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.
Deep in tender recesses of our cranium lies a small chunk of neural tissue that, should I prove its existence, will explain a lot about human behavior. I believe we all have this structure, though it may lie dormant for many years, perhaps forever.
It’s the arachnobellum.
It’s a small, primitive bit of grey matter tucked right in the center of the brainstem, that area that controls our deepest, most primal instincts.
It’s the part of the brain that blames all maladies, no matter how big or small, on spider bites.
As a veterinarian, I see this in action all the time. Owners can blame almost any sort of condition on arachnid venom. Pustule? Spider bite. Bruise? Spider bite. Laceration? Spider bite. Tick? Spider (OK, that one is kind of almost true.)
The most extreme example of arachnobellum overreaction came to me while I was a vet student. A three legged Bernese came in for vomiting while I was on the small animal medicine service. The couple, a very nice pair from Berkeley, were sitting with the patient out in the lobby when I first met them. He was easy to spot; the dog was covered in citronella oil, choking out all other smells in the room including the bulldog with the impacted anal gland sitting next to him.
I moved the dog’s collar to the side to palpate his lymph nodes. I felt a hard stone, and pulled a purple crystal out of his fur. “We do a lot of alternative therapies,” they explained.
“We went to a shaman,” they said, “And he did a vision quest on Chewy.” I was amazed that this sort of service existed outside of the Amazon, but apparently it is not uncommon in the Bay Area. Who knew. “He told us” – of course- “That he had a spider bite.”
The one medicine man I’ve ever met who offered vision quests worked in Peru, along the edge of the Amazon. A land also replete with large spiders. Coincidence?
The medicine residents, trying to suppress their smirks, paged the oncology resident over. Dr. Newton had seen this dog previously, for an osteosarcoma a year prior that required the dog’s leg to be amputated. He was one of the finest residents I ever met at Davis, a man who had practiced for 15 years before going back to school to become an oncologist. He was smart, slightly cynical, and extraordinarily compassionate in a rough field.
He glared at the smirking residents, who wiped their faces back to neutral and quickly excused themselves, before gently explaining to the owners about metastasis, bloodwork, and other oncologic type vocabulary terms whose diagnostic regimen involved the most Western of techniques and not a single drop of ayahuasca. He was right, by the way. It was not a spider bite.
Despite this experience, I still found myself chuckling over the years at the vast array of medical maladies masquerading as spider bites on a regular basis. Until this weekend.
So there I am, standing in the kitchen talking to my daughter, when my finger starts to hurt. I look down and see my ring finger, looking kind of red and puffy. I noticed a small hole and poke at it, wondering if I somehow got a splinter.
As I’m examining my finger, I note there are not one but two small holes, black. And now my finger, stinging more each second, is starting to blister.
“Oh my god,” I say, the girl who cried wolf for so many years in the face of such injuries. “I think I got BIT BY A SPIDER.” Then, from the recesses of my brain, my arachnobellum kicked into action.
I ran over to the computer and did exactly what no one in my situation should do, which is to google “Spider Bite.” (don’t do it.) Three seconds later, I was in full panic mode, wondering how I would ever manage to function without a finger and whether the amputation would be tonight, or tomorrow.
‘Signs:’ said WebMD.
‘Small puncture wounds may or may not be visible.’ check
‘Pain and swelling, may be accompanied by blisters.’ check
‘Racing heart rate or nausea.’ Well, now I had that, thanks to the picture of the recluse bite that popped up in the search results. What is seen can never be unseen, you all.
Just as I was on the verge of full blown panic, my finger stopped burning, as suddenly as it had begun. The next morning, I had a small crater where the blister had been, tiny in the big scheme of things but in my mind, the beginning stages of full blown finger dissolution.
I watched my hand obsessively over the next day, mentally keeping track of the small ulcer and convinced I would wake up the next morning with nothing left but a finger bone, my wedding band twirling uselessly around the sad, bare phalanx. THIS IS WHAT GOOGLE IMAGES DOES TO YOUR BRAIN, PEOPLE.
Needless to say, when I woke up the next day my finger was still there, along with the lesion and a deep and utter conviction that a spider was to blame. That is how I, the person who came back from Africa with a dead palm sized spider stuck to the bottom of my shoe and none the worse psychologically for it, ended up shaking out my sheets at eleven at night *just in case* because now- NOW the arachnobellum was activated, and there was no going back. Every tickle, every twitch, was a spider crawling on me, about to bite. I debated keeping a flamethrower nearby, just in case.
