especially if you’ve always proclaimed that dogs are pretty much the best thing ever. It is also, in a strange twist of fate that I cannot tell if it is coincidental or not, is also National hot dog day, which is a fact I’m not as excited about so I will choose to ignore.
But it’s my birthday! And the fact that it’s National Dog Day is a welcome distraction from the fact that I am now old enough that birthdays are officially depressing, so Brody and I are going to have a great walk and have some treats and I may, in a fit of generosity, even give him a bit of hot dog, even though I won’t partake myself because I watched that episode of “How It’s Made” and eew.
In another wonderful coincidence, just yesterday GoPro released their new Fetch dog harness. I’ve been waiting for this for years. Some of you may remember my failed attempts at Brody cam, when I actually commissioned a person on Etsy back when you still could do that to make me a helmet harness for the dog. He looked like a Spaceball. It didn’t work. So we waited, and finally, our patience has been rewarded.
Heck yes I have one. To make things even scarier my husband bought himself a drone for his birthday so we have all the tech. Brody cam is COMING. Be warned.
ETA: Have also just been informed that today is also Women’s Equality Day, a celebration of the 19th Amendment ratification on 8/26/1920. The day just keeps getting better and better!
I admit I am biased about pet insurance. I like it, mostly. Clients who had it were, in my experience, much more likely to approve necessary treatments. That dog with a case of happy tail who wagged it so hard and so fast he got a nasty deep infection that ended up necessitating a partial tail amputation? Insured. Hit by car? Insured. From my perspective, it allowed owners to focus on the pet’s immediate needs and get them taken care of.
I also liked it because I didn’t have to do anything to get it taken care of, other than fill out a brief form. The owners paid me upfront, and were reimbursed by their company after the fact. If the owner and the insurer had a disagreement about what should or should not be covered, it wasn’t something I had to get involved in. It was nothing like human medicine. The summer before I started veterinary school, I actually worked the front desk in an internal medicine MD practice and good lord, those staffers spent probably 33% of the day dealing with insurance issues.
Just a few years ago, I could list three pet insurance companies, tops. Now there’s almost too many to count, with good policies and bad policies and fine print a mile long and exclusions even longer, especially if you have a bulldog in which case you might as well just get a second job.
Some pay a flat percentage of your bill. Others use benefit schedules, and specify exactly what amount they will pay per procedure. Most reimburse you, but I know of at least one that is rolling out a program that will pay veterinarians directly. Some cover preventive care. Some cover accidents. Some cover breed related illnesses, and others don’t. Tooth extractions? May or may not be a pre-existing condition. WHO KNOWS.
It’s gotten so confusing, even for me, that when people ask me what I think all I can say is, “Yes, go for it, but with caution.” Caveat emptor. But even then, even knowing all there is to know and asking all there is to ask, I’m hearing more and more people tell me they just spent five hours on the phone with an insurance rep trying to figure out how a newly diagnosed endocrine condition counts as “pre-existing.”
If this sounds familiar, that’s because that’s what all of us have done with our health insurers at least once, right? It’s confusing, and getting even more so the more players that enter the field. All companies are not created equal. I think most people completely understand the need for exclusions and limits, but for goodness sake let people know when they sign up what, exactly, they are signing up for.
While lawmakers in California had hoped that pet insurance would fall under the auspice of state insurance regulators, it hasn’t happened, and people with complaints have found they were pretty much out of luck. Fortunately, a new bill that already passed the legislature and is headed for the governor’s desk should give consumers a good deal more protection.
AB 2056 will make California the first state in the nation to specifically pass regulations about the pet insurance industry, separate from its current designation as miscellaneous property and casualty. It specifies the need for clear language about co-pays, exclusions, waiting periods, and caps- all the stuff people run into issues with now.
This is good news for everyone: the excellent insurance companies out there whose reputation is being sullied by the shyster groups, veterinarians who are able to better care for pets, and most of all the clients and pets who stand to benefit from better access to care.
So let’s hear it: what’s been your experience lately? Have you been blindsided or pleased with your insurance coverage?
