Did you see this bit on 20/20 this weekend? Ah, media. Titled “Veterinary Confessions,” the piece follows a couple of dogs through a series of veterinary visits where different vets offer different services based on their clinical experience, interspersed with the contrite admonitions of a former veterinarian who says that he was, before he relinquished his license (more on that later), the medical equivalent of a used car salesman.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that every vet in the world is equal and that everyone follows the same recommendations every time, but if you think that was the real point of this piece, you’ve been duped. Citizens of Oz, let me show you the Wizard.
“The vast majority of vets are ethical” and don’t recommend what’s not needed, says Dr. Andrew Jones, who then goes on to admit he regularly practiced the most unethical practice of recommending what wasn’t needed, just to make more money, hence confessing that he personally was worse than the vast majority of vets. Sounds like a legit guy to speak on behalf of the profession.
Why is he a former vet, you may ask? Well, the excellent blog SkeptVet profiled him a couple of years ago, if you’re interested. Rather than stop his continued practice of talking smack about, well, pretty much any vet except for himself- he was great, you see, unlike the rest of us slobs- he voluntarily gave up his license to practice in Canada.
And what is the good Dr. Jones doing now? Championing the cause of the poor and underserved, fighting the good fight to educate consumers about the latest AAHA vaccination recommendations or raising money for all those people getting soaked by the rest of us unethical greedy vets?
Um, not quite. He has a website. On it, he offers a
which sounds nice and altruistic. Oh look, he’s pre-prepared for the website traffic he’ll get tomorrow:
So, if you continue to scroll down for 5 or 600 feet, you’ll see that yes! it’s FREE!
(save the $6 shipping and handling)
Hey man, sign me up! Only $6 for all this info! I’m going to CLICK!
Wait, what? In order to get the free $6 DVD I have to also sign up for the $10 monthly service in perpetuity? Isn’t that the Naughty Video Site approach?
So, in return for tossing me, and my friends, and the vet you hopefully like and trust, under the bus, the good doctor is already planning for the side bennie of all those new subscriptions (note the date on the website, and the date I’m posting this.) All in the name of altruism, you see. Behold the Wizard.
You know me, I don’t normally get this upset, but MAN, my hide’s a little chapped right now. Greedy vets? When’s the last time I’ve asked you for a credit card in order to peruse my website?
I will leave you with one last thought. In this piece, Dr. Jones called dental cleanings the “would you like fries with that” of veterinary medicine, a very often unnecessary bit of work. To illustrate the point, he used a little pit bull who was seen by several vets who said she was fine and didn’t need any dental work. Anesthetized dental cleanings, by the way, often allow you to do a closer examination than you can do on an awake pet and might let you discover something like
Yes, that’s the same dog.
But by all means, continue to compare me to a kid at McDonald’s. In the meantime, may want to get that looked at.
Hardened criminal. Swimsuit model. New media revolutionary. NPR host. Animator. What do they all have in common?
Their lives have been made better by having a pet. And we’re not talking oh, I have a cute cat and I sometimes feed it and it makes me chuckle, I’m talking about people whose lives have been profoundly affected by the animals in their lives.
I assume if you’re here reading this blog, you feel it too. Something about the bond between ourselves and our pets goes way beyond the mildly symbiotic relationship developed millennia ago when cavemen tossed scraps to the wolves on the outskirts of the clan; it is an uncomplicated, pure type of love, and those of us who are fortunate enough to have experienced it spend most of our lives trying to come up with ways to pay our animals back for what they give to us.
This Tuesday, I attended the Purina Better With Pets Summit in New York City. As it was the inaugural event, I didn’t know what to expect. No one did, really. 16 speakers in a Ted Talk-ish sort of format, 20 minutes each to share their stories of how pets have enriched their lives. It was, to put it mildly, fantastic.
Some speakers were enlightening, like Dr. Brian Hare from Dognition who is learning some amazing things about dog breeds and different measures of ‘intelligence’:
Some were funny, like Alex Ohanian from reddit- who talked about how putting a cat on your head and taking a picture creates an experience that allows people to connect with all of humanity:
Some moved us in entirely unexpected ways, like Black Label Dance Company’s exploration of a man’s relationship with his aging dogs:
And some just reduced me to a slobbering mess of OMG-can’t-deal, like Judy Finnegan of Puppies for Parole. Missouri’s program has rescued over 2,000 dogs from euthanasia at high kill shelters, placed them with prisoners for 8-12 weeks, and ended up transforming the lives not only of the saved dogs, but the deeply hardened men who found, through these dogs, how to learn compassion.