My relatives, friends, and probably all of you are laughing at the crazy person and rolling your eyes, convinced this mysterious malady was not a spider bite. Well, in the case of poor Chewy, he at least had a trained medical professional to give his owners a plausible alternate explanation for his condition.
I have no such explanation.
IT WAS A SPIDER BITE, CASE CLOSED. The arachnobellum is a powerful thing. And I promise never to laugh at anyone who says “I think it’s a spider bite,” ever again.
Yesterday, I went on a field trip with my daughter’s class as a chaperone. I was reminded, yet again, of why I became a veterinarian. The teacher is an angel on earth and I do not, for one second, think I could do what she does.
I watched one nine year old dissolve into an inconsolable heap of tears because she lost during a game of Red Rover. I watched another child, who was walking barefoot on the park grass, get called over by her mother and told to apply hand sanitizer to her feet at once. At least 3 boys came near to destroying some ancient archaeological artifact or another. It was chaos.
On the way home, my daughter showed me a poem she had written for school. Apparently part of the grading involved being critiqued by a classmate (blue). And my daughter, being MY daughter after all, had to have the last word.
And dangit, I want to cry but I also laughed my head off because I KNOW she wrote that response with the exact same eye-rolly sigh that I use. SO my kid, in so many ways.
Being a mother to humans is a confusing and often frightening endeavor that often leaves me feeling either inadequate, elated, or exhausted. It’s a sine curve with an amplitude of a million, which is why on Mothers Day so many of us buy a flower arrangement with the vague disquieting sense of guilt that “this doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
Being a pet mom is so much simpler, at least the way I do it. They eat, they go outside, we hang out, no one gets called by the principal. They are a stabilizing force in a world that’s always trying to destabilize you. I came home after that exhausting day, collapsed (barefoot) on the lawn, and let Brody console me with doggy kisses (with his probably gross tongue.) It’s a little more straightforward: Hi, I love you, yep. And for that, I am so grateful. I’m grateful for both experiences, actually; each so different and it makes me appreciate the other all the more.
They love us in their own special way.
May your highs be every higher and your lows, well, not so bad, and through it all a pet to call your own and make you glad.
-Old Irish Proverb I just made up
Up and Away, by the amazing Brittney Lee
May moms of all shapes, sizes and types have a wonderful Mother’s Day!
I spend a lot of time thinking about customer service, and how we as veterinarians are sometimes so focused on being amazing clinicians we neglect to remember the fact that we are in a customer service industry. You can be the most astute diagnostician in the universe, but if your front desk staff or technician (or you!) is rude, ambivalent or just generally unpleasant, it ruins the whole client experience. It doesn’t take much to be minimally pleasant, but I’m amazed how uncommon that has become.
I’ve always held Disneyland to be the ultimate in the customer service experience. I remember going as a kid and being followed around the park by chipper young men in starched white uniforms, cheerily scooping up the popcorn we were dripping behind us. “Have a magical day!” they’d wink, and we did. The haunted mansion staff got really into being creepy. My friend, who worked there in high school and college, was taken to task for wearing non regulation pink lipstick. The Disneyland Experience was no joke. Yes, we knew it was fake and those cheery people went home and were crabby humans just like everyone else, but we all appreciated the artifice of good cheer.
I know things have changed a bit. Disney has gotten a little more corporate, the college aged employees too stuck in hipster mode to bring themselves to actually act like they’re happy, but I had no idea how bad it had gotten until this past week.
My aunt and uncle were visiting from Massachusetts, and my aunt decided she would like to enjoy Disneyland with my kids- who were on Spring Break. My aunt has MS and uses a wheelchair, which as she reminded me allows you some measure of benefit in the form of getting to enter the rides through the exits, thus a shorter line. The kids were happy to hear this.
Now I know Disneyland and I have had our moments in the past- the Splash Mountain debacle, for one, and a heartbreaking encounter with an accordion playing D-list celebrity I used to be a fan of, but still, I figured how could they screw this one up? All you have to do is make some reasonable accommodation for a disabled guest, blah blah Magic of Disney etc, right?
Yeah. It seems somewhere along the way they have forgotten some of Business Tactics 101, applicable to any place hoping to retain customers, be it your friendly local DVM or a once well regarded amusement park.