A week ago, I called my husband on a business trip in China for the urgent assistance in locating my DVD of Aladdin.
“Why do you need it this very second?” he asked. “You haven’t watched that in like 15 years.”
“I know,” I said, “But our daughter is singing a song from Aladdin in summer camp this week and she really, really needs to see this movie.” She’d seen it once before, years prior; my son hadn’t seen it ever. It was an unforgivable omission, one I felt an almost irresistible need to fix.
So we sat down and watched it, this movie that came out when I was still in high school, and I marvelled. The computer animation looked so dated now, the pop culture references flying over the kids’ head like a magic carpet. But it worked. It still worked, and it was all because of Robin Williams’ genius.
He wasn’t a person who had been in my thoughts much in recent times, though he was a fixture of my childhood from Mork and Mindy through Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, Good Morning Vietnam. Watching Aladdin rekindled my interest in his unique body of work and I’ve been on a Robin Williams binge this last week- Aladdin followed by The Birdcage, Good Morning Vietnam, and Mrs. Doubtfire scheduled for later this week. Robin had, in addition to his brilliant improvisation and manic energy, an exquisite ability to layer melancholy and sweet, delving into the deepest pains of humanity in a way that made you hopeful despite its ugliness, a compassion that balanced the sometimes cruel realities of being alive. He inhabited those characters in a way few others could. Williams and Alan Alda, the actors that defined the genre for me.
That level of perception and intuition about the human condition, often begets a certain creative brilliance. Comedy relies on it. It also, as we all too well know, often drags along behind it a heavy dragline of depression. It is the contrast upon which such artistry must be laid in order to make it pop. It takes an awful lot of mental energy to wield the two simultaneously, I suspect. No one described it better than, well, himself:
Phenomenal cosmic power!
iity bitty living space.
Depression is not a fight that can be won, a demon vanquished. It’s simply there, a weight people carry around and manage the best they can. Robin wrought his depression like a kettlebell, swinging up and down and up and down and in the process put out the energy that was-is- his legacy. I can only imagine how exhausting it must have been, but he did it, over and over, though his life. He made it work for him.
He was a dog lover, you know. Of course he was, right? When you live with that kind of pressure and expectation from those around you to be on all the time- why aren’t you saying something funny?- the presence of an unconditionally accepting creature is a comfort and a joy.
Having so recently been drawn back into his life and his work and his bright eyes that never entirely belied the stormy grey beneath, I was so enjoying re-experiencing the creative rush of his work, immersed in how much he gave of himself to make others smile. Today was a shock, in many ways.
And I guess that is why so many of us are so insanely devastated, at least I know I am. He always made his depression work for him, turning the swirling rivulets of thought and extremes in his brain and transforming them into art. I see in the world the same sort of wide eyed despair that followed Kurt Cobain’s death, that sense of hope snuffed out. I think a lot of people looked up to them both. They were proof positive of the transformative power of creative will, but while Kurt succumbed at a young age, Robin managed to persevere, and that made him even more infallible in our eyes.
I thought he had it figured out. With all his success and fortune and mastery of substance abuse, he was a tick mark on the list of success stories with this particular type of chronic disease. I thought he had won the battle. I was wrong.
We are reminded today, yet again, that depression is a fire that never gets put out completely, a smolder you can never turn your back on. Never, ever.
We’ll never know why this time was different, why today was insurmountable when every other day was a day to soldier on, but the world is all the dimmer with the Genie flown back home to the Cave of Wonders, beyond the horizon and beyond our grasp. All we can do now is celebrate the shimmer he left in his wake.
Look out for one another, friends, help one another. It’s a rough world out there, and we need all the joy we can get. We need each other. Tolkien said it best: “Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.” We do not.
Can we talk about the fainting schnauzer video? We need to talk about it, because if there’s one thing I don’t get in this world, it’s the current trend for pets with a myriad of medical malfunctions or genetic issues becoming internet sensations.
You’ve seen the video, I imagine. A dog is surprised by the owner she hasn’t seen in a year or two, and after freaking out for a few seconds she loses consciousness briefly.