These are just a couple of samples, but the other previews are available here, including the inimitable Dr. Marty Becker ending us on a lovely note. When the full videos are up I’ll share again because there were some powerful messages in there that bear repeating, like Dr. Robin Downing’s assertion that reducing pain saves pets’ lives, and Dr. Arleigh Reynold’s touching discussion of moving to Alaska to live and breathe life with his dogs. Doesn’t that sound cool?
I left the event much more affected than I thought I would. As someone who has made my life’s work about animals, I forget that just because someone else hasn’t, doesn’t mean their pets aren’t just as important to them as mine are to me. I forget why I do what I do- not because I love pets, but because so many other people do as well, and I can provide something that helps make that even better. In our human world of strict social order, etiquette, and rules of conduct, pets are one of the rare things that can transcend that artifice and bring us all to the same level.
Group hug, everyone. Life really is better with pets.
*disclaimer: Purina invited me to the Better with Pets Summit and generously covered my travel expenses. They did not pay me or require any posts about the Summit- all opinions and musings are entirely my own.
So I was looking through old Brody photos for a Flashback Friday and found this one:
Which was awesome all by itself, and then I realized he was the perfect candidate for some captions. So I turned him into a Depressed Puppy Meme.
Hope you have a better long weekend than this guy! (If I recall the true sadness was not being allowed to chase my mom’s hellkitty around)
Feel free to make your own caption, they always entertain me.
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.
“What time does your flight land?”
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.
But did we learn enough? Stay tuned.
To say I am a little stressed right now is an understatement. They say moving is one of the most stressful life events there is, up there with death and divorce in terms of sheer ability to induce cortisol production. Combined with a bunch of other incredibly time consuming commitments I have no business doing without the advantage of a time machine that can give me an additional 10 hours each day, I’ve devolved into a mess who had a handful of Trader Joe Jo Jos and a glass of wine for dinner last night simply because it was all I could find at 10 pm when it finally occurred to me I should eat something.
Point is, I apologize for not writing as frequently as I normally do. It will get better, but not in the next couple of weeks. Unless you want to see posts entitled “Today I sat with my face buried in Brody’s neck and rocked back and forth for three hours” I don’t have a lot to say, because the only thing worse that packing is reading a post about packing.
So instead, I’m going to take a deep breath and rewind to one year ago today, when I posted one of my favorite posts of all times. Oh, to be a carefree vetpanzee once again. Enjoy.
On a quiet afternoon on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, the vetpanzee colony takes a siesta, safely hidden from hungry leopards in their thatch caves.
All, that is, but one. A female, alone, restlessly paging through a vetpanzee favorite, In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall.
Note the concentration she devotes to her task. Vetpanzees are single minded in their pursuit of knowledge, at least sometimes. If they are not distracted by chocolate or puppies.
Unfortunately the click of the shutter annoys the vetpanzee, and with a hoot and a grunt she takes off down the beach. Vetpanzees are solitary creatures and do not like to be disturbed in their repose.
The photographer gives her a moment, then gives chase down a vetpanzee trail. Where did the she run off to?
The watering hole? Empty, at least until the evening congregation hour.
Gone for a swim? Unlikely. Vetpanzees are terrified of crocodiles.
Napping in an old nest? No, vetpanzees prefer new nests every night.
Ah. There, in the distance. A vetpanzee feeding ground. Perhaps she is there.
The other vetpanzees have awoken and are actively searching out food. Our photographer must be careful as he skirts the edges of the feeding ground not to disturb them as it appears the alpha male has made an appearance.
Our photographer spots fresh size 8 flip flop prints leading up into the cave. Upstairs, an alcove has been carved away and filled with the young vetpanzee’s favorite treat: words.
There is also pen and paper. This is promising. Has he found the fleeing vetpanzee?
He has. She is exhibiting classic happy vetpanzee behavior as she cradles another book.
Cornered, the vetpanzee stiffens. What are you reading, vetpanzee? Just let us look.
With a dangerous baring of teeth, the vetpanzee complies:
“Best Practices Guidelines for the Prevention and Mitigation of Conflict Between Humans and Great Apes.” (Vetpanzees are often nerdy.)