1. Staff appropriately.
Part of the problem was that we went during spring break, and I know this. That being said, I had to push my aunt hither and fro round each and every ride looking for some guidance as to where one might enter as it seemed like no one was actually working the line. We wandered through Indiana Jones’ exit line for 5 minutes before finding a line of wheelchairs 30 deep marinating in the shadows, staffed by an ambivalent kid in khakis who was not, I suspect, as into archaeology as he should be pretending to be.
2. Anticipate problems.
See someone trying to get through your front door with a huge crate as big as they are? You open the door for them. Same goes for someone trying to back a wheelchair onto a train platform before the door slams shut on someone’s neuropathic feet. Theoretically. It’s the little things, right?
3. Keep track of your clients.
I heard horror stories of a physician going home for the day, leaving an increasingly agitated client in an exam room who never got past the nurse. I think it’s reasonable for the person in charge of traffic flow to be keeping an eye on things to make sure no one gets left behind.
Which brings me to my most egregious Disney misadventure to date.
“Actually, we have 999 happy haunts residing here but, there’s always room for 1000. Any volunteers, hmmm?”
Anyone who has been on the haunted mansion is familiar with the ride itself: you step onto a moving conveyor belt and run into a little whirl-a-gig buggy thing, ride around for a while getting spooked, and then extricate yourself from said buggy back onto a moving platform. All fine and dandy for those without mobility issues, but it gets dicier when you’re moving slowly.
Doom buggy, as apropos a title as any.
I entered the ride first, with my kids. My mother and aunt got on the buggy behind us, after asking the person running the line to slow it down so she could get on. This is SOP in these cases.
On the other end, I got off with the kids and they started up the one way escalator off the ride. I heard my mother behind me, saying, “Stop! STOP!” in louder and louder degrees of panic. Apparently, in a cost cutting measure they got rid of whoever normally stands at the far end to make sure people get off ok, and there was just one girl at the near end of the ride who couldn’t hear my mother yelling as there was a horde of 30 people pushing off past her. None of whom, by the way, seemed alarmed by my mother’s distress.
My children, sensing a disturbance and me pausing at the bottom of the escalator, were valiantly attempting to rush back down to me, only to be pushed up by people telling them not to goof off. I turned and saw only the sad sight of my aunt’s hand hanging out the side, waving sadly to us as she disappeared into a dark tunnel to join the 999 Happy Haunts in parts heretofore unseen.
I went up the escalator after my kids. A few minutes later, my mother appeared, sans aunt.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“They don’t know,” my mother responded, which seemed like a bizarre thing for them to have told her. I mean, she’s on a fixed belt and can’t walk, so one might think she would be easy to find. “They said she’ll probably pop up at the entrance.”
Probably. Else they found their thousandth happy haunt.
I went to the entrance, which is an entirely different area, to see if she might arrive there. No one knew where she was there either. My mother, having exited the turnstyle, couldn’t go back down to the exit to wait for her there. Eventually my aunt texted me: “Going through again.”
She did indeed make it back to the entrance, shocking the hell out of the people about to get in the cart with her. The person there stopped the ride and asked her off, but seeing as though her family and her wheelchair were now at the exit, she demurred. Eventually, she arrived back at the egress and had to pick her way, slowly and gingerly, up to the exit turnstyle where my son was frantically holding on to her chair. I had to explain to my kids why I was laughing so hard while we rolled right on out the park and back to our car, pooped.
“Because your auntie is a cool lady,” I said, marvelling. And she is.
On the bus ride back to the parking lot- which was incidentally the best ride of the day- we were helped by an old-timer named Clarence. “You don’t say,” he said, when we told him of our misadventures. “I’ve never heard that one before. Losing a lady on a ride.” He could barely kneel himself, but he helped me maneuver her chair down the bus ramp.
It’s the little things that stick with us in customer service. But all’s well that ends well; at least we got her back.
Two weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking at the AAHA National Convention as a part of the BlogPaws veterinary social media track. In a fit of what I can only imagine was perhaps a hypothermia-induced lapse in judgment, Bill Schroeder invited me to co-present for the day.
