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Mickey Came Home
Several of my veterinary school classmates owned dogs, and there were always public dogs wandering around the large animal hospital, occasionally showing up in the classrooms. Kind of auditing the courses, I suppose, but also often showing up on exam days to give the students moral support. We noticed that these public "strays" only attended the most interesting lectures, where the professors actually smiled occasionally and even cracked jokes to break up the monotony of hours spent listening to dry facts about the cranial nerves or in-depth discussions of navicular disease in the equine.
The most memorable canine class companion was Picarro, a beautiful seventy-pound orange-and-white fellow whose ancestry was questionable.
His lush and flowing coat indicated that there was some Collie blood flowing through his arteries and veins, but the remaining parts weren't as obvious.
Some so-called breed specialists in the class declared that he was at least half Eskimo Spitz because the white portions of his coat were the brightest of any dog we'd ever seen.
Others said he was part English Shepherd or maybe even Dalmatian. His lineage was discussed occasionally, but it really didn't matter to anybody in the class because many of us also had colorful backgrounds.
Piccarro was a good dog, friendly to the point of smiling, and he also volunteered his body to be perused, poked, and palpated in the afternoon anatomy and physiology labs. He even stoically tolerated an occasional venipuncture, which explained why there were several shaved spots on his leg and under his neck where we had been practicing. I don't recall him ever growling at or biting asingle student, not even the ones who had to jab him twice for their samples.
My family had owned several dogs over the years, mostly just to have around the farm and do the things farm dogs do. Their duties included protection from varmints, both four- and two-legged types, so they barked real loud to let the family know when potential possible danger was at hand. A good dog was expected to always accompany barn-goers, in case a rat needed to be done away with or farm animals required herding. He or she was a constant companion in the field, always out front of the mules or tractor when plowing a furrow, except when chasing a rabbit or crow away from the plowing scene. After the chase, a good dog would always return to furrow duty, tongue lolling out and constantly looking back to be sure the land was being tilled in the proper manner. Sometimes they performed in-house duty as well, although most dogs of my childhood got no nearer the kitchen than the porch, either on it or under it. Since we owned dairy cattle and needed dogs with flocking instincts, we usually had collies or shepherds, or mixtures of the two. I liked the diversity of their makeup, from their working ability to their faithful companionship.
After becoming friends with Piccarro, I decided I wanted my own dog, despite the rigors of vet school and the demands of working various jobs to help finance my education. My Aunt Nannie and Uncle Robert in Tennessee bred border collies and they had always wanted me to have one of their puppies, so when I wrote them a letter telling them I was ready, they saved me a female puppy they had named Mickey.
In the summer of 1959 when I was a senior in vet school, Jan and I drove to Birmingham and on north to Tennessee to see our families and pick up Mickey.
She was about six months old and was a beautiful animal, typical of the breed, marked well with black and white. She showed us her "cow savvy" by trying to round up Uncle Robert's herd of Shorthorns as he gave us a detailed history of each cow and calf.
"She had a little cold in her head about three weeks ago, coughed and snorted around for a few days and was a little off her feed," Uncle Robert stated. My ears perked up since I had just been through a term's worth of small animal medicine, and had learned a lot about infectious diseases. I knew that canine patients don't have colds like their owners, but they do suffer from a disease called canine distemper, and that it was essentially incurable. The symptoms do resemble "a cold," with coughing and nasal discharges, but later the complications of hard pad disease, encephalitis, and convulsions, or "chomping fits," as some called them, belied the "cold"