One tenet of such conflict prevention, by the way, is do not stalk and photograph the vetpanzee when she is trying to relax.
This is what happens when you leave me alone in the first rainstorm of the year with a bottle of port, a pile of Dr. Seuss books, and a backlog of emails asking, asking, asking, asking for me to once again be a Nice Veterinary Writer/ Pet Blogger and do some more free work. Mostly, it’s just a silly Friday I need to Apologize to Dr. Seuss Once Again kind of post. I dedicate it to all of you who know this feeling all too well.
E-Mails and Spam
I’m Dr. V.
Dr. V is me.
That Dr. V!
That Dr. V!
She likes to write,
That Dr. V.
I do not like
to write for free.
So please don’t ask, love, Dr. V.
Would you write
for some treats?
I do not want to write for leashes,
I do not want to write for treatses.
I do not want to write for free,
So please don’t ask, love, Dr. V.
Think you might?
We are huge, with tons of fans,
But we can’t pay, still, think you can?
I do not want to please your readers
Or to help you sell your feeders.
I do not want to write for free,
So please don’t ask, love, Dr. V.
Feed it! Feed it! To your brood!
Could you? Should you?
For a book?
Read it! Read it! On your nook!
I would not, could not, for some food,
I know you think I’m being rude,
I do not want books to review,
My free moments number few.
I do not want to write for free,
So please don’t ask, love, Dr. V.
I know you like to cover puppies.
Here’s our product helping puppies.
Write about our site for puppies?
We value your advanced vocation,
So donate! For no compensation!
I will not, thrill not, about your puppies,
They’re cute, for sure, those little muppies.
But I too, have a job to do
And mouths to feed, and loans still new.
I do not want to write for free,
So please don’t ask, Love, Dr. V.
I sure do like that you respect,
My time and schooling, I detect
You value this as my career
And that I can’t be in arrears.
I do so like to write for fees!
I’m glad to do it. Love, Dr. V.
Crushes are a terrible thing, really. I mean, they are fun at first, when you get that wobbly-in-the-knees breathlessness, those daydreaming flights of fancy that knock you off balance. The heady combination of possibilities and “wow, we are SO well matched” wonderment can be downright addictive. But when the object of your affections doesn’t reciprocate, those overwhelming feelings can instead be downright painful. Perhaps, one might think, it’s better to go with the safe choice instead of the crazy one. Let go of your delusions, accept reality, and buckle down. The sooner you let go, the better.
Easier said than done.
As I’ve written about in the past, we’ve been trying to move for some time. As we’ve had our house on the market for six months and my visions of starting a new life in Crazy Town started to curdle, I had to tell myself that maybe my life with Crazy Town was simply not to be. One, our house wasn’t selling. Two, even if it did, there was nowhere to buy in Crazy Town. School had started, the housing market is frozen, and the romantic vision of a cottage by the beach was starting to recede into a lovely but bittersweet unfulfilled dream.
Time to be an adult, I realized. Wait a few months until after the new year. Pull the house off the market, focus on getting through the holidays, and then, in February, we could get back on the merry go round of house showings. And maybe turn our focus back to Ticky Tacky Town, that lovely but soulless enclave of suburbia filled with identical landscaping and well coiffed trophy wives on their way to Pilates. It would be just fine. There are always houses to be had there. I had accepted that this was the responsible thing to do.
And then it happened. On the last day, on the day I told the realtor to get his butt over to the house and remove the For Sale sign and stop pestering me with fruitless parades of endless useless showings, the house sold. ON THE LAST DAY.
I had already given up. We were done. I wasn’t prepared for this. And now, in October, we have to decide what to do.
Because we felt obligated, we decided to go and see the only two homes for sale in Crazy Town, even though neither was what we really needed. I wasn’t sure I was wanting to let Crazy Town back into my life when I had just gotten over it. I was leery of letting the object of my affections back under my skin, but I said to myself, I can be strong. I’m done with Crazy Town.
I got there a bit ahead of the meeting with the realtor. I got my ear pierced (some of you saw that on Facebook), because it’s the kind of town where you can get both kale juice and a piercing with little fuss. I wandered over to the local coffee roasters, drawn by the numerous dogs tied out front. I sat in the sun with my coffee, trying not to touch my tender ear, and watched the world wander lazily by.
I saw this dog.
This dog wanted to be touched and loved and petted. I saw him sitting hopefully by his bench, like me, waiting for something interesting to happen.