Bill Schroeder, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, that one person, Tom Collins, Dr. Lorie Huston, Kate Benjamin (courtesy Dr. Patrick Mahaney)
For those of you who don’t know, Bill helms In Touch Vet, a veterinary marketing company that works with 8,000 vet clinics across the country with website design and social media. And I, well, I manage one site, which is slightly less impressive, really. He’s spoken all over the world. I’ve spoken all over the midwest. I’m not entirely sure what he was thinking, but I didn’t want to correct his mistake, so I accepted his offer. And this is why:
Five years ago, there were about three veterinarians on the web. I attended a social media lecture at Western States and they held it in the basement, on Saturday night in Vegas, where a woman with no veterinary experience whatsoever got up in front of the bored looking crowd of 10 and attempted to explain what a “Facebook” was. Now, things have changed. I see more vets trying to get on board. I say “trying” because this is what tends to happen:
1. They attend a lecture, think to themselves, yup, I should do this.
2. Log onto Facebook, become immediately overwhelmed.
3. Back to work / consider asking receptionist to share some pics from George Takei’s page, or worse, post some dull news brief from an academic journal.
Done right, social media is fun, and engaging. I wouldn’t be here all this time later if I didn’t think that were the case (because trust me, I’m sure not making a living off writing on this site.) We’re lucky, as vets: we don’t need 20,000 fans or fans in Dubai or strangers we’ve never met, though I like all of those things; we just need a small and loyal group who support what we do. Being here makes me a better vet because it forces me to concentrate on my communication.
So I got up there with Bill, and he said all sorts of profound things and told some great jokes and showed some compelling slides. I watched. I said a few things, the most profound of which was probably my comparison of Twitter to a one-night stand (it’s not about long term relationships there, and that’s OK), but the one thing that struck me more than anything was: wow, we’re all still pretty far behind the eight ball as a profession. That, and the fact that I should wear lower heels when speaking.
The Fallacy of That One Vet From Michigan
Let me share with you something someone said after one session: a veterinarian, and I won’t guess his age because, well, I never do that anymore, came up to us and said: “yeah, this is great and all, and I’m sure where you are in San Diego everyone’s all into this social media thing (I can’t recall if he used air quotes or not), but I don’t need this where I am.”
So we asked where he practiced, and he said, “Michigan.” Then he said, “Only 2% of my clients use social media. I know this. We have data.” I wasn’t thinking of calling him a liar, since we are an honest profession of course, so I believed him. But then he said this: “So I just think maybe we need to focus on our traditional methods of new client recruitment. Like going to Rotary Club.”
Now look. I like Rotary Club. My father in law is a past president of a well renowned local chapter and the members are amazing. But I think even he would agree, that as a sole way of looking for new faces to come in the door, maybe it is a somewhat limiting strategy.
Social Media: Old People Like Me Use It Too
Then I really pondered what he was saying. Only 2% of his current base uses social media. Who are these people, 98% of whom eschew online interaction? Other than the local Rotarians, I mean. We know, generally speaking, that 67% of US adults are active on social media. According to pingdom, half of all social media users are 25-44, with another 20% 45-54. That’s plenty of middle aged people with pets, I think. More than half are women, who, at least in my practice, show up in the waiting area more than half the time. That works out well.
So I ask myself, does this person live in a small town of Luddites who eschew all forms of web based communication out of a sense of nostalgia? Is there really some place in this country so far off the national average outside of Amish country? Or is he simply handing over, to the clinic down the street, this huge chunk of potential clients who aren’t even aware his clinic exists because they don’t go to Rotary meetings?
Maybe it’s a San Diego thing, but I really can’t comprehend a town where more pet owners attend Rotary than go on Facebook, or yelp, or any of the other places we now go to find recommendations for businesses. Perhaps, like the good men and women of the Old Mission Rotary, they do both.
I sense from many veterinarians the feeling that the internet, and social media in particular, is overrun with 14 year olds who go onto reddit, post a few LULZ and then get on with their day, none of which involves being the primary caretaker for animals. If that were the case, I would have abandoned ship long ago.
I, however, have spent the last half decade getting to know all of you, and I’m pretty sure that none of us are shopping in Forever 21. I think we’re all pretty solidly Ideal Veterinarian Client Demographic: educated, emotionally vested in our animals, and committed to their well being.
Social media: it’s not just for college kids and Beliebers.
And that connection I share with you all, that sustains me in my moments when I questioned my sanity going into the profession in the first place, is why I wanted to speak at AAHA.
I thought it went well, at least until I saw the first group picture.
I can’t believe Koa’s been gone over a month. Sometimes I still look for her around the corner or find some black fur stuck to a sock buried in the laundry pile. We are still adjusting.
I did a quick Google Hangout video talking about some of the lessons I’ve taken from my own dogs as well as my experience in the clinic. I hope it has some information people find useful, especially to those who have never been through the process before.