Attempting to head off criticism, Carson Daly helpfully interjects “CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH GUYS” into the video. No problem, dog is great, everyone can go home, right?
Syncope, Part 1
Now without knowing the dog or what went down at the veterinary clinic, I can’t really tell you what happened, but I can tell you in general that fainting episodes (what we term syncope) are not normal, no matter how excited a dog is. There is a pathology there, whether it’s cardiac or seizure activity or something, but “she just got the vapors” is not a diagnosis.
Let me share with you the general arc of a visit when a patient brings a dog like this- and I’m including both seizure activity and syncopal episodes here- to me. Because the episode itself is short lived, by the time the dog shows up to the clinic he or she often looks fine. After taking a history and keeping in mind things like the age and breed of the pet, we begin the examination.
“Well, the physical examination findings are normal,” I say.
We could end things right here, and you could read that as saying “The pet has a clean bill of health!” But that’s missing the fact that while physical examinations are wonderful tools, they are limited in what they can tell us. The causes of syncope are rarely evident based on physical examination alone.
Syncope, Part 2, 3, and 4
“If we want to figure out the underlying cause of the issue,” I will say, “We should begin with some bloodwork and a urinalysis.” The client may or may not agree, mentally calculating the cost.
“If that’s normal, and it often is, we could proceed next to a cardiac workup: an EKG/cardiac echo/24 hours on the Holter monitor and have a cardiologist review the results.” Now we’ve definitely ventured into “need to think about it” territory.
“If the heart is fine, and we’re more concerned about seizure activity being what’s going on here, a neurologist is your best bet. Unfortunately, diagnosis usually involves costly procedures like CSF taps or CT scans. Epilepsy? Well, we don’t have a definitive test for that at all, so we just have to make the diagnosis based on ruling everything else out first.”
Many owners, especially after a first time episode, go as far as the bloodwork and decide to wait and see if it gets worse before moving to the next step. I don’t blame them- it’s expensive, and you have no idea if the dog will have an event a day later or a year later- but I just want to emphasize that unless they actually performed all of those diagnostics I just listed, it’s hard to definitively say the pet truly has a clean bill of health.
There’s a reason “The dog’s fine!!” is in the Today show headline and Carson makes sure to tell you “the dog’s fine! Someone said so!” and that reason is, we all intuitively know things aren’t fine. Just because you haven’t found the problem doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means you haven’t located it yet. And I imagine somewhere in that visit, between answering calls from the Today show and counting YouTube hits, the vet did say just that.
FTC Disclosure: featured products provided review product and/or compensation for inclusion in the Product Spotlight.
If you’ve ever been to a trade show, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed. A pet show like SuperZoo is an utter cacophony of sounds, sights, and row after row of many things that all look the same after an hour: treats and collars, treats and collars, rinse, repeat.
It’s hard for products to stand out in a crowd like that, but when Dr. Andy Roark and I hit the convention floor the last couple of days that is exactly what we were looking for. Fortunately for us, we found it.
Like two wandering corporate souls in sensible shoes and dark suits, we crisscrossed the vast plains of the Mandalay Bay convention floor searching, talking to people, and petting booth dogs until we wound up with three fantastic standouts for the Inaugural Roark and Vogelsang SuperZoo Product Spotlight. Here they are:
Remember that moment in Up when Carl says to Dug, “I wish he could talk” and Dug’s collar says, “Hi there”? The idea of our dogs being able to speak has transfixed us humans for years with the possibilities of what they could tell us: Are you hurt? Are you hungry? Are you tired?
While the Voyce collar can’t actually make your dog talk, it is a huge leap forward in the ever growing market of wearable tech for dogs and so far, the closest thing we have to speaking their language. The Voyce collar’s technology and interface tracks and trends over time not only activity level and calories burned but heart rate and respiratory rate.