He said hello to other dogs in passing. He had some water.
Then he got smart.
He realized that if he walked over to the other side of the sidewalk, he would in effect create a road barrier, and people would have no choice but to stop and assess the situation.
NONE SHALL PASS without pets
He caught many people in his web.
I watched this family approach. The mother, seeing me observing, asked me if this was my dog. I shook my head no.
“I just want to know if he can pet him,” she said nervously. I looked around, waiting for the owner to come forward, but since there was none to be had, I decided the universe was ok with me telling both her and her child how to determine whether or not this was a safe situation.
Rather than say yes you can, or no you can’t, I figured I might as well teach them a skill they could use in the future. And because Crazy Town is cool like that, no one got annoyed, and we had a good time, and we all learned something.
I sat by the bench after this, so the dog could sit on my feet and suffuse me with his lovely Golden warmth. All the thoughts about responsible choices and settling down and letting go of silly romantic notions- poof, evaporated with one sweet kiss from an overly clever Golden. If ever there was a sign from the universe that it wasn’t time yet to give up on Crazy Town, this was it.
So maybe we haven’t found the right house yet. Maybe we will have to suffer through a double move and some time in an apartment if we want to make our infatuation a reality and find a place there. I don’t care. I’m on cloud nine. Safe choices be damned, I’m head over heels for this town, and it will be mine.
This is one of my favorite people I met in Granada (there were a lot of them.)
Her name is Maria Elena Solorzano, and she, as well as her sister, are veterinarians in Granada. I suppose a person who owns a clinic in a town could see something like the World Vets Training Center pop up, and say, wow that stinks, and this is going to compete with my work, and this is terrible.
Or you could say, let me help you, because I care about the animals in my town and I want them to have access to more than I am capable of offering by myself. This is Dr. Mari Elena.
She was instrumental in helping the World Vets team access carriage horses and equine farms in the area so each group of students had a full amount of time to get hands-on horse experience. As a resident, she had access and knowledge the team did not to help get the word out about the services World Vets wanted to offer. In addition, when caseload was slow at Casa Lupita in town, she organized dog and cat street clinics on the outskirts of the city.
She was to me, the embodiment of the spirit of people of Nicaragua: caring, hardworking, and determined to do right by those she came by.
Including the multiple pit bulls she has adopted over the years. She told me with no small amount of sadness that dog fighting has become a new popular trend in town, and she has scooped up sweet dogs who weren’t performing up to par and were in danger of being put to death. Yes, even here, this happens.
On our last sunny afternoon in Granada, Dr. Mari Elena joined the team at one such street clinic. It was puppy and kitten day, apparently. Piles of puppies, chubby, well fed, there for preventive care.
And cats like you’ve never seen- mellow cats, hanging stoically from children’s arms as they awaited their fate, looking languidly at their surroundings.
Deworming is never a popular thing.
This cat tolerated everything quite lackadaisically, though I kept my eye on him waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, there were a whole lot of dogs there too. Every cat has his limit.
And there we have it! The cat makes a break for it in a moment of complacence.
The cat runs across the street and wedges himself under a shed. Dr. Sarah and Dr. Mari Elena are dispatched to assess the situation.
“Please help!” the boy cries. “The dog is going to eat him! PLEASE!” he pleads, as the dog, awakened by the ruckus, raises his head and shrugs.
The cat, saved from the clutches of the geriatric shepherd mix, is safely returned to the boy, thanks to the skills of Dr. Mari Elena.
Though his cat handling skills, I think, could use a little more refining.
It is so lovely to see someone for whom interacting with the community is as natural as breathing. You’d be surprised at how rare it has become. Dr. King and I visited her clinic later that day; for all the work she does and all the people who rely on her, she has all the skills she has learned, but no textbooks. Not a one. I would like to figure out a way to get my books to her, especially the large animal ones, the ones sitting in my garage being of no use to me. She has assured me she could use them.
I remember my first spay out of vet school. It was my third dog spay ever, after two done in junior surgery lab and a couple of rabbit spays during my lab animal rotation. I was alone, my mentor literally and figuratively out to lunch. On the table before me, a ten pound Maltese with pristine white fur and pearlescent skin. The owner had plastered her face to the window leading into the treatment area, craning her neck to try and see into the surgical suite, wide eyes making me no less nervous about the incision I was about to make.