I do not profess to know what happens to us after we die. Even those who have strong faith in what will happen to us after we go are sometimes unsure of what happens to our beloved pets. And to them, I quote the great Will Rogers: “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
When someone close to me passes on, be it person or pet, I have a dream about them a week or so later. I don’t know why, if it is a quirk of my subconscious or an actual visit or who the heck knows; the theologians can debate it all they want, but these particular dreams always stick with me long after I wake and give me a good deal of comfort. And yes, I had a dream about Kekoa a week or so ago, right before the funeral service in our backyard arranged by our daughter and very kindly attended by all four grandparents.
But last night I had a different dream, and regardless of what it means it really struck me because it’s the only time I’ve had one like it. Those of you who have been around for a while may remember me speaking about my grandmother Mary, who passed away several years ago and is the person, I believe, who most set me on the path I am on today as a veterinarian. You may also recall my grandfather John, who passed away just under a year ago. It was from him, I later learned, that I got my obsession with adventure and the dream of climbing Mt. Meru, which I accomplished last year.
So in this dream, I am driving around on a grassy hillside and I pull into a driveway, quiet and remote. Another car pulls up, and it’s my grandmother.
“Open the window so I can see your face,” she says. “It’s been so long.”
But I get out instead, and look in her backseat. And there is my dog Mulan, who died of melanoma in 2009, right before I started the blog.
Not Brody! This is Mulan and Emmett, in 2008.
“Is she doing better?” I ask, reaching in as she licks me.
“Of course!” Mary says proudly. “I know how to take care of animals. She is doing very well.”
I peer into the drivers seat. “Is my grandfather up there?”
“Yes,” she laughs. “But he doesn’t want to come out.” Which is typical.
I pat Mulan, and I start to cry.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“I just lost another dog,” I said. “She had bone cancer.”
My grandmother takes my hand, and says, “I’m sorry.” She kisses me and I wake up with a wet pillow.
You know how some dreams are. Some are bizarre flights of fancy, some dreadful chasms of dark worries come to fruition. And others, in those rare and brief moments, sweep you up in their elusive beauty and show you something that stays with you long after you wake. They feel real. And of all the people for Mulan to find on the other side, my sweet dog who was abandoned by an owner who didn’t feel like treating her flea allergies and wanted me to euthanize her instead, I’m so glad that at least in my mind, she found Mary.
I don’t know what it means, or if it means anything. But I am so glad it was a dream I got to have.
Scientists have long been fascinated with the concept of “muscle memory”, that subconscious part of our brain that controls movement without us having to think about it. It’s what allows us to do complicated tasks such as riding a bike or typing “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” without having to stop and say, OK, I need to contract my left hamstring while extending my right quadricep and all those tricky things that go into motion. It’s what allows me to tie a knot during surgery without the laborious thought process that takes place during learning “around the forceps from the front? or the back?” After a while, it just happens.
It’s funny how it pops up in the most unexpected places. For the past 3 years, Kekoa has been my footrest. I literally could not sit in the house without her wedging herself beneath my feet. Now, my feet head toward the floor, expecting a mass to bring them to a halt about 12 inches off the ground. I don’t think about it or calibrate their momentum, they just go with the intent that they will hit fur. Without her there, they crash repeatedly into the floor, each time a jarring reminder of what is no longer there.
It’s odd to me how strong those tangible physical reminders can be. For some reason, I can’t remember the exact timbre of my individual dogs’ barks- and I know they were all quite distinctive- but to a one I can tell you how their heads felt in my hands. Taffy, light as a feather, ready to nip at the slightest provocation. Nuke, needle-nosed and gently, resting into your palm. Emmett, like a solid football, sturdy and reassuring. Mulan, like a brick, wide and solid.
Kekoa’s head was disproportionately small compared to the rest of her body. She looked somewhat like an engorged tick, but in a nice way. She would lumber over and plop on your feet, her manticore tail smacking into the wall with such force you’d think someone was cracking a whip on the drywall. She never seemed to notice. Such was her excitement that she would hover over you, massive, looming, and then with the gentlest motion ease her tiny head into your hands and cover them with kisses. You’d try to push her head away when you had enough but then she’d kiss that hand too, so eventually you’d just give up. Her tail wouldn’t stop wagging the whole time.