As someone vastly invested in the concept of providing better care for senior pets, one of the messages I keep trying to get across to pet owners is this: ‘he’s getting old and tired’ is only the tip of the iceberg. If your tired old man has a resting heart rate through the roof and pants 24/7, guess what- he may be in pain. This data, which up to now were only accessible by a person with a stethoscope, can be collected at home over time and accessible to both the owners and the vet.
To add value to the experience, Voyce teamed with education resource provider LifeLearn to ensure owners have access to a wide variety of educational resources to help understand the data and make all of us better pet owners through improved knowledge. The dashboard features not only your individual pet’s collected data but advice and articles from a large panel of animal experts.
There’s a reason it won the PC World/Tech Hive and Yahoo! Tech “Best of CES 2014″ at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. It’s nice to see the tech world finally going to the dogs.
The Voyce collar will be launching before the holidays- interested owners can sign up on the Voyce website to be notified when it is available for sale online. In the meantime you can join the ever growing community on Facebook of techie dogs waiting for their chance to have a Voyce. -JV
It always makes me feel good to watch a big man dance. That’s the same feeling I get when I watch a big, strong dog play wildly with a toy. I think that’s why I am such a fan of the Tuggo Dog Toy.
The toy is wonderfully simple in its design. It’s a large plastic ball with a rope through it. The ball can be filled with water to add weight and cause a “tugging” motion. Dogs grab the rope, pull the ball around, and toss the entire contraption into the air.
To appreciate what Tuggo is, you’ve just got to see dogs at play with it. Tuggo’s Facebook page is covered with videos of dogs enjoying the toy. Here’s the video that originally caught my attention:
I love large dogs, and one of the greatest struggles I see pet owners having with them is getting them enough exercise. While small dogs can often work out inside the house or in the back yard, large dogs may not have the space to adequately stretch their legs. If a product like Tuggo can get these big dogs out and moving and burning calories, then I’m all for it. And who doesn’t like watching big dogs frolic like puppies?
The ball is available in red, blue, and green colors, and in 10-inch diameter and 7-inch diameter sizes. Tuggo Toys can be purchased through their website and shipping is free. -AR
I asked founder Adam Harrington what inspired the Tuggo, and he told me “watching my dog play with a bowling ball.” All of you people asking me for a TOUGH toy? Here it is. -JV
As a busy mom, I have to tell you: things that make my life easier make me very happy. We eat on paper plates a lot around here. While I am tempted by the ease of doing the same for my pets, if you’ve ever watched a dog try to eat out of a paper bowl you know that just ends in upended bowls wedged under a chair and food embedded in the kitchen floor, so stainless steel it is.
Here’s the bad news: according to NSF International, pet bowls are the 4th germiest place in the house, teeming with E. coli, Salmonella, yeast, and mold. This is exactly what you would expect when you leave a bowl of meat products sitting around. People? We’re lazy and don’t wash the bowls nearly enough, and that is just how it is.
Here, in an elegant form, is the solution: the Kinn Kleanbowl, a stainless steel rim that sits on top of a sturdy, compostable bowl made from recyclable yet sturdy and waterproof (yes!!) sugar cane fiber. Yup, you can use it for water too, so you eliminate that algae-goo that builds up if your bowl doesn’t go in the dishwasher every day.
My cat eats a lot of wet food and Brody get rehydrated raw, so we know all too well how dirty and crusty bowls get. That being said, oily kibble residue isn’t much better. In addition for being a boon to time starved people like me, the Kleanbowl is a great solution for busy vet clinics who need their staff to spend less time scraping uneaten leftovers off in the trash and more time replacing the catheter the dog in cage 4 chewed out, yet again.
There is a small but persistent voice in my head that wants to know how this would also work with toddlers and spaghetti.
Clean. Convenient. Compostable. This is a bowl for the people. The Kleanbowl retails for $19.95 and 50 count refills are available for $14.95 at the Kleanbowl website. To keep up on all the innovative products from Kinn including what I believe to be the world’s finest pill splitter, check out the Kinn Facebook page. -JV
Any of these jump out to you as must-haves? Stay tuned. Andy and I are going to be running a giveaway very soon!