It went fine, but it was slow and the incision was large, two common occurrences with newly minted vets. The owner, apparently expecting a 1 cm horizontal bikini line incision, was furious and complained loudly to my mentor about turning her dog into a Frankenpup. His response was, “Yes, she’s new, that’s why it looks so terrible. You should have had me do it.”
My point here is this: learning surgery is scary, and it helps a whole awful lot to have a supportive mentor to walk you through the early stages. I would have killed for that. Instead, I spent the first year out terrified of surgery and never living up to the unrealistic expectations of someone who, instead of helping me get better, simply persisted in pointing out that I wasn’t as good as he was. (more…)
Your guide knows more than you. Yes, he does.
I think you all know that the volcano series ends with me at the bottom, alive. I just wanted to get that out of the way, though, in case you were worried. For a bit, I was worried too.
When we last checked in on this story, I was gasping for air at 14,960 feet, marveling at the majesty before me and a little delirious with excitement that I had actually made it to the summit of Meru. Margareta, having expended the last of her reserves getting to the top, took a few pictures then quickly started her descent. Few by few, the remaining summiteers, all of whom had reached the top before us, took their leave. Teri and I lingered, along with a group of freshly minted medical school graduates from the UK. Hey, if you’re going to collapse at altitude in Africa, best to do it with a vet and 4 doctors, right?
The adrenaline soon dissipated, we decided in fairly short order that it was time to descend. My brain, having spent the previous six hours focused on sound and the two feet in front of me, was rapidly overwhelmed with the visual input of OMG WHAT THE HECK DID I JUST CLIMB. No one told me we had made it to Mars. (more…)
So I know I didn’t really tell you all a whole lot about the fact that I was going to Nicaragua with World Vets. Trust me, I didn’t know either. It was more of a, “Hey, you want to come down and check this place out?” invitation from Cathy King and as you all know, I never say no to checking out somewhere cool, so I scrambled and got my act together and flew to Granada to check out the World Vets Latin American Veterinary Training Center.
To sum up: World Vets leased a building, turned it into a spay/neuter clinic, and spent the entire summer flying teams of veterinary, pre-vet, and tech students down in 11 day shifts to learn surgery and medicine, one on one, from a group of experienced volunteer vets. During the non-summer months, the facility will remain open as a training center for local Nicaraguan vets, who do not receive any surgical training in school.
Sound easy? It’s not. The amount of work put in by the volunteers and staff is mind boggling. How they pulled this off is beyond me, but they did, and did it well.
Now, I know Cathy is modest, so I figured it would probably be a good setup. What I didn’t expect was to be blown away, and I mean a brow-furrowing jaw-dropping how-did-she-pull-this-off sort of amazed, at what happened in Granada this summer. It’s a trifecta triple win for the veterinary students who received absolutely priceless surgical training they will not get in school, for the Nicaraguan vets who use the center during the non-summer months, and for the people of Granada, who now have access to a free clinic.
Oh, and the animals. The animals benefitted too. I’ll tell you more in a bit about the scope of the project, the names of the tireless staff who kept the show running, and some more about the thousands of animals whose lives were bettered by this project, but today, let me just show you one:
Don is the incredible surgeon who, along with his wife Lisa, spent the entire summer here overseeing the veterinary training. Val is a veterinary student who summered here as an intern, part student, part camp counselor, all awesome. Lucy is the expat who lives full time in Granada, and is one of the clinic managers tasked with the monumental job of keeping the place running.
And Bits? Well, see for yourself.
She’s only 3 1/2 months old. She spent most of an evening curled in my lap, oblivious to her dysfunctional left front leg.
Without the team, she would have died, alone and in pain.
And now she waits for the right home to come along. She is a little too slow to be a good mouser, a bit too clumsy yet to be trusted to escape a fast predator. She’s fine, but she needs someone who will keep her safe while she learns her changed body. Lucy is fostering her until that time.
By themselves, numbers are just scribbles on a page. 1500 spays. 1200 consultations. Alone, they signify nothing except magnitude. But here, here is just one. And one by one, this volunteer team assembled the bits and pieces of individual lives helped, a tapestry of color and kisses and nuzzles that in the short course of three months, made this training center an indispensable part of the community here in Granada. By the time they left, Val and her fellow intern Shawn couldn’t walk down the street without a friendly “Hola!” and an excited resident giving them an update on a pet World Vets has helped.
One bit and piece.
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