She had a terrible wail. A piercing bark so heartbreaking and eardrum-wrenching that she lost two homes because of it. We used our baby monitor to listen in while we were away, and eventually I had to stop because it was too much to listen to.
That sound I can’t bring up. Already, I’ve forgotten it. But the sound of her tail hitting the cabinet, and the feel of her head in my hand- those will be with me forever.
Are there any strangely strong memories you carry with your pets who have moved on?
Hi, I’m Dr. V. Veterinarian. Mother. Writer. Amateur chef, aspiring world traveller, insert title here. But don’t call me Blogger.
Many years ago- more than 10, on a site whose name I don’t even recall, I started an online journal. I wrote about planning a wedding, about my senior year of veterinary school, and about the early heady days of my career. About my dogs, my kids, postpartum depression, fat pants, horrible mentors, all sorts of stuff. I never said I was any good at it, but if nothing else I am persistent, and consistent in my prolificness. Wildly in love with the written word.
Four years ago (has it been that long?) I took the next obvious step and started an official blog, an online place to write about a specific topic. Because I happened to have become a veterinarian, this is what I blogged about. Had I taken a different path you might be reading a dermatologist blog, or a pharmacology blog, or a paleontology blog, because writing is like breathing to me. I can’t help doing it.
And it was great, back then when there were like four people doing it. It was a novelty. I was a freewheeling agent honing my craft and I didn’t care what anyone thought so I recreated exam room scenarios with scantily clad Barbies and made fun of things and was overall wildly inappropriate and it was wonderful. There was no formula. Blogging was the Wild West, and it was fun, and people were intrigued by the concept.
Respectable person that I now have become, I don’t think I’m supposed to graphically complain about the logistical difficulties presented by Mattel’s Pet Doctor outfit. But hey, do you want to hear about the new flavors of cat food coming out from Kitten Krunch?
But like all great things, the more popular a format becomes, the more corporate attention it draws, the less fun it becomes. Now people blog as a business, or what they hope will be a business. Some of them are terrible writers- you know it’s true- or corporate shills whose posts are nothing more than a neverending series of coupons and advertisements. The blogosphere is glutted, and I’m not exactly sure what’s rising to the top.
And somewhere along the way in the midst of all of this, the word blogger gained a different meaning. It changed from “person who loves to write on topics about which they are tremendously passionate” to “armchair pseudo-expert with an overinflated sense of their importance but lacking the actual communications skills to succeed in a legitimate writing enterprise.”
I’m not saying I agree with that assessment, but that is now the perception when people hear the word. It’s gotten so bad that when people start to introduce me as a blogger, I cut them off with “freelance writer.” I own a website. I write. I create content. The eight years of college and all that entails evaporates in the face of the word “blogger”; suddenly I’ve become an amateur hour mouth breathing one-fingered typist with too much time on my hands and not enough sense to recognize when I’m being insulted, someone requiring the spoon feeding of content from PR agents in order to have anything new to say because I lack any originality on my own.
I don’t really see myself that way. I reject that description. I also reject the weird little cottage industry blogging has become. I want to be one of those tortured old school writers, marinating in gin, brining in the certainty that the awful truth of the universe is too much to experience all at once so I will create a little pinhole word-camera to present just a little bit of it here and there in tiny prismatic chunks. THAT is what I want to do, not review more dog collars.
And while I’m certain I’m not ever going to reach that level because I lack both the requisite talent and alcoholism, at this point I would accept a simple acknowledgement that I know how to construct thoughts and sentences in an intelligent manner. Because there’s nothing worse than being dismissed with, “Blogger? Oh, that’s cute. Hey, do you know any real journalists who can help me out with something?”*
As you’ve possibly noticed, I’ve cut back from my initial breakneck pace of 5 day a week posting. This is for several reasons:
I don’t like to repeat myself, and there’s only so many times one can write about core versus non core vaccines.
Now that my kids are halfway to college (gulp), I have to devote more time to enterprises that result in an actual income. Because if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll just tell it to you straight: in the pet world at least, ‘professional blogger’ is an oxymoron.
I’d rather write here when it seems right to do so, than write for the sake of posting something and put out garbage, or worse yet burn out and walk away entirely.
So there you have it. I’m still here, just evolving in slow-motion. I’ll keep posting about my pets and adventures and things I want to write about, but I’ll be writing because I want to, not out of a sense of obligation to a schedule. The content will be the better for it. Thanks for sticking by me all these years! I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I promise.
Love, Dr. V, not-a-blogger
*True story from NAVC. I approached a small company because I’ve wanted to write about them for a long time, but after that conversation my enthusiasm for their endeavors dissipated like a randy senior fresh out of Viagra.
I like retrospectives. It’s a good opportunity to reminisce on what we did well (travel!) and perhaps those things we did not do so well (remain patient during the arduous relocation process, for example.) I’m glad the year is done. All’s well that ends well, but man was it a slog for a good portion of the year.
Like all things in life, the year’s end is bittersweet, with a good thing and a bad thing I need to write about. But not today. Today, it’s a day to reflect. And lest I spend the entire day grumbling about the countless wasted hours I spent circling the neighborhood with a carsick dog while a parade of looky loos rummaged through my underwear drawer, let us instead remember the good things about 2012. Here are my favorite posts from the year:
My grandfather very much reminds me of Carl from Up. In this post, I talk a little bit about his story, from surviving the Nazis during WWII to his retirement in Massachusetts, and how he motivated me to take on Mt. Meru in Africa.
This was the year I stopped being a free-for-all writing machine for anyone who wanted to send me free samples. One, it’s exhausting, and two, it’s boring. This is the official Battle Cry for Professional Writers, except in Dr. Seuss format, which I guess makes it a little less acerbic.
I had a tough time picking between this or Uncomfortable Naked Massage as my favorite travel story of the year, but this one wins. I’m not sure why it didn’t get more comments- I think the post took a while to gain momentum and a lot of people figured it was a nice tribute to my co-volunteers and nothing more. Those that stuck through to the end got to read about the pimped out Maasai chief who tried to purchase me and take me home to his hut. He was a tough negotiator, too.
Any ones I missed? I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year! Thanks for being here!! mwah!
I haven’t watched TV much this week. Between packing up the apartment and taking care of a really sick little dude, I’ve had plenty to keep me busy, but the reassuring background murmur of the TV isn’t something I could bear this week when it was nonstop coverage of little ones’ funerals. We’ve been watching Christmas DVDs instead, a distraction for me, and the only way I can keep my kids from overhearing news I’m not quite ready to explain to them.
I knew right after the news started on Friday what a horrible week it would be. I knew because we’ve been through it so many times now, horrifically enough. I thought to myself, oh no. As we learn more, the week before Christmas will be filled with stories about these little ones and their brave caretakers who lost their lives. And then it hit me:
In so many of the prior tragedies, there has been a lot to say about the victims, who in their adulthood have had time to grow and accomplish and show the world who they were. What would you say about a six year old? He was six, and he liked Legos. She loved vanilla ice cream, and horses. So much vast wellspring of potential, snuffed out before it even had a chance to develop. And that led to the first of many ugly cries, in the war room at the convention center, in my hotel room, in the airport on the way home when the pinheads at Houston Intercontinental decided to put news stations on full volume in all the terminals filled with travelling families.
And sure enough, this week has been just that, little looks at little lives gone. And amidst each heartbreaking story, glimpses into who these children might have grown up to be, and it is in those moments we feel especially devastated, when we recognize ourselves. They are all lovely and beautiful children with stories they should have gotten to tell, but those that hit close to home seem to really make you catch your breath.
Daniel Barden, who wanted to be a firefighter. Hundreds of firefighters from up and down the East Coast arrived to line the streets, a silent nod to one they have adopted as their own.
For me, it was Catherine Hubbard, the adorable redhead who loved animals so much her family requested in lieu of flowers, people donate to the Newtown Animal Shelter, to the specially designated Catherine Violet Hubbard Memorial Fund. I saw this, and I thought, now here is a little girl who loved animals so much that her family thought this would be the very thing she would most have wanted.
She was one of us, the animal lovers. Every Christmas, she asked Santa for another pet. Sound familiar to any of you? Maybe she would have grown up to run an incredible rescue or become a leading equine surgeon or simply be an amazing animal owner, but now we will never know, and isn’t that a shame for the world.
The loss and the grief is so profound, I feel uncomfortable with the media serving it up even if it’s meant in a sympathetic and not a voyeuristic way. So I’m not watching the news anymore. I know what I need to know. Instead, in honor of Catherine’s life and to acknowledge her as one of us the way the firemen took in Daniel as one of theirs, I will donate to the Newtown shelter in her name, and I hope others follow suit, so that in some small way those who would have mentored her in this shared passion can stand together and say: we are sorry, so sorry, for your loss.